The monopolizing of the music industry has led to the demise of some of its most prevalent artists. When my face was exploding into my teen years like a pus-filled scab of adolescent angst, there were a myriad of musical avenues to explore. Every person I knew was older and much cooler than myself. They had the opportunity to personalise their identity by choosing what early 2000s trash they listened to. My older brother was an angsty teen with bleach blonde hair and chunky metal jewelry and blasted bands like Blink-182, Green Day or Linkin Park. My sister however replayed Avril Lavigne and Garbage so much that I still hear them echo in my mind.
Technological advancements in piracy and streaming services have contributed to the shrinking of the music industry. Napster in the 90s, Limewire in the 2000s and now Spotify in the 2010s has each contributed a shank to the Caesar of the music industry. In the golden age the only avenue that allowed listeners to get their hands on music was the record shop. These were musical wonderlands where people could meet up and discuss their favourite bands, discover new albums (only because the cover was pretty), or see what other acts were contributing to their favourite genres. This has all moved online, changing the musical experience. Today, listeners watch individual music videos on YouTube, searching for bands they are already familiar with. This replaced all-night programs like rage that allowed viewers to watch a conglomerate of new bands. To find new music on streaming services listeners resort to Spotify generated playlists or Top 50 charts, both of which are rife with commercial bias. This has led to a Thatcher style music industry, where the popular artists get all of the attention, making it virtually impossible for new bands without a large scale backing to break through.
The strangest phenomenon this shift in the music industry has caused is the streamlining of musical styles. Because users can only play what is popular, bands are feeling pressure to conform to the trends of the day. You just have to look at the struggling artists that made their boom in the previous iTunes era. Some of them have stuck to their guns, which led them to fall off the radar, like Mumford & Sons or Florence + The Machine. Others have shamelessly tried to shove themselves through a cookie cutter to try and gain some traction with the modern day market.
Ed Sheeran was a darling of 2014, but his comeback album Divide has been met with disastrous reviews. Out went any endearing charm, and in came a photocopy of One Direction or Milky Chance. Drowned In Sound said, “For someone that is generally perceived as different to other pop stars… Ed Sheeran has made the most anodyne and bland pop album possible.” Even The Needle Drop stated that, “the only reason Ed Sheeran’s music is so popular is because it is so trite.” This is a far cry from the love affair everyone had when we were listening to his breakthrough album Multiply on our iPod shuffles.
Video courtesy of The Needle Drop
The most disastrous example of this is the deterioration of Katy Perry. You could be forgiven for not recognising the bubblegum pop star these days. The new track Bon Appétit is Perry’s worst performing single barely making it into the charts, hitting only #35 with barely 4000 sales. It did even worse in the UK, scraping in at #40. Compare this to her previous singles Roar and California Gurls, which were both global #1s. That is what you get when you base a song around a meme. The usual fun attitude and quirky hooks have been replaced by exhausted sexual puns set to a track so dull it could put Drake to sleep. Perry has tried so hard to make herself relevant after her Hillary Clinton meltdown that she has accidently vaporised everything that made her unique. SPIN called the song a ‘one-trick-pony’ and ‘uncomfortable’, even stating that, “The price of enjoying this song is being totally put off oral sex for as long as it takes to get the gurgling dancehall-disco beat out of your head.” Miley Cyrus already did the vulgar sexuality, the cheesy album cover and the short blonde pixie cut four years ago, a shtick that she has moved on from.
You can hear the atrocity for yourself below,
All is not lost however. There has been some backlash to the music industry going completely online. Most bands almost always release their albums on vinyl as well nowadays, and artists like Blink-182, Twenty One Pilots and The Weekend are even trying to bring cassette tapes back. The music industry will always evolve and change. I like to think of today as a musical ice age. There will come a time when people re-discover how great the feeling of buying a physical album is.