Music Is Politics
He's about to learn the most important lesson in the music business: don't trust people in the music business.—Homer Simpson, The Simpsons, "A Star is Torn"
So, you're a man/woman/none-of-the-above, and you're probably thinking that all you really need to make it in the music industry is to be an exceptional singer/rapper, songwriter, and a very good, technically skilled musician, right?... WRONG! It's not that simple at all.
You see, music is politics, and a lot more goes on behind the scenes. It's way more complicated than walking into the studio and recording your Magnum Opus. You (or more accurately the record company) have to worry about image, artistic directions, Demographics considerations, marketing, censorship, courting radio and music networks through legal or, um... non-legal means, and paying close attention to trends. It's never just about music, for better or for worse. In the end, you could end up with disillusioned artists and fans.
In the end, artists have to be not just musicians, but also lawyers, accountants and managers. If not they're likely to get taken advantage of by Corrupt Corporate Executives who screw them out of royalties and rights to their music because they were ignorant to the business side of the industry. Not to mention being stuck with a terrible unfair contract that more or less makes them slaves to the label. Young upcoming artists are more prone to becoming victims of these types of shady record deals. Rappers of the late 80's and early 90's were also victims of these deals. See analysis for more possible causes.
Compare Horrible Hollywood.
Related tropes and subtropes of this include
- Blame Game: Usually happens when a album fails or under performs, But the ultimate issue is usually over money, music rights, and royalties etc..
- Creative Differences: Disillusionment over industry politics eventually leads to this.
- Contractual Purity: An artist could be a slave to this thanks to this trope.
- Development Hell: Darkly speaking Creative Differences (and contract disputes) can eventually lead to this trope as a form of punishment if the label doesn't get what they want. Essentially shelving the artists album till the contract expires which could take years and make it impossible to jump labels. Also making it nearly impossible for said artist to reestablish themselves in the mainstream. Ever wanted to know what happen to that artist that dropped that great album and then disappeared?...well this is probably what happened to them.
- Executive Meddling: Created a bad ass track list for your album?, Plus it has a recurring theme, and message through out?...Too bad because you're gonna do it all over again whether you like it or not. Sometimes you're forced to shoehorn in songs (or even another artist) that the label wants thus derailing the theme or style of your whole album.
- Executive Veto: Same as above, most artist don't even have final say so over their OWN track list.
- Hotter and Sexier: Often enforced on female artists, mainly to acquire a male Periphery Demographic. But could also very well be voluntary thanks to Money, Dear Boy.
- Sex Sells
- Sexy Packaging: Could also double as false advertising. Especially if the album has nothing to do with sexual themes or topics.
- Can also be used as a form Artist Revolt by a younger artist attempting to break free from the aforementioned Contractual Purity. Of course Your Mileage May Vary on whether or not that's a good way to go about it.
- The Last DJ: In the literal sense if a DJ refuses to adhere to the play list. Alternatively, it could happen to the artists themselves if they refuse to compromise.
- Lighter and Softer: Usually enforced on Rock and Roll, Heavy Metal, and Hip Hop artists. But, just like Hotter and Sexier, this could also very well be voluntary.
- Misaimed Marketing
- Money, Dear Boy: The cause of all of this.
- Troubled Production
- Radio Friendliness: If you wanna get played on the radio your song better not be too dark, too controversial, too political, too long (gotta fit those commercials in), or too niche.
- The documentary Before the Music Dies covers this.
- The Queen Latifah film Brown Sugar had a subplot based around this.
- Dreamgirls touched on this.
- The documentary Electric Purgatory uses this trope to explain why modern black rock musicians have such a hard time breaking into the mainstream during the last 30 years or so. Long story short—the record labels didn't know how to market them to mainstream white listeners, since most of them weren't interested in listening to "black music". So the labels found their white counterparts. T'was done before that as well during the 60's with white counterparts like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
- Tomica Wright (CEO of Ruthless Records) brought this up in a interview, in which she said "I like giving young artists a chance, but i can only be a player in the game. I can't save Hip Hop." That quote pretty much sums up this trope.
