Record Labels Versus the Internet: The State of the Music Industry in 2022

What distinguishes an artist? What qualities does an artist need to achieve longevity – is it star power or star talent? What separates someone from being a “great” versus a one-off wonder?

Today’s music industry is not designed to praise artists for their skill or hard work. Record companies have recognized that they no longer need to struggle to understand what people want to hear; streaming platforms and social media set the standards for success. Music hits the radio faster by going viral; Billboard charts are dictated by the people, for the people. The industry is simply tapping into the gold mine that is TikTok and harvesting trending songs that have already been planted and grown on the internet. Radio music is more overplayed than ever; the airwaves are now dominated by popular TikTok “audios” or the short snippets of songs that loop over user-created videos.

The main difference between radio and internet streaming is how the content is filtered. Where radio used to represent record label mentions, artists on the Internet can now stream a high volume of music at any time and reach listeners directly without using the radio. But the resulting information overload is real; the amount of music we have access to can sometimes seem overwhelming. Many agree that it’s easy to get lost among the millions of artists, big and small, even in a single subgenre. Music has always been a vast and diverse body of art, but over the past decade, discovering music and artists has begun to feel less like an exciting quest and more like a chore. Half the time, we are at the mercy of streaming platforms and the music that earns them the most. And while there aren’t artists pushing you from every angle, it seems like there are countless subgenres catering to so many different crowds that it’s hard to know where you belong in the field of music and what music you identify with.

The exhaustion of finding new music has driven many to recycle music from a time when there was less choice. While the quantity has increased, the quality has clearly deteriorated. Like all other hit wonders, artists who find sudden success from a song often try to go viral again. However, the success of music often isn’t based on its quality – it’s based on what creates the most buzz, sounds the most catchy, or lends itself the most to creating TikTok dances. The rapid and overwhelming emergence of new artists makes longevity hard to achieve, and viral artists are more likely to die out unless they sign to a label. The internet is overcrowded with small, inexperienced artists without the support to generate long-term profits, so instead of sifting through the endless line of creators, labels have resorted to consulting internet rankings to decide what makes the real Billboard.

“Screw record labels” is by no means a new motto; Soundcloud is a recent example of the internet uplifting small artists without the need to sign with a record company. It’s a big win for our generation to have a door like this open, because some of today’s greatest artists wouldn’t be known if it weren’t for the opportunities created by the internet. But what is the quality of the music being made these days? Many Gen Z and Millennials, who have seen music move from the radio to the internet, consider “retro” songs to be comforting music that reminds us of a time of high quality music. But what made this music so good?

No doubt the record companies do. The standards set by record labels can be overwhelming for artists, and before the internet, many artists were screened out if they couldn’t survive the pressure. Most artists started out unrefined, but their raw talent was shaped by the grueling process of getting a record deal. We all know the dark undersides of the recording industry, but the hours of studio sessions, vocal training and craftsmanship honing were all perks born out of the record labels – a place where artists had the funds and the environment. to evolve into a professional.

So where do we go from here? Is getting a record deal the only way to develop and hone your skills as an artist? The internet’s original ability to revolutionize music consumption has not changed, but our interactions with social media and music streaming platforms now shape the standards of the art. We, the consumers, propel certain artists. The music industry is practically eating away at our hands.

So why not nurture the industry with more thoughtful choices? We decide the climate of our culture and the type of artistic content that will survive it. What we put in is what we get – the artists we tweet about, the songs we meme about, and the music we focus on are what will ultimately get copied and pasted into the mainstream.

This responsibility is not only limited to consumers; artists also play a vital role in the equation. Changing mindsets and enforcing standards are the responsibility of bands, singers, producers and musicians. Some fanbases have proven to be very powerful in instigating meaningful societal change simply by communicating through online forums, with K-pop fans being one of the most recent examples of this cultural phenomenon. Record companies no longer have a monopoly on content that reaches listeners; the music industry starts with us. We have reversed the hierarchical scale; we are at the top and the company is at our mercy. It’s up to us now whether we want to recognize and appreciate the “old school hits” that will be playing in grocery stores twenty years from now, or how we got to a point where our children consider the noises generated by the AI. the music.”

Alice P. Darby