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Music Is Politics

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"He's about to learn the most important lesson in the music business: don't trust people in the music business."
Homer Simpson, The Simpsons, "A Star is Torn"

So, you're an up-and-coming music star, and you're probably thinking that all you really need to make it in the music industry is to be an exceptional singer/rapper, songwriter, and a very good, technically skilled musician, right?... WRONG! It's not that simple at all.

You see, the promotion of music is politics, and a lot more goes on behind the scenes. It's way more complicated than walking into the studio and recording a hit album. You (or more accurately the record company) have to worry about image, artistic directions, demographic considerations, marketing, censorship, courting radio and music networks through legal or, um... non-legal means, music critics' opinions, and paying close attention to trends. It's never just about music, for better or for worse. In the end, you could end up with disillusioned artists and fans.

In the end, artists have to be not just musicians, but also lawyers, accountants, and managers. If not, they're likely to get taken advantage of by Corrupt Corporate Executives who screw them out of royalties and rights to their music because they were ignorant to the business side of the industry, not to mention being stuck with a terrible, unfair contract that more or less makes them slaves to the label. Young, upcoming artists are more prone to becoming victims of these types of shady record deals. Rappers of the late 1980s and early 1990s were also victims of these deals, as were pop-punk and emo-pop acts from the early to mid-2000s and deathcore acts of the late 2000s and early 2010s. See analysis for more possible causes.

Compare Horrible Hollywood, The Wicked Stage, and Corrupting Pornography for other other entertainment industries being depicted as evil and corrupting. Not to be confused with Protest Song, which is music about politics.

Related tropes and subtropes of this include:

  • Blame Game: Usually happens when an album fails or underperforms. But the ultimate issue is usually people blaming other people over things like missing money, music rights, and royalties, etc...
  • Creative Differences: Disillusionment over industry politics eventually leads to this, and a band may also sometimes eat itself alive if the infighting turns into one or more parties engaging in shady backroom deals to shut other members out. Basically, if a band's inactivity can be blamed on legal battles between members, this is why.
  • Contractual Obligation Project: Is an artist relentlessly churning out throwaway releases that no one asked for (particularly greatest hits albums, remix compilations, or Updated Rereleases with little to justify them), or delivering clearly half-assed albums with a few obvious singles and lots of blatant filler (especially cover songs and rerecorded B-sides or bonus tracks from older releases)? Odds are certain that they are either required to put out multiple albums per year or have a deal that they want to get out of and are spamming releases in an attempt to fulfill the conditions.
  • Contractual Purity: An artist could be a slave to this thanks to this trope, especially if morality clauses are involved. Morality clauses themselves are not inherently bad, especially in band situations - if one member does something fucked up, habitually pisses people off and burns bridges, has out-of-control substance issues that they cannot or will not address, or generally is a major and consistent source of embarrassment and hardship for the band, a morality clause can often provide an easy way to fire them without having to deal with a bunch of legal wrangling (and potentially shutting them out of royalties if they did something truly awful that would give many listeners a valid reason to boycott the music for fear of their money going to that person). Bands and labels alike know that members who bring lots of bad press are not good for a band's immediate or long-term prospects as a business entity, and Overshadowed by Controversy is a dreaded status that can and will ruin a band or permanently cripple it.
  • Development Hell: Darkly speaking, Creative Differences (and contract disputes) can eventually lead to this trope as a form of punishment if the label doesn't get what they want. Essentially, they can invoke this trope on an uncooperative artist's album till the contract expires, which could take years and make it impossible to jump labels. Tragically, this also often ends up making it nearly impossible for said artist to re-establish themselves in the mainstream. Ever wanted to know what happens to that artist that dropped that great album and then disappeared? ...Well, this is probably what happened to them.
    • If it wasn't the label, it very well could have been band politics; rampant infighting and a revolving door of personnel caused by general dysfunction and/or a few members being control freaks or complete assholes can cause the conception of a new album to drag on and on or just eventually hit an insurmountable brick wall. Is a band touring on the same album for far longer than they should with a new lineup on at least a yearly basis with only vague assurances that a new album is coming with no actual evidence? Again, this trope is probably why.
  • Executive Meddling: Created a badass tracklist for your album? Plus it has a recurring theme, concept, and message throughout? ...Too bad, because you're gonna do it all over again whether you like it or not. Sometimes you're forced to shoehorn in songs (or even another artist) that the label wants, thus derailing the theme and concept or style of your whole album. Discussed in the number 1 spot in this Cracked Article. Same deal for touring. Got an awesome lineup all planned out and locked in? Well, that's too bad, because someone else just bought on, someone else's management is cashing in a favor owed to them by your management and shoehorning in one of their acts, someone else's management is being unreasonable and making ridiculous demands, or your management and someone else's management have beef and are locked in a power struggle!
  • Follow the Leader: When a hot new trend emerges, labels are going to want in on the action, and that usually means that they're going to snatch up as many acts within that trend that have any kind of meaningful buzz as possible. The contracts that those acts tend to be given are more often than not highly exploitative and designed to wring as much out of them as possible while still giving them just enough to keep them going.
  • Hollywood Accounting: The music industry is almost as bad about "creative" accounting methods as Hollywood is. Labels and managers are notorious for trying to cheat artists out of their royalties. The label will end up with the lion's share of the profits, even on an album that sells a lot of copies. In extreme cases, artists end up deep in debt to the label, to the point of bankruptcy. Streaming revenues are even more opaque.
  • Horrible Hollywood: The music industry equivalent thereof. An environment filled almost exclusively with ruthless, shallow, bitchy, exploitative people who are more focused on chasing fleeting trends than on meaningful creative endeavors and who are perfectly willing to stab others in the back to get what they want tends not to be a very pleasant place to spend time.
  • Hostility on the Set: The bigger the act and the more money that is involved, the more likely it will be that few, if any members get along or like each other, up to the point where they will travel on different buses, sleep at different hotels, and occupy different dressing rooms, only seeing each other at rehearsals, live performances, and sometimes recording or press conferences (and even then, it's completely possible for everyone to write on their own and send files to the others and then track them at separate studios, or to just use session musicians to do the album). If things are really contentious, they may have zero direct correspondence, instead communicating entirely through their management and legal staff.
  • Hotter and Sexier: Often enforced on female artists, mainly to acquire a male Periphery Demographic. But could also very well be voluntary thanks to Money, Dear Boy.
    • Sexy Packaging: Could also double as false advertising. Especially if the album has nothing to do with sexual themes or topics.
    • Can also be used as a form of Artist Revolt by a younger artist attempting to break free from the aforementioned Contractual Purity. Because honestly, you can only go so far making sugar pop songs and albums while in your early to mid-20s without looking ridiculous. Of course, opinions vary on whether or not hotter and sexier (or Darker and Edgier for that matter) is a good way to go about breaking free of contractual purity.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: Happens a lot to naive or inexperienced new artists who quickly find themselves getting lots of attention and enjoying a day in the limelight, only to get chewed up and spit out by the business side of things. Did you see a new artist that got a lot of buzz tour relentlessly for a year or two until they suddenly imploded and either broke up or had a massive lineup change that destroyed their momentum? If you did, they probably got screwed by everyone on their team and either cut their losses or cracked under the pressure and ate each other alive.
  • Jaded Washout: Anyone who has spent enough time in the music industry will tell you that this is a common phenomenon. Most, if not all of them were wide-eyed young idealists at one point who had some success, then either made a bad choice that they were led to believe was a good choice at the time or were just screwed over by someone who they trusted, and the experience changed them forever. They almost always become bitter cutthroats who are paranoid of getting screwed over again, so they instead opt to screw other people over before they can screw them, or just look out for themselves and lead newcomers to their likely doom as long as there's a tangible benefit to doing so.
  • The Last DJ: In the literal sense if a DJ refuses to adhere to the playlist. Alternatively, it could happen to the artists themselves if they refuse to compromise.
  • Lighter and Softer: Usually enforced on Rock & Roll, Heavy Metal, and Hip-Hop artists. But, just like Hotter and Sexier, this could also very well be voluntary.
  • Radio Friendliness: If you wanna get played on the radio, your song better not be too dark, too controversial, too political (even if music is politics, that doesn't mean politics is music), too long (gotta fit those commercials in), or too niche.
  • Record Producer: Specifically The Producer from Hell and The Acrimonious Producer.
  • Revolving Door Band: Often a result of this trope, though not always.
  • Screwed by the Network: If an exec doesn't like you, the label just doesn't think you're a priority, or just has disorganized management, good luck getting promoted or even having your album in stores. The latter was a much more serious problem when physical record stores were the only game in town.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: While payola is less of an issue than it used to be due to the declining importance of radio, sponsored tracks on streaming services have taken on a very similar role. Inverted in the case of things like tour and label buy-ons: tour buy-ons are often sold to up-and-coming artists as an investment for necessary exposure, but seldom work out that way, as buy-on bands always play at the bottom of the bill (meaning that the crowds will be sparse, especially if doors are regularly late), are often treated poorly by headliners, and are regularly looked down upon by their peers, and the "exposure" often leads to overexposure, as regularly buying on to bills will quickly cause audiences to grow tired of you and will give you a reputation for being "that band" that is on every tour, but has no fanbase and never gets bigger. If a headliner regularly solicits buy-ons, then they are almost certainly over the hill and their guarantees have gone down, and they use buy-ons to subsidize the tour. Label buy-ons, meanwhile, are strictly scams - no decent label is going to request money up front in order to get signed.
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: On one side, hedonistic, hard-partying, and occasionally debauched images are often played up for marketing purposes, especially with hard rock and hip-hop artists. On the other side, this is a huge source of "you should have been a fly on the wall" in the industry, especially for management - being a manager of an artist who lives life way too hard for their own good involves sweeping lots of ridiculous, dysfunctional, and often utterly fucked-up situations under the rug and coming up with plausible cover stories for when you have to cart them off to rehab or when the band desperately wants to fire someone but can't (or when they did something truly heinous that is going to get out one way or another), as well as figuring out how to explain this latest snafu to an executive who is already sick of their shit.
  • The Shelf of Movie Languishment: It's distressingly common for albums to go unreleased, due to label shakeups, executives being unhappy with the finished product, or even labels going out of business completely. Sometimes, another label might step in and release it, but often the only way these albums see the light of day is through bootlegs.
  • Troubled Production: Due to substance abuse, issues with producers, tensions among band members, and the pressure to produce a hit, as a band gets bigger, producing albums becomes much more difficult.

