Illustration by Clara Hollowgrass
Not many people get the chance to perform at Coachella. Artists who performed at this year’s incarnation of the Southern California music festival included Beyoncé, Eminem, Cardi B, and Migos. But the artist grabbing the most headlines was an eleven-year-old boy from Golconda, Illinois.
The boy, Mason Ramsey, achieved internet fame after a video of him vigorously yodeling a country song in a Walmart went viral. Within weeks he released a single and accepted a record deal from Atlantic Records.
Thirty years ago, this would’ve been unfathomable. Back then, the video that rocketed Ramsay to fame would’ve languished in someone’s basement rather than spreading worldwide.
Ramsey’s country yodeling probably never would’ve been approved by a label on his own, but his rise to success was undeniably a good thing. It allowed his music to bring joy to countless people.
In the present day, the gateways to success in the music industry are no longer necessarily through connections, networking, and the major labels. Now, anyone who makes music that people like can publish that music online.
Before the internet, the music industry was quasi-oligarchic, with large companies acting as intermediaries between artists and consumers. Now it is democratic, with consumers being able to directly access music that matches their tastes. This is a seismic transformation which has resulted in more varied, more accessible, and just more music being available to consumers.
First of all, the internet results in a larger variety of music being available. Before the Internet, only artists who had the potential to appeal to a broad audience could be published. It just wouldn’t make monetary sense for a record label to invest into producing music that only a few hundred people will listen to.
But now, music doesn’t need to be popular to be published. Anyone with a computer and internet access can put their music on Youtube or SoundCloud. So what if they can’t recoup the costs? They don’t need to. Before, niche music tastes could rarely be filled. Now that can be accomplished easily.
Changes are also occurring that make music much cheaper. As was touched on earlier, it costs nothing to put a track on Youtube or SoundCloud. Artists also have access to cheap sound recording and editing tools.
This makes it so that music can be produced for no cost other than the effort used to create it, and it also helps individual artists bypass record labels by reducing the amount of special expertise needed to produce music. The bottom line: significantly lower cost for listeners. I can hardly even imagine spending ten dollars on an album today, when I can just listen to it online.
The music that’s released without vetting from record companies isn’t always of the highest quality. But that doesn’t matter. If one hundred more bad songs are released, that doesn’t make good music any less good. Technological advancement is disrupting the music industry and leading to a place of expanded variety and affordability. At this, we should rejoice.