To understand the heart and soul of any creative industry, we must go beyond its commercial surface and delve into its core ethos. In its purest form, music was about connection – an unbreakable chord between creators, consumers, and listeners transcending geographies and cultures. Unfortunately, the modern music industry has hit a discordant note in maintaining this connective spirit in the digital age. In stark contrast, the video game industry has thrived, drawing people together in a shared, virtual space, setting a commendable example for its entertainment counterparts.
Concerts were not just performances but communal experiences, a gathering of the tribe. Record stores were akin to sacred spaces where you could discover new music, often guided by the store clerk’s suggestions. Sharing a newly discovered album with friends was an intimate ritual. Music was a unifying force.
However, the music industry stumbled with the advent of the digital revolution. The rise of digital music platforms in the late 1990s and early 2000s changed the landscape forever, drastically impacting the industry’s profit models and challenging the traditional ways music was distributed and consumed. The rise of streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music brought immense convenience but also significantly devalued music, transforming it into a low-cost commodity rather than an appreciated art form.
Moreover, the atomisation of music listening has inadvertently fractured the social experience once intrinsic to the industry. Music has become an individualistic, solo journey within one’s headphones. In focusing solely on revenue streams, the industry overlooked the fundamental social dimension of music – the collective experience that strengthened the bond between artists and fans, listeners and fellow listeners.
In the past, music creation was a collaborative process, with musicians coming together to produce harmonious sounds. Today, individuals can create entire symphonies using their computers and AI, reducing the necessity for collective creation. This shift has further isolated music-making and consumption.
Contrast this to the burgeoning video game industry, which has skillfully harnessed the potential of digital platforms to foster community.
These platforms have become modern-day meeting grounds where players can form teams, strategise, compete, or explore virtual worlds together.
Moreover, the gaming industry has woven monetisation strategies into their community building. They leverage microtransactions for cosmetic game items, encouraging users to show their individuality within the shared space. Even more impressively, the gaming industry has kept pace with technological advancements, such as virtual reality, creating immersive, shared experiences that are becoming the new norm for entertainment.
So why has the music industry failed to keep pace? Part of the reason lies in the industry’s initial resistance to embracing the digital age, which allowed other forms of entertainment, like gaming, to claim a larger market share. The struggle to find a balance between monetisation and maintaining the collective experience of music has left the industry grappling with an identity crisis. The industry has prioritised short-term gains over the long-term cultivation of artist-fan relationships and the shared experiences that originally made music so compelling.
It is essential to note that all is not lost. There are glimmers of hope. Artists are starting to take control of their creative output and how they engage with their fans, particularly through social media and live streams. Platforms like Bandcamp are emphasising the importance of artist support and fostering communities. Moreover, the rise of NFTs presents an exciting avenue for artists to connect with their fans while monetising their work in new and innovative ways.
The industry needs to leverage the potential of the digital age to create new, shared experiences and spaces for music lovers while finding ways to compensate artists adequately.