3 ways that Stevie Wonder has changed the music industry

Updated August 2, 2018 - 12:49 pm

His music has changed music.

Sure, we all know Stevie Wonder’s iconic songbook — we could reach our word count here solely by reeling off standards such as “Higher Ground,” “Superstition” “Sir Duke” and many more. But as he hits town for an extended engagement at the Park Theater, let’s examine how Stevie Wonder has impacted the music industry itself.

He set the standard for artist compensation

In 1961, Stevland Hardaway Judkins, aka Little Stevie Wonder, signed his first record deal at age 11, and what a deal it was — for Motown Records.

Because he was a minor, Wonder inked the contract with his mom, Lula Mae Hardaway, the two earning a weekly stipend of $2.50 with Wonder’s earnings placed into a trust until he turned 21.

About those earnings: peddling electric blankets in a forest fire would have been more lucrative.

Wonder received a 2 percent royalty rate on 90 percent of sales at the time.

What’s more, Motown saddled the artist with all recording expenses, recouping costs before paying the musician’s cut, a common industry practice now, but not for all labels back then.

On top of that, Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. took another 25 percent of Wonder’s total earnings for managing his career.

But Wonder turned the tables when he turned 21 in 1971.

That year, the most recent of his numerous Motown contracts expired. Stevie was about to get paid.

Motown knew it had to keep one of its most promising stars, and so the company broke the bank as Wonder broke new ground for what an artist could earn.

The terms: a seven-album, seven-year deal with $13 million up front and a massive royalty rate hike to 20 percent.

The money may have given Wonder a new kind of financial independence, but it was another sort of liberty that was most on his mind.

He helped usher in a new era of creative control for musicians

Wonder saw was what was going on with “What’s Going On.”

That Marvin Gaye classic almost never was: Gordy hated the tune that would later serve as the title track to one of the greatest albums of all time, so much so that he didn’t want to release it. Another Motown exec put “What’s Going On” out on the sly, and when it immediately became a hit, Gordy changed his tune.

Gaye was subsequently able to negotiate a fat contract that gave him a new level of creative control.

But if Gaye opened the door to musicians being able to actualize their artistic vision without outside interference, Wonder promptly stomped the thing off its hinges.

In addition to the more lucrative financial terms of his 1971 Motown contract, Wonder gained ownership of his publishing rights and the master tapes of his recordings. More significantly, he, like Gaye, negotiated for full creative control over his music.

This proved to be crucial: Beginning with the first album of Wonder’s new deal, 1972’s “Music of My Mind,” he went on one of the greatest runs in music history, releasing five records in five years, each of which is a classic, culminating with 1976’s landmark “Songs in the Key of Life.”

It’s certainly no coincidence that this period of incredible productivity coincided with Wonder earning a newfound creative autonomy, enabling him to follow his musical muse wherever it took him — namely, the top of the charts. “Songs” was the first album from an American musician to debut at No. 1, where it stayed for 13 weeks.

He’s been on the cutting edge of new technologies in music

Inexplicably, the synthesizer was once frowned upon. Thankfully, times have changed, and Wonder played a leading role in changing them.

An unabashed gear geek, Wonder has been at the forefront of embracing new technologies in music since the early ’70s, when he began incorporating the Moog synth in his works, even though plenty of critics didn’t consider it to be a legitimate instrument.

And it didn’t stop there.

Wonder was an early proponent of drum machines, and one of the first artists — if not the first — to use a sampler in his music, on the 1979 nature documentary soundtrack album “Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through ‘The Secret Life of Plants.’ ”

That record was also one of the earliest digital recordings ever released.

In the years since, Wonder has been on the cutting edge of utilizing computer software programs to record and edit his music.