- This is covered extensively in The Mixerman Diaries, which is about what really happens at a big-budget recording session.
- The movie Slade in Flame is about an idealistic young rock band who are gradually disillusioned by their manager's dirty dealings, which arise entirely out of his desire to squeeze as much money out of the band as possible.
- In Nana, BLAST and Trap Nest deal with their need to be profitable for the labels—smoothing out their sound, changing their style, and dealing with the paparazzi in ways that help their bands along
- One of the themes in That Thing You Do.
- The Dixie Chicks documentary Shut Up And Sing, which showed how actual politics plays into this within Country Music.
- Parodied in the Josie and The Pussycats movie, where not ignoring the Evil Plan got you in trouble with management.
- Jem would arguably count.
- So would California Dreams.
- One of Korn's music videos covers this.
- Prince was/is very bitter over this. So much so he once changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol in order to get out of a record contract.
- Kelly Clarkson's album My December was a victim of this trope. She publicly battled with BMG honcho Clive Davis over creative control of her album, then suffered a vengeful smear campaign by her own label. My December only sold 800,000 copies (a disappointment compared to Breakaway's huge success). She canceled her tour and fired her management after the My December debacle.
- Recently, she was allegedly pressured to lose weight.
- New Edition learned this the hard way when they were first starting out.
- Rapper Chamillionaire discuses this trope with his fans via video chat, basically explaining why his album Venom was stuck in Development Hell.
- It Got Worse, it's been permanently shelved due to an agreement with Universal in order for him to be able to leave the label.
- OutKast experienced this after their record label got bought out. The executive who signed them was excluded from the merger, and the new executives didn't have the same understanding. Because of this the Idlewild soundtrack wasn't marketed properly, and despite having a significant buzz built up around the songs "Mighty O" and "Hollywood Divorce" they weren't able to record videos for them. It Got Worse, when Big Boi decided to record a solo album he butted heads with executives for various reasons such as them taking away his creative control, and trying to get him to copy other artists. The album was held up for three years. Eventually the label let him out of his contract, but under the stipulation that Andre3000 can't collaborate with him on his solo records, as the label wanted exclusive rights to OutKast.
- This can be seen in the manga/anime Gravitation. The band Bad Luck, originally a duo, becomes a trio when the director of the record company decided that Shuichi should take front stage without being constricted behind the keyboards. Then the former band of the keyboardist reunites again, so the director imposes a new keyboardist, and in the same move changes their meek manager for another, this one a bit more... forceful.
- The parts of manga Beck Mongolian Chop Squad that aren't about Character Development and The Power of Rock are about this trope. The titular band could have triumphed easily since the beginning due to their sheer talent, but their leader unknowingly ticked off both a mobster and a fellow musician who became major before him, and both men, on their respective sides, have pulled off and cut whenever thread of influence the band could have used to move to the next level.
- Five Iron Frenzy's song "Blue Mix" denounces the practices that some touring bands use to screw over their opening acts (namely, having the soundboard guy deliberately mix the opening band badly, or forcing the bands to mark up their merchandise).
- Project 86 felt they had been ripped off by their record label, so as soon as they went independent they recorded the album Songs to Burn Your Bridges By to vent their anger over the whole incident. Interestingly, they ended up reconciling with the label soon afterward, and re-released Bridges on that same label.
- Payola bribes, and radio station consolidation.
- The scandal hasn't hurt Jennifer Lopez' career though. As she was a huge part of that payola scandal (circa Rebirth album), which would explain a lot of her musical success actually.
- On a similar note, there's a few people who believe viewer participation shows like Total Request Live and 106 & Park are/were rigged.
