Thank God for the internet. It has become one of the globe’s greatest source of consumption. I am personally addicted to, OR obsessed with (whatever you wish to call it) music. Aren’t we all though? How good do you feel when you put on a pair of wacky headphones, play your favourite song on YouTube or web sites like SoundCloud, and bob your head to the beat? What is even more exciting for an individual like myself is that all this is for free! While piracy is on a rise, the internet has introduced free legal websites, as mentioned above. A consumer’s ability to easily access desirable music has been enhanced. We do not actually have to purchase a sound track or even download illegally, you know? By the looks of it, we are benefiting but what about independent music artists who spend months recording tracks? Their hard work is being shared for free globally. How do they earn a living? Do they benefit from free distribution of their records? I guess not? So what alternative source of income have they resorted to?
Artists can now create, record, produce, and distribute music completely independently on the internet saving significant costs endured when signing on to a record label. They can also keep all the profit earned for themselves. The internet has created easy access to resources that were previously not available. Basically consumers benefit, and artists thrive. Everyone lives happily ever after…Yaay but hold your horses. It is not as black and white as it sounds, if I may emphasise.
Music Record Companies
Digital sales of music have now been occurring at unprecedented levels, when compared to CD music sales but do not generate plenty of income for music artists. However, digital distribution of albums have a tendency of generating higher profits in comparison to physical sales. Here is a simple reason. Production and distribution costs of CD or DVD albums are so much higher than digital production and distribution. Followers on Twitter and videos watched on YouTube attract millions of viewers which creates a massive fan-base online for an artist. To manage ALL this, artists need a record label. Beyonce has recently released her music album unannounced on the internet. A clever marketing strategy coupled with digital distributions of her album has translated in to “cash…dollars…bills…yeah” for her.
Renowned record companies which include Warner ensure that they sign their music artists to “expanded-rights” deals. “Expanded-rights” deals allow record labels such as Warner and the musician to earn potential profit without having to desperately concentrate on album sales (digital or physical), as a primary source of income. What happens when we listen to an album by our favourite artist for free on YouTube, perhaps? What next? As a die-hard Alicia Keys fan, what did I do when I heard her new album “girl on fire”? Hmm. I decided to attend her concert in two cities (same tour) in a span of two months. I am sure that there are many here who can relate to me. Profits are made through live concerts and merchandise. A boring old white T-shirt with Alicia’s signature sold at a price of AED. 300 (£ 50) sounds brilliant to me, and every other fan out there.
Lastly, let us examine the role of corporations in entertainment. Somehow, they always sneak into the picture to photobomb a smooth click. Corporate firms (as usual) commodify music culture. I mean, what have they not commodified? They have noted the widespread popularity of music artists and use them to promote their personal interests. Corporations such as Viacom, Smirnoff, Coca-cola and so forth fund music concerts, invest in merchandise and profit from the hours of blood and sweat of music artists. To cut it short, corporations are enjoying some brilliant time and have contributed to the creation of the audience commodity. Surprise! In effect, music artists are looking for profit as well, and our renowned corporate friends (or enemies?) are doing a fantastic job helping them by allowing artists to profit from events, and so on. The independent music culture itself can be deemed a fetishised commodity. While they are the winners in the global political economy, I would like to ask you to think once again – who are we? The winners or losers? Do we actually benefit as much as they do?
The Political Economy of Financially Successful Independent Hip-Hop Artists. Available: http://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1021&context=classracecorporatepower
Ammna Nasser (Dubai campus)