Commodification And Its Connection To The Music Industry

By: Noel Harris

What is Commodification?

Commodification is the action or process of treating something as a mere commodity. This word mainly refers to the use of humans for economic benefit. This can be seen, for example, during the time of slavery. African Americans were sold as commodities and sold for profit. Humans are still being exploited for profit today, through areas like prostitution and music.

How is commodification connected to music?

A key element of commodification is power. Commodification occurs when someone in a position of power dictates what is deemed profitable. Record labels, in this scenario, have authority and influence over what can and cannot be released by artist. As well as having control over the amount of money given to artists. Control, power, and money take precedence, and the integrity of the music suffers as a result. Artists are not valued for their talent; rather, they are valued for how much money they can make. It isn’t about authentic records, but rather about what sells. We’ve seen numerous instances of record labels exerting control over artists and failing to compensate them for their work. The film Cadillac Records is an excellent example because the plot is loosely based on chess records. The white groups would take the black artists’ songs and use their work for themselves for money earning their royalties. This is only one of the numerous examples of record labels taking advantage of black artists. Black artists were basically slaves to the label.

Examples of Commodification in the Music Industry

Motown Records

Berry Gordan, the head of Motown Records, was not paying black artists what they were worth. As previously stated, they were practically slaves to the label.  Artists did not have the freedom to create anything they wanted. Artists that were not as well-known as some of the label’s other artists, such as The Supremes and TheTemptations, did not receive their royalties. As a result of this, a number of lawsuits have been filed.

Warner Bros.

Another example of artist exploitation is the Warner Bros. label. Prince had to fight for 18 years to get his master tapes back from them. In the 1990s, Prince described himself as a “slave” to them. He did not have full creative control over his music.

Cash Money Records

This record label had a reputation for ripping off artists. Birdman signed a number of artists who are still well-known in the music industry today, including Lil Wayne, Drake, and Nicki Minaj. Many lawsuits have been filed against the record label.

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