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Culture Shock

Contractual Obligations in the Music Industry

Being recognized by a label and becoming a full-time musician with all the funding and promotion from them is most musicians' idea of the best possible scenario for their music career. A label has a much greater potential to get its name out there and all the benefits, but the musician is (usually) under a contractual agreement for this. While a contract can provide security, payment, or otherwise, it is still an agreement between the musician and label for an amount of music. Problems can still arise from many parts of this system, even with money and security. With a label, contract musicians are set to produce a set number of albums, songs, or whatever else is requested, usually over a longer period. Problems can ensue from several aspects of this system, but in particular, this system only lends itself to drastic changes in the music of a signed artist once they have a contract. This is because of the labels themselves and the reputations they have. For example, a record label such as Def Jam, which mainly hosts single artists in styles close to rap and hip hop, such as Big Sean, 070 Shake, or Nas, will not be able to effectively host a musician outside of that genre. This is because their entire marketing, networking, and promotion system is set up for that instead of jazz, rock, etc.

This becomes a problem for musicians because it can confine them to keep making whatever style of music a label already has established. Producers, executives, and the abilities of their marketing and promotional teams are not geared towards a vastly different creative direction. This does not mean that the creative process is stopped for creating music that pushes a genre, but it can definitely deter a musician from pushing too far. Often, this pushes artists to release things outside of their typical work on different platforms and under different names. Soundcloud is often the platform of choice for these musicians and is a way to retain the artistic expression in their music, just without the label promotion. Famous examples of musicians releasing music this way include Mac Miller as Larry Lovestein & The Velvet revival, Damon Albarn of Blur creating the Gorillaz, and Phoebe Bridgers with the group boygenius. Sometimes these projects are wildly successful, and other times less well known, but they are different avenues for expression that can really show the diversity of a musician's creativity.

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