- A large number of R&B fans think this trope is in play every time a sexy, not-too-black female singer whose talent lies more in dancing than singing becomes popular. Unfairly or not, these people like to point at Rihanna, Beyoncé, Kristinia DeBarge (though this has more to do with whether or not she's using the DeBarge name to get successful), Keri Hilson, the Pussycat Dolls, and even Aaliyah (until she died), among many others, as examples of "industry whores". Of course, these artists all have fans, and they will come out in droves to defend them. Detractors of the aforementioned singers will accuse them and the industry of impeding the success of more "pure" and "mature" R&B/Soul singers like Conya Doss, Amel Lareaux, Heather Headly, India.Arie, Angie Stone, Corinne Bailey Rae, Vivian Green, Jill Scott, and so on.
- To add insult to injury. Some of the latter artists were either writers or back-up singers for the former to help them sound good. They were basically languishing in the background helping arguably lesser artists, and the only reason they even got a deal was probably because they were promised one by the company for their work with the former R&B/pop artists. The former, artists get the most attention and their albums are fast tracked (That's if they don't fall victim to this trope themselves) , while the latter artists sometimes see their albums get shelved, or under promoted.
- Some see Miley Cyrus's Hotter and Sexier look as this. Basically she's just trying to sell records, and get attention through the controversy. Let's be honest here, it's not like she didn't know this would cause controversy. Could also make the argument that she likely did it to get out of Contractual Purity which she might see as holding her back. In addition to all the above she's also maturing and getting older. So this and all of the above are all reasons for the new look. But it's hard not to believe that record sales aren't the real goal.
- Most people don't know that Alicia Keys has been around since the mid '90s. She languished in Development Hell because the labels didn't know what to do with her.
- A large part of the show Instant Star is about the Idol Singer lead character battling her record company over her artistic direction.
- Mandy Moore had to deal with industry politics when she got older and wanted more creative control over her music. She now views the two teen pop albums she put out when she was young as old shames, and has offered refunds to anybody who purchased them.
- Many would argue (and she basically confirms this in a 60 Minutes interview) that Lady Gaga's fame came as a result of her being Genre Savvy enough to work the system to her advantage. She spent several years writing for other artists before trying to make it on her own. As a result, she knew to play by the record label's rules by pumping out ridiculously catchy songs about love and success, and when she made it big she was pretty much given license to do whatever she wanted. Compare her first album, The Fame, to her second, The Fame Monster, which more or less deconstructs all the Sex Sells and Money, Dear Boy tropes used in the former.
- She wouldn't be the first one to get famous by this method, although she is the most notable one right now.
- This method don't always work out though, as the Kelly Clarkson example proved.
- This might be the cause of LeAnn Rimes' latest album stalling.
- Former winner Steve Brookstein has suggested that there is an element of this in the career of The X Factor winners. Certainly, the "battle" for the Christmas number one single position has shades of it; Joe McElderry's singing career seems to have been a non-starter after he lost that spot to Rage Against the Machine.
- R&B/Soul singer Heather Headley switched to indie/gospel music due in large part to record execs wanting her to be Hotter and Sexier.
- This depressing interview by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony's Krayzie Bone explaining why Bone will never be able to reestablish themselves due in part to internal conflict and this trope combined.
- Many people, especially haters, feel that Justin Bieber is only famous because he is relatively good looking and sings inoffensive radio-friendly songs, and not because of any actual talent. Of course, said Hatedom, notably on YouTube, provides the sort sought-after cultural recognition money can never buy.
- The funk-Pop band Rose Royce imploded because of this trope.
- Motown Records was plagued by this.
- In fact it's rumored that Motown sabotaged Mary Wells career out of simple spite due to the fact she left the company.
- Happened with contemporary r&b singer Phylis Hyman when she butted heads with Clive Davis, who wanted her to do crossover pop. Ms. Hyman was a R&B singer and didn't like to be forced to do fluffy pop. Clive eventually moved on to a younger singer whom he could have more control over...WhitneyHouston.