The popular music industries have long been synonymous – fairly or unfairly – with unethical business practices, from scandals surrounding payola in the 1970s to artists such as Prince, George Michael, and more recently Kanye West lamenting their exploitative record contracts. However, when a musician loses their life in tragic circumstances, such as in 2018 following the suicide of Tim Bergling – better known as the electronic dance music (EDM) DJ Avicii – questions around whether certain business practices and decisions might have contributed towards his struggles with mental ill-health, and by extension whether such a loss might have been prevented, take on a painful and pertinent resonance. Following media portrayals such as that seen in the documentary Avicii: True Stories, many in the popular press, including the musician’s own family, focused attention on decisions taken by his manager at the time, Arash Pournouri. Were the decisions he took necessarily in the best interest of the artist? Is there a tension between profit and the mental wellbeing of musicians? Do managers, record labels, and other stakeholders bear a responsibility for the wellbeing of the artists they work with? This case asks students to weigh the moral and legal responsibilities of those in the music industries, encouraging them to ask challenging and at times uncomfortable questions around ethics, responsibility, and mental wellbeing.
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