Skip to content

What Does ‘Explicit’ Music Mean?


Anyone who has sought to place their music on Apple Music, Spotify, or any other music platform understands that there are many terms and conditions that come with using such sites.

Even as music distribution has changed considerably in recent years, many things have remained the same.

One of these facets is that explicit lyrics must be clearly marked. Now, determining what is explicit is not always a straightforward process.

To allow their music to be marketed to a wider audience, most artists will choose to record multiple versions of a song that contains lyrics that are deemed explicit.

Streaming platforms may not include explicit songs on popular playlists or include them in certain search algorithms, thus making duplicate recordings, something that many artists will choose to do.

YouTube video

Determining what is explicit music

Strong and vulgar language is clearly considered explicit music. Lyrics can also be considered explicit if they refer to violence, abuse, sex, or discrimination.

Discriminatory language may not be explicit in itself, but there are many cases where lyrics can be offensive because they are discriminatory.

If a song has what is considered foul language or swear words, it will definitely be marked as explicit, but not all cases are as clear cut.

The classic case, like pornography and fine art, “I know it when I hear it” often applies to music lyrics as well.

The benchmark of suitability for children is often applied when determining if the music contained on an album or song should be marked as explicit.

A parental advisory is often attached to any music that is not considered mainstream, or that could be considered offensive.

Frequently, artists will record multiple versions of a song in order to have a product that is suitable for everyone.

This is not a requirement, and if an artist wishes to create explicit music, they don’t also have to produce non-explicit content as well.

Because it is easier to market and distribute non-explicit tracks, many artists will go ahead and also record clean or radio versions of any of their explicit songs.

Requirements for marking music as explicit

explicit clean track qualifications

Working with an experienced and knowledgeable music distributor will help to take a lot of the guesswork out of what is and isn’t explicit music. It will also be much easier to know what to do to move forward if your lyrics are indeed considered to be explicit.

There are other distributors that will simply ask if any of the music is explicit. If you answer no and the answer is actually yes, it will likely mean that your songs will be pulled.

This is why if there is any uncertainty about explicit music, the discussion occurs prior to the songs being submitted to the platform.

Be sure to understand the platform’s requirements for marking music as explicit or requiring the RIAA Parental Advisory logo.

You will also want to be aware that if you add the logo to the album cover, all songs contained therein will be considered and marked as explicit.

There are guidelines pertaining to the size and placement of the logo, but these are simply guidelines and do not have to be strictly adhered to.

Of course, if you aren’t releasing a physical album, this becomes a moot discussion. Tagging an entire album as explicit could be considered unnecessary if there are only two or three tracks for which the tag is relevant.

Be sure to advise the distributor and the streaming platform of any songs that contain explicit lyrics prior to any music being uploaded.

Failure to do so can result in the music being pulled and you having a lot of resistance when it comes to having your music uploaded and promoted on that site in the future.

Make yourself familiar with the terms of agreement for use of the platform and be sure to follow them.

Guidelines for explicit music and digital service providers (DSPs)

what considered explicit content

There are certain classifications for explicit music:

  • Discrimination – stereotypes, racial slurs, and xenophobic remarks are all included in this category. If your song contains lyrics relating to these topics, it should be classified as explicit. Any words that are considered ethnic or racial slurs, will require an explicit marking.
  • Foul language or swear words – this is the most cut and dry type of lyric when it comes to classifying music as explicit. In many radio or clean edits, these words will be bleeped out. If you want to have both types of explicit and non-explicit songs, record a second version that can be marketed to mainstream audiences.
  • Violence – any lyrics pertaining to violence, whether against a specific person or as an idea, will likely need to be marked as explicit. Lyrics that pertain to abuse of any type, physical, mental, emotional, or sexual, will also be included under the violence category.
  • Sex – whether stated in a subtle or straightforward manner, any reference to sex or sexual activity will clearly need to be marked as explicit content. There may be some grey areas in some love songs where a sexual encounter is strongly implied but not stated outright. It’s best to seek further guidance in this type of situation.

If there is any doubt about whether or not content is explicit, it is likely better to err on the side of caution. If you are unsure, speak with your distributor to obtain some guidance.

Marketing music with explicit content

what explicit song mean

One of the easiest ways to market explicit content to mainstream channels is by making an alternate recording of any songs that contain explicit lyrics.

In the event that you want to maintain the integrity of your lyrics, or you don’t want to dedicate the time and expense necessary to record multiple versions of your music, there are some marketing strategies to consider.

Of course, the best way to promote your music is to have it added to popular playlists on various streaming platforms.

Spotify does not exclude explicit music from its playlists or search algorithms. There are a number of other platforms where users can toggle a no explicit music button.

If you are an artist who manages a robust fan base, having explicit lyrics contained within your music will have little effect on how you market your new songs.

Any artist who is looking to break into a more mainstream market may want to reconsider their use of explicit lyrics.

It comes down to the artist’s fan base and who their target listening market is. There are plenty of audiences out there that have little to no concern or hesitation when it comes to consuming explicit content.

explicit content spotify apple MUSIC

Artists who are still building their fan bases may want to put in a little more thought about how explicit content may affect their marketing efforts.

Building a fan base can be difficult without placing unnecessary roadblocks in your path.

Explicit lyrics may hold you back when it comes to reaching a large, mainstream audience, but it likely won’t have much of an impact when it comes to making inroads to niche groups that are predisposed to like your music.

Distributors are a great resource when it comes to making the call on such decisions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *