How The Internet And Technology Have Affected The Music Industry
by Matt Kalkhoff

It seems like just about everyone has a website these days. Want to know more about the toilet paper in your bathroom? Just visit, where you can brush up on tissue trivia (the average consumer uses 20,805 sheets of bath tissue annually), or learn more about Mr. Whipple’s triumphant return to television as the company’s spokesman. Or maybe you’re writing a report on famous clowns, so you need some biographical information on Hershel "Krusty the Clown" Krustofski. Everything you could ever want to know (and more) about Krusty is just a few keystrokes away at What does all this have to do with the music industry, you ask? Nothing, but it does illustrate just how much information, both obscure and specific, is readily available to those of us with a computer, a modem, some basic investigative skills, and a fair amount of patience.

The Internet and recent advancements in technology have dramatically altered the course of the music industry, thoroughly upsetting the traditional power structure established too many years ago. Consumers can now access, acquire, and ultimately enjoy the music they desire from almost unlimited sources. But is the society-at-large ready for this new era of digital music and cyber convenience? Not entirely, but given the pace at which new technology is developing and improving, it won’t be long until it is.

Music To Our Ears

The gay community has probably been affected more positively by the Internet than any other single group of people. By running a few wires into the proverbial closet, those of us who choose to remain quiet about our sexuality, for whatever reason (i.e., religious purposes, youths who live at home, rural existence, etc.), can now live active gay lives in cyberspace, connecting with others like us to share thoughts and ideas, while establishing new business relationships, forming friendships, and maybe even finding romance. These same opportunities exist for urban, "out" gay men and women as well, who also benefit immensely from properly utilizing the Internet and other new technology.

Everyone likes music, and gay men and women are certainly no different. Anything and everything you could ever want to know about your favorite musicians can be found online. Most record companies, including many independent labels, offer websites where visitors can learn more about their artists, purchase their CDs, and sometimes even download a song or two for free. Numerous gay-oriented CDs have been released in recent years, but Centaur Entertainment ( is the only major gay-owned and -operated label that specifically targets the gay community. A rarity in the dance compilation arena, Centaur carefully obtains the proper licensing for each song it uses, thereby ensuring that each CD is legal and the artists get paid. In addition to the new Global Groove series, Centaur has showcased the extraordinary talents of DJ/producers Julian Marsh, David Knapp, Tony Moran, and others in a variety of benefit projects in Miami and elsewhere, including recent Winter and White Party commemorative CDs.

And then there are the parties. How could the countless circuit parties that take place almost every weekend around the world possibly be so well-attended without the marketing and promotional assistance the Internet provides? Even nightclubs and bars have their own websites (,,,, and Club owners and party promoters are constantly sending out electronic newsletters, advertisements, and other promotional e-mails. Some websites are even solely dedicated to making sure each one of us knows exactly what is going on in the gay party world (,,, and Others are less party-specific, but still offer a good amount of information regarding music and gay life in general (,, and For more mainstream dance music and nightlife information, try and (’s parent site). Both offer regularly updated music news and reviews, feature articles, DJ profiles, and comprehensive event listings that will keep you well-informed and up-to-date on the latest nocturnal trends.

Music, unfortunately, is not all fun and games though. There are the legal issues. There are the corporate issues. There are even the moral issues. Many aspects of the music industry have been unable to keep up with the rapidly developing technology. Because of this, many copyrights have been compromised, causing serious debates within the industry, as well as the filing of several lawsuits. The music industry’s watchdog, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is responsible for most of these debates and lawsuits. Their mission is to "foster a business and legal climate that supports and promotes [their] members’ creative and financial viability around the world." In support of this mission, they "work to protect intellectual property rights worldwide and the First Amendment rights of artists." Unfortunately, the RIAA has not been very successful when it comes to securing digital music and enforcing intellectual property rights where the Internet is involved.

Music E-Business

Extraordinary advancements in software now allow consumers to easily download their favorite music at home, which is precisely what concerns the RIAA most. This issue, however, is not as simple as it sounds, nor as damaging as the RIAA would have you believe. First, until increased bandwidth services, such as cable modems and DSL lines, are more commonly used, much of the new technology will remain unavailable to most people, or at the very least, operate in a painfully slow manner. In fact, Indiana University had to shut down access to the popular site (where digital music is illegally traded by visitors without ever being stored on the site) in February because students’ usage of this downloadable music service monopolized 50% of the University’s Internet server. Usage now holds steady at a tolerable 10%, but it sparred a heated and well-publicized debate at the school just last month. It is important to keep in mind that although these digital media issues make headlines almost every day, the market is still very small compared to traditional media.

Second, and perhaps more important, are the legal and ethical ramifications of downloading music off of the Internet. MP3 software, which shrinks songs into small digital files that can be easily moved through cyberspace, is the preferred format for compressing digital music (other popular formats are Windows Media, Liquid Audio, Lucent’s EPAC, and Mjuice). The RIAA recently filed high-profile lawsuits in federal court against and, alleging copyright infringement. disputes the RIAA’s claims, as it simply considers itself to be a virtual CD player, and says it only allows members to download and copy music that they have already purchased. This may be true, but the MP3 technology itself is widely available elsewhere on the Internet, and is used constantly to illegally download music from the Internet onto computer hard drives, as well as to freely trade these files with others on the Net.

