Applying Of Approach In The Book “Freakonomics” To The Music Industry

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner in their book titled “Freakonomics” explored how economic concepts can be found in virtually any aspect of social life. They showed that many conventional processes that people are used to have a significant economic meaning and that sometimes simple actions can have long-lasting consequences. In addition to that, the authors encourage people to think about common patterns of various activities and try to determine whether they were affected by some underlying issues. It may be useful to apply the approached utilized in the book to the music industry and ask a legitimate question: Why are there so few, if any, prominent metal bands that fully consist of or at least feature several African-American musicians? In order to answer this question, this paper will provide the context of the issue and approach it from three different dimensions: the peculiarities of the music market, the role of nominative determinism, and changes in the contemporary metal scene.

The context of the issue

To begin with, it may be beneficial to explore the historical context of the issue in order to develop a proper understanding of it. The best place to start the investigation is the dawn of metal music. According to Bayer, the majority of bands that have had a significant impact on this genre and are largely seen as founders of it were from the United Kingdom (21). In spite of the fact that this country is currently known for its diversity and most certainly had people of different races living in it in the 1960s, one can hardly ignore the fact that the bands that played hard rock and early heavy metal were all white. Indeed, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Motorhead – all of them include only white musicians. So, it may be safe to assume that metal as a genre was founded by this particular population.

Another important aspect to be mentioned focuses on the themes which were featured in the songs and in the style in general. Thus, the early metal bands often sang about things that were either connected to the European history or reflected the realities of European life. For example, “Iron Maiden” is a name of a torture device that was widely spread in Europe. The musicians must have thought that the audience will be able to recognize this name easily. “Black Sabbath” is closely connected to the alleged witch and Satanic conspiracy which was a common fear of the people of Europe at the time. Speaking of Satanism, one should note that such bands as Merciful Fate or Venom explored this theme widely, knowing that the audience will be shocked and attracted to it. So, it is obvious that from the very beginning metal music primarily featured those themes which were interesting for the white Europeans only.

One may also be interested in the perception of the color black in metal music and metal culture. First of all, it is essential to note that it was a color favored by the counterculture. That is why the attire of the musicians was often black. In addition to that, many wore a special kind of makeup called “corpse paint” where they would make their faces snow white with the help of powder and make the area around eyes and lips black to resemble partially decomposed corpses, hence the name. Furthermore, one should not forget about the fact that there is an entire metal genre called “black metal”, but this is a reference to the Satanic nature of it rather than the black color of skin. So, it seems that from the very beginning musicians of any other race would be at a disadvantage since they would not be able to follow the general style, apply “corpse paint” and fit in the aesthetic spectrum that was used by this style of music.

Nevertheless, that it has been almost half a century since metal emerged and many bands that founded it have already left the stage for good. Therefore, it seems that there are some significant changes that one can easily notice. One of them is the growing diversity of the musicians engaged in the metal scene. This draws the attention to the issue of diversity and shows that the early period of metal music was largely dominated by white musicians whereas today it is more common to see a black person in a band. However, this issue still exists since the number of black musicians is still disproportionately small if compared to their white counterparts.

The peculiarities of the music market

Now, it may be useful to apply the concepts mentioned in the book in order to answer the question. First of all, one should keep in mind that metal music is a part of entertainment industry. This means that the musicians also take into account the peculiarities of the music market and act accordingly. It is common knowledge that African-Americans have been traditionally gifted in other styles of music like jazz, hip-hop, rap, R&B, and so on. Therefore, the audience of those styles is predominantly black. As a result, a talented person who would like to start a career in music will act rationally if he chooses a style that the target audience will most certainly relate to. For example, if a band wants to reach white youth, they may be interested in hardcore or metal music. Obviously, the distinctions are not strict and it sometimes happens so that a person from a completely different racial environment will be able to produce a high-quality product that various audience will relate to regardless the race: consider the examples of Eminem or Beyonce.

Another important point that should be mentioned with this regard focuses on the themes of the songs and the style in general. Metal music is known for being rebellious: it often tries to disrupt the existing state of affairs by channeling the anger of the people into something productive. Some band even reflect this in their name, for example, Rage Against the Machine. One would make no mistake suggesting that given the reality of contemporary racial relations in the United States, the black audience would not be willing to associate itself with any disruptive processes. In addition to that, metal musicians often utilize elements of European culture like a dragon, swords, wizards, long hair and so on which African-Americans are not able to relate to either.

Finally, all this brings up the following issue: metal music is not considered by the African-Americans as an effective way of their cultural expression. After all, people listen to music in order to achieve aesthetic pleasure and express themselves in a certain way. Nevertheless, there are forms that have been traditionally more effective for the African-Americans to achieve this. A good example is a hip-hop: at a certain period of time, it was the only cultural platform where the black community was able to express itself about the acute issues. In spite of the fact that the boundaries between the styles have blurred significantly since their emergence, the inertia of cultural development persist. As a result, the music market often appeals to the tastes of different audiences based on their race. This may represent one of the reasons why African-Americans have not been traditionally active on the metal scene.

