We may not want to admit it, but some of us are old enough to remember the time when we listened to music using a transistor radio.
Then came the Walkman. This iconic portable cassette player revolutionized how people listened to music in the 1970’s.
OK, let’s press the fast forward key to today.
People are now able to listen to music on the move, anywhere on the planet, even in outer space, thanks to the magic of the internet and to the MP3 becoming the standard audio format of choice.
We’re now living in a digital era, in which audio hardware, enhanced media formats and streaming services are geared to our lifestyle preferences for music.
Vice versa, music is helping reshaping technology as we know it.
Can you hear the music?
Apple’s iPod, released in 2001, for instance, has changed the way people listen to music.
The iPod with its huge storage capacity enabled people to carry the equivalent of hundreds of CDs in their pocket.
“With iPod, Apple has invented a whole new category of digital music player that lets you put your entire music collection in your pocket and listen to it wherever you go,” Mashable, a media entertainment company, quoted Apple CEO Steve Jobs as saying.
Right now, technology is once again changing our listening habits and is doing so on the hardware and the software side simultaneously.
On the hardware side, smartphones put a portable music player virtually in everybody’s pocket.
On the software side, there’s the rise of streaming services, such as Spotify that enables subscribers to access millions of songs on the go.
According to a 2017 study by the American University in Washington, music streaming—both free and fee-based streaming—gives the on-the-go society opportunities to listen to the music that they want, in a highly portable, richly customized fashion.
According to Teen Vogue, a celebrity magazine, Tori Kelly and James Bay are proof positive. The artists both made it big on YouTube and were paired up for a special duet at the Grammys last year.
Technology also enables fans to interact with each other, while musicians can update their fans via social media about upcoming projects.
But are these developments all the way positive for this industry?
Arab musicians singing a different tune
A negative aspect of technology, when it comes to music, is that upcoming songs and albums can be leaked on the internet before the actual release date.
Plenty of websites in the GCC and worldwide offer people the chance to download music instead of buying them.
People today can use YouTube video to mp3 converters to download the songs that they want. This is not beneficial for musicians, because they lose revenues.
In the Arab world, services such as Mawaly and Yala allow anyone to download music directly free of charge, with no strings attached.
Yala is a music streaming service similar to Spotify that works on a “freemium” model, but unlike Spotify, it does not require users to register to listen to music on its website and allows users to legally download complete mp3 files of the music free of charge.
Not so money making
A study by Riyadh Al Balushi, an expert on Intellectual Property Rights, says that actual music sales make only a small percentage of the profits made by Arab musicians nowadays.
“Money is made from concert tickets, media licensing, merchandising, sponsorship deals, TV show appearances, and fashion lines and perfumes,” he said.
His study, released in 2015, states that music sales have been dropping for years in the Arab world.
“Ten years ago, the price of a music CD by an Arab singer was priced at about $13 in the Gulf, today the latest album by an Arab singer is officially sold for $5 (more than 50% price drop), yet still no one is buying, because everyone is consuming music on the internet and can’t be bothered to go and buy something from a physical store,” he said.
Piracy runs wild
A study issued this year by Wamda, a platform dedicated to entrepreneurship ecosystems, says that piracy is still rampant in the region.
“Five years ago, illegal downloads were said to account for more than 90 percent of downloads in the Middle East. Today, stream ripping is the newest form of music piracy. It involves sites that allow users to generate illegal permanent files from streaming links,” it said.
Worst of all could be the astounding number of unbanked people in the Middle East, with only 14 per cent of the people having an account at an institution. Anghami like many digital services is trying to tackle this problem by offering a wide range of payment options, but it remains an uphill climb.
Music and Arab youth
According to Wamda, internet is one of the most important tools needed for the Arab youth to access music.
It said that the current user penetration in the Middle Eastern music streaming industry was at 18 percent. It is, however, expected to grow by ten points in the next five years.
“Younger generations are more likely to listen to music online and with over half of the population being under 25, the number of new listeners in the region is set to skyrocket,” it said.
Another drawback of advanced technology is the attempt by some people to hack musician’s personal computers to have access to their latest hits, prior to their release in the market.
An example of such an incident is when a Leona Lewis track was leaked in 2009.