The Music Industry Now & Then

Today’s music industry is substantially different than it was, even just a few decades ago. What was once a world equated with starving artists, is now thought of as fast track to fame and fortune.

If being part of the music industry is your goal, then you need to understand how the business has changed throughout the years – not only to appreciate those who have truly dedicated their lives to music, but to better understand how to be a relevant part of it today.


As hard as it may be to imagine, there was once a time when being a singer or musician was thought of as a vocation for less prominent members of society – especially since the money they made back then was nowhere near the paychecks that today’s top artists receive. Being an artist or entertainer had nothing to do with getting rich quick, but rather having actual passion for their craft (not to mention, the talent to back it up).

The early decades of the 1900s was also an organic time for genres such as rhythm and blues, when lyrics were written and composed not to appeal to the masses, but as a way for the African American community to express themselves. As Mahalia Jackson once said, “Anybody singing the blues is in a deep pit yelling for help.” Nowadays, a significant portion of songs are written with the intent of selling to the majority of the population, rather than a focused demographic.


Unlike the days of jazz, rock, and Motown, the music industry is now saturated with millions of people who are hoping to catch their big break. Spurred by reality talent shows, it’s easy to see why so many would assume that success in the business can be an overnight process and that, literally, anyone can be the next big thing. Some have even become famous for being terrible singers.

So many people are looking for their 15 minutes of fame, that it takes longer to weed through the “talent” pool in order to find any real talent. This is why it’s difficult to get in contact with record labels, and why demo submissions are generally closed unless pitched by a vetted A&R representative or lawyer – there’s just too many people out there who want a piece of the action.

Big Business

The entertainment industry, when you take away the talent and artistry, has always been about business. Today, however, it’s more competitive than ever, and it’s impossible to succeed in music without being business savvy. Have you ever listened to a popular track and wondered how the artist is at the top of the charts, when their talent level is only so-so? It all comes down to brilliant marketing, branding, and building a USP (unique selling point) in order to separate the artist from the millions of other alternatives. The industry isn’t always about raw talent, but rather who is marketable and who will bring in profits.

Technology & Accessibility

Back in the day, artists like Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald were able to build enormous, worldwide fan bases despite the fact that the audio quality of radios and TVs was relatively poor. Radio and television broadcasts weren’t platforms that were widely available to just any musician – so to have that type of exposure was a huge deal. With advancements in technology and social media, however, the past ten years alone have enabled virtually anybody to put themselves out there for the public to see.

Artists like Lilly Allen gained traction from Myspace alone, and Psy made millions from “Gangnam Style” collecting billions of hits on YouTube. Fans can even connect with their favorite celebrities directly through Twitter and Facebook, which demonstrates how the gap between artists and the general public has essentially disappeared.

Perhaps the greatest change in the music industry is that anyone can now record and publish themselves. Large record labels, while they maintain the most power in terms of financing and connections, are almost obsolete due to independent artists launching their own record labels and music publishing companies online.

There are pros and cons to how this business has evolved, the most significant being that it’s much more accessible to those who are pursuing a career in music. But the reduced barriers of entry also means that there’s more competition today than there was in the past, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate oneself from the rest. For this reason, having business knowhow, the ability to network, and creating a solid marketing strategy are all an absolute must.