Leading article: Fresh air for the music business

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The Independent Online

To answer this it is worth rewinding a few years to when broadband connections and MP3 technology were first being rolled out. The record industry was terrified by the potential for illegal downloading and file sharing. Industry leaders came forward to argue that this technology threatened not only record company profits and the earnings of millionaire rock stars, but also the very future of music itself. Frightful images of new bands and artists being starved of investment were conjured up.

The recent rise of the Arctic Monkeys has given the lie to all that doom-mongering. The Sheffield band began by making rough demos and giving away CDs at small gigs. Fans then posted the music online. By word of mouth the band ended up with an impressive support base before they had even signed a record deal. When their first album was released it duly outsold the rest of the top 20 chart put together.

It is true that music retailers have been forced to reduce the price of CDs to lure customers back. It is also true that the sale of music singles has collapsed, partly as a result of downloading. But album sales are still performing well. The internet revolution has by no means been the financial disaster predicted by the music industry. All the evidence suggests that record companies can benefit if, like Apple, they are savvy enough to harness the new technology.

The online revolution has certainly been good for the customer. People can now ignore record company hype and judge for themselves the quality of new music before buying. If listeners do not like what they hear on commercial radio, they can go online and find something better.

We are already receiving the fruits of this new consumer power. In Britain, the live music scene is healthier than it has been for years. A clutch of innovative acts such as the Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand have broken through. New bands can now follow the example of the Arctic Monkeys. Far from destroying popular music, the internet may just have helped to save it.

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