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The Racial Side Of The Music Industry

Plain and simple: Time and time again the music industry has made music race specific.

The music industry does not want people to stray from what they know.

The music industry uses race as a way to promote and sell music.

You think this is false?

Witness the latest rise of boybands, and put this statistic in mind: According to the April 1998 issue of Musician magazine, "Record labels are very hesitant to sign anyone under 25 . . . In MTV's 17 year reign, things have changed- it's not enough to have great songs and make great records, but things have to be put together visually. . . it's not "what does the band sound like", but rather "what does the singer look like?"

Witness the latest surge of Latin-pop singers, and tell me that they industry did not use race as a way to sell those acts. The term "Latin" became "this sound" after act after act was introduced . . . thus needing a demand for "Latin pop only." Absolutely disgusting and revolting on the industry's part.

But this was not the only time that happened. There is a greater shunning that has been going on since the music industry started . . .

Vernon Reid, former lead guitarist for the metal band Living Color, and Greg Tate, a Village Voice writer, formed the Black Rock Coalition in September of 1985 to combat the music industry's heavy classification of African American music. Their manifesto stated:

"The Black Rock Coalition opposes the racist and reactionary forces in the American music industry which deny black artists the expressive freedom and economic rewards that our Caucasian counterparts enjoy as a matter of course. We too claim the right of creative freedom and total access to American and international markets. Like our forebears- Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, Funkadelic, and Labelle, to name a few- the members of the Black Rock Coalition are neither novelty acts nor carbon copies of white bands who work America's Apartheid-Oriented Rock Circuit."

The Coalition's founders argue that the very existance of "black charts," "black radio," "black concert promotion," and so forth perpetuates a seperate-but-unequal economic system that exludes black artists from many avenues of expression. Vernon Reid places the blame on both white and black elements in the music business; as he told the Washington Post: "The white side of the industry claims it can't put a black band on an album cover and sell them in suburban malls. The black side of the industry claims that black audiences don't want to hear rock and roll."

The music industry cannot accept the idea of a black hard rock band, like Reid's Living Color. What is ironic is that the music originated from African-Americans (do these industry execs really know music after all?)

Of course, there is now law that says African-Americans cannot play rock 'n' roll, but those who do are not likely to be embraced by the industry. The career prospects are grim for a black musician who falls outside the rigid stylistic confines of the "urban contemporary" sound. ("Urban contemporary" is the indusry's code-name for music aimed at a predominantely black audience.) Black musicians who don't croon romantic ballads, rap, or make good-timey party records usually find themselves locked outside both white and black markets.

Thankfully, there is hope, as music styles keep crossing over, the industry will have to, like it's many faults, finally ACCEPT that it cannot keep music in boxes labeled "black" or "white."

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