Record labels exploit deceased artists for profit

Record labels capitalize off of the demand for deceased artists’ music.


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“Falling Down,” an unfinished song featuring rapper XXXTentacion, was released after his death.

Lauren Good, Staff Writer

When a music artist passes away, the demand for their work increases — resulting in record labels releasing music from deceased artists to make a profit. Music professionals in the industry debate over the morality of these circumstances. Releasing music after death could be considered a continuation of one’s legacy, but others think this effort is exploitative.


According to The Georgetown Voice, “Record labels seem to be more than willing to exploit the legacy of these artists in order to capitalize off of the enormous demand.” XXXTentacion, Lil Peep and Mac Miller, for example, rose to fame after they passed away. The attention fans pay these artists could have accumulated because they died young, and under tragic circumstances.

In 2018, Spotify’s most played song was “Falling Down,” an unfinished collaboration featuring Lil Peep and XXXTentacion which was released after both those artists passed away. It became controversial in the professional realm because of the profit the label received. The Georgetown Voice describes the song as a “shabby compilation of unused sounds meant to bolster a legacy which should have been allowed to continue on its own.”

“What makes it even worse, is that these labels don’t give money to the families of the artists,” said senior cinema and media arts major Richie Gunasekra. “It is very hard to trust what was actually created by the deceased artist. People can manipulate the work of any artist through technology, and have the capability to recreate their vocal chains without it costing any money. Because of this, I’d agree that this is exploitation.”

In January 2020, Mac Miller’s album, Circles, was released after he passed in 2018. This is considered more to be a beautiful tribute to him and a respectful memoriam. His family was involved in the release of the album, and the producer had permission to release it. This could be a better approach for record labels to take in order to continue an artist’s legacy after they pass.


The release of music after an artist’s death causes controversy because the artist does not have the agency to approve what is released. Record labels profit off of the music they distribute, which may not align with the artist’s original creative intentions.

“Personally I feel like [releasing uncompleted music from dead artists] is taking from a project that isn’t fully formed yet. A huge part of creating is about the completion and approval of the project,” Gunasekera said. “As a musician, I wouldn’t want people to hear or consume what I created without my intentionality.”  


“My gut reaction is to say that record labels shouldn’t retain rights over the music of their deceased clients,” senior music composition major Michael Fausett said. “However, one issue is the distribution of an artist’s body of work once they have passed away.”

CBC reported that sales usually spike after an artist dies, which causes the record label to continue to profit off of the artist’s work. This is an expected occurrence, however, since contracts are put in place beforehand. 

“One solution to this issue is the way the music scene is shifting toward self-production and independent record labels,” Fausett said. “Overall, music is moving away from the corporate games and toward individuals having creative autonomy over their music and profits.”  

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