What a history of changing business models for the music industry teaches us about the future

For too long the music industry had been built on the premise that albums couldn’t be copied.

And just like that one sloppy exhaust port on the Death Star, all it takes for an impenetrable fortress to fall, is a single tiny weakness. The rise of peer-to-peer technology at the end of the nineties exploited precisely that. Suddenly CDs -cheap to make but expensive to buy- went from highly profitable to almost free.

The result was nothing short of catastrophic.

The industry struck back by diversifying its business model.

On top of album and single sales (both physical and streamed) we saw live music shows and festivals take on a more central role from the 2000s on

Live shows weren’t a new thing but the central role of live music as the financial driver of the industry was. Up until the piracy revolution, live shows were considered promotional activities. You went on the road to sell more albums.

Post-Napster live music became big business.

In 2020 it was a biological disruption, not a technological one that damaged the business model again. The pandemic put an end to ticket sales and hit our industry right where it hurt.

But the industry today looks somewhat more robust. It also showed us some promising new strategies to explore.

  • 2020-2021 was a quantum leap in live streaming and other online music experiences.
  • It also proved just how much we need the collective effervescence of live music.
  • We also learned how important identity, community and belonging are.

Whatever new business models we develop, they will have to address those needs. The pandemic has brought the essence of our work back to the fore. 

It is not about selling albums or tickets, but about bringing people together.