Music’s Power: To Use or Abuse

By Ned Ingberman

Editor’s Note: This article was written and published in 1999.

One of the reasons we’re in business at the Vintage Drum Center is to continue the traditions of the past- traditions like service, quality, value and old-fashioned friendliness – traditions that find their basis in America’s heritage. But we’ve found that some of today’s music and marketing have strayed far from this. Generations past would be shocked and appalled if they heard some of the music and music videos we and our children are listening to and watching!

Music has long been recognized as a powerful force of communication. It is used everywhere to create attitudes, stir emotions, set moods and affect our behavior. Restaurants play it to relax us as we dine; advertisers use it to prompt our buying mood; in churches, the organ and choir inspire our devotion; in films and TV it can elate or make us cry. Music can even seem to turn the clock back when we hear a tune from long ago.

Yes…music leaves lasting impressions on us all. For this reason,.we must be deeply concerned about the destructive and dangerous content of a growing segment of our music. It is an influence that is systematically undermining and destroying the solid traditional values upon which our country was built – values like decency and moral courage, self-discipline and duty, perseverance and fortitude. How? – through the force of undulating rhythms and lingering melodies pounding into our minds and hearts lyrics that enshrine violence, malice, nihilism, hopelessness, blasphemy and wanton self-indulgence.

Less than ten years ago this degree of decadence would have been utterly intolerable. Ours are times in which we have submitted to a standard of permissibility unprecedented in the history of music – one so degenerate that it shocks us to the core of our being and sensibility; one by which our lyrics glorify not only drug use and licentiousness, but also the most heinous of things like torture, rape, murder and suicide. Music videos go even further by illustrating destructive lyrics with graphic imagery!

There are some who say that atrocities and violence are a part of life that we can’t deny or run away from. Yes, they are a reality, but does that justify our glorifying and promoting them in the name of art, music, and advertising? Not only does such standard of ethics obliterate any difference between good and evil, it also tells us that life is as worthless, senseless and hopeless as can be, and that any and all unrestrained passions are right if they “feel good.”

We have today within our music industry an insidious moral “disease”, one that desensitizes and conditions us through our consistent exposure to it. Gradually we come to expect it, tolerate it, and finally submit to it. Hence, with no challenge to its advancement, the malady is assimilated into the vitals of our culture, infecting all parts of society, especially the most impressionable and vulnerable – our youth!

According to a report in the Journal of American Medical Association – Sept. 22, 1989, “Between the 7th and 12th grades, the average teenager listens to 10,500 hours of rock music, just slightly less than the entire number of hours spent in the classroom from kindergarten through high school.” Common sense tells us that such a massive amount of exposure is bound to leave a sizeable impression. Since a significant amount of today’s rock music is gangsta and death-metal, the crucial questions to ask are: what kinds of impressions is this “music” leaving, and how will these impressions manifest? To our dismay, both society and science are providing the answers.

Research studies linking anti-social behavior with lyrical messages are beginning to mount. Dr. James Johnson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington found that boys (ages 11-16) who watched violent music videos were more likely to approve of the violent behavior of others, and to report that they would have engaged in the actions themselves.’

“The kids would walk like them, talk like them and base their philosophy of life on rap music,” Johnson said. “Rap music had more influence on their perceptions than their parents did.”‘

And parents are learning this tragic lesson through tragic experience, while newspapers across the country spew horrifying accounts of youth whose heinous crimes were inspired and or modeled by the lyrical content of their favorite death metal or gangsta band. The music industry’s printed ads are also fueling the fire by explicitly depicting aggression, destruction and promiscuity. Some of them even use crass catch words such as “attack”, “killer” and “blow ’em away”, to get our attention and exploit our sensibilities.

While these ads don’t openly say it’s good to be violent, aggressive, and injurious to others – as does some of our music – their underlying message conveys and confirms that “might is right”, our world is a jungle and aggression and violence are the way to get what we want.

There exists a philosophy in the field of the arts, that justifies violence and depravity under the guise of an “artistic license” – a philosophy whereby those gifted with artistic talent claim their need and right to exercise an unlimited and unrestrained “freedom”; a freedom that they believe is guaranteed by the First Amendment of our Constitution.

However, according to the massive amount of official public documentation concerning the purpose of the Constitution and the First Amendment along with the biographical back- grounds of its founders, it is clearly evident that our Constitution and First Amendment were firmly rooted in the concepts of responsibility, common sense and reason. Furthermore, there are 19 categories of speech that are constitutionally prohibited by government. No right, including freedom of speech is absolute.

In 1833, former Supreme Court Justice, Joseph Story wrote in his renowned work Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, ‘Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. [First Amendment Text] That this Amendment was intended to secure every citizen an absolute right to speak, or write, or print, whatever he might please without any responsibility, public or private…is a supposition too wild to be indulged by any rational man. This would allow every citizen a right to destroy at his pleasure the reputation, the peace, the prosperity, and even the personal safety of every other citizen.”

Joseph Story with other Federal and State Justices of our early history knew that the Founders never intended an unlimited, unrestrained and unconscionable freedom that is so often practiced today, but emphasized the responsibility which limited that freedom. Our form of self-government was established within the context that the people it would serve would be a “self-governed” people; people of decency, self-control and moral character; people that would not abuse their privilege of freedom, but instead would be willing to accept the profound and basic principles that God has created the world and we must live in that world with respect for His justice and the dignity with which He has endowed us – otherwise that form of self-government could not and would not work. George Washington expressed this so well when he said,

“The propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation which disregards the eternal rules of order and right which heaven itself has ordained.”

