Taylor Swift’s 1989 is 2014’s first platinum certified selling album, and likely to be the only one.
For an album to be platinum certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a label must sell at least one million digital and/or physical units of an album. Know-it-all economic pundits often use RIAA certifications as symptoms to diagnose the future of the music industry. Chances of survival are low. Music’s ever-increasing accessibility is contributing to the death of the album, and as a result, the music industry as we know it.
Streaming services like Spotify and Pandora are often accused of being culprits for the death of the music industry. According to a highly sensationalist article by Forbes aptly titled “Why Taylor Swift’s 1989 Could Be the Last Platinum-Selling Album Ever,” young people are the core consumer of the music industry. Hardly any teenager buys CDs anymore, as modern technology abandons them. The convenience of digital records is a hindrance for preteens; purchasing digital albums with a credit card requires parent permission, which stifles the freedom preteens have in selecting the music they want to buy. There’s nowhere left to turn to, except for streaming services, which are both legal and free. They don’t pay quite the same as record sales, however. According to a 2013 report, Spotify reportedly pays an artist $.006 per stream of a song. 166 plays earns one dollar. I love music, but I have listened to very few songs over 160 times; pangs of guilt crush me knowing I would make Portishead a grand $1.13 with my 189 plays of “Machine Gun.”
But then I realize that there’s no reason to feel guilty. Music culture is the same as it has ever been. It’s just taking on a new context in the digital age. The spirit of letting your best friend borrow a piece of vinyl to play on your parents’ turntable is still alive. It’s why people often feel compelled to share playlists or songs on Facebook statuses, burn mixtapes/mix CDs for friends to play in the car or just pass their earbuds over. I find a lot of joy in buying used CDs, which is basically music sharing at a corporate level. I am fully aware that the artist receives no money from that transaction. I support the record store, because I want it to remain a conduit to music purveyors for as long as it possibly can.
The music industry is dying; so what? The RIAA and what pundits/rock’n’roll has-beens say are wholly irrelevant to the spirit of music. They say it’s difficult to make a living. Difficult, at least, by the obsolete music industry standards doomsayers use to condemn the music industry to its inevitable grave.
One of the most rebelliously wise women in music, Amanda Palmer, launched a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign to fund recording, packaging, releasing, promoting and touring of a new album, without the help of an oppressive major record label. Palmer exclaims, “We’re being shown proof-positive that it just isn’t necessary anymore.” In a later TED talk, she urges the music industry to think about how to let people pay for music, as opposed to making them. Another artist, Vienna Teng, raised over 400% of her $20,000 goal for a new music video.
The future of music may be shaky. But with artists like Amanda Palmer, Vienna Teng, other courageous musicians (Frankie Cosmos, Moses Sumney) and anti-industry organizations (CDBaby, BandCamp) braving the waters of DIY artistry – trusting the people to directly help preserve the integrity of their art – it’s hard not to be excited.
Is it idealistic to think that one day, money will be second to art? Probably. But look and see that it’s possible that the number-crunching materialism of industry is slowly giving way to what really matters in music: music.