From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- See the big four, culture industry, cultural appropriation in western music, artworld economics, The problem with music, Digital rights management
The music industry refers to the business industry connected with the creation and sale of music. It consists of record companies, labels and publishers that distribute recorded music products internationally and that often control the rights to those products. Some music labels are "independent," while others are subsidiaries of larger corporate entities or international media groups.
The world music market is currently dominated by the "big four" record groups, Sony BMG, EMI, Universal and Warner, each of which consists of many smaller companies and labels serving under different regions and markets.
Early commoditization of music
Until the 1700s, the process of composition and printing of music was mostly supported by patronage from the aristocracy and church. In the mid-to-late 1700s, performers and composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart began to seek commercial opportunities to market their music and performances to the general public. After Mozart's death, his wife (Constanze Weber) continued the process of commercialization of his music through an unprecedented series of memorial concerts, selling his manuscripts, and collaborating with her second husband, Georg Nissen, on a biography of Mozart.
In the 1800s, the music industry was dominated by sheet music publishers. In the United States, the music industry arose in tandem with the rise of blackface minstrelsy. The group of music publishers and songwriters which dominated popular music in the United States was known as Tin Pan Alley.
The phonographic age
A multitude of record labels came and went, but a handful of label corporations prospered for decades. By the end of the 1980s, the "Big 6" — EMI, Sony, BMG, PolyGram, WEA and MCA — dominated the industry. In mid-1998, PolyGram merged into Universal Music Group (formerly MCA), dropping the leaders down to a "Big 5". They became the "Big 4" in 2004 when Sony combined with BMG.
21st Century changes
Just as radio and television did before it, the advent of file sharing technologies has changed the balance between record companies, song writers, and performing artists. Bands such as Metallica have fought back against peer-to-peer programs such as the infamous Napster, and the arguments for and against technology to circumvent them - digital rights management systems - remain controversial. With the advent of Apple Inc.'s iTunes online music store in 2003, legal music downloads became widely available.
By June 2008, digital music sales generated around $2 billion in revenue, with tracks available through 500 online services located in 40 countries, representing around 10 percent of the total global music market. Revenue from retail CD sales, however, continued to fall. IBISWorld reported in June 2008 that "the industry's financial future looks bleak," but noted that, although revenues have decreased, artists have suffered less than record companies, since they can "make most of their money on merchandise sales and touring."