More than a decade ago, rock star David Bowie had a pretty good idea of where music would be heading.
In a 2002 New York Times interview, Bowie, who just died Sunday, spoke of record labels becoming less important and distribution methods changing, which could gesture toward the explosion of unsigned artists finding success after putting their music out on YouTube and other online services.
“I don’t even know why I would want to be on a label in a few years, because I don’t think it’s going to work by labels and by distribution systems in the same way,” Bowie said back in the early 2000s, when physical album sales were still relatively sable. “The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. I see absolutely no point in pretending that it’s not going to happen. I’m fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing.”
Bowie didn’t just correctly see that the label system’s grip on distribution was waning. He also went into ideas of ownership becoming less important, and compared the future of music consumption to utilities like water.
In the below quote, doesn’t he sound like he could be talking about streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music that give users access to all the music they want for a subscription?
“Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity,” Bowie predicted. “So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You’d better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that’s really the only unique situation that’s going to be left. It’s terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn’t matter if you think it’s exciting or not; it’s what’s going to happen.”
Bowie also hit on something very real: Today, many less-than-giant artists must depend on touring as their primary source of revenue, as album sales drop.
The world lost a visionary. Bowie died late on Sunday night after losing his 18-month battle with cancer. It’s worth remembering that he was just as bright in understanding his business.
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