Fictional examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • This can be seen in the manga/anime Gravitation. The band Bad Luck, originally a duo, becomes a trio when the director of the record company decided that Shuichi should take front stage without being constricted behind the keyboards. Then the former band of the keyboardist reunites again, so the director imposes a new keyboardist, and in the same move changes their meek manager for another, this one a bit more... forceful.
  • In Nana, BLAST and Trap Nest deal with their need to be profitable for the labels — smoothing out their sound, changing their style, and dealing with the paparazzi in ways that help their bands along.
  • The parts of manga BECK that aren't about Character Development and The Power of Rock are about this trope. The titular band could have triumphed easily since the beginning due to their sheer talent, but their leader unknowingly ticked off both a mobster and a fellow musician who became major before him, and both men, on their respective sides, have pulled off and cut whenever thread of influence the band could have used to move to the next level.
  • In the Hentai anime Cool Devices, there is a young pink-haired Idol Singer named Rina who starts off with a wholesome Girl Next Door image. Her manager, knowing that Sex Sells, wants to make her image Hotter and Sexier to generate more revenue. But he isn't satisfied with just an Unnecessary Makeover here, or a sexy photoshoot there. No, he basically starts pimping her, and by the end of the vignette, she masturbates on stage with the microphone.
  • The plotline of Interstella 5555 is about a band of teal-skinned aliens being kidnapped from their homeworld, changed to look like (and have the memories) of regular human beings, and forced to work for a Corrupt Corporate Executive in the music industry. Said executive is also revealed to have been abducting, disguising, and exploiting alien musicians over the span of centuries.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A Star Is Born comments on the difficulties of maintaining artistic integrity in the music industry, with Ally forced to change her music and image in order to be successful.
  • Begin Again: Gretta criticizes Dave, her ex-boyfriend and former songwriting partner, for being a sell-out. Dave, a newly successful musician, took a song Gretta had originally wrote and composed for him as a present and changed the original arrangement to make it more commercial.
  • Bohemian Rhapsody has a number of these moments, most notably when music executive Ray Foster pours cold water on the titular song.
  • Dreamgirls, which is about Motown and follows a girl group, deals prominently with this trope. Its plot includes a ruthless manager, a talented lead singer who is demoted in favor of the more conventionally attractive singer, an R&B and soul singer who is repackaged to be more pop-friendly, and payola.
  • Glitter: At the beginning of the film, Billie is a back-up singer for Sylk. The manager decides to have the sub-par Sylk lip-sync to Billie’s vocals. Billie later outs Sylk publicly when she insults her back-up singers.
  • Parodied in the Josie and the Pussycats movie where not ignoring the Evil Plan got you in trouble with management.
  • Love & Mercy: The Brian Wilson biopic shows Brian clashing with Mike Love over Pet Sounds and his own father selling The Beach Boys' music publishing without telling him.
  • The movie Slade in Flame is about an idealistic young rock band who are gradually disillusioned by their manager's dirty dealings, which arise entirely out of his desire to squeeze as much money out of the band as possible.
  • Straight Outta Compton: The biopic of N.W.A shows the group dealing with an unscrupulous manager and internal tensions. Jerry Heller tries to get Ice Cube to sign a contract without Cube’s lawyer reviewing it first.
  • In That Thing You Do!, Jimmy gets a rude awakening when he insists that The Wonders record his original songs. Mr. White, the band's manager, informs Jimmy that their contract stipulates the record label dictates the material, not the band members. In response, Jimmy decides to quit the band.
  • Yesterday (2019) has a man suddenly being the only one who remember The Beatles, and thus he attracts the attention of the music industry. And he has a crash course in how brutal and unscrupulous those people are, with one executive outright says his songs will make a lot of money and they will take most of it.

