The Music Industry: What They Dont Want You To Know
The vast majority of people are not aware of the fact that when they are
listening to song being played on the radio - it has been paid for - indirectly, by
one of the five major record labels. The paying of independent radio promoters
is just one of the things that the music industry does not want you to know
about. This, along with the fact that artists are created and molded by the
industry and then sold to the general public primarily based upon appearance is
another. The record labels are not all they are cracked up to be. Indeed, they
run a "shady" business. If the majority of people out there really knew what
was going on and how they were being manipulated, I would imagine that they
would be extremely upset, shocked, and very surprised. "From the 1970's to
the late 1990's, six companies controlled popular music. Then, in 1998,
Canada's Seagram Company bought PolyGram from Netherlands-based
Phillips Electronics, leaving five corporations that produce about 85% of all
American CD's and cassettes and control 80% of the global
market" (Campbell, p. 89). The five major record labels constitute the
appearance of an oligopoly. Indeed, they control the market and manipulate the
sounds that we hear by paying for songs to be played on the radio, creating the
images of the artists that we see and hear (creating the product), and
The record companies control the market by paying millions of dollars each
year to the independent radio promoters, universally referred to as "indies,"
who in turn pass along money to radio stations whenever they add new songs
to their play lists. "The system is crooked," says Jerry Del Coliano, who
publishes Inside Radio. "You pay for access to radio stations and it's
basically legalized payola." (ABC News, 20/20 investigation article, Pay for
Play). This has a major effect on the music artists that we hear. If other artists
who are just as good - if not better - cannot afford to be heard, then they never
will be. We will only hear the forced content that plays on the airwaves. To
many people this is a big surprise. For the most part, the average person thinks
that musicians send their tapes and CDs in to a radio station to listen to and if
they like it, it is approved.
Record companies also control the market by creating the images of the
artists that we see and hear. Essentially, they are creating the product (the artist
and his or her music) and then subliminally force feeding it to us. The artists that
we are all familiar with, are made to look like and perform to the expectations
of what big companies think the public wants to see and what will sell for the
most profit. This being said, in a way the artists as well as consumers are being
treated like puppets.
An example of how the image of artists are created by record companies
can be seen with Elvis Presley. According to famed producer Sam Phillips, of
Sun Records, the key to record sales and the spread of Rock and Roll was to
"find a white man who sounded black" (Campbell, p. 75). Elvis Presley
became this man. It becomes all about making a product - in this case music
and the musician - into what will "sell".
Another way that record companies control the market is by manipulating
the content that is aired. Essentially, when an artists work has been re-mixed,
mixed, sifted through post-production and edited for public consumption this
does not actually represent an artists true original work. Because of this, there
are some artists out there who are "concerned that they would lose complete
creative control if they signed with a major label" (Campbell, p. 95).
Thus, they have started their own label up so they do not become so
commercialized and dependent on a major one.
Because the music business generates more money than all other media but
television, this winds up constituting a global "oligopoly" where "few firms
control most of an industry's production and distribution resources and gives
these forms enormous influence over what types of music gain worldwide
distribution and popular acceptance" (Campbell, p. 95). Basically
this means that they are in control of what we see and hear in the music
industry. It is really up to the large firms to decide what we will see and hear in
the long run - not us.
With the technology such as the internet that is available to us today, it is
quite possible that the music industry will be in for some real changes in the not
to distant future. According to Ram Samudrala, a PH.d candidate and musician
himself, he believes that MP3 is an important step in radical transformation of
the music business. "The music industry restricts copying and other uses of
music in order to maximize profit, but this comes at a great cost, that of
abridging the spread of creativity. Music is about creative and passionate ideas.
Not product." (Campbell, p. 96)
ABC News. 20/20 investigation article, Pay for Play.
Campbell, Richard. Media and Culture. Bedford/St.Martin's, Boston, New
York, 2nd Ed. 2000.