The Music Industry: More Education/Insight


The Music Industry: More Education/Insight
M.D. Wright
11.19.09

For many people, their knowledge of the music industry stops once they turn off their iPods or leave a show. Sure, a few may read the liner notes, hoping to see lyrics to the songs that they go “I only wish I could somethin’/somethin’/somethin'” to, but that’s about it. A couple of sophisticates here and there know how distribution affects Soundscan and others have theories about secret societies running the industry inside and out. But to summarize everything into one statement:

THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IS CONTROLLED BY GREED.

Today’s lesson answers the question:

“WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LOST ART OF BEING A DJ?”

Again, people have theories. There are a couple of possible answers for this, one of them being how the industry has evolved and talent has been diluted. Hip-Hop itself is ever-changing in the methods it uses to express the Four Elements (Five, if you are a fashionista). There was a time when sampling was not widespread and most DJs and producers did not have access to the vinyls nor the clearance to play artists’ records without paying them royalties (as Biz Markie found out in his now-landmark case settled in the early 1990s which changed the landscape of the Hip-Hop culture musically as well as how sampling is carried out.

While this is true, the BOTTOM LINE REASON the DJ has been cut out of the picture is both simple and complex (leading to the break-up of some legendary groups):

REVENUE SHARING.

For many years, when it came to publishing and being paid royalties from the play/sale/distribution of records, the DJ/producer would receive 50% of the proceeds and the rapper would get the other 50% (minus what he/she had to split with any artist appearing on the song in a cameo role). Most rappers are not savvy enough to read the paperwork and understand the Gentleman’s Rule that the producer generally receives 50% at all times simply because he puts in more work — from sampling, to adding instruments (whether live or digital), sequencing, mixing and mastering and putting the finishing touches on the record after the rapper(s) lay their 16s on the track that the producer created. Naturally, he/she should receive more.

The latest instance of this type of squabble between DJ/producer vs. rapper(s) is what took place between various different members of the Wu-Tang Clan and their chief producer over the years, RZA. RZA is a smart dude. He got that 50%, plus other agreements that the group made in terms of their other projects like clothing and the such like. He was getting the standard 50% PLUS a share of the other portion left over for rappers (whenever he laid 16s, which he is underrated at doing, BY THE WAY).

However, some of the seminal groups from the 80s all broke up for this same reason, over and over and over. EPMD, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith split with their DJ/producer and then squabbled with each other when they realized they weren’t even making half of what they thought they should’ve been from 1988-1996.

Eric B. & Rakim broke up for the same reason. Eric B. was getting half and in some cases, a bit more, whereas Rakim (in his mind) was doing the most work by lacing the track with his bars.

Likewise with GangStarr (Guru and DJ Premier).

So while modern technology plays a role, a lot of the reason (or blame, if you view it that way) for the lack of DJs outside of the club/party scene is the fact that rappers are greedy and don’t want to have to share with a DJ. However, in doing so, we have gotten away from the art form itself. Notice the parallel between the descent of the rap game along with the eradication of DJs and multiple producers? The more producers, the smaller the rapper’s checks are going to be.

Considering everyone else the rapper (and those R&B singers as well) has to split royalties with, can you really blame them?

DISCUSS.

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