by Wyatt Barnes
A few weeks ago I was taking a leisurely walk around campus and listening to music when I noticed there was an unfamiliar album on my phone. I did not remember purchasing it, and as a poor college kid with no money on his iTunes account, I started to freak out. I opened Google and typed in the name of the album, Songs of Innocence, into the browser. The result of the search surprised me; U2 had just released their new album for free. It automatically downloaded to all iTunes accounts, and was there for anyone to listen. My immediate reaction was one of, “Oh that’s Bono for you, always so charitable.” But this new trend in the music industry extends farther than just the famed Irish band’s new release.
Many artists have started to release music free or for prices more affordable than ever before. Bono is not the only one. Recently, Thom Yorke released his second solo album Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes on BitTorrent for an affordable six dollars, much cheaper than most new albums on iTunes. Using BitTorrent as a platform to release music also shows how tolerant Yorke is to the piracy of music. More artists are beginning to change the way they feel about the piracy of music and are beginning to release music in various mediums. Just as records did, CDs are becoming obsolete (much to the dismay of artists who are pro-record/CD) and releasing music in a solely virtually way is becoming popular. In 2011 Björk became one of the first artists to include an app in the release of her new album, and it became the first app introduced into the Museum of Modern Art.
Now, all we can really do is wait to see what the next new idea in virtually released music will be. My best guess would be that most artists will begin to do what Yorke did and start releasing music on platforms that take a smaller cut than iTunes. Why lose money to a giant corporation that sells overpriced music? Not only iTunes is guilty of this, but many labels also take too much from their signed artists. In 2004 the critically acclaimed Fiona Apple wanted to release her third album, An Extraordinary Machine, but was at an impasse with her label, Sony. She rerecorded the album and released a completely different version with a different label, just to gain control over what was originally her own music. This is not unique to Apple however. Sri Lankan artist MIA threatened to leak her latest album Matangi due to a disagreement with her label. Rapper Childish Gambino also got into a fight with his mainstream label, Glassnote Records, after they botched the release of one of his music videos. What will become of label/artist relations in the future?
Only one thing is certain; the music industry is changing rapidly. A greater number of artists are getting sick of their labels, media platforms, etc., and demand change. They are starting to create indie labels that they can control themselves, and are also starting to release their music in new and interesting ways. I do not think it will be long until mainstream labels are obsolete and CDs will be produced no more (except, of course, for the unstoppable Top 40 labels that will always have control over their mediocre Top 40 music.) However, as the industry is a fluid system that truly knows what is in store next, one can only hope it involves more cheap music and less corporate bullshit.