Rhyme or Reason?

That’s the whole response, the company does not care about righteousness or unrighteousness. They care about money, period! Point blank!” – Young Guru (music producer)

 Music warms the souls of many, brings out inner emotions, and expresses them in song. Music can breathe life into a party, or even explain the hard times we all go through in our lives. Songs relate to certain listeners and build a connection between the listener and the artist. However, have you taken the time to listen to how much of today’s music sounds so similar? What if someone told you that many artists are slaves to their contract? What if someone told you that many artists must produce a certain style of music or run the risk of losing their careers and contracts? Labels have destroyed the value of artists in order to profit off of records, and in today’s society, the youth is susceptible to this change in values.

We settle for a product of poor quality, and the public hypes it to a point where it’s trendy, and then everybody starts to buy into this corporate scheme that turns us, the consumer, into the sucker.”

Joanna Levesque, or to her supporting fans, JoJo, was born on December 20, 1990 in Brattleboro, Vermont. As a young child she was offered a record deal. Her mother, believing she was too young to start a musical career, turned it down in order to guarantee her daughter a normal childhood. However, this didn’t stop Joanna from her quest to achieve stardom. Making appearances on hit shows such as America’s Most Talented Kids, various talk shows, and even recommended by the late artist Aaliyah Dana Haughton to a music company, at age 12, JoJo signed with Blackground Records and Da Family, and shortly after, began working with producers to release her debut album. Her career took off from there, producing top billboard chart hits such as “Too Little, Too Late” which would later earn her three music awards. Everything seemed great for JoJo until July 30, 2013 when it was reported that JoJo had filed a lawsuit against her label Blackground Records for “irreparable damages to her professional career” because of the label’s refusal to release her from her contract, which expired in 2011. But why did her contract not expire on its given date? Shouldn’t it be up to the artist if they want to remain signed to a label? The truth might surprise you.

What are reasons a record label would keep an artist under contract without releasing their music? If you look at it from the company’s perspective, an investment must turn a profit. For an example, an artist signs to a label for a seven year contract. Within those seven years they must publish five albums. Now the label just won’t let the artist throw out fifteen songs of the artist’s choice; they want you to send in what you have, and much like an editor for a newspaper they’re going to make changes, or send it back asking the artist to redo the song if the label doesn’t like it. The artist can’t refuse their changes because they’ve clearly signed a contract in the company’s favor. Corporations these days lead young artists to believe that they have made the big time, and since they’ve signed for a million dollars the artist is led to believe they own a million dollars. In reality the company is more like a “bank”. They just don’t give you the cash; it’s the artist’s responsibility to use the money to make and distribute their album. In return, the artist owes the label certain percentages of the profits from their gross income. The corporations make money off of ringtones, and if the artist does a live show, or even tours, the company takes a large percentage of their sales depending on the contract. As Jay Z’s producer young Guru stated regarding these artists aiming for music deals, “You’re so impressed with the shiny Cadillac, you don’t see the value of being on your own” Unfortunately, artists don’t catch this until it’s too late, and since the artist took the deal, and they were misguided by this “shininess”,  they are now forced to work for much less of what an artist can earn independently..

 How exactly does this affect listeners? What if I like the music no matter what the company has to do with it? It’s not a bad thing to listen to the same songs over and over again if that’s what you enjoy. Most of the tunes you like are catchy and exciting, but honestly, does the music have a purpose? Most of today’s modern Hip Hop is the same material in almost every song: sex, drugs, becoming famous, and inappropriate club anthems that five year old kids dance to. It’s not only Hip Hop. We have essentially been listening to the same music since 2005. We’re waving goodbye to the traditional singer-songwriter and bands who write their own material. The assistance of successful co-writers and producers is becoming too large to ignore, such as huge hits like “Break Your Heart”, performed by Taio Cruz; Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, Maroon 5’s “Payphone”, and Katy Perry’s “Part of Me”. No surprise here: these were all written by the same group of people. It’s easy for the record labels to make and distribute these records because they see an overall margin of profit. They can control all variables from packaging to the content of the music. If there is controversy behind the music then it’s sure to sell. It’s not about the content; they just see profitable merchandise they can distribute to the public while we receive dumbed down lyrics, starting a new trend that further affects our culture negatively. For example, rapper Bobby Schmarda can talk about being involved in a murder in the most recent week. The music is catchy, and as a result, the lyric becomes the most recited lyric from the song, giving an impression to our youth that brutal violence is acceptable.

We settle for a product of poor quality, and the public hypes it to a point where it’s trendy, and then everybody starts to buy into this corporate scheme that turns us, the consumer, into the sucker. We have forgotten the substance behind the product, the deeper meaning, and by letting the subpar and mediocre become acceptable, our culture is suffering, and we play right into the hands of rich executives who see us as dollar signs.