Singers Writing Nasty Songs About Record Labels
The relationships between artists and their record labels are often rocky. After all, the artists and the labels have very different interests. The artists want to make music and share it with audiences. The labels want to make a profit. Music is expensive to produce, promote and distribute, which makes labels risk averse, so there are often conflicts with artists who want to try something new or different, or put out music that doesn't appeal to the mainstream. And sometimes they'll write and record songs about it.
Ben Folds - One Down
Ben Folds wrote about his problems with a publishing company. Ben is always hilarious and irreverent, so in this video he humorously explains the background of writing this "sh*tty song." He said he initially had a publishing deal but later got a record deal. He was on the road so much, he didn't have enough time to write songs to fill a required quota. It was suggested to him to just write anything and turn it in but he didn't want to do it "on grounds of a concept called integrity." When they put him on probation and refused to pay him for his other songs, he decided to send some horrible songs in and wrote about it.
People tell me
Ben, just make up junk
And turn it in
But I never was alright with turning in
A bunch of sh*t
Don't like wasting time
On music that won't make you proud
But now I've found a reason
To sit right down and sh*t some out
Ben Folds Five
The Clash - Complete Control
The Clash expressed their frustration at supposedly having complete creative control but things being done without their permission. The offending label was CBS Records who released a song called Remote Control without the band's approval. It's said that Complete Control was released to ridicule the decision by the label to release Remote Control. There was also the conflict between the anarchy of punk and the reality of trying to function within a corporation focused solely on profits.
They said we’d be artistically free when we signed that bit of paper
They meant let’s make a lotsa money and worry about it later
I’ll never understand
Complete control, lemme see your other hand
I don’t trust you, so why should you trust me?
Popular and respected British DJ John Peel was critical of the band asking if they expected CBS Records to be:
a foundation for the arts
Peel was a huge advocate for alternative, punk and indie music. However, the group likely assumed they would have had "complete control" over their careers, so they probably felt the label they were signed to didn't matter.
Kesha - Dancing With the Devil
Kesha has an unreleased song called Dancing With the Devil about her boss producer Dr. Luke. In the song, she expresses regret at the contract she signed with him when she was just 18.
Your love is made of dirty gold
But I'm the one who sold my soul
So go ahead and take my hand
I keep on dancing with the Devil
I keep on dancing with the Devil
I sold my soul, it's a dead-end road
But there ain't no turning back
I keep on dancing with the Devil
He's got my mind (You got..)
He's got my soul (..hell to pay)
Mama, he won't let me go!
According to a fan movement that organized to free her from her 8 album contract (what some have called her artistic death sentence):
Dr Luke is Kemosabe Records. No board of directors or vice president; just Luke. And also, Luke is her publisher too. So, Doug Morris, the CEO of Sony Music Entertainment, is the only person who has any control whatsoever $6 over Dr. Luke. Luke takes complete advantage of his powers in the most evil and selfish way possible. From ripping off artists to signing naïve, aspiring artists and turning them into powerless puppets (Kesha), Luke laughs his way to the bank.
According to allegations he was verbally and emotionally abusive toward her and in Dancing With the Devil, she sings "I know you love to watch me cry." When Kesha ended up in rehab to get treatment for anorexia and bulimia, her angry mother blamed his bullying for triggering the disorders. Unfortunately for Luke, Kesha (Kemosabe's only money making artist) decided to stop being powerless. After her sophomore album, she refused to record music for him ever again and fans petitioned Doug Morris to free her. One music reviewer said:
This is an artist who is rapidly proving uncontrollable by her label...she's also the sort of woman and artist who will not likely back down...She's also not one who needs to be controlled or directed, like a Britney Spears or a Rihanna or a Katy Perry - no, Ke$ha is much more talented and intelligent enough to know what she's doing, and she's not the sort of person to kow-tow to the company line without a fight.
While there's been no official confirmation yet, there are hints she may be close to successfully separating from Luke.
