Record Labels Versus the Internet: The state of the music industry in 2022  

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What makes an artist stand out? What qualities does an artist need  to achieve longevity — is it star power or talent? What distinguishes someone from being a “great” versus a one-hit wonder?  

The current music industry isn’t set up to congratulate artists for their skills or hard work. Record labels have recognized they no longer need to struggle to understand what people want to hear; streaming platforms and social media set the standards for success. Music reaches the radio fastest by going viral; the Billboard charts are dictated by the people, for the people. The industry simply taps into the goldmine that is TikTok and harvests trending songs that have already been planted and grown on the internet. Radio music is more overplayed than ever ; airwaves are now dominated by popular TikTok “audios,”  or the short song clips that loop over videos created by users.  

The key difference between the radio and internet streaming is how content is filtered. While the radio used to represent the endorsements of record labels, artists on the internet can now put out a high volume of music at any time and directly reach listeners without utilizing the radio. But the resulting information overload is real; the sheer amount of music we have access to can sometimes feel overwhelming. Many agree it is easy to get lost in the millions of artists, big and small, in even one subgenre alone. Music has always been a vast, diverse expanse of art , but in the last decade, discovering music and artists has begun to feel less like an exciting pursuit and more like a chore. Half the time, we’re at the mercy of streaming platforms and the music they see the most profit in. And if there aren’t artists pushed on you from every angle, it seems there are countless subgenres catering to so many different crowds that it’s hard to know where in the realm of music you belong and what music to identify with.  

The exhaustion of finding new music has driven many to recycling music from when there was less choice. While quantity has increased, quality has clearly deteriorated. Like every other one-hit wonder, artists that find sudden success from one song often attempt to go viral again. However, the success of music is often not based on its quality — it’s based on what creates the most buzz, sounds the catchiest, or most lends itself to creating TikTok dances. The rapid and overwhelming emergence of new artists makes longevity difficult to achieve, and viral artists are more likely to fade out unless they sign to a label. The internet is overpopulated with small and inexperienced artists without the support required to generate long-term profits, so instead of sifting through the endless line of creators, labels have resorted to consulting internet leaderboards to decide what makes the actual 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 for signing to a record label. It’s a big win for our generation to have a door like that open, as some of today’s biggest artists wouldn’t be a household name if it weren’t for the opportunities created by the internet. But how good is the music being made nowadays? Many Generation Zers and millennials, who have seen music transition from being ruled by the radio to relying on the internet, regard “throwback” songs as comfort music that reminds us of a time of high-quality music. But what made that music so good? 

Arguably, record labels do. The standards set by record labels can be soul crushing for artists, and before the internet, many artists were filtered out if they couldn’t survive the pressure. Most artists started out unrefined, but their raw talent was banged into shape by the grueling process of getting a record deal. We’re all familiar with the dark underbelly of the recording industry, but the hours of studio sessions, vocal training, and craft honing are all benefits born out of record labels — a place where artists had the funds and environment to evolve into a professional.  

So where do we go from here? Is getting a record deal the only way to develop and refine your skills as an artist? The original ability of the internet to revolutionize music consumption hasn’t changed, but our interactions with social media and streaming platforms in relation to music now shape the standards for art. We, the consumers, drive traction for certain artists. The music industry is practically eating out of our hands. 

So why not feed the industry with more thoughtful choices? We decide the climate of our culture and what kind of artistic content will survive in it. What we put in is what we get out — the artists we tweet about, the songs we create memes about, and the music we focus on is what’s ultimately going to be copied and pasted into the mainstream.  

This responsibility is not just limited to consumers; artists play a critical role in the equation as well. Shifting mindsets and upholding standards are the responsibilities of bands, singers, producers and musicians. Certain fan bases  have proven  very powerful in inciting significant societal change by simply communicating through online forums, K-pop fans being one of the most recent examples of this cultural phenomenon. Record labels no longer hold monopoly over the content that reaches listeners; the music industry starts with us. We’ve flipped the hierarchical ladder; we’re at the top and corporate is at our mercy. It’s now up to us to decide whether we want to recognize and enjoy the “old-school hits” that will play in grocery stores twenty years from now, or wonder how we got to a point where our kids consider mindless AI-generated noises “music.”  

1 COMMENT

  1. Indeed, the Internet is now an indispensable thing for any person. There are billions of articles on the Internet on various topics. All this information can be found in a second here. It is also a good place for entertainment such as playing computer games and listening to music.

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