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  1. Culture
15 August 2013

Is there too much music on the internet?

The number of songs available to listen to online is astonishing. But instead of giving us the freedom to listen to what we want, we're more restricted than ever.

By Joe Iles

The music industry is ever-changing. Although musicians will always make music, and the public will always want to listen to it, the way we access music has changed dramatically over the past ten years. We now have access to almost every artists’ work at the click of a mouse, and are able to choose freely what we listen to and when. Surely now more than ever the consumer is in the driving seat. Our choice of music is no longer restricted by the decisions of major record labels and retailers. But having tried being in control of our music, we seem to prefer being told what to listen to.

The amount of music available is astonishing. iTunes has over 28 billion songs to download. It would take about 266 years of solid, 24 hours listening to get through it all so there’s certainly no danger of running out of music to buy. On top of this, streaming services such as Spotify mean that by paying a subscription fee, we can have access to around 20 billion of these anytime, anywhere without having to fork out 79p each time. With 20,000 songs added each day, accessing the latest music has never been easier. As a result, 24 million of now use the service

But despite this, it’s surprising how little our listening habits have changed. Of course, part of this is that only a small proportion of the available music will be of direct interest to any one person. A Slayer enthusiast is unlikely to have their listening habits changed by access to the works of John Cage (although you never know).

But still, it reaches further than restrictions in genre alone. It’s because the more music there is, the less inclined we are to try to wade through it to find something new. In years gone by, it was quite easy to head to the local record store and browse through the finite, tangible records until finding something that looked interesting and taking a punt. But with iTunes and Spotify, where do you begin? Browsing by “related artists” ensures that your musical horizons actually remain pretty narrow.

It’s also detrimental to those trying to make their mark on the music industry. The internet has been heralded as the champion of unsigned artists, enabling the small-fry to spread their material around the world merely by uploading it to Soundcloud or iTunes. But this has backfired. If an unknown artist puts their songs on iTunes, there is almost no way that it is going to have any meaningful success. It gets buried under the billions of other songs.

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It’s because finding music on our own is much more difficult than we really realise. If you actually stop and think about the last time you discovered a new band, bought a new track or listened to a new artist on Spotify, it’s unlikely that you found it completely of your own accord. These things usually as a recommendation of some description.

Indeed, we all have friends whose music taste we trust, and if they recommend something, it’s likely that we will check it out. Is social media the future of new music?

Strangely, it’s an older medium that still shapes our listening habits. It’s the radio. Overwhelmed by the sheer amount of music available, we take refuse in the opinions of mainstream DJs. Despite the increase in internet radio stations, BBC 1 and 2 still remain incredibly popular. According to RAJAR, 91% of people in the UK regularly listen to the radio, and 51% regularly listen to Radio 1 and 2. They do all the hard work for us – sorting the good from the bad, discovering new talent and thereby reduce the amount of music for us to think about.

So although we should be able to discover much more music than ever before, we don’t actually experience the benefits first-hand. Rather, we have to rely more and more on the opinions (and yes, unfortunately, are more and more influence by the advertising) of large corporations. While we might assume that the freedom to choose will liberate the music consumer, in actual fact we are more dependent and more restricted than ever.  

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