When it comes to discussing socio-political issues, artists in general are usually the most expressive compared to most other professions. This includes musical artists, novelists and fiction writers, painters and sculptors etc. In the last music economy article we spoke about how economic recessions affect the music industry. The article described how politicians utilise the services of musicians when campaigning for elections. As frame of reference and to quote from that article, “In the USA – we have seen artists like Pusha T and Jay Z openly endorsing Hillary Clinton during the presidential elections of 2016. During the time when these prominent artists had tours, they would endorse Mrs Clinton on their social platforms, make special mentions of their favoured candidate during their stage performances and even disparaging the rival candidate. In the context of South Africa, the ruling ANC (African National Congress) party would hold national rallies at stadiums around the country and have a procured list of artists to perform there!”
The paragraph cited above has proven to be a point of contestation and caused some mixed opinions from some of our readers. Some felt that musicians endorsing a politician is one thing, however when an artist performs at an event (such as a presidential inauguration) that is another matter altogether as it’s “just another opportunity”. Much as an opportunity to perform should always be explored, this is where an artist must also be aware and weigh up if this form of exposure is worth any form of reputational damage. It is important to note that there is a difference between performing at political and state functions. For example, performing at a political (pep) rally is different to performing at a presidential inauguration. It is very important to differentiate between the two separate structures in order to evaluate the offers that come the artist’s way.
The focus of this analysis is to understand how music economics work in tandem with the political system. In general economics the political stability of a country is a big determinant to how much foreign direct investment comes into the country. This means that not only does a government have to market their country to other nations, but also need to take resources and invest in other countries, which is the essence of the cross pollination called trade. Trade allows for cross border transactions which facilitate the importing and exporting of goods and services. This means that whoever is elected as government, they are given the confidence to go and conduct business with the outside world on behalf of the citizens. This implicit notion of good faith is instilled when you see the president being sworn in, to carry forward a nation’s best interest on behalf of all its people. In essence if one looks at governments founded on democracy, it’s all about representation and therefore a president is deemed as a “sales representative” for that nation’s business. The main point of sales that a president and his cabinet of officials has to do is ensure that the country is a conducive environment for enterprise. We always assume that a musician is an entrepreneur which means that the political system being conducive for trade and commerce, would be beneficial to them like every other capitalist.
The key distinctions should be made at this point to understand a musician’s role in the political system… this starts by understanding their underlying agenda! In other words, if a certain politician were in power how would it affect the artist’s pocket or wallet? In everyday terms, to try and count somebody’s pocket borders on infringement of privacy and is dually unethical. However, for the purpose of this discussion let us assume it can be done. Furthermore, the other factor here is perhaps best left to answer a question with another question (or maybe more accurately a couple of questions). If an artist were to take to the voting polls in an election year and vote for the party that he feels best represents his/her interests, is it because he is directly paid by that particular political party for any work he/she has done in the past? Or is it because he/she believes that the party would make it easier for him/her to trade within and outside the borders, to generate more income? These are very important perspectives to think about, before deeming somebody as a politically linked artist or just an artist who is socially conscious of the environment they operate in.