Computerization's Effect on the Recording Industry

Computerization's Effect on the Recording Industry

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Computerization's Effect on the Recording Industry

    Abstract:  Music is one of the oldest known forms of human expression.  It has not, however, been left unchanged by the rapid computerization that has dramatically altered so much of our society.  The recording industry plays an important role in the world of modern music, and it has been affected more profoundly than most other areas of music.  This essay identifies ways in which the introduction of computers and the internet have affected the recording industry, specifically in terms of music distribution and the emergence of new musical styles.  It assesses whether these changes are beneficial or harmful to the recording industry.


1.  Introduction

Music has existed for millennia, yet it is not immune to change.  Music in many ways provides a window on our society, and as society changes so does music.  The invention of new instruments, ways of playing music, and media for storing music, all have impacted music, musicians, and those who bring music to the general public.  Although the advent of computerization has brought about changes in how music is created, the recording industry has perhaps been the most visibly affected by these changes in technology.  As the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) aptly puts it, "no other decade in history has contributed as much to the growth of the music industry as the 1990s, the digital decade" [1].  With any radical change, there are both positive and negative consequences of this change, and such consequences depend on the specific viewpoint being considered.  Has computer technology had a positive or negative effect on the recording industry?  This paper will assess changes to the recording industry from several different perspectives.


            In order to evaluate this question, the term "effect" must be broken down into areas that are more clearly defined.  The recording industry facilitates the transfer of music from the musicians to the intended audience; in other words, it is concerned with the distribution of music.  The technology that has most heavily impacted distribution is the internet.  The internet creates a means by which a certain piece of music can instantly become accessible to hundreds of millions of people around the world.  The second important aspect of computerization is the creation of a new audience.  This audience has significantly different tastes and requirements relating to music; a fact that the industry must take into account when deciding what types of music to sell.

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  This paper will be evaluating these two aspects of computerization in order to answer the central question of whether there has been an overall positive or negative effect on the recording industry.


2.  The Internet

Distribution of music on the internet is split largely into three main categories:

1.  Large-scale digital Distribution

2.  Small-scale digital Distribution

3.  File sharing and piracy


These categories are explained in the following paragraphs.



2.1  Large-scale digital distribution of music

  , one of the most popular places to obtain digital music online, is considered "large-scale" because it receives traffic from a significant percentage of users looking for digital music; more than half a million visitors enter the site every day, with several million more accessing services[8]. claims that it has "created a unique and robust technology infrastructure designed to facilitate the storage, management, promotion and delivery of digital music[2]."   It goes on to say that it is "dedicated to giving consumers music when they want it and where they want it, using any web-enabled device[2]."  The key words in the first sentence are "storage, management, promotion, and delivery," because it is these words that set as part of the recording industry.


The recording industry is concerned with creating hard copies of music (storage), directing the delivery and production of this music (management), advertising the music to generate more sales and awareness of artists (promotion), and actually selling music to consumers (delivery).  From this, is evidently part of the industry.'s primary service, however, is not to sell physical copies of music and albums, but to make music accessible through a "web-enabled device[2]"  The services provided by the site are, therefore, services of digital rather than physical distribution.


2.2  Small-scale digital distribution of music

            The internet is not the realm of only large music publishers.  Another role it plays in the case of the recording industry is that of a distributor.  It makes it possible for artists to eliminate the step of physical distribution altogether, and distribute directly online.  This is seen as "small-scale" because it involves artists selling a very small selection of their own music.  Previously, using traditional procedure, artists had to perform or send copies of their songs to agents of the large recording companies in order to get a contract.  Now, any artist, no matter his skill level or experience, can record and distribute music.  This can be of great benefit to amateur artists, who can use the internet to gain exposure much more quickly, and reach a wide audience without having signed on with a record label.  For those artists seeking to convey a particular religious, political, or ideological message or theme without the intent of actually making money, the internet is a perfect distribution medium.


2.3  File sharing and piracy of music

            File sharing, or peer-to-peer transfer, is the ability of two users to directly exchange digital music files.  This can refer to something as simple as copying an MP3 onto a disk and giving the disk to the recipient, but is most often seen as referring to transfer through client software such as Napster, KaZaA, or Morpheus[10].  Such transfer inevitably brings up the issue of copyright infringement, or piracy.  Since music can be duplicated infinitely without any reduction in quality [5], people can listen to music without ever having purchased it, which is illegal.


This illegal distribution means that the recording industry  and the artists themselves lose revenue.  They are in effect giving away music for free.  Legal issues involved with providers of services that do not actually infringe copyrights but allow others to do so, like Napster, are constantly being debated, but court rulings are inconsistent[4].  Napster, on its own website, posts the notice: "Unauthorized copying, distribution, modification, public display, or public performance of copyrighted works may be an infringement of the copyright holders' rights in certain circumstances.[3]"  There is, however, very little enforcement of digital music copyright laws, and as a result such piracy goes on unchecked.


2.4  Assessment

            Having presented the three methods of distribution over the internet, we return to the original question of whether the internet has been a positive or negative development for the recording industry.  Large-scale distribution has created new sectors of the recording industry devoted to the practice of digital distribution.  This new market creates new sources of revenue for the industry.  Large-scale distribution can therefore be seen as having made a positive impact of the internet on the recording industry.


