What will happen to music in the next decade? Here are 10 predictions from me (and a few others).

Whenever I hold an event with a Q&A portion, someone inevitably asks “Now that we’re streaming so much music, what comes next?” An excellent question.

My answer references how things were in the early 1920s when the young recorded music industry was in a war with the even younger radio industry. Record labels hated the idea of radio playing their product. If people could get their music for free, who would buy records? Labels and musicians would be put out of work. Radio, meanwhile, said “Look, we’re giving you free promotion. You should be happy that we’re playing your stuff.”

This battle went on for a good 20 years before various forms of broadcast licensing were enacted and the two industries started working together for the greater good of all involved.

“We’re sort of in the same situation today,” I say. “A new technology is disrupting several old industries. How they’re going to end of working together–or not–will take years to figure out.”

Streaming is definitely the future. Take a look at this chart from Statista.

CD sales are in free fall. Digital album sales are down by over 25% from this time last year. The sales of digital tracks are cratering.

Basically, we’ve gone from buying music to renting it. It’s access over possession. Or, to transfer this into another historical context, we’re back in 1922 when we’re eschewing the option of buying records and instead listening to music for free on the radio.

The big difference, as you can see from the above chart, is that the record labels have figured things out a lot sooner than they did 100 years ago.

But back to the original question: What’s next for music? A couple of thoughts from me:

  1. AR and VR will be a big deal in the coming decade. We’re almost to the point where we can seamlessly participate in a live music event anywhere in the world from our living room.
  2. Meanwhile, the live music industry will have to adapt to the fact that fewer artists will be able to fill large arenas and stadiums. That could open the doors for a marriage between music and e-sports events.
  3. On a related note, the concept of releasing albums will continue to wane. Instead, we’ll get more EPs and a steady drip-drip-drip of singles. In fact, we’re already starting to see that, especially among the hip-hop crowd.
  4. And related to that, there will be an increasing emphasis on individual songs and where they end up on streaming services. This will probably mean a rise in the number of one-hit-wonders.
  5. The adoption of 5G technology is going to open the doors to new tech that we haven’t even begun to imagine yet. Music will inevitably figure into this somehow. (See point 1)
  6. Streaming music services will restructure their deals with labels so they are able to sign artists directly.
  7. Look for the streaming services to get more into video (See points 1 and 3).
  8. Vinyl will survive. It’s the cockroach of music storage formats.
  9. The number of high-end recording studios will continue to shrink. They’re expensive to maintain and upgrade and will fall prey to economic realities. We’ll be left with a tight group of super-studios for people like superstar artists and orchestras assembled for movie soundtracks. (But even soundtracks don’t need a 65-piece orchestra anymore. You should see what composers alone can do with the latest gear.)
  10. How long will it be before we ditch headphones and earbuds for implanted bone induction chips?

The Junkee also has this article on what may happen.

“People are reading news on large sheets of chip wrapping, movies are kept on discs, MP3s are worth actual money, people shrug when you say the word ‘podcast’, emojis are still being called emoticons. Technology in all areas of our lives moved at a more rapid clip this decade than any preceding it. So, it only stands to reason that this pace will be accelerated in the roaring twenties.

“Looking at where things seem to be heading, we’ve made what will go down as some scarily accurate predictions about what the next decade has in store for all us. Act surprised!”

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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