Examples of Unfair Treatment in the Music Industry: How you can hit play to start change

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Jacob Hoffman Headshot, Black and White
Jacob Hoffman

In our previous Blog (Blog #3), we interviewed Errol Henry from Music Justice who talked about many flaws within the music industry. Following up on that interview, we were able to find a few examples - out of many - to shed light on what’s happening with some of the most popular and successful artists in the world.

We’re about to unravel the stories of three iconic figures – Dr. Dre, Taylor Swift, and The Beatles – shedding light on the injustices they faced. Analyzing the reasons behind their mistreatment will unveil systemic flaws within the industry. With that information, we’ll be able to share some ideas for creating a better industry for everyone - especially the artists.

Dr. Dre: Caught in the Web of Exploitation

In the early 1990s, Dr. Dre, a pioneer of West Coast Hip-Hop played a pivotal role in shaping the hip-hop landscape with his work on N.W.A's "Straight Outta Compton" and his solo album "The Chronic." However, as his fame soared, so did his disputes with Death Row Records and its co-founder, Suge Knight. The label's notorious practices, including unfair contracts and disputes over artist royalties, culminated in Dre's departure.

Despite his groundbreaking contributions to the genre, Dre grappled with issues of fair compensation and control over his creations. A poignant example of this is his tumultuous relationship with Death Row Records, a label he co-founded.

In 2015, a judge ruled that Death Row Records did not have the rights to sell Dr. Dre’s album "The Chronic" digitally. Dre was owed more money than he received which entitled him to retrieve 100% of the proceeds of online sales.

Taylor Swift: Ownership and Artistic Freedom

She is one of the most popular and successful pop stars in the world. She was even the most streamed artist on Spotify in 2023. However, she has also had her share of disagreements with her record label, Big Machine Records.

The global pop sensation found herself entangled in a highly publicized dispute over the ownership of her master recordings. The controversy erupted when her former record label, Big Machine Label Group, was acquired by Scooter Braun, who then purchased her entire catalog. The dispute between Swift and Braun has been widely publicized, and it has sparked a debate about artists' rights and the ownership of music. Swift went on to create her own version of some of her albums so that she owns 100% of the records and doesn’t have to split with the owner of Big Machine’s masters.

Swift's battle underscores the lack of control artists often have over their work within the industry. Contracts may contain clauses that grant record labels extensive control over an artist's intellectual property, leaving musicians vulnerable to decisions made without their input.

The Beatles: Financial Exploitation

One of the most iconic bands in history encountered their share of unfair treatment within the music industry. Despite their unparalleled success, the band members – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – faced financial exploitation that marred their legacy.

The primary issue for The Beatles was their contract with music publisher Northern Songs. In an unfortunate turn of events, the publishing rights to the majority of The Beatles' songs were sold without their knowledge, depriving them of the financial rewards their music continued to generate for decades. This lack of control over their intellectual property highlights the vulnerability of artists even after achieving unparalleled success.

Overall, the stories of Dr. Dre, Taylor Swift, and The Beatles illuminate the systemic issues within the music industry that continue to plague artists. By addressing these issues head-on and implementing morally and ethically focused solutions, the industry could and should, but more often than not, will not take significant strides toward a fairer and more artist-centric future. It is imperative for all stakeholders – artists, record labels, streaming platforms, and policymakers – to collaborate and create an ecosystem that values creativity, respects intellectual property, and ensures that musicians receive the recognition and compensation they rightfully deserve. Only through collective efforts can the music industry evolve into a space where artists thrive rather than face the shadows of exploitation. Perhaps technology will play a huge role in this new age of treating artists fairly…

What are the solutions?

So, we have addressed major issues in the industry, provided examples, highlighted the effects of these issues, and briefly described what we could do - and that is implement morally and ethically focused solutions. Now, let’s propose specific solutions aimed at transforming the music industry into a realm that treats its artists with the respect, fairness, and compensation they deserve:

  1. Transparency in Contracts: To rectify such injustices, the industry must establish mechanisms to ensure transparency and fairness in contractual agreements. Artists should be informed and actively involved in decisions related to the licensing and sale of their works. Moreover, revisiting and reforming outdated contracts to align with contemporary standards would protect artists from enduring financial hardships in the long run.
  2. Artist Advocacy Organizations: Establishing independent artist advocacy organizations can provide a support system for musicians. These entities could offer legal counsel, negotiate on behalf of artists, and provide educational resources to empower musicians in their dealings with the industry.
  3. Fair Compensation for Streaming: The rise of digital streaming has revolutionized the way music is consumed, but it has also introduced new challenges for artists. Ensuring fair compensation for artists on streaming platforms and addressing issues related to royalty rates are essential steps in promoting a more equitable distribution of revenue.
  4. Revamping Intellectual Property Laws: Legislative changes to strengthen intellectual property laws could further protect artists from exploitation. Reforms should prioritize the rights of creators, making it more difficult for labels and publishers to manipulate or sell intellectual property without the artist's informed consent.
  5. Education and Empowerment: Educating artists about the intricacies of the music business is pivotal. Empowering musicians with knowledge about their rights, the importance of legal representation, and the implications of contractual agreements will enable them to make informed decisions about their careers. Every week TABOU1 shares industry insights to help keep artists informed. You can keep up with our educational material by following us on any of our socials. Here is the link: Linktree
  6. Utilizing Technology: Blockchains and NFTs are here and they are not going away. Artists should learn how to implement this technology into their brands/communities. Selling art in the form of NFTs may look difficult, but the return is often greater than simply releasing your music on streaming platforms. TABOU1’s mission is to sell exclusive music in the form of NFTs on our platform.

There is much to be done in this industry. Most likely, the artists will not be able to do it independently - they’re too busy making art. That’s why we need not only institutions and organizations to pave the way for a better industry, but also the support of every single fan and music lover.

Do your part by sharing helpful resources with your favorite artists, tip them when you are financially able, and support any company or brand that is pushing for a better industry (like us at TABOU1 😉 or other great Music NFT platforms). Share any suggestions you have in our Discord here, or learn about the TABOU1 Music Marketplace (coming soon!) here.

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