  • Maskerade sends up the politics of opera; its protagonist, Agnes, is a young overweight woman with a great voice who has to sing from the background while a more attractive woman (whose family are also financial contributors) is the one seen by the audience. Then there's Salzella, who has to balance keeping his profit-hungry boss happy while still making good opera, which actually drives him insane and causes him to murder two people. (There's also the Musicians' Guild in other Discworld books, but those aren't so much Music Is Politics as Music Is Organized Crime.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • A large part of the show Instant Star is about the Idol Singer lead character battling her record company over her artistic direction.
  • Vinyl deals explicitly with the politics and Dirty Business of the Record Industry during The '70s, inspired by several actual record malpractises and systemic abuse of artists.
  • Youngers covers this with a small rap group from Southeast London. However, unlike most portrayals of this trope with rap groups, one record producer actually wants them to become more Gangsta Rap instead of Lighter and Softer.
  • Happens in Empire, about the Lyon family's titular record label. Gets more literally political when Jamal comes out of the closet, much to the chagrin of his Heteronormative Crusader father (and CEO) Lucious.
  • One episode of Scorpion deals with the team helping in the investigation of a murder, which leads into the discovery that the murder victim created a computer algorithm that had the capacity to help make "perfect" songs (read: plug into a computer, enter genre, out comes prediction of combination of music factors that will ensure the song will be a hit) and both the knowledge that many singers had used it in the past and that he was killed to keep the program secret and because one producer wanted to maintain the sole ownership of it.

    Video Games 
  • Idolish 7 The main story deals with behind-the-scenes details of the Music and Entertainment industry, as well the complexity of an Idol's job.
  • The message of No Straight Roads is that the music industry is harsh and brutal to the unprepared, naive artist. While it doesn't have to become something evil or exploitative, it will become so if left unchecked, especially if it takes hold of people who don't have it in their minds that stardom isn't all it's cracked up to be. None of the game's bosses are truly evil people, but their respective reputations have become so large that it has corrupted and taken hold of their egos (like DJ Subatomic Supernova), their inner demons (Eve), their artistic integrity (Sayu's creative team) or even their familial bonds (Yinu and her mother).

    Visual Novels 
  • In Melody, a lot more than her talent goes into the title character's success: getting noticed by the right people at the right time, image, social dynamics with her band and manager, and avoiding a pregnancy (or some medical condition) that could keep her from touring.

