When my 5-year-old son graduated from preschool a few months ago, each of the parents received a laminated sheet recounting the highlights of their child’s tenure there. That’s how I learned of the time my kid entertained the class with an impromptu performance of the will.i.am/Britney Spears duet “Scream and Shout.”
I turned red picturing my son singing the closing line of the chorus to a room full of preschoolers, “You are now rockin’ with will.i.am and Britney, bitch!”
Before calling Child Protective Services, understand that I do my best to shield my son from offensive lyrics while still cultivating his love for pop songs. The problem is that the music industry makes it difficult for parents like me to serve up his favorite hits.
This is not going to be one of those diatribes against the immorality of the music industry. Tipper Gore can have that battle to herself. But unless it wants to continue ignoring its next wave of consumers, the industry needs to embrace the flexibility digital media was tailor-made to offer.
The radio may be filled with expletive-free music. But predetermined set lists do not fly with a generation growing up with such an on-demand orientation to content that they don’t even understand what channels or commercials are. Ninety percent of what my son watches are PBS shows his parents stockpile for him on a DVR, and the other 10% comes off an app he calls “the red thing” (Netflix).
YouTube offers a vast collection of songs available either from record labels that bother to upload radio edits or fans who take it upon themselves to upload sanitized versions.
But that collection shrinks considerably when my son isn’t in front of my desktop (most of his music gets played via iPhone or iPad). That’s because there is an utter lack of consistency when it comes to song rights — depending on which device is used.
Try to explain to a 5-year-old why he can watch “Thrift Shop” on a desktop but not anywhere else. This isn’t so “f**king awesome,” Macklemore.
Maybe the reason the music industry can’t find the time to put up an authorized radio edit of a popular song is because it would prefer I pay for the privilege on iTunes. But even there some songs don’t have a non-explicit option. Even the unofficial song of the summer, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” doesn’t come clean unless I buy the entire album that includes the song.
I would rather my son just have his mouth washed out with soap in kindergarten than pay for music I don’t want.
He loves a good musicvideo as well, but even there my hands are tied. With scantily clad models, “Blurred” isn’t going to play on my TV — but “Scream and Shout” is actually a pretty cool video. But because that video’s rights don’t extend from YouTube to my Internet-connected Samsung TV, I occasionally play it for him but yell out “Beep!” at precisely the moments he would otherwise hear “bitch.”
But guess what kind of videos the music industry seems very focused on producing these days? “Uncut” versions featuring naked women for “Blurred” and Justin Timberlake’s latest single, “Tunnel Vision.” This apparently is what the Internet is good for instead of kid-friendly tunes.
Maybe I’m a bad parent for letting my son hear anything but nursery rhymes. But when you put aside the moral considerations and focus strictly on the business opportunity, there should be just as much incentive in keeping it clean as there is going dirty. Hook my child on your products, music moguls, but meet me halfway.