Beth Lyn Ward

Ethics in the Music Industry: Play by the Rules

“All my growth and development led me to believe that if you really do the right thing, and if you play by the rules, and if you’ve got common sense, that you’re going to be able to do whatever you want to do with your life.”

-Barbara Jordan

“To care for anyone else enough to make their problems one’s own, is ever the beginning of one’s real ethical development.”

-Felix Alder

Music is a creative industry which thrives and develops on relationships and networking. The human interaction and passion for this art can sometimes cross lines of moral and ethical behaviour. These blurred lines allow for corruption and illegal manipulation which makes artists untrusting and business to work cautiously. The Oxford Dictionary describes ethics as, “the moral principles governing or influencing conduct. 2 the branch of knowledge concerned with moral principles.” These ingrained tendencies are what keep from chaos breaking out in all conducts of life. When dealing with such personal work as music, or art in general, it is a very misunderstood balance.

Throughout history there has been an ongoing debate about defining ethics. Ethics have varying situations and some ethical issues have turned into law, such as murdering someone or taking what is not yours. Some people believe that everyone should carry the same ethical code, however this seems to be impossible because of the many number of variables from person to person. In order to analyse ethical issues one must stay as unbiased as possible and step back from the situation in order to understand all of those different variables. Aristotle’s teachings of ethics explain, “We study ethics in order to improve our lives, and therefore its principal concern is the nature of human well-being.” To achieve this nature of well being, virtues like justice, courage, honour and temperance are complex rational, emotional and social skills. Proper appreciation of friendship, pleasure, virtue, honour and wealth fitting together as a whole is the key to ethic understanding. The knowledge of our habits and the ability to choose the appropriate action to take are the necessity of moral decision making. Simple rules are not enough to have practical understanding.

The music industry has gone through many ethical transitions throughout history. During the 60’s and 70’s Berry Gordy and the Motown roster shared their number of ethical controversies. Gordy fell in love with Diana Ross, one of Gordy’s biggest stars. They shared a relationship for 5 years and had one child. It can be considered nepotism because of the many opportunities Gordy gave Diana throughout their time at Motown. Another prior example of ethical issues in the music industry is the situation with Fat Possum Records. Matthew Johnson, the head of Fat Possum enables old blues artists from the south by paying for drugs, alcohol and their living costs. This is an ethical dilemma in itself because of the illegal nature of his practices.

Hunter S. Thompson is quoted as saying “the music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” This description is unfortunately quite accurate. At Geffen records, Marco Babineau was accused of sexually harassing female employees after 8 years in the music industry. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, one of the assaulted women, his secretary, exposed the truth about what he had been doing. The investigation revealed that he has been sexually harassing his female employees as far back as 1984. This shows that women have always had a difficult time in the workplace, but the ethical and moral lines that got crossed in the music industry are at a whole different level. A different example of past ethical events is the late 90’s early 2000 controversy of Napster. The free sharing of music without any compensation for the artists who created the music impedes on many ethical boundaries like the control over ones property or creation. At the height of Napster in 2000, it had 1.6 million users which happened over an incredibly short period of time. This shows the demand there was for music choice. The public became tired of being told what good music is and they began to be exposed to music in an entirely new way. Technology has always been a step ahead of the business of the music industry. It has been shown time and time again that the major players have never dealt with the growth of new technology in an embracing manor. Ethical controversies surround the technology, music business debate and are some of the major issues that have been faced in the past 50 years.

As history repeats itself, there is hope that we will learn from past experiences. Many pop icons of the 21st century have been submerged in what some people may feel are unethical practices. Artists like Jessica and Ashley Simpson who are managed by their father cross boundaries of nepotism. Nepotism is one of the most common examples of current ethical issues in the music industry. In the past it was more about enabling and using some shady business to acquire what one wants. Now it seems there has been a shift to unfair industry representation.

“The ethics of excellence are grounded in action. What you actually do rather than what you say you believe. Talk as the saying goes is cheap.”

— Price Pritchett

“First there is the law. It must be obeyed. But the law is the minimum. You must act ethically.”

— F. G. Buck Rodgers

Currently the other ethical situation is based around P2P sharing. Since 2000 and the launch of Napster, there have been waves of lawsuits and seemingly backwards tools to combat the piracy of music. 20,000 lawsuits have been made against individual music lovers across north America by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). Some of these people never used a service like Limewire, Napster or Kazaa because they were too old, dead or did not listen to music on the computer. In the end, Napster paid $ 26 million to music publishers with one third of the revenues given to owners of the works and $10 million to the Harry Fox Agency, to licence future use of copyrighted material. In 2008 the International Journal of Electronic Finance discussed the continuing problems the industry is facing with technology and online piracy. “Consumers have created anonymous online networks to exchange audio files at little cost. This has led to millions of shared, illegal copies of music files and related sales losses to the industry. Legal efforts to counter this trend have lagged the advances in technology.” So the fight against free sharing and the ethical

“The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with the joy of living are goodness beauty and truth. To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle.”

— Albert Einstein

dilemmas facing artists and industry professionals everywhere continues. Embracing the technology and using it to its potential within agreed upon ethical standards would have a huge impact on this ongoing debate. These advances in the internet, web 3.0 specifically and the growing demand for personal choice will not disappear because of blindly directed legal action. If this ethical and moral situation the music industry is in, has no compromise than it is extremely difficult to move forward and capitalize on this amazing tool for exposure and distribution. The fans are saying that they want more, not less and that until there is regulation it will not stop their desire to seek out new and exciting genres, artists and sounds.

Looking back at history and the ethical obstacles that have been overcome allow for future predictions of music industry behaviour. In terms of P2P sharing, people are more prone to stealing music and downloading MP3s illegally. Fear of consequences does seem to have an impact on the propensity to download illegally. To combat this problem there has been research done in regards to free music. Free music is the idea that it’s fair that people pay for music only if they like it after listening to it first; the present system in the industry does not allow this for all forms of music. To prevent “illegal” copies from being made, is like trying to circumvent what is human nature. In this free music market, the artists will have more power with their recordings, allowing them to be as creative as they want. Music will become less about the money and more about individual music preferences. It is now common and useful to have the internet as a tool to expose music to the niche markets for which the music fits. Musicians and artists can be as creative as they want because they can give it directly to their fans and spread it around the world. The industry will be unable to control success as they did with Nirvana’s In Utero, saying that they need to change the production on this album because it won’t sell as is. Perhaps we can then see individual music instead of music for the masses. Music should not be solely a product used for money making. Artists have to live and eat like the rest of society; however, they are in a very different industry from other businesses and should be treated accordingly.

There will always be ethical lines being crossed in the music industry and in most other industries. Ethics and morals are individual thoughts, feelings and internal rules that govern our daily decisions. Because the line is so blurred, it is open to speculation whether the ethical controversies which are discussed above are right or wrong. In the creative industries specifically there have been rules created which are changed or broken as demand and technology allow for it. The future holds more of the same issues, it is each owns personal responsibility to follow an ethical code and educate the world on the patterns of human behaviour. Without these patterns and beliefs the market will become a free for all.

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This entry was published on March 8, 2013 at 5:31 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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