    Web Animation 

     Web Original 

     Western Animation 

Real Life Examples

     Real Life 
  • The documentary Electric Purgatory uses this trope to explain why modern black rock musicians have such a hard time breaking into the mainstream during the last 30 years or so. Long story short — the record labels didn't know how to market them to mainstream white listeners since most of them weren't interested in listening to "black music". So the labels found their white counterparts. T'was done before that as well during the '60s with white counterparts like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
  • Tomica Wright (CEO of Ruthless Records) brought this up in an interview, in which she said "I like giving young artists a chance, but I can only be a player in the game. I can't save Hip-Hop." That quote pretty much sums up this trope.
  • This is covered extensively in The Mixerman Diaries, which is about what really happens at a big-budget recording session.
  • The Dixie Chicks documentary Shut Up And Sing, which showed how actual politics plays into this within Country Music.
  • The KoRn music video for "Y'all Want a Single" is all about some of the statistics and numbers behind the music industry, along with KoRn destroying a music store for good measure as some Biting-the-Hand Humor. It even includes some Self-Deprecation by pointing out how much money it cost to shoot the music video.
  • Alternative Rock band Red Jump Suit Apparatus was unhappy with their former label, Virgin Records, because of this and had the golden opportunity to leave without it hurting their career, and leave they did. They are on an independent label now and are as successful as ever with complete creative control.
  • Prince was very bitter over this. So much so he once changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol in order to defy Warner (Bros.) Records, who owned the trademark for "Prince," and to disassociate himself from the "slave" artist that he claimed the label had turned him into. He wouldn't change his name back until Warner's trademark expired in 2000.
  • Kelly Clarkson's album My December was a victim of this trope. She publicly battled with BMG honcho Clive Davis over creative control of her album, then suffered a vengeful smear campaign by her own label. My December only sold 800,000 copies (a disappointment compared to Breakaway's huge success). She canceled her tour and fired her management after the My December debacle. She was also allegedly pressured to lose weight.
  • New Edition learned this the hard way when they were first starting out. They were pretty much the biggest pop group in the world at the time. But after a huge tour their tour bus dropped them off right in front of their Bostonian housing project....flat BROKE. New Edition is probably one of the worst cases of child exploitation in the history of the music biz.
  • Rapper Chamillionaire discusses this trope with his fans via video chat, basically explaining why his album Venom was stuck in Development Hell. It's been permanently shelved due to an agreement with Universal in order for him to be able to leave the label.
  • Record companies have a very high turnover rate in regards to executives. Someone new comes in and starts to scrap everything and start over from scratch. This is how a lot of artists get dropped unceremoniously, because some new guy/girl came in and took over the company. It can also lead to disputes between artists and execs over what to do,
  • Five Iron Frenzy's song "Blue Mix" denounces the practices that some touring bands use to screw over their opening acts (namely, having the soundboard guy deliberately mix the opening band badly, or forcing the bands to mark up their merchandise).
  • Project 86 felt they had been ripped off by their record label, so as soon as they went independent they recorded the album Songs to Burn Your Bridges By to vent their anger over the whole incident. Interestingly, they ended up reconciling with the label soon afterward and re-released Bridges on that same label.
  • Payola bribes, and radio station consolidation.
    • The scandal hasn't hurt Jennifer Lopez's career though. As she was a huge part of that payola scandal (circa Rebirth album), which would explain a lot of her musical success actually.
    • On a similar note, there's a few people who believe viewer participation shows like Total Request Live and 106 & Park are/were rigged.
  • A large number of R&B fans think this trope is in play every time a sexy, not-too-black female singer whose talent lies more in dancing than singing becomes popular. Unfairly or not, these people like to point at Rihanna, Beyoncé, Kristinia DeBarge (though this has more to do with whether or not she's using the DeBarge name to get successful), Keri Hilson, the Pussycat Dolls, and even Aaliyah (until she died), among many others, as examples of "industry whores". Of course, these artists all have fans, and they will come out in droves to defend them. Detractors of the aforementioned singers will accuse them and the industry of impeding the success of more "pure" and "mature" R&B/Soul singers like Conya Doss, Amel Lareaux, Heather Headly, India.Arie, Angie Stone, Corinne Bailey Rae, Vivian Green, Jill Scott, and so on.
    • To add insult to injury, some of the latter artists were either writers or backup singers for the former to help them sound good. They were basically languishing in the background helping arguably lesser artists, and the only reason they even got a deal was probably that they were promised one by the company for their work with the former R&B/pop artists. The former artists get the most attention and their albums are fast-tracked (That's if they don't fall victim to this trope themselves), while the latter artists sometimes see their albums get shelved, or under-promoted.
  • Some see Miley Cyrus' Hotter and Sexier, Hip-Hop look as this. Basically, she's just trying to sell records, and get attention through the controversy. Let's be honest here, it's not like she didn't know this would cause controversy. Could also make the argument that she likely did it to get out of Contractual Purity which she might see as holding her back. In addition to all the above, she's also maturing and getting older, so this and all of the above are all reasons for the new look. But it's hard not to believe that record sales aren't the real goal. Especially after she eventually dropped the image, causing some critics and fans to accuse her of cultural appropriation.
  • Most people don't know that Alicia Keys has been around since the mid-'90s. She languished in Development Hell because the labels didn't know what to do with her.
  • Mandy Moore had to deal with industry politics when she got older and wanted more creative control over her music. She now views the two teen pop albums she put out when she was young as old shames and has offered refunds to anybody who purchased them.
  • Many would argue (and she basically confirms this in a 60 Minutes interview) that Lady Gaga's fame came as a result of her working the system to her advantage. She spent several years writing for other artists before trying to make it on her own. As a result, she knew to play by the record label's rules by pumping out ridiculously catchy songs about love and success, and when she made it big she was pretty much given license to do whatever she wanted. Compare her first album, The Fame, to her second, The Fame Monster, which more or less deconstructs all the Sex Sells and Money, Dear Boy tropes used in the former.
    • She wouldn't be the first one to get famous by this method, although she was one of the more notable ones. It's also at least somewhat suspected that Kendrick Lamar did the same with good kid, m.A.A.d city, which, while still very dark, was decidedly more radio-friendly, accessible, and overall mainstream-friendly than the extremely dense and difficult To Pimp a Butterfly. Given the sharp contrast in accessibility between the two, it's not unreasonable to assume that the former was intended to be an album to blow up with that he could still stand behind, while the latter was intended to be the album that he wanted to make and could make thanks to the free reign provided to him with his newfound status.
    • This method doesn't always work out though, as the Kelly Clarkson example proved.
  • Former winner Steve Brookstein has suggested that there is an element of this in the career of The X Factor winners. Certainly, the "battle" for the Christmas number one single position has shades of it; Joe McElderry's singing career seems to have been a non-starter after he lost that spot to Rage Against the Machine.
  • R&B/Soul singer Heather Headley switched to indie/gospel music due in large part to record execs wanting her to be Hotter and Sexier.
  • This depressing interview by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony's Krayzie Bone explaining why Bone will never be able to re-establish themselves due in part to internal conflict and this trope combined. Basically, they wanted to integrate Bizzynote , and Fleshnote  back into the group after their success as a trio. But Interscope was weary because of the scary reputation those two had. On top of that Krayzie was already having issues with the current lineup, so he announced he was leaving the group and Interscope dropped the group altogether. All 5 reformed under Warner Bros in 2010. But Warner mismanaged the group's album, causing Krayzie to regret leaving Interscope as they at least knew how to promote the group. So this is a case of Music Is Politics, AND Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
  • Many people, especially haters, feel that Justin Bieber is only famous because he is relatively good-looking and sings inoffensive radio-friendly songs, and not because of any actual talent. Of course, said Hatedom, notably on YouTube, provides the sort sought-after cultural recognition money can never buy.