Above all else, Wonder is a student of sound, which is why his sound has remained so singular.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

ad-high_impact_4
Entertainment
Tim Burton's imaginative artwork coming to Las Vegas
Tim Burton's imaginative artwork coming to Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Holiday poultry with Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine
Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine explain the different types of poultry available for the holidays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Spring Preserve kicks off its Holiday Express
Springs Preserve hosts its Holiday Express, which includes a train ride, visits with Santa, SNOW, and a village winter wonderland.
Artists from Cirque du Soleil contribute art to Las Vegas art exhibit
Artists from Cirque du Soleil contribute art to Las Vegas gallery exhibit
Red Plate on the Las Vegas Strip serves a cocktail made with blooming jasmine tea
Red Plate on the Las Vegas Strip serves a cocktail made with jasmine tea
Benny the Ice Skating Dog
Benny is a Las Vegas Labrador who was rescued by former pro skater Cheryl Del Sanyo, and trained to ice skate. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Nevada State Museum
The Nevada State Museum of Las Vegas, located at the Springs Preserve, covers all eras of the state, from prehistoric to today.
Throw a better dinner party
Cash appears at Baseball Winter Meetings
Lights FC mascot Cash plays the electronic drums at the EZ Inflatables’ booth on Tuesday at the Baseball Winter Meetings trade show at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
5 albums to soundtrack your holiday gatherings in style
1. Various Artists, “Holidays Rule," with Rufus Wainwright, The Shins, Calexico and more. 2. Various Artists, “We Wish You a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year," with Lemmy Kilmister, Alice Cooper, Chuck Billy and others. 3. Various Artists, “Christmas on Death Row," featuring Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg to name but a few. 4. Bright Eyes, “A Christmas Album.” 5. Various Artists, "The Motown Christmas Album." (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside the kitchen at Springs Preserve
The staff of Divine Events do party preparation in the kitchen at Divine Cafe at Springs Preserve. With nine parties the following day, this is a particularly busy time for the crew. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
WinterFest
WinterFest in Henderson.
Miss Rodeo America Fashion Show
The 28 women contestants of Miss Rodeo America compete in a fashion show at the Tropicana on Dec. 7, 2018.
Tournament Of Kings Holiday Show
Wizards and warriors are ready for the holidays at Excalibur's Tournament of Kings Holiday Dinner Show.
Take a dive with the Silverton mermaids
A visit to the Silverton Casino Hotel is not complete without taking in the popular, and very unique, mermaid show.
Cowboys and western aficionados can buy virtually anything at Cowboy Christmas
Vegas Golden Knights Christmas Display
In the Las Vegas Valley, the chances of getting a white Christmas are slim. But this year, you can have a “Knight” Christmas. A Henderson resident has a Christmas lights display that is synchronized to the entrance music for the Golden Knights. GG Misa’s Knights light show is played every 30 minutes from 5 to 10 nightly. His light show consists of two songs: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and the entrance music, “Le Castle Vania,” from the movie “John Wick.” The display is located at 730 Bollons Island St. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Reivew-Journal)
Holiday Hooch At El Cortez is Just in Time For Repeal Day And Christmas
Holiday Hooch At El Cortez Is Just In Time For Repeal Day And Christmas. Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal
TV's LGBT superheroes
Green Valley Ranch's Winter's Village
The Mob Museum
Best Friend Menu Reveal Wednesday
Chef Roy Choi tells us what to expect from Wednesday’s Facebook Live Menu Reveal for his new Park MGM restaurant Best Friend. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Quick Chat With Criss Angel
James D. Gish and Susan Anton rehearse
Susan Anton will be special guest at James D. Gish’s holiday concerts Dec. 7 at Summerlin Library and Dec. 9 at Clark County Library. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio Winter Wonderland
"Majestic Holiday Magic" at the Bellagio Conservatory.
Underwater Santa At The Silverton
Santa takes a dive Sunday, December 2, at the Silverton Casino Hotel. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Cowabunga Bay Christmas Town
Las Vegas Natural History Museum
Las Vegas Natural History Museum, which opened in 1991, has exhibits of mechanical dinosaurs and taxidermied animals, along with live snakes, fish and sharks. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Magical Forest Lights
Cirque Du Soleil Performers Team Up For New Show "Kinekt"
Through dance, acrobatics and aerial arts, “Kinekt” tells a story all too familiar to modern families: how to maintain a human connection in the digital age. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
ad-infeed_1
ads_infeed_2
Local Spotlight
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like