Is the Music Industry Toxic?

Categories: Music Industry, Opinion
is the music industry toxic?

Unveiling Toxicity in the Music Industry

Many believe the music industry is toxic. The music industry has long been a subject of debate regarding its inherent toxicity. This blog post aims to dissect this discussion by presenting two contrasting opinions: one arguing for the industry’s toxicity and the other suggesting it is not (as to not get cancelled out the gate.) However, I will ultimately assert that the music industry has indeed become increasingly toxic (much like any globalized industry.)

I wrote most of this with the help of ChatGPT (and generated images with Adobe Firefly.) So, maybe it wrote this. But it’s right on target for what I’ve been writing and talking about for the last 10 years. My original words are written in italic, like this. p.s. if compelled, find my music here. Now, let’s explore.

Opinion 1: The Music Industry Is Toxic

There are compelling reasons to believe that the music industry has significant toxic traits. Here are some key arguments:

Exploitative artist contracts

The music industry has a history of exploiting artists through unfair contracts, where they often find themselves trapped in unfavorable deals that limit their creative freedom and disproportionately benefit record labels and industry executives.

These exploitative contracts have contributed to a pervasive sense of inequity and power imbalances within the industry.

explotative and toxic recording artist contract
competition between recording artists makes the music industry toxic

Toxic, cutthroat competition between artists

The industry’s hyper-competitive nature fosters an environment where artists are constantly pitted against each other, leading to an atmosphere of rivalry, jealousy, and an unhealthy desire for success at any cost.

This toxic competition can overshadow collaboration and mutual support, hindering the growth and well-being of artists.

Unrealistic beauty standards for both sexes

The emphasis on physical appearance and marketability has created a toxic culture that places undue pressure on artists to conform to unrealistic beauty standards.

This narrow focus perpetuates harmful stereotypes, particularly affecting female artists, and creates an environment where talent and artistry can be overshadowed by superficial attributes.

unrealistic beauty standards - mainstream music industry is toxic
mental health challenges in the music business makes it toxic

Mental health challenges make it more toxic

The relentless demands and pressures of the music industry take a toll on artists’ mental health. The high-stress environment, coupled with the constant scrutiny and expectations, contribute to anxiety, depression, and substance abuse issues among musicians. The lack of adequate support systems exacerbates these challenges, leading to long-term consequences for artists’ well-being.

Lack of diversity and inclusivity

Despite some progress, the music industry continues to struggle with diversity and inclusivity. Minority artists often face barriers to entry, limited representation, and unequal opportunities, hindering the industry’s ability to authentically reflect the diverse tapestry of human experiences. This lack of diversity perpetuates a toxic cycle of exclusion and marginalization. Something is to also be said for “nepo-babies” and children of wealthy parents even outside the industry. 

lack of diversity in the music business
commercialization and formulaic approach in the music business

Commercialization and assembly-line formulaic approach

Over time, the music industry has witnessed a shift towards a more commercialized and formulaic approach to creating music. This emphasis on marketability and profitability often stifles artistic innovation, forcing artists into conforming to predetermined molds and producing generic, formulaic songs. This toxic cycle hampers creativity and restricts artistic freedom.

An aside on toxic lyrical content of popular music

The lyrical content in popular music has undeniably become increasingly sexualized and immoral in recent years. This trend poses a significant concern, particularly for children and vulnerable listeners who are exposed to such explicit material. The prominence of explicit content in the charts and mainstream music has reached an overwhelming level, and its pervasive nature can have detrimental effects on individuals and society as a whole.

Immoral themes has overshadowed the artistry

Popular music has traditionally been a platform for artists to express themselves and connect with their audience on a deeper level. However, the focus on sexualized and immoral themes has overshadowed the artistry and soul that once defined this genre. Instead of exploring diverse topics and delving into the complexities of the human experience, the music industry seems to have embraced a formula that prioritizes shock value and sensationalism.

The consequence of this overemphasis on explicit content is that it perpetuates a toxic culture that normalizes inappropriate behavior. Children, in particular, are highly susceptible to the messages conveyed through music, and exposure to explicit lyrics at a young age can shape their perceptions of relationships, intimacy, and morality. This erosion of wholesome values can have long-lasting effects on their emotional and social development, ultimately contributing to a society that lacks empathy and respect.

Dominance of explicit content in the mainstream music

While there is certainly a place for artistic expression that explores more adult themes, the dominance of explicit content in the mainstream music scene has stifled diversity and hindered the exploration of other important aspects of the human experience. It is essential to recognize the need for a balance between artistic freedom and responsible content creation that takes into account the impact it has on listeners, especially those who may be more vulnerable.

In light of these concerns, it is commendable that you aim to infuse non-denominational, general human spirituality into popular music. By bringing a more uplifting and meaningful perspective to the forefront, you can help counteract the negative effects of explicit content and provide an alternative for listeners seeking deeper connections. This infusion of spirituality can restore the soul and spirit that seem to have been overshadowed, fostering a more diverse and wholesome music culture that promotes empathy, introspection, and personal growth.