  • Motown Records was plagued by this. For example, it's rumored that Motown sabotaged Mary Wells' career out of simple spite due to the fact she left the company. (Popular web critics Wilson & Alroy snarked back that one listen to her cover of "I Can't Take My Eyes Off You" is enough to disprove that theory.)
  • Happened with contemporary R&B singer Phylis Hyman when she butted heads with Clive Davis, who wanted her to do crossover pop. Ms. Hyman was an R&B singer and didn't like to be forced to do fluffy pop. Clive eventually moved on to a younger singer whom he could have more control over...Whitney Houston.
  • In the music video for Dr. Dre's "Fuck wit Dre Day (and Everybody's Celebratin')", a character portraying a rapper trying to start a solo career finally gets a record deal, and is told to "sign your life—I mean, your name on the contract."note 
  • This trope is taken to an extreme in an Urban Legend involving Michael Jackson. Michael told family members that the various problems he had from the Turn of the Millennium onward — his declining sales, arrest and trial on child molestation charges, etc. — stemmed from Sony Music, his label, plotting to render him financially destitute so they could buy his half of a valuable song publishing catalog that he co-owned with the company. When they couldn't manage to ruin him, he believed that they would try to kill him, and sister La Toya has gone on to claim that his sudden death in 2009 (as he was preparing a farewell concert run in London) was an assassination masterminded by Sony and concert promoter AEG Live, who knew he was worth more dead than alive. A similar theory surrounds the death of Tupac Shakur.
  • Laura Izibor was seen as a prodigious talent in her teens and has spent the better part of four years being groomed for success. The official line is that it's been spent perfecting her long-awaited debut statement to the world. But Allmusic said given that much of the music on her debut has been floating around in some capacity for the better part of two years, the delay seems to actually be a result of uncertainty over how to market her.
  • This article discusses how this trope changed hip-hop. Originally posted on the blog of former Bostonian rapper and blogger Dart Adams (from his blog Poisonous Paragraphs).
  • British rock band Bush didn't get their debut album, Sixteen Stone, released until eleven months after its completion. Why? At the time of recording, Bush was signed to Hollywood Records, Disney's music label (yes, they were going to be working for Disney). After Disney president Frank Wells died suddenly, however, executives who had cold feet about Bush being associated with a family-friendly company took over majority opinion, and the band was quickly dropped before they could even release their album. Bush's manager Rob Kahane then went to court other labels for the band to sign with, and eventually got the attention of Interscope Records. Interscope ultimately signed the group and finally put Sixteen Stone out in the market near the end of the year.
  • Female R&B supergroup TLC was a victim of this, according to all three members of the group. They claimed despite them creating a number one selling album in Crazy Sexy Cool, they didn't see a dime of the money because of extreme expenses cost — the result of a poorly written business contract. They even famously walked out on stage with their pockets hanging out during the middle of an award show, symbolizing that despite the praise and popularity, they were still broke as artists. And after winning many music awards, their aftershow interview was mostly how they sold millions of albums but were still poor. The group ended up filing chapter 11 bankruptcy shortly afterwards.
    • Granted, that wasn't all that was at play. Watkins' medical bills (due to sickle-cell disease) and Lopes' court-ordered fines (due to a presumably drunken fight with her boyfriend, Atlanta Falcons player Andre Rison, that resulted in her throwing a bunch of his shoes into a plexiglass bathtub and lighting them on fire, which melted the tub and set the entire house on fire), and general internecine conflict were all contributing factors to their financial situation.
  • The TV One show Unsung is stuffed with all kinds of sordid tales regarding politics and the business side of the music industry. Besides maybe Dick Griffey, Berry Gordy, notorious master of Motown, might be the worst-depicted person in the docuseries.
    • Sylvia Rhone is another person that's like Berry Gordy. She was the female equivalent of him when it came to late 80's and early 90's urban R&B music when she was overseeing Atlantic Records. She herself is more of a mixed bag depending on who you talk to within the industry. Some artists/managers had good business dealings with her career wise, but others? Not so much. She's butted heads with freestyle artist "Shannon", members of "En Vogue", "Adina Howard",the management and members of R&B group "Troop", and "Miki Howard", just to name a very small few. The conflicts was almost always over artistic direction. One things for sure though, if you ever come in conflict with her, your career is almost always over since she has so much executive power. Some people have noticed that when it comes to all of the "disappeared" R&B artists of the 80's, and 90's Rhone was usually the common denominator.
  • This played a significant role in Queen choosing to bail Elektra Records, their longtime North American label, in 1983. As the band prepared to release their Queen: Greatest Flix video compilation in the U.S. two years prior, Elektra's home video distributor Warner Home Video decided to implement a rental-only program for all of their video cassettes, including the aforementioned Greatest Flix compilation. Queen was not pleased with this, and refused to put the compilation out in the market in protest. When EMI, their label in the UK, gave the band the opportunity to sign to EMI-owned Capitol in the U.S., the Greatest Flix compilation was finally released in America through Thorn-EMI.
  • This Cracked article
    • Here the rapper Spose tells his story about his disheartening 11-month experience with the music industry. It ends on a happy note, though: he can make a name for himself (and a satisfactory amount of money) without their "help".
  • Nine Inch Nails is a notable example due to Trent Reznor fighting back against this on multiple occasions. Firstly, after the first album Pretty Hate Machine was released in 1989, it initially didn't make much of an impact in terms of sales (the record label expected "Down In It" to become a radio hit). As a result, TVT Records ordered Trent to make a more successful album. Despite this, as NIN toured, the album grew in popularity, receiving airplay on MTV and a large following. As NIN's popularity increased, TVT then changed their mind and ordered Trent to create another Pretty Hate Machine due to the album's success. When TVT began to take over creative control and refusing to terminate the contract, Trent refused to release another album. However, he secretly recorded the Broken EP in this time, which was deliberately made very loud and abrasive as a "fuck you" to the labelling of NIN as synthpop by TVT. At that time, Jimmy Iovine of Interscope Records, in discussions with NIN's manager, John Malm (who wasn't part of TVT) managed to transfer him to Interscope, at the same time giving him creative control as well as his own vanity label, Nothing Records. Broken was finally released in 1992. Then in 2004, Trent Reznor sued John Malm after he accused him of owing him $2 million, and it emerged that Malm had taken advantage of Trent during his alcohol addiction. Trent won the suit, and Nothing Records collapsed. In 2007, he then left Interscope after a dispute over the label's overpricing of Year Zero in Australia and afterwards going independent. However, in 2012 he returned to major labels due to issues with promoting independently, albeit with a specially negotiated contract.
    • 1000 Homo DJ's 1990 Supernaut EP suffered from some collateral damage from this conflict: Trent Reznor recorded vocals for the title track (a Black Sabbath cover), but TVT refused to let him appear on anything released by another label (in this case Wax Trax!) - Ultimately, Al Jourgensen recorded the vocals instead. The "Trent Reznor Vocal Version" finally saw an official release on the 1994 box set Black Box — Wax Trax! Records: The First 13 Years - Ironically, said box set was released by TVT, who had recently purchased Wax Trax!.
  • At least according to recent (reputable) biographies on the artist, Elton John was a victim of record label politics and legal issues in much of The '80s. He left his original American distributors, MCA Records, in less-than-friendly terms, him feeling that they had done a poor job promoting his late-1970's releases (though it did not help matters when Elton laid off most to all of his classic band by 1975, stopped working with producer Gus Dudgeon by 1978, had little involvement with original lyricist Bernie Taupin and had by 1976 come out as bisexual, costing him much of his market in Middle America and rock radio in the process. Elton sued MCA for breach of contract for not paying for Elton's next album, 1981's The Fox. Elton joined Geffen Records in 1981, hoping that the then-new label would treat him better. The counter-lawsuit MCA gave Elton alleged that part of The Fox was comprised of 1979 recordings made during the production of 1980's 21 At 33, when Elton was still signed to the label, meaning that MCA would have the rights to release the album. Geffen felt it in their best interests not to heavily promote The Fox to make it less commercially attractive to convince MCA to settle or to make it less of an incentive in case MCA won the rights.
    • There were also rumors that Geffen's founder, David Geffen had invited Elton to appear at the premiere of Cats in 1982, which Geffen helped to finance, only for Elton to politely turn the invitation down as he was rehearsing for a tour. This supposedly angered David so much that he might have sabotaged promotion of Elton's albums and singles from then on, and though Too Low For Zero was a resounding success and he had a few more hits in the decade, the albums sold (and were promoted less and less). By the time of the end of Elton's contract in 1986, he had released the Contractual Obligation album, Leather Jackets, an experiment in '80s synth-pop, and an inconsistent commercial failure. He rejoined MCA in 1987.
