The music industry has drastically changed due in large part to technology. It all started on June 1, 1999, when computer programmer, Shawn Fanning, launched the beta version of Napster – the first peer-to-peer file sharing platform. And though the original free version of Napster was shut down in 2001 due to illegal sharing of copyrighted material, the way that people consume music was forever changed. The shift to downloading music and the ubiquity of social media has created a more level playing field for independent hard rock bands to build a fan base without the support of a record label.
Gone are the days of cost-prohibitive recording costs that required the backing of a record label, as home studios are now capable of producing high quality recordings. Manufacturing costs are no longer a barrier to entry because bands have the ability to order limited quantities of CDs at a reasonable rate and sell them for a much bigger profit at their live shows and online than they would get if there was a record label involved. Some bands eschew CDs all together, and simply sell downloads of their songs, which takes manufacturing costs out of the equation entirely.
There was a time when bands couldn’t get radio airplay unless they had the label promotion machine behind them. With limited playlists, artists had almost no chance to get played on commercial radio on their own. But thanks to technology, that is no longer an issue.
When Sirius and XM launched, they offered music fans commercial-free, targeted listening experiences with a wide variety of genre-specific stations. Their revenue is subscriber-based, not advertiser-based, so they have the freedom to play a wider variety of music without fear of repercussion of lower ratings, and thus lower revenue potential. In addition to satellite radio, Internet radio is rising in popularity on sites like Pandora, Spotify and iHeartRadio – all of which feature catalogs that go well beyond the scope of commercial radio.
MTV used to be a juggernaut that bands needed to make it big, but when they shifted from music programming to original programming, they became insignificant to bands, especially hard rock bands whose exposure was limited to a few hours a week on specialty shows.
Today, MTV has been replaced by YouTube, which bands can access for free, but the most important aspect of YouTube is that bands can interact directly with their fans and get instant feedback. This direct interaction also takes place on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets.
If financing ever becomes an issue, hard rock bands that are connected to their fans have an opportunity to get the money that they need from crowdfunding campaigns on sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
Being an independent hard rock band is not for everyone. It is an uphill battle that requires the band to take on the jobs that are usually performed at record labels. Hard rock bands that want to spend their entire time recording or playing live still need record label support, but those who are willing to dedicate themselves to creating a fan base on their own are now able to do so thanks to technology and the shift in the way that people consume music.