The nature of music business
I created this blog in order to share my insights into the art of music production, the craft of mixing, and the nature of music business. Of course, I also hope this endeavor builds trust in my person and abilities, as well as creating new business opportunities and creative connections.
While this post will throw a light on my own experience in music – as an artist -, it also serves as a personal introduction and includes more general observations about the business!
Born and raised
Being born and raised in Germany as a middle-class child I could have been spoiled, but I wasn’t. Thus this life was mine to ruin – and so I did. Instead of listening to sound advice, I didn’t care much for school and was certainly not going to be exploited by an employer.
With the courage of a fool, I was determined: I wouldn’t change – I’d change the world!
But how to do it? I wondered who is in power and the obvious answer was: politicians. At least that’s what I thought. And since the people vote politicians into office based on their politics, consequently, the people are in power. Again: So I thought! Thus I needed a way to address the people. I knew nobody listens to politicians, so becoming a politician was out of the question. But everybody listens to music – right?
An unlikely pairing
I started out my music journey as a child, singing and rapping along to the tracks I liked. There’s something ridiculous about a 13-year-old, white, skinny, fair-haired boy rapping along to “Hit ‘Em Up” by 2Pac.
Nowadays there is a lot of talk about “visibility”. Many believe that we need people of our own gender and skin color to look up to in all trades of life. Well, 13-year-old me was looking up to dead rappers. I believe it’s accurate to say that I had not much in common with them. Anyway: Whether it was chance or predetermination – I chose rap.
While my choice of childhood idols doesn’t suggest that visibility and representation are of paramount importance, it would be ignorant to assume my choice of genre had nothing to do with the path I took in life. And if people are more likely to look up to people resembling them, there may be a point to that discussion. But I digress: I’m not saying “gangsta rap made me do it”, but it introduced me to rather radical vocabulary and attitude. I went on to make a lot of bad decisions and I got mixed up with the worst of people.
In Germany, the rap business is in the hands of the mob. Although we have major artists too, that doesn’t imply that those artists are not dependent on the mob – for drugs, girls, and reputation. But even if they weren’t: Most rappers are not signed with a major label but with a “mob label”.
“What is a mob label”, you ask?
It’s a business model. First, they get artists hooked on drugs, then the artists advertise drugs and the criminal lifestyle in their songs. Thus it’s both marketing and recruiting for the mob and their products. Obviously, the labels are also used for money laundering. The mob founds labels and ensures that their artists have a chance at success by buying “likes” and CDs (e.g.). At the same time that they “support their artist”, they clean their own money. For example: let’s say they buy CDs of the artist they signed. 1. Their dirty money is now clean. 2. The artist will use some of his cut to buy drugs and sex. 3. Whenever the artist actually takes off, that’s a “win more”.
But let’s keep it real: The major industry is run by a mob too. Granted: It is not the same mob. It’s more political – but that’s for another story.
Fake names and fake friends
Later rather than sooner I started to notice that my friends weren’t actually my friends and my women weren’t actually my women. They “belonged to the streets” as they say. I was being manipulated and brainwashed on the most intimate levels.
In a way my journey went full circle and I was reminded of a bar in “Hit ‘Em Up” that I used to rap along to as a child. I indeed let one of those, who betrayed me, sleep on my couch.
I’m not going to go into details about how I noticed, but when I noticed – I started turning my life around decisively. I cut all chords, stopped rapping, and stopped smoking weed. I began focusing on my instrumentals and the mixing side of things instead.
So what is the nature of music business?
As an artist my personal experience was this: The mob has strong ties in this industry and I don’t believe it to be a coincidence that so many artists are drug addicts with toxic relationships. Every heartbreak and formative event is “a song or two” and that may be a reason for some to artificially create turbulence – or even trauma – in an artist’s life. Side note: Traumatic experiences are also a way to control people – to a certain extent.
On a more general note: The entertainment industry has a big impact on what people think, feel, and do. Consequently, music is very powerful and important – both for politics and the economy. It gets used and abused by powerful people and corporations to support a narrative that suits their ideological or financial interests.
Therefore: What is and isn’t considered to be commercial is not primarily determined by quality. Big parts of the mainstream industry have become predictable and replaceable, at least to those who recognize the interests behind trends and narratives. Replaceable artists are good for the industry, bad for the artists, bad for the art, and ultimately bad for society. The instrumentalization of artists and their art is by no means a new occurrence, but it’s certainly at an all-time high.
Keep in mind: There are many levels to the music industry and big differences between the perspective of an artist and a mixing engineer. I look forward to writing about my experiences as a producer and mixer in future posts.
After making fun of the word “commercial” and how it’s used, Bobby Womack once said: “Music is just music!”- in his track: “Medley: Monologue / (They Long to Be) Close to You”. But music is also business – in some ways that’s fortunate, in others, it isn’t: While it enables us to make money off what we love, it can also be very exploitative. In conclusion: The nature of music business is “bipolar”.