The Music Industry Has Changed a Lot Since 2000 – Here’s How

By Helen Yu

Do you remember what you were doing back in 2000?

Are you old enough to remember?

Some of us do. And it almost seems like a foreign country. In the nearly 20 years since the heyday of Napster and *NSYNC and Britney Spears, the global music industry has gone through a period of unprecedented tumult that made (and unmade) fortunes, felled once-untouchable talents, and challenged the principle that talent alone controls destiny and now.. Just this past year, the music business is on the upswing again.

It has been a wild ride — not that it’s over by any stretch. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and examine some of the ways in which the music industry has evolved over the past two decades. As they say, those who fail to learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat it.

Streaming Actually Earns Musicians and Artists Money – Downloads and Physical Product are all about gone to the way side

Back at the turn of the 21st century, the rise of mp3 and illegal downloading blindsided the music establishment and laid bare the weaknesses of major labels’ business models in the digital age.

Today, there is no illegal downloading, because basically everything is now available for streaming and often times for free, Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora and the like…  Musicians can are starting to earn some real dollars from streaming and we on the upswing and there’s a clear, scalable path for those who wish to pursue this revenue stream.

Artists Can Promote on Their Own Terms — And That’s a Good Thing

In the early 2000s, major record labels had all the power… you had to march to the beat of their drummers, not yours.

Today, it’s far easier for aspiring artists to build big, passionate fan bases without catering to outside stakeholders (not to the same extent, at least) and directly tap into their own audiences with digital and social media.   If you’re Instagram-savvy, the sky’s the limit.

The Era Of Major Label Dominance Is Not As Big As It Once Was

Major labels themselves.. Now look for ground swell to what’s really happening out there on socials, streaming, videos, etc…. That’s how they find talent these days.


“Now that it’s easier than ever for an artist to build buzz on their own terms, independent artists are going farther and doing more before getting major-label backing. — Helen Yu


That’s not to say there’s no utility in pursuing a major-label deal; there surely is, and likely will be, but they will come if you build it.   

Going Global Is Easier — And Harder — Than Ever

The global music industry has never been more interconnected. Don’t misunderstand — tastemaking hasn’t completely transcended national borders and cultural barriers, and probably never will. But, no matter your niche, there’s a market for your music on every continent. Thanks to global streaming services, tapping those markets is easier than ever.

Claiming your share of global revenue is quite another matter. Even if you’re just starting out, you can’t afford not to work with a seasoned IP and music expert — ideally, an attorney with experience in international music licensing and distribution.

Audiences Listen More Than Ever Before

It’s always nice to end on a positive note, and this one is unambiguous. Thanks to the widespread availability and low cost of streaming, download, and playing devices, audiences listen to more music today than they did in 2000 — or at any time before. For artists simply trying to be heard, nothing matters more.

Some Things Never Change

Let’s be clear: not everything about the music industry has changed since the turn of the 21st century. Were an aspiring artist or producer from 2000 to find herself suddenly transported to the year 2019, she’d recognize the contours of the business — if not necessarily all the listening media, promotional avenues, or potential revenue streams.

She’d still do well to protect her intellectual property — her most cherished creative assets — and ensure that she’s fairly compensated for licensing and distribution deals, for instance. No matter how much changes in this business, one thing is likely to remain constant — quality performance rules the day.

What most surprises you about the changes the music industry has seen since 2000?


Helen Yu is the principal attorney of the professional law corporation Yu Leseberg. She is an accomplished entertainment lawyer with more than 25 years of experience in the music business.