Imbalance in the Music Industry

This week in class we talked about the how power is balanced between people in social networks. A position of power is determined by who knows who. In the example in our powerpoint that was presented in class we saw that a number of things. The first principle, dependence which I will be elaborating on shortly, is the principle I was able to grasp the easiest. The diagram that was showed was a capital T with three nodes across the top and three down the stem of the T. B was the most powerful position because A and C are dependent on it to reach C.
While reading through various music blogs I realized that the radio or record labels would take the place of “B” in this example. The radio and record labels are responsible for making the music that popular actually popular. A lot of research and time goes into the artists that are selected for air time. Fans don’t have the time or money to go out scouting the world’s upcoming artists to find what appeals to them the most. The fans rely on record labels and the radio “B” to do this research for them.
There is a downside to this however. Sometimes record labels and radio stations are incorrect about what music its listeners want to hear. Or they overplay a trend of music. Are record labels and the radio hindering the music industry from reaching its maximum potential by trying to weed out what sounds bad? Should someone develop a new way of discovering music that isn’t so unbalanced?

One thought on “Imbalance in the Music Industry”

  1. I think you’re quite right to analogize the power imbalance in the T-shaped network we discussed in class with the power imbalance in the music industry. The music industry being an economic network, the power we are discussing is economic power. This power imbalance was most visible in the 90s; a relatively small number of record labels and terrestrial radio companies acted as “gatekeepers” (or local gatekeepers, to be more precise), controlling the distribution of music to fans. Given that there were a limited number of gatekeeping nodes, each occupied a position of significant power within the network and these companies did very well for themselves.

    I believe the change you suggested, that “new way of discovering music that isn’t so unbalanced,” has already arrived. Internet radio (Pandora), satellite radio, and taste-making music blogs (Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan) have undermined the centrality of terrestrial radio in the music discovery process. Digital distribution (iTunes), streaming services (Spotify), and direct-to-fan sales (Bandcamp and CDBaby) have undermined the centrality of record labels in the distribution process. Case in point, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, released by North Carolina indie label Merge Records, attained significant radio airplay, huge album sales, and won the Album of the Year Grammy in 2011. With many more players occupying gatekeeper roles, each one retains a less significant share of the power associated with their place in the network connecting fans and artists. This has also led to an increase in the relative economic power of both fans and artists: typical album prices have fallen from the 1990s standard of $18 to the iTunes-determined $10, while the ranks of the “musical middle class” (artists who make a respectable, while not extravagant, living) have greatly increased.

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