Stars,Studios, and Agents: Who’s Got The Power, Film Industry v. Music Industry

Following the decline of the studio system, in the triangle between film studio, agency, and star, the majority of the power lies at the hands of stars. In relation to stars, agents have limited power, because stars are not contractually bound to agencies. Agents act as a negotiator between the studio and the star. With a ban on block-booking practices to prevent studios from becoming monopolies and a decline in the demand for film, Hollywood began to reorganize around individual film projects, using a method Janet Staiger calls “package-unit production”. Films were then individually sold, requiring marketing campaigns for every project. In looking to raise the production value of a film, producers looked towards stars, whose presence was sure sign of quality production. Selling films became using the image of stars as the image of the film, so the film and other merchandise would become more marketable. Without the presence of a star, films had the potential to tank in the box office. Therefore, studios became more willing to meet the demands of stars and agents for each new project, and as a result the wages of stars have grown rapidly. With the value of a star’s on-screen presence increasing, stars gained more control over their work, the studio, and the studio’s use of their image. For instance, prior to package-unit production stars were discouraged from venturing into the production side of word, but as they moved away from the contract system more and more star-based independent production companies were formed.

Within the film industry today, it is clear the stars hold most of the marbles and a lot more control over their image. However, this is not necessarily the case in other areas of media, especially within the popular music industry, where roughly 90% of the market is controlled by three major conglomerates. The big three music companies: SONY Music Entertainment (Epic/Columbia/RCA), Universal Music Group (Interscope/Geffen), and Warner Music Group (Warner Bros/Atlantic) control the industry with how they produce and market music. Because these major music conglomerates focus on profits over artistry, they try to control every aspect of a star’s persona for marketing purposes. Everything from the style of music to the star’s physical appearance can be under the record label’s direction. If you’ve ever listened to or watched the music video for Pink’s Don’t Let Me Get Me; Pink touches upon this controlling aspect of the music industry. Pink complains, “L.A .told me, you’ll be a pop star. All that you have to do is change everything you are…”, as L.A. Reid (current CEO of SONY’s Epic Records) tried to initially mold her into a Britney Spears/Christina Aguilera clone. Because the big three music companies have so much power in the industry and are essentially able to control a star’s personal, this often results in almost “manufactured” groups, who sound and look more or less the same. Music is marketed as a product through the appearance of a star, so musicians who are “alternative” or “controversial” are more likely to be dropped by major record labels.

One thought on “Stars,Studios, and Agents: Who’s Got The Power, Film Industry v. Music Industry

  1. I think your comparison of the film and music industries is fascinating. So often we lump the two together, assuming that any aspect of Hollywood must be controlled in the same manner. Your point makes me question what it is that causes this dichotomy. There seem to be similar components and players in each industry. The varying studios in each industry are even owned by many of the same media conglomerates. How did the stars within the film industry manage to break from the immense studio control while music stars did not? Or are we simply not giving music artists enough credit?

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