Music Itself Is Going To Become Like Running Water or Electricity

David Bowie? Alan B. Krueger? David Kusek? Gerd Leonhard? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Music streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music have grown greatly in popularity and power in recent times. Some pundits assert that music in the future will be viewed as a utility like water, gas, or electricity. But this insight was not novel; I recall that David Bowie made a comparable point back in the early 2000s. Correct?

Quote Investigator: An article titled “David Bowie, 21st-Century Entrepreneur” by Jon Pareles was published in “The New York Times” on June 9, 2002. Bowie made several striking comments about the future of the music industry including the following: 1

Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity.

The upheavals in the music domain have been extraordinary, but some of the changes Bowie envisioned have not yet occurred, e.g., the end of copyright:

The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. I see absolutely no point in pretending that it’s not going to happen. I’m fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing.

Piracy of music is commonplace, but the music labels and artists continue to collect billions for the sale of digital music, CDs, and vinyl supported by copyright.

Bowie was very shrewd about the future shift in revenue for artists because he understood the primacy and unreproducibility of direct experience:

You’d better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that’s really the only unique situation that’s going to be left. It’s terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn’t matter if you think it’s exciting or not; it’s what’s going to happen.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In June 2002 Princeton economist Alan B. Krueger writing in “The New York Times” discussed piracy and the rise in the price of rock music concert tickets which was outpacing the rate of inflation: 2

Music sales are plummeting, putting downward pressure on artists’ royalties. In this environment, concerts take on a different meaning for artists and their managers. In pre-Napster days, concert prices were kept below their market rate to help sell albums, a complementary good. Now concert prices are set with an eye toward maximizing concert revenue.

The economist Krueger then referred to the cogent remarks of Bowie:

”Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity,” the singer David Bowie said recently. ”You’d better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that’s really the only unique situation that’s going to be left.”

In 2005 “The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution” by David Kusek and Gerd Leonhard stated the following in the introduction: 3

This is a book about music and the music business in the twenty-first century. Imagine a world where music flows all around us, like water, or like electricity, and where access to music becomes a kind of “utility.” Not for free, per se, but certainly for what feels like free.

In April 2016 “The Guardian” newspaper mentioned an epochal shift that took place in the music world recently: 4

Digital music revenues have surpassed the takings from traditional music formats for the first time, according to an industry report.

Worldwide, digital revenues – from streaming subscriptions, downloads, and advertising revenue on sites such as YouTube – accounted for 45% of the total in 2015, compared with 39% for physical formats such as CDs and vinyl records.

In conclusion, David Bowie did suggest that music would be viewed as a utility in the future. The statement was made in the June 2002 citation listed above.

Update History: On April 19, 2020 the 2005 citation was added to the article.

Notes:

  1. 2002 June 9, The New York Times, Section: Arts & Leisure, David Bowie, 21st-Century Entrepreneur by Jon Pareles, Start Page 1, Quote Page 30, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 2002 October 17, The New York Times, Economic Scene: Music sales slump, concert ticket costs jump and rock fans pay the price by Alan B. Krueger, Start Page C2, New York. (ProQuest)
  3. 2005, The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution by David Kusek and Gerd Leonhard, Chapter: introduction, Quote Page x, Berklee Press, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)
  4. 2016 April 12, The Guardian, Title: Streaming growth helps digital music revenues surpass physical sales, Byline: Hannah Ellis-Petersen, Newspaper Location: United Kingdom. (Accessed theguardian.com on April 29, 2016) link