The current state of the music industry

This is a research paper I wrote last year. I think it is relevant to my blog, so here it is!

Is the Music Industry Corrupt?

What is the single most viewed video on YouTube? Is it a video of a talented dancer? Or perhaps one of a cute baby? None of these are the answer, for the current single most viewed video of all time is Justin Bieber’s music video of the song, “Baby”, followed closely by Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” (“Most Viewed Videos”). Of the top five most viewed videos of all time, four of them are music videos — this is a strong indication of how popular music is in our world today. But why these music videos are at the top may raise some questions: Talent? Appearances? Nudity? The answers to these questions trace back to the music industry itself. In today’s unstable music business, creating a song and distributing it to be listened to and liked by the public is a controversial task because there are temptations to use corrupted means to increase the chance of a song becoming popular.

The music industry is a complicated one. In most cases, an artist either looks for a personal manager or hires engineers to record the music him/herself (MacQuarrie, Gu, Guerra, Corredor, Hill). In the first instance, the personal managers will try to get the artists signed to a record label company. In the second case, the artist personally takes his/her recorded music to a producer and then to a publisher (MacQuarrie, Gu, Guerra, Corredor, Hill). From then on, the recordings go through the manufacturers and distributors until the recordings finally reach the public.

But there are even more stakeholders in the business: lawyers, business managers, and for some, songwriters. With all these stakeholders, how much does the actual artist/band get paid? The answer is approximately a startling 2.3% from every 1000 dollars a song makes (Jefferson). That means if a song makes a million dollars, the artist gets paid approximately 23,000 dollars.

Mainstream music, defined as “belonging to or characteristic of a principal, dominant, or widely accepted group, movement, style, etc.,” is the key component of the music industry. It is mostly listened to by the younger generations, and criticized by previous generations. Of the many similarities among mainstream music, one is the music videos. To attract viewers, many mainstream music videos incorporate drugs, parties, and most commonly, half-naked women who often have no relation to the song content whatsoever. These videos negatively influence viewers, especially the younger ones, and provide a horrible depiction of women.

Lyrics is another way mainstream music attracts listeners. “Out of the 279 most popular songs in 2005, only 9 percent of pop songs had lyrics relating to drugs or alcohol. The number jumped to… 77 percent for rap songs” (Parker-Pope).

So why is it that these songs are more popular than others?

One reason is that some songs are played more than others on the radio, mainly due to the record labels and radio stations. The role of the record label in the music industry is to manufacture, distribute, and promote a particular recording. As is the case with many corporations, corruption is present in almost all major record labels. The main form of corruption is payola, or pay-to-play — “the act of a record label or other interested party paying a radio station to play a certain artist (either in cash or in goods)” (McDonald).  This means the more money you give to the radio station, the more times they will play your song. “The public does not get to hear artists whose labels can’t afford to pay off the DJ” (McDonald). Obviously, for the extremely rich record labels, payola is a great strategy, but it unfairly harms others in the business. An artist not promoted through payola may experience sales failures especially if he/she releases an album at the same time as does an artist under a label that engages in payola. Though illegal, payola still happens every day: “In 2005, Sony BMG, one of the world’s largest record labels, was forced to pay out $10 million in fines after the state of New York found the company guilty of engaging in payola” (McDonald).

Unfortunately, most people — primarily teenagers — only look at the surface of what they are watching/listening to, and don’t see the corruption behind all of it. The entire audience is being dumbed-down: more and more mainstream music requires less and less talent but more random swearing and more half-naked men and women. Mainstream music is now a competition of which artist can wear the most ridiculous outfit and make the most ridiculous music video. There is corruption in the royalties, corruption in the music videos, corruption in the lyrics, corruption in the major record labels, corruption in the radio. In other words, the music industry is corrupt.


Boehlert, Eric. “Pay for play.” 14 Mar. 2001. Web. 6 Sept. 2010. <>.

Jefferson, Cord. “The Music Industry’s Funny Money.” The Root. Washingtonpost Newsweek Interactive, 6 July 2010. Web. 7 Sept. 2010. <,1>.

Lamb, Bill. “Major Pop Record Labels: The Big Four.” Top 40-Pop – Songs, Charts, Top 40 Reviews, Pop Music. The New York Times Company, Web. 7 Sept. 2010. <>.

MacQuarrie, Rebecca, Yixin Gu, Elaine Guerra, Nathalie Corredor, and William HIll. “Music CD Company Supply Chain.” Music CD Industry. Duke University, 6 Apr. 2000. Web. 3 Sept. 2010. <>.

McDonald, Heather. “Payola: Influencing the Charts.” Music Careers – Music Industry Careers – Finding Music Business Careers. The New York Times Company, Web. 7 Sept. 2010. <>.

“Most viewed Videos.” Youtube. 3 Sept. 2010. <>

Parker-Pope, Tara. “Under the Influence of…Music?” Health and Wellness. The New York Times, 5 Feb. 2008. Web. 3 Sept. 2010. <>.

“Top 100 Music Hits, Top 100 Music Charts, Top 100 Songs & The Hot 100.” Billboard. Web. 3 Sept. 2010. <>.

Tyrangiel, Josh. “Auto-Tune: Why Pop Music Sounds Perfect.” TIME. 5 Feb. 2009. Web. 4 Sept. 2010. <,9171,1877372,00.html>.


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