Eroding the soul, spirit and sanctity of music

In conclusion, the sexualization and immorality prevalent in popular music today have reached alarming levels, negatively impacting children and vulnerable listeners. The dominance of explicit content in the charts and mainstream music industry has eroded the soul and spirit that once characterized this genre. However, there is an opportunity to reintroduce non-denominational, general human spirituality into popular music, providing a much-needed alternative to the current trends. By doing so, we can create a more balanced and inclusive musical landscape that fosters personal growth, empathy, and a deeper understanding of the human experience.

Music is a universal language. Music = sound waves = physical atoms that alter the brain. It’s not just entertainment, it’s actually “magic.” We need to be responsible with such power. 

Opinion 2: The Music Industry Is Fine

While there are counterarguments suggesting that the music industry is not entirely toxic (non-toxic, lol,) it is important to critically examine these perspectives. Here are some points put forward by proponents of this view:

Positive Transformative Power

Music has the ability to inspire, heal, and bring people together. (But at what cost? What cost to the artist? To society?) It acts as a catalyst for social change, raising awareness of important issues and promoting unity and understanding. The music industry, when harnessed positively, can be a force for good and serve as a platform for artists to make a positive impact.

Personal Responsibility and Agency

Artists have the power to navigate the industry with awareness, making informed decisions and surrounding themselves with supportive teams that prioritize their well-being. By taking charge of their careers and seeking fair contracts, artists can mitigate potential toxic situations and establish healthy boundaries.

(Do they have true agency, though? Is this whole argument just the AI giving me what I want? These seem like inherent traits of the industry, not points that attempt to qualify or rationalize the toxic traits though.)

Artistic Freedom and Expression: The music industry, at its core, celebrates creativity and artistic expression.

Many artists have managed to maintain their artistic integrity, connect with their audience on a genuine level, and make a positive impact through their music. These artists serve as beacons of inspiration, demonstrating that it is possible to thrive creatively while maintaining authenticity. (But isn’t a majority of the current “creativity” toxic or at least complacent and static?) 

The Changing Landscape: Growing Music Industry Toxicity Over Time

While it is important to acknowledge the positive aspects, the music industry has undeniably become more toxic over the last 20-40 years. Here are key factors that have contributed to this increasing toxicity:

Digital Revolution

The advent of digital music platforms and streaming services has disrupted traditional revenue models, leading to financial challenges for artists. Lower royalty rates and the decline of physical sales have heightened exploitation, leaving artists more vulnerable to financial struggles and reducing their control over their own work.

Social Media and Online Presence

The rise of social media has amplified the pressures faced by artists, who are now expected to maintain a constant online presence and engagement. This exposure has increased the risk of cyberbullying, online harassment, and invasion of privacy, negatively impacting artists’ mental well-being. The quest for social media validation has further fueled the toxic culture of comparison and self-doubt.

Commercialization and Mainstream Focus

The industry’s shift towards a more commercialized and formulaic approach to music production has prioritized marketability over artistic innovation. This has stifled creativity, perpetuated a homogenized sound, and reinforced toxic norms within the industry. The focus on profits has often overshadowed the value of artistry and originality.

Lack of Diversity and Representation

While progress has been made, the music industry still struggles with diversity and inclusivity. Minority artists face barriers to entry, limited representation, and unequal opportunities, perpetuating a toxic environment that fails to embrace the richness of human experiences. The industry must actively work towards creating a more inclusive space where artists from all backgrounds can thrive.

Exploitative Business Practices

The prevalence of exploitative business practices, such as payola, where record labels pay for radio airplay, and unfair streaming royalty rates, further contribute to the toxic environment. These practices undermine the artistic value of music and hinder artists’ ability to earn a fair income from their work.

Is the music industry toxic? Conclusion

After a comprehensive analysis of the music industry, we assert that it has indeed become increasingly toxic over the last 50 years. Exploitative contracts, cutthroat competition, unrealistic beauty standards, mental health challenges, lack of diversity, commercialization, and the prevalence of exploitative business practices have marred the industry’s landscape. While positive elements and personal agency exist, it is crucial to address and dismantle the toxic traits that have overshadowed the industry’s potential for positive impact.

Fostering change and healing of music industry toxicity.

To foster change, the music industry must prioritize fair contracts, mental health support, diversity, and inclusivity. By amplifying the voices of independent artists, promoting responsible consumption, and demanding ethical practices, we can collectively contribute to a transformation towards a more supportive and inclusive music industry.

Let us recognize the toxicity within the industry, work towards reform, and create a space where artists can flourish creatively while safeguarding their well-being. Together, we can shape a music industry that not only celebrates talent but also prioritizes the well-being and creative freedom of artists, ensuring a vibrant and sustainable future for music.

chad lewine 2023 blog author image

All I want is to balance it out. There’s a need for light and dark, up and down, etc. You need some adversity to enjoy this thing we call life. But if you want a little more light, a little more peace, more balance and health in your music and/or the industry…

chad lewine 2023 cropped

Music is a megaphone for the message.


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