Money to Mouths, Morals to Music? (Article by Jake Bellissimo)

ChaplinMoney to Mouths, Morals to Music?


Valentine’s Day 2016 started off slightly different than normal. Instead of tip-toeing out of bed and preparing coffee and breakfast, I grabbed my debit card and immediately went to the website for Tidal.

My goal was clear: sign up for my 30-day free trial, cancel the subscription right away so I don’t forget, and take in Kanye West’s new album.

I couldn’t help but note the absurdness of the situation: while in the past I would have pre-ordered the new Kanye and kept up-to-date on every detail beforehand, this was more of a last-minute effort.

Kanye’s abundant amount of confidence has always inspired me, because it was in the context of a society that offered him none to begin with. His musical prowess only validated this bravado even more. So, of course I loved the album. Just like (almost) everything Kanye touches, there is a sobering sense of cohesion both aesthetically and compositionally that is almost unparalleled in hip hop (let alone contemporary music in general).

My plan is to purchase the album once he makes it available physically, as I would love to have a copy on vinyl…but in light of recent tweets (“BILL COSBY INNOCENT” and an uncalled-for shot at ex Amber Rose), I couldn’t help but wonder where my money was going.

Kanye is a relatable but small example—the reason why I didn’t have to think much about my decision is because he’s not an asshole, he’s just an ass. He hasn’t done anything violent, instead opting for embarassing himself publically.

However, the gears in my mind were already turning and writing this article.

Woody Allen is another artist that comes to mind—I think he’s a great director who is a terrible person. I don’t have an issue so much with his inter-generational/familial relationship as I do with the blatant molestation (and obscuring of said crime) of his stepdaughter.

Which is why—although I really do love Manhattan, I have yet to pay to see a Woody Allen film.

It is a very postmodern dilemma of artists and consumers in any field. Art tends to be hyperethical (not a bad thing), and the art world is constantly pursuing a platform in which artists are given a just amount of money for their time.

This eventually leads to a traditional “separate the art from the artist” dilemma. I don’t agree with this because it gives off the impression that art is not reflective of the artist and that people have free license to completely separate themselves from their art.

But the response to this should not be to censor the artistic output of artists because of their politics or potentially wrong messages. For example, I can understand why queer people would feel uncomfortable having a homophobic album like Milo Goes to College in their record library, so I understand if somebody doesn’t listen to that music. But that doesn’t let us re-write history, and in the context of American punk that was an incredibly influential statement.

I understand that labor requires recognition and music is already a scene where artists struggle to get paid, but that doesn’t give us an excuse to not understand how we play a role in that system. By giving Woody Allen my money, am I acknowledging a good artist or instead saying that him being a quirky, good person in his art excuses his persona in real life?

In a culture where we have no problems (rightfully so) boycotting companies like Chick-fil-A for having anti-LGBTQ statements, why is music different? I like the songwriting of John Lennon, but is it wrong to feel uncomfortable to hear him plead for peace in songs like “Imagine” when he notoriously beat his wives? Or is it really wrong to feel uncomfortable seeing a Benjamin Britten piece with a boy soprano soloist, given the context of child molestation claims?

I want to reiterate that this is not a call for censorship or zero-tolerenace policies. Instead it is a way to re-address putting our money where our mouthes are. People are able to write whatever they want and stand for whatever they care for. There will always be people who make good art but are bad people. There will even be cases where people who do separate themselves from their art have off-putting ethics (like some 20th century serialists who were notoriously queerphobic). This does not mean that our money does not have power, and especially with systems like libraries and Spotify, there are ways to address this problem within the current legal system.

The music industry (let alone art in general) is already so hard to make money in that every cent counts. It is important for us to be able to have a consciousness about where our money goes. In the same way that you can use the money you would spend on Chick-fil-A for a local restaurant, it isn’t too far off to reallocate our dollars according to our ethics.

What makes this a working initiative is that this moral level is completely subjective—people shouldn’t be told how to think, but it’s important that they think.

Jake Bellissimo

Composer and Arranger, Violist, Music Producer