Kelly Clarkson - Wash, Rinse, Repeat
Kelly Clarkson's first label troubles were with then RCA head Clive Davis. She wanted her 3rd studio album My December to be a personal album. Davis wanted to stick with the formula that had worked so well on her previous releases. Clarkson talked about the experiences that motivated the songs for the album.
I was 24, and that is pretty young to be the boss of so much. And it caught up with me. I couldn't smile. I couldn't do anything. I broke down. I cried so much I couldn't speak...It was the lowest point of my life and my career.
Davis thought the songs she wrote were too dark and depressing. She refused to back down in the fight and got My December released. However, the label didn't support it and let it flop. So, you would think this would be the reason for the lyrics in the unreleased song Wash, Rinse, Repeat. However, the song was apparently aimed at One Republic's frontman Ryan Tedder, who's also an in-demand producer. She accused him of giving her and Beyonce the same beat for their songs Already Gone and Halo.
I can't take the pressure of new
Rip it off
Lets see if it sticks to the wall again
They're too dumb to see, see the truth
Give it to em
They will never notice
So what's stop, stop, stopping us
Music from the past,
From the present,
Well just last week
We will change a note and get away with it,
wait and see.
Clarkson tried to keep Already Gone off her album All I Ever Wanted but failed. She was apparently concerned she would be accused of stealing the arrangement of Beyonce's song. Tedder denied the allegations. Even if Tedder was the inspiration for the songs, it's likely it was written as an indictment of the music industry in general.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis - Jimmy Lovine
Jimmy Lovine is a music producer and the head of Interscope Records. Macklemore desperately wanted to be signed by a major record label until he found out that they rip off from their artists. Artists do most of the work but the labels take most of the money. Macklemore instead formed his own indie label.
You'll get a third of the merch that you sell out on the road
Along with a third of the money you make when you’re out doing your shows
Manager gets twenty, booking agent gets ten
So sh*t, after taxes, you and Ryan have 7% to split!
That’s not bad, I’ve seen a lot worse
No one will give you a better offer than us"
"Mm-hm," I replied, "I appreciate the offer
Thought that this is what I wanted
Rather be a starving artist
Than succeed at getting f**ked"
While Macklemore releases his music under his own independent label Macklemore LLC, this doesn't mean he's managed to succeed without a big label. Alternative Distribution Alliance owned by Warner Music Group does the physical distribution for his material. He also partnered with Warner Music Group to promote Thrift Shop to radio stations.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Other Critical Songs:
These are a few other songs that are critical of the music industry.
P!nk wrote about the pressures aspiring singers come under to be just like whoever is huge at that time in Don’t Let Me Get Me. LA refers to music executive LA Reid:
LA told me, ‘You’ll be a pop star,
All you have to change is everything you are.’
Tired of being compared to damn Britney Spears
She’s so pretty, that just ain’t me.
Pink Floyd criticized the focus on money by the music industry in Have a Cigar:
The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think.
Oh by the way, which one's Pink?
And did we tell you the name of the game, boy?
We call it Riding the Gravy Train.
Pink Floyd also expressed their disillusionment with the money hungry music industry in Welcome to the Machine:
What did you dream? It's alright we told you what to dream.
You dreamed of a big star, he played a mean guitar,
He always ate in the Steak Bar. He loved to drive in his Jaguar.
So welcome to the machine.
The Byrds were critical of the creation of the manufactured group The Monkees in So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star:
Then it's time to go downtown
Where the agent men won't let you down
Sell your soul to the company
Who are waiting there to sell plastic ware
And in a week or two if you make the charts
The girls will tear you apart
Metal band Korn wrote Y'all Want a Single when their label asked them to create songs for their album Take a Look in the Mirror that would be hit single material. Fans chose the song as the 2nd single:
Y'all want a single say f**k that
F**k that, F**k that
Kesha sang about powerful men in the music industry who sexually exploit aspiring female artists in 7am:
You were rolling in the cash
You were rolling in bitches
Yeah, I was rolling in my Lincoln
I was a sh*tty waitress
And boy, you kinda had me thinkin'
You were making me famous
And I was getting cozy with the thought of giving you kisses