There is something I find just a bit horrifying about this NPR Planet Money blog entry in which the approximate cost of releasing one (mediocre) pop single is laid out.
The source of that horror, however, isn’t really in the stunning unoriginality of the whole business. It’s not the “art” that’s ruinous in this case, it’s the business model. According to blogger Zoe Chace, a rather weak-performing single like Rihanna’s “Man Down” can cost somewhere in the neighborhood of a cold million bucks to get on the radio. The absurd expense includes hiring songwriters for a “camp” to come up with the songs, producers to run the music, a vocal producer to get Rihanna to do her job well (even if this includes absurd comfort demands), and assorted other cash outlays to radio people, etc. That single tune can take a year or more to reach anyone’s ears, not because its creation is an artistically intense hit-and-miss process, but because of the various demands of the industrialized music production process.
It would be very easy to slam Rihanna’s music for being mass-produced pablum (which, frankly, it is, no matter how well it is produced or performed). The more important matter, however, is the question of why the process has to be this way, and what it’s doing to listeners and performers alike to be processed so. Ethically speaking, it’s sickening — it’s an entire system designed to make a person (indeed, many persons) into an object for sale and consumption, in an arena (music, although this applies to any art, I think) in which precisely the opposite ought to be the case.
I just can’t shake the conviction that our music should make us more human, not less — and that this expensive production process lessens performer, producer, and listener alike.