The role of nominative determinism

The second aspect that should be carefully examined is the role of nominative determinism. Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner in their book state that the way in which parent name their children has a surprisingly big impact on their future in terms of socioeconomic status. The author insists that those with perceived “white names” are to be hired more often if compared to those with distinctly “black names” even if they have exactly the same credentials. This may be projected onto the metal music as well. As it has already been mentioned, the songs and the aesthetics often involves elements of the European culture. Therefore, it is quite probable that if a band is called “Archbishop of Hell” then people who chose this name are well aware of the religious hierarchy of the Catholic Church which is something that the black musicians will not be.

 Furthermore, one should also consider the role that stage names play with this regard. In many cases, musicians choose to employ a stage name in order to draw the attention of the audience to the aesthetics of their band. While this is not particularly common for the US metal bands where the musicians often use their nicknames which were formed from their names, it is quite common in Europe. One of the most extreme examples is the tradition of stage names of the musicians who play black metal. Thus, these people often take stage names that would refer to ancient demons, spirits or the different name of the Devil. For example, the stage names of Behemoth band are: Nergal, Seth, Orion, and Inferno. All of that, including the name of the band itself, related to the occult tradition of naming deities or spirits which are recognized as evil. With this in mind, it is highly unlikely that an African-American is likely to adopt such a stage name.

Finally, it may be useful to explore the language of the lyrics and the way musicians interact with the audience. It is worth pointing out that metal bands of try to use archaic words in order to puzzle the audience or to achieve the desired aesthetic effect. In the majority of the cases these words are taken from the European languages and, therefore, are related to the European traditions. In addition to that, it is quite unlikely to hear curse words in metal. It is true that later in history the musicians may have started including them in the lyrics, but still, an average metal song is not likely to feature curse words. If one compares this to some other styles of music popular among African-Americans, like rap or hip-hop, one will be able to see that the latter are known for the frequent use of profanity.

Changes in the contemporary metal scene

Finally, one should take into account the changes in the contemporary metal scene in order to determine whether there have been any significant shifts in the recent years. First of all, one should point out that metal music has stopped being an important part of the counterculture. As a result, one might go as far as saying that metal music is not a part of mainstream culture. Therefore, it is likely to experience growing diversity in terms of musicians of different races joining the scene. With this in mind, it becomes obvious that the image of metal as the music that primarily targets white audience will be lost since bands will adopt wide approaches to the music.

Another point that should be mentioned is that while the metal scene was primarily localized to the Western and the Northern Europe in the early stages, now there are metal scenes all over the world. It is true that the Scandinavian countries are leaders in terms of metal bands per 100,000 people, but it is worth mentioning that there are metal bands emerging in various, often quite unexpected parts of the world such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. There are numerous African bands, but their number is extremely small. Nevertheless, one should keep in mind that metal music is now a part of global culture and, therefore, it is affected by the processes of globalization. In other words, metal is likely to be changed by the local cultures to a certain extent in order to make sure that it is able to fit the dominant culture of the region, but retain some of its international properties.

The next aspect to be explored focuses on new styles of metal. It is worth pointing out that in the beginning there was little distinction between the genres, but in the years to come, they were developed greatly by individual musicians and various bands. At the present moment, there are numerous styles that did not exist before, but are largely see as popular. This lead to the situation when young and talented musicians express themselves in these genres. A good example is Animals as Leaders band: they play progressive metal which, as the name suggests, is quite different from the traditional genres of metal. They lead guitarist Tosin Abasi has Nigerian ancestry. The inclusion of African-American musicians in the metal scene shows that the latter is developing and the growing diversity of it is not a temporary trend, but something that will determine this style in the future.

With all this in mind, one is able to suggest that the metal music is likely to become more inclusive in the future and will feature no racial distinction. This is already happening as more and more musicians of different races are being active on the scene. Some might suggest that it may have started with Metallica who featured a musician of a mixed race (Kirt Hammet) and later hired a Latino bass player. Nowadays, especially in the United States, metal scenes is predominantly white, but the number of musicians who represent other races, particularly African-Americans, is increasing rapidly. The same can be said about some of the European stages. Therefore, it becomes obvious that the changes in the metal scene are inevitable.


Having examined all the points that were mentioned in the paragraphs above, one is able to come to the following conclusion: the question Why are there so few, if any, prominent metal bands that fully consist of or at least feature several African-American musicians? should be answered from several distinct dimensions which include market considerations, nominal determinism, and modern changes. Thus, it was established that originally the metal scene was not particularly diverse with the music musicians from Europe dominating it completely. Thus, many musicians recognize the metal is not a genre that has been traditionally popular among other races and they make a rational decision to target the white population. Secondly, metal often relies on words and cultural concepts from the European past which makes it difficult for the African-Americans to relate to that. Finally, there are some promising changes that show that the metal scene is currently changing in the direction of inclusion of more and more musicians that represent different races. That is why it is quite possible that in the future this question will cease to exist.

Works cited

Bayer, Gerd. Heavy Metal Music in Britain. London: Ashgate Publishing Group, 2016. Print.

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"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: September 29, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: September 29, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

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