Every time there’s a new technology, the music business changes. Every time the music business changes, those making money out of the old model claim the sky is falling.
The player piano is an entirely mechanical device, invented in the latter part of the 19th century, and popular in the early part of the 20th century.
In a nutshell, it plays without the aid of a human pianist, by means of a roll of paper with holes in it that have ‘captured’ the performance of a real person. By scrolling through the roll, the piano’s keys would be struck and you would get a ‘perfect’ performance of that piece of music every time.
Buy another roll, and you’ve got yourself another endlessly replicable performance. Disaster.
Of course, it was bad enough that musicians were being done out of a job by sheet music. I mean, if people could take the music home and perform it for free in their parlour, where was the money to be made? Worse, there were pirates out there hand-copying the music and sharing it with their friends.
But now, it was not just the song they were taking home with them — but the actual performance too. There was no need to go to a public performance at all any more. The professional entertainer and the music hall model that surrounds it was finished.
The sky, in short, was falling.
And, of course, we’ve seen this with the development of radio broadcasting. If people could hear the record on the radio for free, why would they purchase the record?
Try telling a record company exec now that radio airplay hurts sales.
But now, in the digital era, we’re hearing these same sad songs again. The sky is falling. The music business is finished.
Well, first the sky is not falling. Never has, never will.
Second, the music business is just fine. The music business is a resilient ecology featuring educators, musicians, venues, promoters, publishers, retailers, and a long list of other professional groups.
The record business, however, needs to do some adapting.