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Beginning centuries ago music has been a notable staple of cultural expression, and one of the most prominent forms of entertainment for people around the world. This being said, in our nation alone we have seen a countless amount of record labels come into play since the 1950s when the first labels were founded. Though there is an abundance of labels and big-name companies involved in the music industry, there are very few non-musically involved people who can say they’re aware of the real truth behind said record labels. For decades we have seen hundreds of thousands of artists release music that we hear on the radio every day but rarely do people think about what struggles these artists go through for us to be able to listen to and enjoy their music, and for them to make a living off of it.
A notable artist who has always been very open about his struggles with record labels and creative freedom was Prince. Prince is a very well known talent, and for many, he is known for his constant battle for freedom of expression within his label Warner Bros. Records. Prince’s constant struggle started in the 1990s and he very often compared being signed with a record label to being a slave because of the severe nature of the label’s creative restrictions. More often than not, Prince would be asked about his bouts with labels and he was always very open about it. There was even an instance where he wrote the word “slave” on his cheek, to represent his feelings towards his label and how the executives in it were treating him. For example, Prince was often found having to deal with deadlines and schedules that did not fit his creative process, causing him to pump out music he wasn’t proud of. And because of the contracts he signed, he would be sued and his music would no longer be sold if he didn’t cooperate. Prince noted that it makes sense for young artists to sign with record labels because a lot of the time they don’t have the necessary resources to get their music heard and to make a living on it when he stated “Once we have our own resources, we can provide what we need for ourselves” on NPR. Towards the end of his career, he teamed with Jay Z and his independent streaming service in order to liberate himself and his music from the restrictive nature of his record labels.
There is an argument denying modern corruption in the music world simply because it is not seen. Because of how vital social media and online news sources have become, it is almost impossible for a large corporation to hide any corruption that may be going on inside. It was fairly common for artists in the late 80s and 90s to be open in their battles with labels and creative expression but as time goes on that is rarely seen anymore. Young artists are always showed enjoying the splendors of being rich and famous whether it be on interviews or their own social media pages. However, in recent years, according to Forbes Magazine, record labels have begun to create contract percentages that are less fair to artists in their earnings. For example, 360 agreements are contract deals “that allow a record label to receive a percentage of the earnings from ALL of an artist’s activities rather than just album sales. Under this type of contract, the label will collect a percentage of multiple revenue streams, such as publishing royalties, live concert fees, merchandise sales, endorsement deals, book and movie deals, ringtones, private copying levy royalties, etc.” In recent years these percentages have become less fair and have always included agreements that state if you break the deal they can legally revoke all earnings you have made within the label. This being said, many young artists don’t come forward about the problems they face simply because they are afraid of losing their living.
A more relevant example of corruption in the music industry is the alleged racism against country/hip-hop star Lil Nas x. What many people don’t realize is that a big part of the music industry’s corruption is racism. An artist named Lil Nas X released a song “Old Town Road” that held number one on the billboard top 100 charts for a record-breaking 17 weeks. The song’s success has greatly improved Lil Nas’s life but early on in the process of his song became a hit he had faced a bit of controversy. Billboard removed the song from its country list and many blamed it on racism. Some think the industry was bothered by the fact that a Black American artist was beating records in a genre that no other artist has done, Black or White (Reilly). This is something that artists will have to face more than ever because of how frequently genre norms are completely ignored in order for artists to truly express themselves.
An argument that is used in opposition to racism in the music industry is the fact that it is not the corporations that are being racist against artists but the fans. There is little to nothing that record labels can do in order to prevent racism or discrimination against certain artists which is why it should not be a notable point when saying the industry is corrupt. For decades there have been people of different races going into the world of entertainment whether it be television, sports, or music that have faced discrimination, but most of the time it is from the people that are indulging in this entertainment that have an issue with different races. However, an example of racism in the music industry by corporations is towards K-Pop stars. K-Pop is Korean pop music which has been growing rapidly across the globe, but is having the most success in America. When it comes to any form of entertainment, if something goes viral there will be people that push against it no matter what. But recently it has gone a bit too far. K-Pop group BTS has been taking America and its music world by storm but many fans are upset about how they were treated at the 2019 Video Music Awards. The VMAs recently added a category of “Best K-Pop” which many fans are upset about. Objectively, K-Pop fits the criteria of any other form of pop music in America with its composition and upbeat rhythm. The only factor that separates K-Pop from American Pop music is the fact that it’s from a different culture which many fans believe is no reason to deny them nomination spots for categories like “Best Artist” or “Best of Pop” (NPR).
Overall there have been changes and improvements made to better the lives of artists when signing with labels, but that does not mean they are even remotely close to fixing the corruption. Understandably there is not much that can be done on the music listeners’ end except for looking into the labels they support and the services they give their money to. People should be supporting independent artists in order for them to be making a living off their art and not commercialized corporate media. Until this comes to an end people need to look into these issues and come to an understanding that there are issues that need to be fixed when it comes to corruption in the music industry.
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