MODERN MUSIC AND MORALITY: THE CONTROVERSY OF CONSUMER EMPOWERMENT

Written by: Natalya Davies        Updated: 17/10/2018

 

Should We Be More Mindful of the Music We Listen to in the Modern Age?

 

Since the debatably controversial movement tested by Spotify regarding hate content and hateful conduct, it appears that the whole industry has been sitting on the uprooted issue of morality – including me. However, just by taking a slight glance at the impact of previous movements in the history of music, it is clear to see that this moral panic is nothing new.

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Mostly the same arguments that are being tested now were also debated in the wake of 1950’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, 70’s Punk, and even the short-lived era of 90’s Grunge. The awareness of music’s ability to reflect our personal qualities, doubled with its potential to influence young minds, is a burden that our modern society carries – one which technology only seems to be complicating, further.

While there is an evident issue of artists securing extreme ‘cult-like‘ power among young audiences through doubling as influential social media figures, the controversy of consumer empowerment in the streaming age seems to be relatively uncharted territory.

In a New York Times podcast discussing late rapper XXXTentacion, Noisey journalist Lawrence Burney introduces this argument, suggesting that the direct role that listeners now possess in the financial success of an artist should lead to more mindful decisions of the music we indulge in. On the subject, he says:

“I really had to arrive at a moment where I realised that even listening to the music, because of how it works now with streaming, is… I’m putting money directly in these people’s pockets […] so I had to come to terms with the fact that, no, I just can’t listen… because if I am listening, I’m supporting. […] every time you hit play, maybe you’re only putting 5 cents in their pocket… but it accumulates”

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In consideration of this perspective, let’s take the time to ask ourselves this: should we be more mindful of the music we listen to in the modern age?

While it is commendable to actively remove yourself from a current trend, deciding that the bigger picture must be addressed, it can be much more complicated than a simple yes or no. When surveying a number of individuals on the matter, it became apparent that there was an inconceivable range of varying opinions, all valid in their own way.

When posed with this question, a contributor suggested that each case is inevitably different and therefore, must be approached and judged completely separately. It is highly likely that the offence and scenario will vary, as well as the level of repentance displayed, therefore, it can seem unfair to place all artists involved with hateful conduct or hate content under one umbrella. Most importantly, it also depends on the degree of what you, the consumer, decide you can look past and what you cannot.

On the other hand, many that were for Burney’s argument testified that choosing to listen to a controversial artist allows them to thrive, undeservedly. As Burney perfectly established, listening means supporting, and as artists are now paid per play, it seems that many feel they are personally contributing to their financial success – or even the victory of a potential offender.

While this is a very interesting prospect, the next question which only seems natural to explore is: How much of an impact do we really have?

Is the power really in the hands of the consumer?

Spotify operate under what can be described as a ‘parimutuel payment system‘; or in simpler terms, a system whereby subscription fees and other revenue streams are combined before royalties are paid out to artists. This also means that the more popular artists of a given time period will earn a large percentage of this figurative ‘money pool’.

This may seem quite apparent, so allow me to support my point with a simple example: Not long ago, CDs were a booming musical format and to obtain them, you would most likely visit a record store, online or offline. Let’s say I visit and purchase “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” by Drake, I pay approximately £9.99 of my money in return for a physical product by an artist of my choice.

 

“In a way, it could be suggested that if you are investing into companies like Spotify, then you are supporting its entire catalogue.”

 

Now, because of this tangible element, the purchase of a CD is much more simple than the streaming world. In this make-belief instance, my money was collected for Drake, and Drake is exactly what I received in return. However, with streaming services, you pay for an entire catalogue of music, which in turn, is what you receive. However, as a result of this “money pool” your money is not just going into the pockets of the artists you are listening to, but also getting paid out to the most popular artists of that period.

So with this illustration in mind, I will reiterate the prior question: Is the power really in the hands of the consumer?

My assumption is no.

With this payment system in place, the consumer’s money is invested wherever necessary, meaning that you most likely are contributing toward the success of an artist you may be abstaining from, to honour your own moral boundaries. So, in a way, it could be suggested that if you are investing into companies like Spotify, then you are supporting its entire catalogue.

The only way to be truly removed from this is to opt out of streaming altogether.

Recognise this as an extreme vantage point, an opportunity for me to be the devil’s advocate. My point does not place the responsibility of a controversial artist’s financial success on any one but the artist itself, and their team, however, it is simply some food for thought for those that enjoy speculation.

 

“With great power comes great responsibility”

 

Now this leads me to my final question, one which I feel we all should take the time reflect upon: Do we have the right to make a moral judgement towards media figures?

This is such a broad question, but its importance should not be underestimated. While I plan to further explore the subject of celebrities and moral obligations at a later date, it has to be expressed that the high expectations entrusted upon them must be a weighty burden to bear; one which many do not wish to carry or even have the option to opt out of.

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My belief is that no one really has the right to make a moral judgement on the occurrences of another’s life, despite it being a large part of human nature to do so. Yes, it is wise to evaluate your personal morals in conjunction with the entertainment that you are indulging in, but it is important to recognise that no one ever really knows the full extent of a story; particularly when it is circulated by press who may have their own preconceptions.

As the famous saying goes: “with great power comes great responsibility“, therefore, you could suggest that, yes, the access model that has spurred the rise of consumer empowerment in the music industry does require greater responsibility from the behalf of each individual consumer. However, if you are comfortable with listening to any and all music, simply for its enjoyment factor, then that too is completely plausible – that is the beauty of morality.

 

 

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