            Small-scale distribution, on the other hand, has made a negative impact on the recording industry's profit.  This method of distribution allows artists to sell directly to their audience.  The recording industry's role has been defined as that of an intermediary in the transfer of music from artist to audience.  By selling directly, artists eliminate the need for the recording industry, which translates into a decrease in revenue, and is therefore negative.  Another aspect of small-scale distribution, that of new types of music and music quality, is discussed later in this paper.


            Napster had more than 70 million users [10] at its peak.  The majority of these users were exchanging music illegally; that is, downloading music for which they did not own the original CD or media.  Illegal file sharing or piracy cost the recording industry $4.2 billion in the year 2000 alone. [9]  With the rapid proliferation of broadband internet capable of carrying out such file-sharing, the problem will likely escalate.  This is clearly very detrimental to the recording industry, and new laws may need to be enacted in order to enforce copyrights and protect the industry.


3.  New Audience

Although the internet is the most visible form of computerization in the field of music, many other advances have been made as well, especially in the fields of audio and instrumental reproduction.  As Max Mathews, a researcher at Bell Laboratories, said; "There are no theoretical limits, to the performance of the computer as a source of musical sounds." [6]  A computer can create sounds that are virtually indistinguishable from those created by a physical instrument.  These sounds can be rearranged to form music.


The mere presence of these new methods of composing music does not affect the recording industry directly.  What these methods do, however, is create new styles of music.  For example, a type of music known as MOD1 is composed entirely on a computer by a single person.  Although this method of composing can produce music of any style, it is most noted for creating new types of music.  "Demostyle" and "Gamestyle" music are the most popular of these new styles.  Demostyle music is a fast-paced type of sound usually involving computerized instruments that have no physical equivalent in the real world.  Demostyle music was intended for use as background music for Demos2 that were popular in the early 1990s.  Gamestyle music is, as the name implies, used as background music in computer games . It is similar to demostyle, but is usually more melodic.  This style of music certainly could not have existed before the appearance of computer games, for which it was intended.


These new styles impact music in that they create new audiences listening to these types of music, and therefore provide for new methods of distribution.  Sites such as and were founded to serve the MOD community, most of which was involved in composing Demo/Game style music.  These sites have now evolved into distribution centers similar to, with a wide variety of musical styles, but they still draw a significantly different audience from those who visit


These new styles of music have provided additional sources of revenue for the entire recording industry; it is possible, for example, to order three-CD sets of the ingame music from the popular role-playing game Chrono Trigger from [7].  This CD set is, furthermore, imported from the Japanese publisher Square Music; a company that was founded for the express purpose of distributing game music.  New audiences purchase music, which results in increased revenue for the recording industry.  This is clearly beneficial to the industry, and can be considered a positive impact of computerization for the recording industry.


4.  Conclusion

            Computerization has opened up new audiences and created new markets for the recording industry.  This has lead to an increase in revenue, and is therefore beneficial.  Large-scale digital distribution generates additional revenue for the industry through on-line sales and promotion, and gives it access to a wider audience.  Small-scale distribution, however, allows artists to bypass the recording industry and sell directly.  Even if new markets are opened through the creation of new styles of music, the recording industry may not benefit from them due to the effect direct sales.  Additionally, the proliferation of file-sharing software has made music piracy widespread, resulting in massive financial losses.  The industry faces threats from both artists and consumers.  The conclusion reached is, therefore, that computer technology has had a decidedly negative impact on the recording industry.



5.  References


1.  "Introduction to Music and the Internet", Recording Industry Association of America,


2.  "About",,


3.  Earp, Jonathan P.  "Napster Copyright Policy", Napster Inc.,


4.  Baase, Sara.  A Gift of Fire, (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1997), page 172.

5.  Hysell, Scott L.  "Computers and Music: Things Will Never Be The Same,"

6.  Johnstone, Bob.  "Wave of the Future,"  Source was found in the references list of Scott Hysell's paper and was then looked up independently.

7.  Chrono Trigger: Original Sound Version [IMPORT] [SOUNDTRACK],  This item was found by searching for Chrono Trigger in the main search field.

8.  Advertising on,

9.  Harris, Ron, "Putting Their Music Under Lock and Key;

Major record labels experiment with technology to limit digital duplication of CDs," (New York, NY : Newsday Inc, 2001) through Lexis-Nexis.

10.  DiJulius, Holly M, "CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC ;

Meet the new boss (Morpheus) Same as the old boss (Napster)," (The Columbus Dispatch, 2001) through Lexis-Nexis.



1 MOD is a collective header for a group of music formats (MOD, S3M, XM, IT, and others) that share the same system of composition; presampled instruments embedded in the music file and arranged through a sheet-pattern method similar to that used by MIDI.


2 Demos are small programs that combine graphics and sound.  As the name implies, they are intended to be demonstrations of the limits of these two areas.  Demos typically have graphics that are far more advanced than anything seen in conventional software at the time.  Demos were popularized by a number of gatherings, most notably the Assembly gathering in Finland, which has drawn thousands of visitors every year since its founding.

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