5 Reasons the Future of the Music Industry Depends on Software Developers
The foundations of the music industry are firmly planted in the bedrock of technology, and its ongoing digitisation has huge implications for musicians, producers and consumers alike.
Here are 5 reasons why the future of music lies in the hands of software programmers.
There was a time when recording an album required a lot of time, money and a ton of outboard hardware equipment – pre-amps, compressors, desks and reels. Nowadays the market is flooded with digital studio suites, allowing every musically minded upstart to be a have- a-go hero.
Industry standard Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) Logic-Pro and Pro-tools are available to purchase for less that £200, providing all the tools needed to write, record, mix and master a song in a single package. Outside of these mainstays a multitude of other options exist, each boasting their own unique features. A worthy mention among these is Ableton Live, used by the likes of Daft Punk, Hot Chip and Mogwai (alongside a roster of other high profile artists) to loop, synthesise and synchronise during live performances.
And for those without money and a healthy disregard for the law (aspiring musicians often fall into this category), pirated versions of all of these programs are easily available through torrent sites. The bottom line of all this is that the volume of new music being put out by unsigned artists has exponentially increased in the last decade.
Commercially, the aforementioned DAWs thrive on add-on software known as plug-ins. Plug-ins offer manipulation of sound in nearly every way imaginable via easily grasped user interfaces. These are a potential goldmine for budding software developers.
Professional producers wouldn’t think twice about shelling out in excess of £150 on a plug-in that, to the untrained ear, might not seem to make any difference to the sound of a track. But to the trained ear it makes all the difference - no Gaga, Bieber or Kanye West mix would stand up to scrutiny without it. The most expensive plug-in ever (now redundant) retailed at around £5000.
And whilst the music industry in certainly forward thinking, it also thrives on the notion of tradition, and the ‘classic’ – the classic Album, the classic guitar tone, and the classic analogue hardware that produced it. This means there is also a demand for ‘retrospective’ software that accurately models vintage equipment. As such the market for new software is thriving, hosting both established audio programming institutions and a number of start-ups, all jostling for a seat at the big table.
Quick thinking software start-ups in the mid 2000s spied a market to host the sudden explosion of music being produced by aspiring musicians in their childhood bedrooms. The online music hosting service Soundcloud emerged a frontrunner and now plays a huge part in the discovery of new artists, not only by the public but also by labels looking to sign exciting new music.
But with every Jane, Sarah and Shaun putting out their mixes online, the marketplace quickly become saturated, and towering music labels like Sony and Warner found they could no longer curate exactly what the public got to listen to.
The emergence of social media around the same time ensured that music discovery and online socialising became inexorably linked. Buying and listening to music has always had strong social links. The ability to browse your friends’ Spotify playlists is the modern day equivalent of cycling to your buddy’s house and nosing through their record collection with a glass of red wine.
In part, big labels found solace in infiltrating social media with clever, broad, and well-funded marketing campaigns, but as ever, public tastes never stay true for long and sometimes buck the trend completely.
The resulting industry today is one of intense competition – between artists, labels, and software producers.
Since the dawn of time artists have been looking to create new and interesting sounds, and frequently technology has been the catalyst for these leaps of faith. With the once ‘futuristic’ electric guitar now considered almost neolithic by most, the new battlegrounds of sonic creation primarily lie in electronic synthesis.
In recent years, the emergence of easily available programming software for sound synthesis has catalysed the way some artists work. Among these, Supercollider (a coding platform for algorithmic synthesis) and Max MSP (a durable audio/visual processor with a GUI) have had a large impact, especially among the most radical artists looking to push the envelope as far as possible.
As the music industry (begrudgingly in parts) prepares itself to slither completely from the real into the hyper-real, it makes complete sense that physical record sales are falling year on year. Accordingly, demand for online streaming services is higher than ever, with new start-ups throwing their hat into the ring all the time.
However, the public has always been resilient to changing their listening habits – cassette was resisted when introduced, as was CD. Mini-disk, technically a big step up from CD, has been reduced to an asterism in the footnotes of music history because the public didn’t bite.
A modern example dominating the music media recently is Tidal, the Kanye West fronted streaming service. Since its launch Tidal has had a relatively slow take up of custom for their service, proving that even star power has limited influence when it comes to people choosing how to listen to their music.
American folk stalwart Neil Young suffered a similar humiliation over his premium download service SONOS.
So whilst internally the digital revolution is constantly re-inventing the way music is made and presented in the industry, external consumer habits are harder to change. However, the promise of huge profits will keep new listening platforms emerging until one sticks.
To conclude, whilst the industry continues to hedge its bet on what will be the next big thing, the only certainty is that software will play a big role. And with that in mind, it can only mean that coders will continue have a growing role in the future of music.
If you're a musictech lover and want to share the love with us in London at an exclusive event for the SheCanCode community - why not join us at our first industry vertical where we will be inviting a host of panelists from some of Europe's coolest musictech companies to discuss the future of the music industry as a result of technology.
Written by Charlie Cook, an experienced writer and world traveler.