There is currently a revolution taking place in the music industry. It is common knowledge that music distribution has changed forever with the rise in prominence of digital downloads and the success of portable media players. The media has recently been full of speculation that the record label as we know it will soon disappear. This may or may not happen one day, but the change in the industry certainly isn’t just a recent development. High-profile recording artists have embraced the Internet as a creative and promotional tool since the mid-1990s and more recently have utilised the net as a medium for selling and distributing music independently. Listed below are just a handful of those pioneers. [Please add your own digital pioneers in the comments.]
Aerosmith have had a long, interesting and varied career, spanning four decades and fourteen studio albums. However, it is a little known fact that Aerosmith offered the first full-length commercial download back in 1994. The track was called “Head First”, recorded initially for the “Get A Grip” album but was later rejected. Geffen Records and Compuserve teamed up to offer the download over their lighting-fast 56kbps connections. The track later appeared as a B-side, but internet history had already been made.
Former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel is no stranger to embracing new technology. He was pioneering CD-ROM entertainment back in the 90s, and became a co-founder of On Demand Distribution (OD2), one of the first online music services. It was established in 1999 and the subsequent technology developed is now used by a number of major players in the online music market, such as Virgin Media, CD Wow! and MSN Music. It was bought by US company Loudeye in 2004, and finally by Nokia in 2006 for $60 million.
Bowie is one of rock’n’roll’s most chameleonic stars, constantly reinventing himself through his self-image and his music. It is perhaps not surprising that one of his many forms appeared in a computer game named “Omikron: The Nomad Soul” which also featured Bowie’s wife, Iman. He even wrote the musical score which later provided inspiration for his album “hours…”. One track titled “What’s Really Happening”, had lyrics written by the winner of Bowie’s “Cyber Song Contest”, which offered fans the chance to submit their own lyrics over the Internet.
This Sheffield-based band Arctic Monkeys became significant back in 2005 after entering the charts straight at number 1 with “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”. Their almost-accidental rise to popularity began as fans starting sharing rips of their CDs given away at their early gigs. As the band’s profile grew, a MySpace site was started by a fan, containing some of their songs, further boosting their fanbase, and resulting in media attention. Through radio play and sell-out gigs they became more and more popular so their debut no 1 single was no surprise, nor was their subsequent debut at the top of the album charts with “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” in 2006.
Radiohead hit the headlines a couple of months ago when they announced that the price of their latest album, “In Rainbows“, would be decided by each customer. This radical approach came about after they fulfilled their six-album contract with EMI in 2003 with the release of “Hail To The Thief” and looked at alternative distribution methods. The 10-track album was released as a zip-file, with each song encoded as DRM-free mp3 (itself a bold move), although the album will be released as a “discbox” and as a standard CD in December. It has been generally perceived as a success, with the price paid averaging at around $6, and the album being well-received by fans and critics alike. Radiohead have also announced the availability of their back catalogue on a bear-shaped 4GB USB memory stick, also containing cover art and other material.
This may be a little pre-emptive, but Kylie Minogue announced last week that she was launching a social networking site called “kyliekonnect“. This bold move to capture the buzz surrounding social networking sites is either going to be a stroke of genius or a marketing flop. Kylie is about to release her latest single “2 Hearts”, followed by her first studio album for four years, “X”. The big question is whether a Kylie-centric social network can provide enough content or interest to make it worthwhile for fans to keep coming back. Also, if this trend continues and not only every major recording artist has a social network, but also every sports team, comedian, TV program, etc. can any individual keep up with managing all of their profiles?