Historically, free societies that had abandoned the bedrock of moral principles upon which they were built, ceased to exist as free societies. Their abuse of freedom eventually forced them to sacrifice their liberties for the sake of order, the personal safety of their people – and even for their survival!

Today we are wanting our form of self-government and the dignity of freedom it guarantees without having to be responsible and accountable for how we use that freedom. If our popular culture with its music continues at its present rate of moral decline, the time will come, perhaps sooner than we think, when our government will be forced to apply increasing controls and censorship. If we are not willing to live by principled moral choices and self-control now, then where are we headed in the future?

Within the workings of our music industry, who then is responsible? Is it the lyricist writing the music, the musician playing it, the record company producing it, the ad agency advertising it, the merchant selling it, or the consumer buying it? The reality is that all of us are responsible! Furthermore, those of us who have the most influence in the creation and promotion of our music are the most accountable, we are the ones who must ask: what kind of an effect are we having on the lives of those who listen to the music we produce and on the world around us? We must also ask: what kind of ethic do we live by and reveal to others in the creating and selling of such destructive goods? Does our industry have a soul and a conscience? On the last day of our life would we want to know that we have left the world a better place; or that we have left it scarred and seeded with misery and destruction? What will be our legacy? The choice is ours. Just as one small pebble cast into a pond stirs waves that reach far and wide, each one of us can affect a positive transformation throughout our industry. Let’s no longer say,”That’s just the way it is.” The world is not “just the way it is”…it’s this way only because humanity has made it so! And if we have made it so, then we can also make it better! The time to start is now. Here are some simple suggestions we’ve come up with if you’d like to get involved:

  • Stop buying, playing, and listening to music with destructive and degenerate messages.
  • Write or call radio stations, record companies, MTV and music magazines expressing your views.
  • Parents, know what kind of music and music videos your children are listening to and watching. Prohibit them from doing so if the content is destructive or degenerate.
  • Explain why it is and ask them to share with you their feelings about their music. Keep the channels of communication open.
  • Expose children to forms of music that will have a more positive influence on their lives.
  • Contact Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) Help Line to learn more about popular music lyrics. (Complete information on this service is in the section following this editorial).

And here are more suggestions specifically for the music industry:

  • Don’t produce or carry products that promote these destructive influences.
  • Let manufacturers and distributors know if the advertising for their product conveys a depraved message.
  • Adopt a corporate philosophy in support of moral values.
  • Promote strong moral values in store displays, ads, and literature.
  • Focus advertising and promotion based on the merits and benefits of the products instead of sensational tactics which degrade the value of life.
  • Promote music and not depravity and violence.Music has far-reaching capabilities for good and for evil. And it carries with it sobering responsibilities which none can escape. We who have been blessed with the gifts of freedom and artistic talent should he the ones who rise up to meet the responsibilities that are ours!

Let us, in our esteem for these gifts, use them with benevolence in our intentions, seizing the moment to fulfill our highest good and purpose as musicians. Ours is the calling to enlarge the horizons of our audience, provide them with wholesome entertainment and helpful stimulation, and remind them of the responsibilities which we all have as citizens toward our society. Let us resound in the concert halls of those thirsting hearts and minds music that will point toward something higher; toward a wholeness and a peace humanity knows exists and is ever striving to attain.

Parents Music Resource Center HELP LINE

Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to:

  • Increase parental awareness of the potentially harmful effect of some popular music.
  • Encourage the music industry to act more responsibly for the benefit of young people.

Address: 1500 Arlington Blvd. Suite 131, Arlington, VA 22209.
Phone: (703) 527-9466.
Fax: (703) 527-9468.

PMRC offers a help line, 1-900-288-PMRC, to assist parents in setting standards for their children regarding music lyrics.
The cost for this service is 99 cents per minute, with calls anticipated to average about 2 1/2 – 4 minutes each.

When calling the help line, you can choose from 7 menu options as follows:

  • Artist information – Spell the name of a particular performer, and an automated program will identify that performer’s current album stating whether the lyrics are sexually explicit, include profanity, degradation of women, race, or religion or could encourage violence, suicide, or drug/alcohol abuse.
  • The First Amendment and its relationship to music by legal authority Jack Thompson.
  • Satanism by authority Mr. Earl Hill at St. Francis Hospital, Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Suicide and the impact of music by Dr. Pamela Canter, Past President of the American Suicidology Association of America.
  • What parents need to know by Dr. Paul King, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Professor at the University of Tennessee.
  • The power of music and words by Mr. Al Kasha, Oscar winner for his music for “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno.”
  • Information on the Parents Music Resource Center. Callers can leave their name and address and PMRC will mail additional information. This line is not to be used by anyone under the age of 18 without parental permission.


“Study: Violent rap videos make kids more violent, ” The New York Beacon, June 24, 1994.
David Barton, “Original Intent”, (Aledo, TX, WallBuilder Press, 1996) Chapters 4-8, 11-15.
Ibid., pg. 60.
Alan Keyes, “Taking A Stand” speech, 1996.