  • Averted and awesomely flipped on its' head by Jay-Z, whom nobody would sign when he started out, decided to start his own record label - Roc-A-Fella Records - in 1995 (releasing his debut Reasonable Doubt a year later). The album was a success, and since Jay was one of the 3 execs (at the time) who had control over his music, this never happened, nor has ever in his career (to the point where he bought out his contract at Def Jam - a company which he was previously CEO of - for $5m, to run his own label - Roc Nation - again). To add the icing on the cake, Jay's tenure at Roc-A-Fella helped to establish a lot of the superstar rappers of the early 2000s (admittedly however, only one has had a lasting mainstream career), and his tenure at Def Jam helped to establish artists like his wife Beyoncé, Rihanna and Kanye West (all of whom are also signed to Roc Nation).
    • That being said, Jay still plays the Music Is Politics game by choice, and most of his closest collaborators (all three above, for starters) do so as well.
    • While Jay-Z might have averted it, this didn't stop him from victimizing his own signed artist and partners, that's if what Damon Dash, Beanie Sigel, and Memphis Bleek among others have said is true.
  • David Bowie faced this problem several times, contributing to his frequent Channel Hopping over the years.
    • Spendthrift manager Tony Defries helped him make his commercial breakthrough in The '70s, largely by presenting him as a star with limos, an entourage, etc. before he really was one. But as time passed, Bowie saw little of the money his work was generating, and when he broke off the relationship, the severance agreement resulted in Defries still partially owning the rights to his music until 1982.
    • As well, his label RCA Records wasn't happy with his choice to move into less-commercial artistic realms with Low in 1977 (with Defries outright encouraging the label to block its release), the first step towards his choice to break away from that company in The '80s. The other major factor was RCA deciding to recoup the relatively low sales of Low, "Heroes", and Lodger by churning out various compilations and singles without Bowie's permission. Bowie openly decried how the label was "milking" him, singling out the rarities collection Rare as the final straw. Even then, RCA would capitalize on the success of Bowie's first album since parting ways with the label, Let's Dance, with even more compilations.
    • At his next label EMI America Records, he had the biggest commercial success of his career with 1983's Let's Dance, but choosing to continue with that mainstream album's style on Tonight and Never Let Me Down as the label pressured him for another blockbuster proved artistically unsatisfying for him; critics and fans regard that stretch of The '80s as his artistic nadir. He left the label when it had reservations about a second album he made with his Hard Rock group Tin Machine; the album would ultimately be released on Victory Records, only for it to go out of print for the better part of three decades after the label went bust. Even then, official representation for Tin Machine remains scarce thanks to an ongoing royalty dispute with bandmate Hunt Sales.
    • 1993's Black Tie White Noise went to #1 in the U.K. but was overlooked in the U.S. — partially because the distributor there, Savage Records, went belly-up the month after its release. The album would remain out of print in the region until EMI picked up the rights in 2003.
    • Toy, which focused on remakes of his little-known work from The '60s, pre-Space Oddity, was supposed to be his first album after 'hours...'. However, it was shelved by Virgin Records due to them seeing it as commercially unviable in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the rise of online file-sharing, and the massive failure of Mariah Carey's Glitter and its soundtrack albumnote . Bowie would jump ship to Columbia Records, remaining there until his death in 2016, and Toy ultimately wouldn't see release until 2021.
  • In either case, this was the cause of All Shall Perish's extended period of inactivity from 2013 to late 2015. The reason given at the start was related to Hernan "Eddie" Hermida's new job with Suicide Silence, as the latter's management had allegedly placed severe restrictions on his activities with All Shall Perish until he was "well-established" as the new Suicide Silence frontman (and it was apparently understood that running afoul of them could have dire consequences for All Shall Perish), which would have required him to be well into the touring cycle for a new Suicide Silence album before he could do anything with All Shall Perish again. This allegedly forced Mike Tiner's hand and left him with no choice but to fire Eddie. However, a new side emerged when they came back in 2015 with virtually all of the Awaken the Dreamers lineup (including Eddie) minus Tiner and plus founding member Caysen Russo in his place and an explanation that the hiatus was actually due to a legal battle with Tiner over rights to the band's name, royalties, and control over band assets that had only just concluded, raising the reasonable suspicion that the original reason given was a cover for Tiner to make him look better. Basically, regardless of what the full story was, this trope was clearly in effect at that time.
  • Billy Joel signed a deal with unscrupulous manager Artie Ripp in 1972, giving Ripp control over the rights to Billy's music and productions, as well as little in the way of royalties for the singer. Joel stayed out of the limelight while working at a piano bar while his new managers negotiated to get Joel out of the deal; one compromise Joel made would be that Artie's "Family Productions" logo would be applied to each of Billy's albums for the following ten years, and a portion of Billy's royalties was awarded to Ripp even when Ripp had little or nothing to do with Billy's management or direction.
  • Alternative Country pioneers Uncle Tupelo received pressure to record in the style of mainstream alternative acts like Nirvana; the band refused, and their third album was entirely acoustic and consisted of folk songs. Additionally, their label, Rockville Records, had refused to pay the band royalties for their first three albums, prompting the band to leave for major label Sire Records. Later, in the year 2000, former band leaders Jay Farrar (now of Son Volt) and Jeff Tweedy (now of Wilco) would sue Rockville Records' CEO, winning back the rights to their first three albums.
  • This is why it took tool over a decade to release their fifth studio album. Adam Jones explains more in this Rolling Stone interview.
  • One story related to Jethro Tull (which, perhaps, may have been the case for many artists at the time) included in the liner notes to a 2013 reissue of their 1973 Concept Album A Passion Play was that although Melody Maker magazine critic Chris Welch, a fan and champion of the band, may have had some dislike for the album (admittedly one of their more challenging, polarizing efforts), he embarrassingly admitted to the band that the level of vitriol he heaped upon them and the album was meant to dissuade readers from thinking the magazine had a pro-Tull bias and were "in bed with" the group (or progressive rock in general); the magazine wanted to show (certainly in light of Punk Rock just around the corner) that they were uncompromising and not lacking in integrity, and it was Tull's turn to face bad press. The review became the basis from which music newspapers all over England and America based their own reviews, leading to the Critical Backlash against the band which follows them to this day. It didn't help when their manager, Terry Ellis, published a contrived press statement without the band's permission to gain sympathy, stating how hurt the band was about the poor reviews to the point they would cease touring. Bandleader Ian Anderson would express his own annoyance at Ellis' statement, feeling it made the band look "petulant" in the media.
  • Several of Dead Kennedys and Jello Biafra's songs are about this, most notably "Pull My Strings". The band became a literal example of this trope when Jello's former bandmates sued him.
  • Henry Cow formed the Rock in Opposition festivals as a protest against music industry practices.
  • This trope is one reason the second Control Denied album has languished in Development Hell for so long: the surviving members were embroiled in a lengthy legal struggle with their record company. (Then their gear got stolen...)
  • Bonnie McKee was a teenager who signed a lucrative deal, struggled to see her album released because the label didn't know how to sell her, and despite the first single gathering internet buzz the record flopped. Shortly later, the label dropped McKee - but not before in frustration she "drove to the label CEO's house in the middle of the night, took a CD of my best songs and stabbed it into a tree right in front of his door with a dagger. I then wrote 'Platinum Baby!' in lipstick on his car." When years later she broke out as a successful songwriter for hire (mostly for her friend Katy Perry), McKee admitted learning the machinations of the music industry at such a young age served as a cautionary tale.
