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Censorship in Music

March 18, 2010

By: Iman Porter

Censorship of music is defined as the practice of restricting free access to musical works. This censorship may have, “moral, political, military or religious motivations.” Censorship ranges from complete prohibition of a musical work to the removal of content when this work appears in a certain context. Censorship of a song is reported in mass media and has the effect of drawing more attention to the song than it would have received if it wasn’t banned. In order for songs to be played in specific areas, such as radio or etc, it’s very common to censor particular words and forms of profanity. Record labels do produce censored versions of songs, either with alternative lyrics or instrumentals, and this is for the radio stations or television programs that require no profanity or inappropriate language. Some stations decide to censor these particular songs using one of the following ten methods of word covering:
Common stickers seen on censored material on mature music, albums, etc. Image taken from
• Blanking: when the volume is muted for all or part of the word.
• Bleeping: playing a noise, usually a “beep”, over all or part of the word.
• Re sampling; using a like-sounding portion of vocals and music to override the offending word.
• Re singing: removing the word or part of the word and keeping the instrumental part of the song.
• Back masking: taking the offending word and reversing the audio, sometimes the whole audio is reversed (often to simulate a ‘backspin’ sound), but more usually only the vocal track is reversed.
• Repeating: repeating the word just said before the explicit word was used.
• Skipping: deleting the word from the song without a time delay.
• Echo: instead of saying a word, it echoes the last word(s) said in the line.
• Disc scratching: in hip hop, scratching on the word, making it sound like another word, or make the word said faster or slower.
• Robo Voicing: making the word totally non-understandable by overpowering a robo voice effect (usually used as a last resort for home-made jobs).
• Distorting: Usually in Hip-Hop, less offensive words such as “shit” or else is distorted.

Listed below are examples of artist who are or have been censored:

• Eminem, USA – Censored for strong anti-Bush lyrics and making fun of homosexuals. Censored lyrics by himself as well when he censored the lyrics referred to Columbine school shootings.
• Fela Kuti, Nigeria – Imprisoned and harassed by Nigerian authorities.
• Ferhat Tunc, Turkey – Censored and imprisoned by Turkish authorities.
• Gorki Águila, Cuba – Censored by the Cuban Government. Imprisoned August 2003.
• Judge Dread, England – The Guinness Book of World Records credits Judge Dread for having the most banned songs of all time on the BBC Radio.
• Madonna, USA – Several videos banned and attempted boycott (usually by religious groups) of several of her concerts (such as her visits in 1990 and 2006 to Rome, her visit in 2006 to Russia, her visits in 2009 to Poland and Bulgaria, etc). When American television network NBC aired a concert from the artist’s Confessions Tour, the part of the show where Madonna stages a crucifixion was censored and replaced with images of orphaned African children (images that were part of the live performance involving the crucifixion, but which were displayed on the on-stage screens behind the singer).
• Lily Allen, UK – Censored by the constant use of cursing, also political harassing.
• Lady Gaga, USA – Her release Love Game is banned from many music video broadcasters.
• Miguel Angel Estrella, Argentina – Banned, imprisoned and tortured by the Argentine military junta.
• Matoub Lounès, Algeria – Assassinated in 1998.
• Parissa, Iran – In the Islamic Republic of Iran, female singers are often facing severe restrictions.
• Pearl Jam – AT&T – Censored anti-Bush lyrics.
• Thomas Mapfumo, Zimbabwe – Several songs banned by Zimbabwean authorities.

An example of censorship in music is when the BBC, which stands for British Broadcasting Corporation, faced charges of dumbing down from top DJs and celebrities over changes to its London radio station. According to an article by Jessica Hodgson called, “BBC radio slammed by DJ’s for dumbing down,” the former lead singer of “The Verve” Richard Ashcroft, DJs Paul Oakenfold and Jon Carter, backed a campaign calling for the return of Radio London’s popular late-night music shows. The BBC received more than 500 letters complaining about their decision to replace five programs, such as Solid Steel and The Ross Allen Show. The article states that fans of specialist music were angered by the decision. These fans claimed that the Sadie Nine slot, which has featured guests including Max Clifford, Mr. Motivator, and Shane Ritchie, goes against the BBC’s remit to cater for audiences not served by the commercial sector. Londumb Live, a particular website that was set up by the campaign, argued that BBC refused to respond to the demands of Radio London’s core audience. A spokesman replied with, “The BBC’s responses to complaints about the station fail to argue the case on real issues leaving Londoners frustrated by the corporation’s seeming indifference to its remit.” The Londumb Live stated that, “the BBC is simply providing poor quality imitations of programming widely available on the radio via LBC, 5 Live, Radio 4 and Talksport.”