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Essay: The Music Industry - What They Don't Want You To Know

Jeanice Banttari

Integration Paper / GS320

Professor Jonathan Markovitz

2/20/2002

         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

manipulating content.

      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)

Works Cited

ABC News. 20/20 investigation article, Pay for Play. 

      < http://abcnews.go.com/sections/2020/2020/2020_payola_020524.html>

Campbell, Richard. Media and Culture. Bedford/St.Martin's, Boston, New

      York, 2nd Ed. 2000.

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Jeanice Banttari, Global Studies Program, National University, La Jolla, Ca.