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Jill Cotters Paper

Beating To The Sound of Ethics, Jill Cotter

The music industry is a multi-faceted medium of media communications. It is divided into four segments: talent, production, distribution and retail. Each segment consists of a number of players responsible for the creation of music, and more specifically, an album. Although only 13,000-15,000 people work under the industry, the decisions they make are important in keeping quality music on the air (College of Arts?). Especially when 60 percent of the music today is targeted at young teens, these decisions need to be smart and have some ethical reasoning behind them. Despite the record companies? and radio stations? responsibility in distributing the ?right? material, consumers also have to be conscious in what music they buy and how they obtain it, i.e. Internet mp3s. Parents need to pay special attention to what their children are listening to on the radio and on MTV, while Internet surfers need to be aware of copyright ethics.

Labels on Target

Rock music has evolved tremendously since the days of Elvis?s pelvis swinging on the Ed Sullivan show. And just like the television producers of that program made the decision to only film Elvis from the waist up, record labels need to make an ethical standpoint as to what talent they choose to support and/or promote.

Now, we?re living in a sexpot. From Sisqo?s ?Thong Song,? to Britney Spears? latest, ?I?m a Slave4u,? record companies such as Jive (Spears? label) have quenched the young public?s thirst for jaw-dropping entertainment. Disney productions, during the once popular series Making the Band, scouted for young men, specifically for those who were easy on the eye. The music of Eminem has also been under scrutiny for its portrayals of violence, but the real Marshall Mathers hit it big with his ?Slim Shady? rap. Is promoting heavy sexuality and violence ethical? One would say that the record companies are simply giving their targeted audience what it wants. But do these record companies, along with young teens or their parents, realize how influential the music they listen to and the visual pictures provided by MTV, is on teens? own behavior and developing values? Videos on the cable network frequently contain violence, particularly against women, and drug use is glamorized. Music lyrics are another big issue, as the way in which the young audience interprets them is crucial in the type of impact they have. Experimental studies have implicated that videos ?desensitize viewers to violence? and render teenagers into the approval of premarital sex (Impact?). Granted, labels aren?t involved in the direct production of music videos, but they certainly have a say in the image portrayed by their artists. Music videos of a song are often released before the actual single and therefore, this image is solidified early on in the promotional process.

On-Air, Off-Air

Radio stations and their managers also have a responsibility in airing certain music that is considered offensive or explicit. Administrators for a radio station are in charge of the overall station programming, promotion, marketing and sales. They set policies for station operations and direct the carrying out of these policies. It is their programming that is now being examined.

Mentioned above, artists like Britney Spears perform to sexually charged material, using sultry dance moves in her videos. However, when played on the radio, lyrics are especially important to a song?s impact and/or message. Eminem has garnered several complaints or criticisms for the explicit language throughout his album. ?The Real Slim Shady,? although topping the billboard charts for two months during the summer of 2000, caused a slight financial damage to a Pueblo, Colorado radio station. KKMG was fined $7,000 by the FCC for airing the Eminem hit. Attorneys for other station groups advised their clients afterwards to pull the song, as the FCC has now specific regulations as to when ?indecent broadcasts? may air. This is just a sample of the song FCC now has prohibited stations from airing between 6 am and 10 pm:

?Feminist women love Eminem/Slim Shady, I?m sick of him/Look at him, walking around grabbin? his you-know-what, flippin? the you know who/Yeah, but he?s so cute, though/Yeah, probably got a couple of screws up in my head loose/But the worse is what?s going on in your parents? bedroom/Sometimes I want to get on TV and just let loose, but can?t/But it?s cool for Tom Green to hump a dead moose:/My bum is on your lips, My bum is on your lips/And if I?m lucky my might give it a little kiss/And that?s the message we deliver to little kids/And expect them not to know what a woman?s BLEEP is/Of course, they?re gonna know what intercourse is/by the time they hit fourth grade/they got the Discovery Channel, don?t they??

