Final Project: Digitization of Music

// Posted by on 11/17/2014 (1:08 PM)


Unfortunately, I mismanaged my time during my presentation and was unable to present everything I would have liked to during my final presentation, so I will provide a summary of my current progress for my final project.

The advent of the digital age has made listening and acquiring extremely easy and simple for the consumer. Whereas in the past, the acquisition of music required one to physically find copies of music cd’s, records or cassettes in stores or in peoples collection, today, almost all music known to man can be found online in digital files that can be shared downloaded and altered. With these changes in technology, the music industry has been forced to adapt its business model as it attempts to maintain profits and keep up. However, most developments within the music industry during this time have been reactionary measures taken in response to proposed threats to the industry’s business model.

The transition of the music industry into the digital age was accelerated and ultimately decided by the introduction of the peer to peer file sharing site Napster in 1999 which allowed users to download music for free. The record companies were not prepared to deal with the free trade of their copyrighted material that Npaster provided, so they sought legal action to prevent it from happening. The industry was too late, the legal action taken by the industry was not enough to prevent consumers from peer to peer sharing and digital downloads. Although Napster would be shut down, a multitude of similar sites sprung up in its place like Limewire, Kazaa etc. Illegal downloading became the way to acquire music as record sales dropped.

A common sentiment that the free downloading of music was hurting the artists who produced the music being downloaded. The industry took this idea, and reconstructed itself, introducing sites and apps like Itunes that allowed users to purchase music, instead of downloading it illegally. The industry’s response still failed to prevent people from file sharing and downloading as the number of files uploaded and downloaded increased exponentially. However, I am not convinced that illegal downloading was hurting the very artists making the music being shared which led to the question at the foundation of my research: Has the digitization of the music industry hurt artists?

In Free Culture, Lawrence Lessig presents the idea that consumers of music who shared files and downloaded music could we divided into 4 different groups: those who did so as a substitute for purchasing content, those who did so to sample content before purchasing it, those who wanted access to copyrighted material that wasn’t in sale, or those who wanted to freely distribute their own copyrighted material. I find Lessig’s theory to present an accurate picture of how users choose to file share and download music for a variety of reasons. The industry and opponents of illegal downloading believed that most perpetrators of free music downloading are of the first kind mentioned by Lessig, that they do so in place of purchasing content. They failed to account, that consumers would have other or more than one reasons to be participating in this new trend. It is my assertion that more consumers belong to the second group mentioned by Lessig: those who use sharing networks to sample music before purchasing, than anyone to account for. Despite the falls of record sales, artists still continue to sell records and make money despite the advent of free downloading. The music profession was never an industry for many people to make a lot of money and that continues to be so. However, I would argue that digitization has allowed for the expansion of the music community by decreasing the role and power of record companies and has encouraging greater distribution and promotion for artists.

This brings me to the modern state of the industry where online streaming sites like Spotify and Pandora have become a preferred method for listening to and finding new music. In a strong parallel to the discussion regarding the illegal downloading of music and sites like Napster, many artists and others have come out and trashed these online music streaming services for their discrimination of artists. While these services do not provide much if any financial support to artists, I believe that they are still doing good for artists by providing them with easy promotion and access to new fans and recognition. I provided a few case studies to support my stance.

Gotye, an Australian singer-songwriter who is independent of record labels and produces his own music. he had released a few albums to limited success in his native Australia before releasing his 2011 single “Somebody that I used to know”. “Somebody that I used to know” was distributed though numerous social media outlets and ended up gaining huge attention across the globe. The single eventually reached the top of the Billboard charts in multiple countries and made Gotye a lot of money because he was an independent artist and owned all the royalties to the song. Gotye’s case is an example of how artists benefit of the current system in the music industry. There are an increasing amount of independent artists who are making and distributing their own music and finding success. With the digital age, record labels have lost some of the  power they once used to control the entire industry. Although not everyone is buying music legally, artists continue to sell records and make money.

