Commercial gain or something to say?

(November 26, 2010)

Is music produced for commercial gain or because it has something to say? The jury remains firmly out on that question.

There’s the divide between commerce and art. There’s as much of a split between style and belief. Some remain overtly committed to music for commerce rather than to music to communicate or music for art. Is this musical prostitution or simple common sense?

Music for commercial gain invariably fits into the ‘popular’ bracket; and that includes every level of popular – from rock ballad to rap. The equation also includes the use of music as a ‘star vehicle’. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that many use music as a vehicle to achieve stardom. Some make it clear that they want the fame not the need to make music: “I have no ties to the music. I just want to be famous.” With these emotions the desire to be ‘famous’ overcomes all others. Those who think that way would probably be just as happy making their name as acrobats if they had the talent and if acrobatics was the route to fame. Perhaps a programme called ‘The Acrobatic Factor’ would make that idea a reality – not a serious suggestion.

Whichever side of the fence you sit (or in the middle - eventually a damned uncomfortable position) a great many people see the important issue as personal integrity.

There is, I’m told, more integrity in music written to convey something, rather than as a means of commercial gain. But why should there be this distinction? If the popularity of music for art or to communicate could be harnessed to provide an income for writers and performers, then that is just reward for their efforts.

I’m not sure however, that some successful artists only wrote because they had something to say and share: nor because they thought it was an easy way to make a living, it was what they wanted to do. Music is demonstrably not an easy way to earn money and yet thousands still write and perform for little or no gain. There was a time when the successful songs become so because they had an intrinsic value beyond marketing and commerce. Is that still true today? Well only a crystal ball or time-travel will settle that one.


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