It is said that there are still FCC investigations occurring and that the number of fines imposed just may exceed the 2000?s mark (?McConnell, 54). Rap music is apparently what many want to hear; as the Recording Industry Association of America reported $694.2 million in sales of rap back in 1991 (Moore, 16).

Back in 1993, two stations on opposite coasts decided against airing rough or offensive songs. WBLS, under Inner City Broadcasting in New York, explained they would not play any songs with the words ?bitch? or ?ho?. In the case of another station, KPWR, the act of pulling offensive music off the air would apparently lose its credibility with its audience. ?We?ve got to speak their language,? said Doyle Rose, the general manager of KPWR. ??sometimes it is necessary for the artists to use language that grabs people?s attention (Viles, 90).? Obviously, the different radio stations have their own standards for what they play and what they?re not willing to subject listening audiences to.

Sound Off

Especially after the events in Columbine, Colorado back in 1999, the public is very much concerned about the lyrics found in songs and the ?theatrical? performances seen on television. Despite all the controversy thrown at them, artists continue to defend their music and are adamant that the music is less-than-influential on the people who listen to it.

In May 2000, in an interview with The Times, Eminem contested the idea that his own music was dangerous. He said, "I don't think music can make you kill or rape someone any more than a movie is going to make you do something you know is wrong, but music can give you strength ( And although it garnered protests from the Family Violence Prevention Fund and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance, Eminem received four Grammy nominations in January 2001.

Britney Spears, as well, has had to defend her own image, proclaiming that she is in fact a good role model for young girls. The artist was just one to participate in an MTV special entitled, When Sex Goes Pop: Not That Innocent, to discuss the various images portrayed by today?s array of music entertainers. With her latest single, ?I?m A Slave4U,? Spears is also now defending her own lyrics as she wrote most of the songs on the album. Defending the use of profanity in the song, she says the use of "hell" and "damn" is not the normal language she uses in everyday life. She said, "I say it out of frustration in my songs." Spears also stated that parents who are upset by the use of the language should not buy the album (

Artists, especially those who do write their own music, typically do defend their performances. From the above arguments, it can be said then that in the eyes of the entertainer, what he/she is singing and mass distributing is ethical. Granted, there is the First Amendment that allows them to write and sing, but the mass production of it??


?What sort of judgment is being exercised by those who authorize the production of music that advocates murder? (Leslie, 240)? Or sexual activity for that matter? What standards should individuals within the music industry follow in order to remain ethical not only in the eyes of society but in the eyes of themselves?

Leslie uses Francis Bacon?s philosophy to drive home the idea that changes in behavior starts in the individual. Bacon says that one should apply ?the powers of reason, understanding, and will to control the appetites to which life subjects us.? The journey to a society that, as a whole, acts morally and ethically on a regular basis, begins with one person who has the courage to ask, in this case, the question: ?What music do I want to advocate to a young listening audience??


College of Arts and Sciences. The Recording Industry. University of Pennsylvania.

Impact of Music Lyrics and Music Videos on Children and Youth. American Academy of Pediatrics. V. 98, no. 6. December 1996.

Leslie, Larry Z. Mass Communication Ethics. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 2000.

Leonard, Andrew. ?License to be good.? Technology.

Levin, Carol. ?Let the Music Play.? PC Magazine Online. 10 May 1999.

?McConnell, Bill. ?Don?t mess around with Slim.? Broadcasting & Cable. 11 June 2001.

Moore, M.H. ?Rap Dat?s Phat.? Mediaweek. 29 March 1993. p.16

RIAA/Copyright Basics: Recording Industry Association of America.

Viles, Peter. ?Three stations, two responses to rap.? Broadcasting & Cable. 13 December 1993. p. 90.

-- Last edited September 18, 2015

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Unless otherwise noted, the contents of this page were written by participants on the Media Space Wiki, operated by Davis Foulger, and should be cited accordingly. For example (APA):
Foulger, D. and other participants. (September 18, 2015). Jill Cotters Paper. MediaSpaceWiki. Retrieved on from
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