Innovations are providing music to our ears – Ruwandi Perera 

Whatever happened to your treasured collection of CDs? Yes, the ones for which you waited in long lines! Once considered precious possessions, most of our CDs now lie in some rusty cabinet, hopefully with the discs still inside.

With the digitisation of music, the value of owning physical records has diminished greatly. The vinyl records our grandparents and parents proudly showcased in their mahogany cupboards or atop the ‘setup’ are now considered antiques and showpieces. Sadly, CDs do not (as yet) fall into this ‘prized’ category but hover between the ‘used to love’ and ‘junk’ realms.

As almost everyone listens to music online, CD sales have plummeted. Today, people listen to songs mostly on YouTube and most songs can be downloaded for a dollar or two in their original form, yielding very low margins for recording artistes. And with many of us generously sharing our ‘downloads’ with friends, artistes suffer more – not in terms of popularity and fame but earnings.

It is due to these reasons that many artistes now prefer touring over recording music. Touring cannot be replicated, and ensures that fans are physically present. This helps artistes earn more, and it seems as though we’ve gone back in time to when concerts were all the rage and buying music was only reserved for ardent fans or the rich.

And with holograms appearing on stage, tours can unfold while artistes are alive or dead!

For music fans, attending tour concerts may be expensive but it keeps the experience real, engaging and somehow challenging – it’s not as simple and effortless as downloading a track.

Having discussed the effects of the digitisation of music, we cannot ignore the positives. For instance, thanks to YouTube, we don’t need to watch painful music ‘chart shows’ on TV, patiently awaiting the number one hit of the countdown. Let’s face it, most radio shows today are 75 percent gossip and endorsements, and only 25 percent music. And thanks to music also being available on our phones, tablets, PCs and other screen-based devices, we have been brought closer to music.

Another new trend is the advent of ‘cover artistes.’ They mushroom so quickly and are sometimes better than the original artistes, making you wonder whether you should download the cover instead of the original!

As for me, it was only when I heard Despacito by Luis Fonsi (featuring Daddy Yankee) for what must have been at least the 10th time that I realised I was finally listening to the original, having already heard the a cappella and instrumental versions, as well as the 10-year-olds’ takes on the song.

Cover artistes become famous overnight thanks to YouTube channels and social media sharing. This makes us believe that for real artistes, signing up with a record label such as Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment or even Warner Music Group is not such a big deal anymore whether this be in terms of honour and fame, or reach and coverage.

Today, singers, dancers, entertainers or anyone who is good at performing in front of a camera can rise to fame independently by using their phones, YouTube channels and social media pages. And with online advertisers hungrily seeking budding magnets for ‘likes,’ shares and reach, money is just another luxurious consequence of a healthy online presence.

This also means that artistes of today are less dependent on managers – there’s really no need to employ a manager unless you’re so famous that you can’t handle the paparazzi!

So digitisation as always has freed music from the shackles of access control, ownership rights and even content barriers; it has allowed music to be freely enjoyed by millions and not only a portion of society that has access to it. Moreover, it has opened the door for would-be singers who missed out on America’s Got Talent or its local equivalent TNL Onstage to sing their hearts out and gather followers.

But freedom always comes at a price. The loss of control and lack of proper guidelines has resulted in a deregulated industry where anyone can promote any kind of music whether it’s intended for animals or humans.

Digitisation has brought about an era where plagiarism and collusion have become the norm with people bringing back ‘lost’ songs from the 1980s and claiming them to be their own. The online world of music has made listeners take artistes, talent and musical creations for granted without pausing to appreciate the effort that has gone into making melodies. Instead of being transported to another time and place, music is more or less background noise today.

Yet, the world moves on. And although the last lines of Don McLean’s American Pie are ringing in my ears right now, the music simply will not die.