At issue is the fine line between artist compensation and promotion. The Internet is a great place to actively and independently promote new artists, but there is a price for this freedom. Sometimes an artist’s song may be downloaded illegally, but for the relatively small profits that are lost, it can be argued that the increased exposure and publicity eventually produce even greater revenue. The record companies are either unable or unwilling to see it this way. Traditionally, all artists had to rely on the major record labels for their "big break." In the new digital age, an artist could conceivably promote him or herself to the general public and offer his or her music directly to potential fans via the Internet, thereby retaining most, if not all, of the net profits derived from record sales. This levels the playing field somewhat by opening up the world of mainstream music listeners to a plethora of new and independent entertainers.

Industry Issues, E-Solutions?

Under this formula, however, the record companies are left out. Unsurprisingly, they are vehemently opposed to this method of independent promotion and distribution. In a March 3, 2000 article on, Robert Haber, CEO of the journal CMJ and president of Change Music Network, said, "To take a low- to mid-level act and make it a superstar act, people are realizing that you’ve really got to have the juice, the infrastructure, and the relationships of the major [labels]. In other words, you are not going to break a Ricky Martin on the Internet." The bottom line is that there is room for everyone to make a profit, but it appears that the major record labels are just unwilling to share.

Yet perhaps their hesitation is justified. Until a fully secure digital format is developed, perhaps it is not in the best interest of the music industry to embrace all current technology. In this regard, the RIAA has created the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), a "forum for the worldwide recording industry and technology companies to develop an open, interoperable architecture and specification for digital music security." In other words, the SDMI will "provide an open and voluntary set of ground rules for any technology company that wants to develop a way to play or store digital music and any artist or music company that wants to distribute digital music." The concept is great, but it is reminiscent of Universal and Sony’s costly VHS vs. BetaMax video battle, and the eight-track vs. cassette tape battle before it. In the 21st century, one single format for digital music will most likely not be enough. Therefore, it could be many years before digital technology is truly embraced and any general standards agreed upon within the industry. However the formatting dilemma plays out, it is likely that a subscription service, similar to that of cable TV and wireless phones, will be the standard method of payment for such acquiring of digital music.

The legal issues aside, there is an astounding number of websites on the Internet, most of which actually benefit both the music industry and the music aficionado. Fans no longer have to rely on only a few magazines to learn about artists and their music, nor do they have to purchase print media from a conventional store. Instead, most traditional entertainment and music magazines now offer online versions of their publications on the Web (,,, where selected articles can be read without ever leaving home. A host of music "webzines" have also flooded the market (,,, and The format of these sites and others like them vary, but most include music news and features, and some offer the ability to download digital music. and are also great sources for music news, artist features, tour updates, contests, and other innovative musical promotions.

Groove Net

Online streaming, which includes webcasts and Internet radio, is much less controversial than most other digital music phenomena. Copyrights are not threatened because streaming only allows MP3 and similar digital files to be played for listening purposes only, thereby protecting the music from being downloaded or copied onto computer hard drives. One example is, a self-described "one-stop electronic dance music outlet, available round the clock anywhere on the planet." This interactive multi-media website is basically an online version of the now defunct Groove 103.1 FM radio station in Los Angeles, which now enjoys more creative and artistic freedom through the use of advanced technology and the Internet.

A similar site,, was created by former South Beach resident and club DJ, Marc Kelly, who now resides in New York City. The site features pre-recorded mix programs during the week, live mixing on Saturday nights, and will eventually feature the latest music charts, reviews of new releases, artist and producer profiles, as well as a variety of promotional materials along with links to other music sites. The idea behind both of these sites is to bring the nightclub into the living room, something that was unheard of just a few years ago. For more musical variety, AOL’s boasts over 120 different channels of uninterrupted music, and will guide you through the sometimes complicated maze of streaming possibilities, including a comprehensive listing of online radio stations in the U.S. and abroad.

And Music For All

All of these sites create additional and integral outlets for artists and record labels to promote, advertise, and ultimately sell their music. Like all businesses, money is the driving force behind the music industry. Obviously, if more avenues are available for the labels and artists to sell their music, and consumers can find and purchase it easily, everybody wins. and are two of the largest and most popular online music retailers. Many music-related websites also link to these sites, among others, offering us the ability to instantly purchase an artist’s music with just the click of a mouse. For instance, if you are reading about Britney Spears’ recent head injury while filming her latest video (at, of course), you will likely be able to click on a link that will take you to a site where you can purchase her music online. Or maybe you’re trying to find something a little more obscure, like Victor Calderone’s new remix of Dynamix featuring Tina Ann's "Don’t Want Another Man." Your best bet will be to visit either or These music stores, Y&T Music in South Beach and 12" Dance Records in Washington, D.C., can boast impressive databases and extremely knowledgeable employees who excel at locating those hard-to-find records and CDs.

The Internet and technology have clearly affected the music industry in a myriad of ways. Because of the rapid growth of the Internet and the remarkable advancements in technology, a definite division within the industry has emerged. Changes in media formats have occurred throughout history. Although these changes are often disruptive, they are also necessary to promote positive changes and advancements in the music industry. As in the past, the current debate over digital music will eventually work itself out. It is far more important right now to concentrate on fostering the development of new technology so that the Internet will evolve into an even more stable and valuable resource where all music is easily accessible by and readily available to the general public. Although the society-at-large may not be quite ready for all that technology has in store for us, we will eventually embrace and utilize these new digital formats and equipment, thereby enhancing our overall ability to acquire and enjoy our favorite music.

© 2000 Matt Kalkhoff

This article first appeared in Miamigo's June 2000 issue.