  • Despite being the most successful solo female singer of the Girl Group Era of the early 1960s, with hits like "It's My Party", "Judy's Turn To Cry", "Maybe I Know", "She's A Fool" and proto-feminist anthem "You Don't Own Me", the late singer Lesley Gore was by Word of God only given $16,000 in advance money by her label Mercury Records in 1963 for the success of "It's My Party", and no more royalties for her music until 1989note . Apparently, this was a result of her agents failing to meet a deadline to file audit papers in 1963, and Mercury's contract with Gore stipulating in a clause that her agent would no longer be allowed to audit after that year. Partly due to this, and Gore realizing early on of the "fickleness" of success, she enrolled in college in 1965 to study American English and history as her career began a slight downswing, only sporadically doing personal appearances and recording around her school schedule for Mercury until her contract ended in 1968. She would maintain, in spite of this, that she was "one of the lucky ones".
  • The founding of Drum Corps International is a result of this trope. Prior to DCI’s founding, the major shows were governed by the American Legion and VFW. Corps directors wanted more control of the activity. This included a more equitable distribution of the show’s proceeds among the corps (under the VFW/AL, only the top corps received any contest money), uniform judging standards (the two veterans’ groups’ criteria often varied considerably and were subject to the whims of their directors), and greater artistic flexibility (the VFW/AL ruled that aspect of the activity with an iron fist). As a result, in 1971, a group of Midwest and Western directors led by Don Warren (Cavaliers) and Jim Jones (Troopers) founded The Combine to gain more control over the activity. One year later, they merged with the United Organization of Junior Corps (their East Coast counterpart, who formed under similar circumstances) to form DCI. They quickly gained firm control of the drum corps activity within a few years, while the VFW/AL became increasingly irrelevant, hosting their last major championships in the early 1980s.
  • JC Chasez of *NSYNC dealt with this in his thwarted solo career. His label Jive Records, poured most of their resources into promoting bandmate Justin Timberlake's career, while declining to promote Chasez's first album Schizophrenic. They also had the final say on Chasez's single choices as well as album art, and did not support his club tour. Despite Schizophrenic flopping, Jive wrangled JC into making a sophomore album (tentatively titled Story of Kate) featuring production from Timberlake as well as Timbaland, but continued to shelve it up to 2007. Chasez subsequently left Jive and the album is unreleased (some leaked tracks have surfaced online). Though Chasez remains active in the industry as a songwriter and producer, his experiences as a solo artist have likely soured him on resuming that role.
  • This trope is the reason why Cimorelli opted to go indie. Why? At first, they were discovered by Island Records, one of UMG's labels, thanks to a daughter of one of the executives at Island who saw their covers one day on YouTube, and they signed them up. At first it was OK, but it was mostly limited to EP's and a few original songs here and there and they were even gaining ground slowly, to the point they even had one of their songs ("What I Do") be featured in commercials for Hasbro's Doh-Vinci (which itself was short-lived) as well as having another song of theirs ("Come Over") as one of the songs featured in a new version of the Twister Dance toy, and even having at least two songs of their ("Made in America" and "That Girl Should Be Me") played on Radio Disney at one point. But then came the pressure to be more than just themselves and to do more songs that don't really represent them, and they thankfully (and peacefully) left on good terms with the label, but it also had a side effect of the sisters (and the whole Cimorelli family) moving from Malibu to Nashville as of current. Only then they finally got a chance to release their much-awaited first album, Up At Night, after a long time wait from the fans, on their own (But through PledgeMusic at first; the same occurred for the second one, Alive, but got released on ITunes on May 5th, a few months after their February release on PledgeMusic).
  • This is what went on behind the scenes in Melechesh around the time that Enki was recorded. After Yuri Rinkel was fired in 2013, the band had decided to retain the services of Samuel Santiago on at least a session basis. While it is unclear whether Santiago was supposed to become full-time eventually or was just going to track the album, he did indeed play on it and recorded his tracks in Greece in the summer of 2014. Shortly after this, Santiago had some sort of major blowup with Murat Cenan, and Cenan decided to spite him by scrubbing all mentions of Santiago from the album credits and hastily concocted a story about original drummer Lord Curse returning to track the album before making the rest of that lineup sign a contract stating that they were to not speak of Santiago's involvement and were to refer to Saro Orfali (aka Lord Curse) as the album drummer. While it was no secret in that circle that Santiago was the actual drummer (Orfali, for one, wasn't even in Europe at the time of recording), the truth finally publicly came out in late 2017, when former bassist Scorpios Androctonus (who had notably refused to sign the contract) posted the story on Facebook and also posted screencaps of several extremely rude and hostile messages that he received from Orfali about the reveal.
  • A lot of cynics think there's an element of this in play when it comes to Award Shows and Award Snubs.
  • The Offspring ran into trouble with this during their time at Epitaph Records, owned by Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz. When Smash became a Sleeper Hit, The Offspring intended to stay on Epitaph for years and release more albums through them. Unfortunately, Gurewitz's ego got the better of him and tried to sell the masters to another label in order to get out of the royalty arrangement. Frontman Dexter Holland was enraged by this and the band decided to sign with Columbia Records just to get out of Epitaph's meddling, meaning they had to take a pay-cut in the process. Their contract with Columbia allowed the band to reclaim the rights to their Columbia studio albums in 2015, later selling those albums and their entire songwriting catalogue to Round Hill Music.
  • Behind the Music dealt with this trope frequently in terms of individual artists/groups and eras of music. For example in "1981", a look at the launch of MTV points out that while it would soon give huge boosts to many artists — particularly New Wave Music groups — it left behind many other performers. They might have been doing well up to that point on radio, album sales, etc. but weren't suited to the Music Video form because they were too old, too unphotogenic, too mellow, didn't skew young, etc. The given example in the episode is Christopher Cross, the performer who won Record, Album, and Song of the Year Grammy Awards early that year and would chart his second Number One single ("Arthur's Theme") a few months afterward, but saw little MTV airplay due to his chosen genre (soft rock) and less-than-glamorous appearance.
  • Bruno Mars, of all people, faced this when he was initially trying to break into the music industry. Record labels wanted him to sing Latin pop because of his name (Peter Hernandez) and ethnic background (he is half-Puerto Rican).
  • Garbage suffered from this once their label Almo was sold to the giant Universal. Executives pressured the band to go into "popular" directions, such as adding guest artists, that they refused, and the overall indifference by the label - third album beautifulgarbage suffered from a lack of promotion, not helped by being released in September 2001 - ultimately led to the Troubled Production of Bleed Like Me, where the bad vibes translated into passive-aggressive conflicts and a general lack of direction. Says something the tour was cut short as Garbage decided to go on hiatus, and once reunited as independent artists, the musicians said the lack of expectations led to a more relaxed and productive approach. Singer Shirley Manson also had a solo album that went unreleased because the label did not agree with what she had done ("[Geffen] wanted me to have international radio hits and 'be the Annie Lennox of my generation'. I kid you not; I am quoting directly.").
  • BTS has mentioned several times (including, most notably, the lyrics of the Hidden Track "Sea") the struggle of being a Korean idol group from a small company. In Korea, the power and connections of an idol company are a massive factor in your success as an idol, with quick releases and constant promotion through music shows, variety shows, and other TV shows being practically obligatory in order to make yourself known or (in the case of music shows) debuting at all. In an industry (at the time) ruled by the 3 biggest idol companies, BTS only managed to get their debut show by luck (after another group left their slot open), and, as many other small company artists, had later performances cut from broadcast.
    • On the Western side, part of the reason BTS' songs have gotten little to no airplay in US radio stations (no matter how radio-friendly they are or how high they debut on charts in spite of this lack of airplay) is not for lack of requesting, but - as fans have found and radio stations have stated - BTS' songs not being in English and a lack of radio promotions (difficult to do if you only go to the US while on tour), with the members stating their refusal to change their identity just to chart in the US. This lack of radioplay (along with scarce or inconsistent playlisting in digital music platforms) is also credited as a major factor for BTS' songs free-falling on the Hot100 chart after the first week. This is further examined here.
    • Dynamite is BTS' first purposefully English language song...and also their first major radio hit. This confirmed to many fans that not having songs in English was the major obstacle getting in the way of radio play for the band. The success of the track was made more bittersweet by the song having far simpler lyrics than much of their Korean back-catalogue, no writing credits for the members, and the Korean follow-up single "Life Goes On" not getting nearly as much radio attention.
