The morality of the music industry has long been a question posed by the Berklee student body, a sore subject that hangs low above every student’s head as we forge our paths into the industry. I would bet my life on the fact that, were a poll conducted, a large majority of Berklee students would agree that, yes, the music industry at large is comprised of evil corporations and sell-out artists (many would also tell you that they hate the term “sell-out,” as this author does). Keep in mind, however: calling the Berklee student body “unbiased” on the subject is akin to arguing that Abraham Lincoln is not featured on the penny.
The same question was a hot point of debate during the Music Business/Management sponsored panel, Envisioning 21st Century Music Business Models: Ethics and the New Music Industry two weeks ago at the David Friend Recital Hall. The panel, which featured the likes of Marcie Allen (president of music sponsorship agency MAC Presents), Amanda Arrillaga (director of copyright administration for the RCA division of Sony Music), Jay Sweet (principal and co-founder of music consulting firm Sweet & Doggett), and Berklee songwriting professor Melissa Ferrick, was not afraid to jump right in and tackle the issue.
It was certainly a heated debate, with some of the panelists (and most of the crowd) going on the offensive against the major labels (Sony, Warner and Universal), referring to the industry giants as “evil” and citing their history of taking advantage of artists and putting profit before integrity.
The other side (backed primarily by Allen and Arrillaga) took a defensive stance on the subject, arguing the harsh reality that branding and commercialism in music is but a necessity for an industry trying to stay afloat. Their argument, though met largely with cynicism from the audience, actually went a long way in convincing me. I’ve long scoffed at a recording industry that, in my opinion, has seemed lacking in integrity. If anything, I walked away from the debate more conflicted than ever. The artist in me reels at Allen and Arrillaga’s admission that, sometimes, creativity is forced to take a back seat to the tried and true. However, the businessman in me understands completely why such actions must be taken, especially in today’s industry.
What do you think? Are the giants of the music industry evil? Is greed and corruption ruining popular music, or are corporate branding and this supposed “selling out” simply a necessity for the industry’s survival? Let us know what you think in the comments.