Here is a personal experience of how a consumer like myself can support an artist in the modern day. This winter, I discovered the band Wolf Gang, through a song of their’s I hear on satellite radio. Not knowing much about the band, I looked them up on Spotify and found their 2011 album Suego Faults. I enjoyed this album heavily and listened to it a lot at my computer. Because I liked their album, I decided to buy it on Itunes, so that i could put the album on my Ipod and own it myself. In this example, I am like the second group of file sharers described by Lessig, doing so in order to sample material before purchasing. The story does not end there. In September, Wolf Gang played a concert at the National in Richmond which I bought tickets to and attended. No only did I contribute to the band by buying their album, but by attending their concert. Today, most artists make a majority of their money through touring and playing shows and I was able to contribute to their work. Additionally, going to said concert, I discovered another band called Sir Sly which I soon repeated the process of listening to their album on Spotify and purchasing it. My point is thus: without the digitization of music, I would most likely never have discovered Wolf Gang and been able to support them. The current system in the music industry has been developed by digitization and allows for an expanded growth of artists.


In my presentation, I asked my classmates which of Lessig’s four groups of file sharers that each felt they were a member of. The question produced an overwhelming response with atleast 7 of the 8 people in the class agreeing that they belong to each of the 4 different types of file sharers. This confirmed my suspicion that people do not only download music so that they can avoid paying for it, that consumers have a variety of reasons for file sharing.


Next, I asked my classmates to list several of their favorite artists and how they acquired their music files. The results were interesting. From the information I received, it was clear that there was no standard preferred method for acquiring music. There seemed to be an even distribution amongst buying music from ITunes, converting the files from someone else’s cd’s, or acquiring files in illegal manners such as downloading from the Pirate bay or using a youtube-mp3 converter (the modern equivalent of downloading from Napster, just a less frowned upon service). One trend that I did notice was most of my respondents acquired most of their preferred artists works through the same manner. of the 5 artists Emily listed, she had bought the music for 4 of them off of Itunes Store, while the 5th was the Beatles, who’s albums she inherited through her father. Nicola acquired the music for all 5 of her listed artists by using a youtube-mp3 converter. Aisling acquired 4 of her 5 artists through a youtube-mp3 converter as well. I believe that these results play into my argument as they show that some but not all consumers are still willing to pay for their music and use other sites as an accessory. I think my argument is more supported by the response from Elizabeth. For the 5 artists listed by Elizabeth, each included at least  7 different albums in her collection, significantly more than those listed by other respondents. Elizabeth was also an outlier in that she acquired the files for each artists through multiple means. For her Black Keys collection, she acquired most of their older albums using Limewire or the Pirates bay, but purchased their most recent album on Itunes. In the case of the Black Keys, file sharing served as a method for Elizabeth to trial their work before committing to supporting the band by purchasing an album.

The feedback also brought some insights I had not initially thought of. For example, there was a far greater number of responses that said that they acquired certain music from cd’s of their parents or older siblings. This leads me to think that cd’s are certainly not just a thing of the past and play a role in modern music listening experience, although in a role different from their original purpose. Instead of playing the music, Cd’s are now transferring the music to newer and younger fans.

Looking Forward:

With the results of my presentation as well as the feedback I have received, a few things stand out as I look to move on and complete my final paper. First off, I still need to work on the organizational structure of my argument. Working through the pitch has improved it, but I still need to sort it out into a more clear and concise argumentative approach.

I also think that I need to strengthen my argument with the help of another theorist to complement the work of Lessig. I think I may be relying to heavily on Lessig’s arguments and think another critical opinion would really open up my paper. Most of the research information has come from a variety of articles I have collected as well as Lessig’s Free Culture.

That said, I think with the feedback from my classmates, I am comfortable in continuing to pursue my argument as I see it. With some tweaks and augmentation at certain points, I should be able to produce an excellent final product.



  • music listening statistics for universities across the United States

  • cool interactive map called Serendipity from Spotify artist in residence Kyle McDonald. Tracks how two people in the world will listen to same track at same time.

  • good overlook of the current state of music royalties and how it factors into online streaming sites

  • destroys singing centric televised talent shows
  • positive depiction for new and emerging artists for they have greater control, not limited to hoping to sign with label
  • businesses that support talented young musicians, help gain promotion


  • article from Damon Krukowski analyzing the capalitstic nature of Spotify and Pandora, and criticizing the music streaming services for treating music and musicians as a business rather than art.
  • Taylor Swift recently removed her music catalouge from Spotify, saying “ ”the landscape of the music industry itself is changing so quickly, that everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment. And I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music. And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.”
  • Dave Grohl being awesome in response to Taylor Swift’s removal of music from Spotify.

A few links pertaining to my topic


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