    • The portrayal by media of BTS' success as not the success of a single group, but of a faceless "Kpop wave", or as simply occupying the place left by One Direction, or as popularity that only exists in social media (all despite BTS having the second-highest global sales in 2018 according to the IFPI and getting 3 #1s in Billboard 200 in less than a year), with the fandom being portrayed as only teens who just like the pretty faces (instead of the diverse and very lyric-invested fandom it actually is) certainly doesn't help matters, with awards shows supposedly based on popularity only nominating BTS in categories such as "Best Fandom" or creating new ones such as "Best Kpop" while keeping them away from the main awards.
  • When United Artists divested their record label to EMI, Electric Light Orchestra manager Don Arden moved distribution of his Jet Records label to CBS (along with ELO and the rest of Jet's roster) to avoid meddling by the new owners (and for good reason, since he had butted heads with EMI before and it was due to the feud that he jumped ship to UA in the first place). Big mistake: UA still had warehouses of unsold copies of ELO's albums, including the recently-released Out of the Blue, and EMI decided to dump them in the cutout market both to spite Arden and to make as much profit off ELO before the rights lapsed. Arden and CBS tried to sue EMI to stop the practice but weren't successful. It's not an uncommon sight to see many late 70's issues of ELO albums pre-Discovery have visible slits on the covers because of this.
  • Boston couldn't release another album after Don't Look Back for eight years thanks to a lengthy lawsuit from CBS, who wanted the group to rush out an album under their specified time-frame and were upset when that deadline wasn't met. During the lawsuit, new material continued to be recorded, but couldn't be released due to the lawsuit. It wasn't until the court ruled in Boston's favour that the group managed to sign with MCA to get Third Stage on the market, using said material as the album's basis.
  • Not even Taylor Swift was immune to this. After leaving Big Machine Records for Republic Records, Big Machine decided to sell itself to music manager Scooter Braun, taking Swift's Big Machine albums (which propelled her to super-stardom in The New '10s) with it. Swift, who had been negotiating to re-acquire the masters for some time, was infuriated by the sale, noting Braun's history of abusive behaviour (he was the former manager of Kanye West, whom Swift has had an infamously troubled relationship with) and the fact that she had not received prior knowledge of the sale before it was publicly announced. She subsequently announced she would re-record her Big Machine albums in an effort to claim complete creative control of all her music, a condition her Republic contract guaranteed. That quickly escalated to Big Machine sending her a C&D letter barring her from performing any songs from her Big Machine albums publicly unless she fully committed to re-recording them, and the public uproar was so strong that several top artists, including Selena Gomez, Halsey, Sara Bareilles, Cher and two American politicians, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, spoke out in support for her. In the end, she was able to act on her promise, with Fearless (Taylor's Version) being released in 2021, with plans to redo all six albums being well underway.
  • While when they first got signed, Waterparks claimed that Equal Vision let them keep control over their creative direction. Things went sour after Cluster as Equal Vision took more umbrage to Parx's personal marketing strategies (streaming lower quality snippets of demos of upcoming music on Instagram is bad, apparently) and side projects (Awsten Knight doing a whole parody rap mixtape is also bad, apparently). The hassle impacted how they planned to go forward, either with a more tolerant major label or self-publishing, until they decided on Hopeless Records. Equal Vision now owns Cluster, Double Dare, and Entertainment, which necessitated the creation of the "Double Dare 2019" and "Entertainment 2019" mash-up tracks. The studio versions of those tracks were later made unavailable for purchase and streaming due to the continuing legal issues, but live versions were later made for purchase. In contrast, Hopeless Records gave them far more promotional support for FANDOM despite only being signed for a one-year deal and even handled distribution for their live concert film the label financed after they moved to 300 Entertainment.
  • Paparazzi is a sterling example of a great group imploding from within due to the ridiculous whims and demands of trend-chasing execs, to the point that you could have a whole documentary made about the politics of the music industry of the era failing them.
  • Thirty Seconds to Mars was engaged in a legal battle with their label EMI for not delivering the number of albums that was stipulated in their contract. The band members claimed they did not receive their share of the profits from album sales. The film Artifact documents the band's struggle to record their third album and critiques unfair business practices in the music industry.
  • Tinashe suffered from this with her albums Nightride and Joyride. Joyride was stuck in almost three years of Development Hell, and several of the promotional singles intended for the album did not make the final track list for the US version. Tinashe has also stated that her collaboration with Chris Brown, "Player", was her label's idea and that she didn't want to work with him. She also apparently didn't want to release "Flame" and cried when her label forced her to. In 2019, Tinashe left RCA Records and currently releases music independently.
  • A Tribe Called Quest originally broke up in 1998 because of label politics. As detailed in the book The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip Hop, the group had soured on their label Jive Records, believing Jive was investing more in their pop acts. On the track "Check the Rhime", Q-Tip raps the line “Industry rule #4080/Record company people are shady”, which is supposedly a reference to Jive. Q-Tip called out label president Barry Weiss on the Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show in 1998.
  • Visage suffered from an awful case of this when the band got revived in 2012. According to a private email Rusty Egan sent to a troper, the restarted Visage was supposed to feature five original musiciansnote  to be paid 1/6th of the royalties. However, MRC Digital's John Pitcher, who financed the project, convinced Steve Strange to forgo paying the five members in favour of just using session musicians. To make matters worse, Steve rang up Rusty, telling him "Fuck you. I am Visage, I will never repay and we don't need you." (This from a man who once proclaimed "Rusty became my saviour.") Pitcher was later sued for pulling the same trick on the French disco group Space. The saddest part is that Rusty made his own album that was far closer to the Visage sound than the dull electro-pop drivel of Hearts And Knives.
  • Video game composer Frank Klepacki (of Command & Conquer fame) expressed his disdain for record companies in an interview. While he did admit to have initially dreamt to be part of a famous band, he has since declined to be signed up for a record label due to the red tape which he describes as a "horrible chain of steps to getting famous." In addition, he blames MTV—described as a "teenage reality show channel"—for putting a pretty face on music and destroying the independent valuation of actual sound, and has declared pop music as having become the "largest farce in music history—soul-less, mechanical, and only made for the sole purpose of making the fastest dollar possible, with more emphasis on imagery than the music." If anything, he is more than glad to have been in countless video games than having to contend with pop charts just to please executives.
  • Rather famously, Pink Floyd's frustrations and backlash with the music industry seeped into their seminal album Wish You Were Here, both in the form of their grief for their friend Syd Barrett ("Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and "Wish You Were Here") and the toll the music industry took on him, as well as general animosity held towards music executives ("Welcome to the Machine" and "Have A Cigar") - especially on the latter two songs, with "Welcome to the Machine" revolving around the industry constantly changing and shaping itself to take advantage of musicians even when they try to rebel, and "Have A Cigar" being a Take That! to the executives who don't care for work that goes into creating art in the music industry.
  • Chumbawamba had an interesting history toying around with music politics, in large part because they themselves were an extremely political band, being outspoken anarchists who had a massive anti-capitalist and chronically rebellious streak, but also a level of curiosity with the system that led them to playing their game in order to benefit their messages. This manifest in 1997 when they ended up signed by EMI of all labels (for reference, the band released a compilation in 1989 they titled Fuck EMI), and while this got them accused of becoming sell-outs, they wound up using their position to largely do the same as what they were usually up to — namely trolling industry suits and intentionally stifling corporate commerce — just in front of a bigger mainstream audience with more label funding. After releasing their (only) major mainstream hit, "Tubthumping", Chumbawamba appeared on talk shows to encourage fans to shoplift their albums, making inflammatory comments celebrating the deaths of police, performed at the 1998 BRIT Awards with new lyrics in support of Liverpool Dockers' Strike (as well as dunking water over Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who was in attendance), basically doing everything they wanted to do which guaranteed that they would never find another mainstream breakthrough, even though on a fundamental level, they didn't mind at all.