First of all, let's be honest, a lot of popular music more resembles a systematically manufactured product, rather than artistic expression. Between Dr. Luke and Max Martin, a disconcerting number of hit songs have been written by a small group of people, and sold to various performers. Now for the important bit: What is the future of artists whose songs aren't pre-calculated successes?
The answer to this question lies in the internet and the cultural ethics of punk rock. Wait, punk rock? That weird music that grungy-lookin' gutter-dwellers with choppy mohawks listen to? The same.
One thing that punk rock has pioneered is referred to as the DIY ethic. DIY stands for Do It Yourself, and while this can draw images of ill-fated weekend warriors dropping cars on their feet, it's a little different in the context of music. Within music, the DIY ethic stands for self-representation and self-promotion, in lieu of traditional promotion methods. Can't get someone professional to record your demo? Do it yourself! Sell it at local shows and save up for better production for your next release. Nobody is coming to your band's shows? Work with other local bands, or look into opening locally for bigger touring acts.
With the advent of the internet as a source for music retail and information, bands can advertise themselves, sell music and merchandise, and arrange local gigs more easily. Music blogs often highlight smaller, more local acts. Internet retail allows bands that have never played more than a few hundred miles from home to ply their wares globally. Internet-based self-representation has become increasingly viable even for larger bands. Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and Pearl Jam have all abandoned their record labels in favor of the internet.
Also interesting is the increasing number of smaller niche record labels, ranging from Ipecac (metal, punk, hardcore), to Elephant 6 (indie, psychedelic, folk), to ANTI- (reggae, blues, country, experimental), has opened the door for smaller or more musically obscure acts, representing the jump from DIY local shows to better-structured national and international touring. For bands whose music has more specific appeal, this isn't a bad option.