Michael C Smith, August 14 2018

Are Explicit Lyrics Limiting Your Ability To Monetize Your Music?

I recently gave a speech and received a piece of advice I had to think about. A slightly over middle-aged woman approached me and mentioned that she enjoyed my speech but she would have liked it if I didn't swear. During the speech I used the term "pissed off." When I used it, I didn't think of it being that harsh of a term, but I thanked her for her advice and kept moving. I have to say though she was right. When it comes to professional speaking the first thing you learn is to watch your language. You never now who's in the audience.

It got me thinking...Do explicit lyrics hurt the artist's bottom line? Do you really know who's listening? Ever since pianist Eddy Duchin covered Louis Armstrong’s “Old Man Moses,”  song in 1938 with Patricia Norman explicit lyrics have been an issue for artists and fans. Listeners mistook the word bucket for a similar sounding two word phrase that starts with an F and ends with It. Even back then explicit lyrics were a cause of concern for a multitude of listeners. Now I enjoy an expletive laced song like a lot of fans of today's music but let's talk about how your choice of lyrics might be limiting your reach.

Let's say there are two people that listen to your song. One listens to it, likes it, streams it, tells all their friends about you and may go to a show or two. The other listens to it, can't get pass the lyrics, and tells all their friends about you, but not in a good way. You've lost 50% of all potential sales because you used language that turned them off. It doesn't even matter what you're talking about. Maybe you're an artist with a social platform and you throw a few F-Bombs, B-Words, N-Words, and a few other words to emphasize your position. The media will pick up on that like wild fire and discredit you before you even begin. This is what happens in cars across the world. Some kid listens to a song that actually has a positive message but the adult driving the car that has the power to implement change, automatically tunes out that message because of the colorful adjectives in between the message. Also as important, that parent now considers you a threat to that child's personal development and will not be funding the child's investment in your music. You can look at it the other way around too. A parent that is accustom to explicit lyrics may change their listening habits if a new impressionable young mind is in the back in a car seat. Again, lost streams, lost interest, lost money.

Explicit lyrics don't just get on a record. You have to record it. And there's only two ways to take it off...Re-Record the song or fix it in the editing process. This can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Let's see why...

Studio Time is time, and we all know that time is money, so the question is how fast can you re-record your verses or bars with curses in it. If you've been in the booth, you know that rarely do you go in like Jay Z and record a hit verse in one take. While the cost of studio time varies, whatever you're paying is probably more than you want to pay to begin with. Want to have the engineer take the curses out? Sure, but you're paying by the hour and even with a lyric sheet handy, that engineer has to keep rewinding and editing until they get all the curses. In other words more money down the drain.

The other challenge is DJs. Whether it's radio or a public event, clean edits are essential to a DJ. The Hit smash "Turn Down For What" is a totally different song depending whether it's played at a wedding or a club. Even songs such as "Wobble" by Vic can get a DJ in trouble at a wedding if the wrong version is played. Many times DJs receive songs marked as clean that are actually explicit. For new artists, if this happens even once for a DJ, they will never play any of your songs again. The DJ will not jeopardize their paycheck for a single artist. Don't think this is important enough? Ask ASCAP, BMI and SESAC about public performances. Again that's money down the drain.

So how do you get past this dilemma? The first option is to follow Snoops model. Record a main verse with the curses and a totally separate clean verse with alternate words in place of the curses. A better option may be not to curse at all. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie wrote "Artist" a very suggestive song with no curses. In the Netflix show Rapture he explains he wrote it because his mother couldn't listen to his music due to the expletives in his songs. Artist, without any curses still hits hard.

If you're an artist that curses I challenge you to try it. Write a song the way you normally do with curses and record it, then record your clean verse (Or ask the engineer to time how long it takes to edit the verses). Total the amount of time it takes to record vocals for both versions then write an original song with out curses and record that. When they're both done, ask yourself which one cost less to record and which one hits the hardest. I think you might be surprised. Disagree that's cool too, leave your thoughts in the comments. This is a no judge blog.

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Michael C Smith

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