Will Digital Save or Slave the Music Industry by Chloe Sasson, Google

Think about the first album you ever bought… you didn’t have to pause for very long did you?

As a host of one of the many Discussions at the recent Stream Asia, this question at my session was the easiest to answer. From Billy Joel to The Smiths, Beastie Boys to Bananarama (me), around the room everyone named their first musical purchase in an instant.

As for the format, it didn’t vary much between Cassette and Vinyl, with a few of those baby Gen­Xers admitting to CD or Laser Disc (!?). But what consistently came through as each of the participants named their first artist purchase was the passion for that band or individual. Whether saving hard earned pocket money, or waiting outside the record store for the release date of THAT ALBUM, there was a sheen of nostalgia across the eyes of everyone who named their first album purchase.

Going around the circle again (Stream is all about everyone participating), and the nostalgia is quickly replaced by… um… resignation? futility? In any case, even the most hard core music lovers amongst the group signed with the admission that they hadn’t purchased an album of late, but rather submissively signed up to a streaming service, and jumped from track to track on their iPod or MP3 player.

So what?

Nine years ago I left the music industry for these exact reasons. No longer were fans heading to HMVs or Tower Records on the day of album release, shelling over hard earned McDonald’s wages for the new Pixies album. In the last decade, fans have been rebelling against the old­school music industry, demanding music when they want in the format that’s most portable (and let’s face it, the Discman was never going to last!).

But music will never die, and as the Taylor Swifts and Jay Zs as well as the IUs and Girls Generations are showing, the rise of digital is enabling artists to go bigger and better. Take Nine Inch Nails, the former 90s underground band who has now taken the means of production into their own hands, with frontman Trent Reznor leaving USBs preloaded with music in the toilets of fans as a marketing ploy. Or what about the wave of K­Pop bands who have made the mediocre sneaker Brand Nu­Balance THE shoe to have on the Asian pop circuit.

So the question is; will the rise of Digital Save or Slave the music industry? As a former grunger with my Converse One Stars, and much played cassette of Smells Like Teen Spirit, this ability for everyone to access everything via digital made my inner rocker shudder. However like any good conference, I was made to rethink a few things.

Take the guy from Pepsi who ran the Pakistani market. With security threats on high alert, his young consumers aren’t able to experience the fun and freedom of a massive outdoor concert. So does he and his brand have the right to set up a safe environment for Pop Music, or should a global brand be shunned from authentic music. Pre­Stream I would have balked at the thought that Pepsi could save music, but after this session, I could see how Pepsi is in a position in Pakistan to expose young consumers to the joy of live music.

Then what about China? To my naive brain, I would have expected a young, but burgeoning Beijing Pop scene. However my Stream colleagues were quick to educate me that the Chinese natives looked to Korea for pop influences, as a country who had picked themselves out of poverty and were working out how to create in a newly formed capitalist market.

Theoretically, then, the likes of Pharrell and Maroon5 holding onto their global musical domination are to be short lived, as the Asian regions start to export their own musical flavas to the rest of the world.

So what was my take out from this one hour session? The album is dead, and my kids will never understand the sound of a Rage Against the Machine Cassette crawling to a stop as your AA batteries died in your Sony Walkman. What they will have is the world’s music at their fingertips, and rather than the crème de la crème of the UK and US hitmakers, they will also have a solid Asian contingent to select from. And whether these bands were raised on the funds of part time jobs or big brand funding, music will always be the soundtrack to the younger generation.


Chloe currently works at Google Singapore running the WPP Business. Prior to that she worked at a little website called MySpace. Her first job was interviewing dance DJs for a Sydney Street Press then went on to write for Music Magazines like Rolling Stone and Juice and then as a PR and Label Manager for a large Indie Label. She has never worked in a Record Store.

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