A specter looms over the Music Industry—threatening the present social order of proletariat artist and the bourgeoisie record executive. Like many of the products we buy, music is something that we enjoy every day, but are completely oblivious to the exploitative systems by which it is created. The glimmering facade of wealth, power, and happiness displayed in music videos is in stark contrast to the reality of the industry. This blog post will draw analogies from modern Industry to the Music Industry in order to provide you with a better understanding of Marx’s philosophies.
The history of all musical production is that of class struggles. From the ancient times of the simple African drum circle, to feudal aristocratic patronage, to modern day auto-tuned international pop, the methods of producing music, and the organizational social structures surrounding it, have been in constant flux and revolution. “Freeman and slave, patrician and plebein, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman… (Marx 798)”—record executive and artist. By definition bourgeoisie is “…the class of modern Capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage-labour.” And proletariant is “…the class of modern wage-labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour-power in order to live. (Marx 798)” As you can see, there are distinct similarities that can be drawn between that of the record executive and the bourgeoisie and that of the musical artist and the proletariat. The present system of oppression, maintained by the record companies and bourgeoisie executives, began to form in the late 20th century(1).
The driving force behind the modern system is that of musical recordings, which, through various methods, can be recorded, stored, and distributed—all without the artist stepping foot outside of a recording studio. In the past, the social unit of music, much like the family, was the band. Most musical interactions took place between members of the band, and their audience. The members of the band were insuperable form their natural capital of musical talent and the name they acquired for themselves through the use of that talent. This was all changed with the advent of the first phonograph in the United States in 1877(2). “Unlike modern capital which can be appraised monetarily and invested in this thing or that, this natural capital was directly tied up with the particular work of the owner, was insuperable from it…(Marx 790)” The technological advance of being able to separate the artists from their music—natural capital—was the critical step in the creation of the modern Music Industry.
This separation of the artist from their works, both intellectually and physically, lead to the immediate and rapid development of division of labor regarding the production of modern music. No longer is the artist solely responsible for imagining, creating, and playing his or her music. This responsibility is divided amongst an army of professional musical composers, lyricists, audio producers, sound engineers, recording studio staff, and marketeers all play a specialized role in the production of today’s mass-market music. “Owing to the extensive use of machinery and to division of labor, the work of proletarians has lost all individual character, and , consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine… (Marx 802)” <queue Pink Floyd’s smash-hit…>. Thus music no longer becomes a pleasure for those working on it, it becomes merely toil and chore.
The added artistic value created by these workers is kept by the record company as profits. Often times artists are forced by companies to adopt stage name in order for the record company to maintain legal rights over both the artist’s music and their name. Take, for example, “The artist formerly known as Prince”. In 1993, a legal battle erupted surrounding the ownership of Prince’s name and musical works. Prince states:
The first step I have taken towards the ultimate goal of emancipation from the chains that bind me to Warner Bros. was to change my name from Prince to the Love Symbol. Prince is the name that my mother gave me at birth. Warner Bros. took the name, trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing tool to promote all of the music that I wrote. The company owns the name Prince and all related music marketed under Prince. I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros…”
Prince’s statements eerily mirror the feelings and goals of proletariats and communists alike. To free themselves from their enslavement by bourgeoisie, to reclaim what is naturally theirs, and to put a stop to the bourgeoisie’s exploitation of the artist.
ARTISTS OF ALL COMPANIES, UNITE!
Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Wooton, 2008.
Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, Wooton, 2008