Should Unreleased Music of Deceased Artists Be Released?

Shortly after Michael Jackson’s sudden death, his family discovered a multitude of unreleased music written and recorded by Jackson over the years. A year later, his estate signed a deal with Sony Music Entertainment to release posthumous albums, of which three have been released. The release of these albums received mixed reception from fans. Many were glad to hear new music from the King of Pop after his untimely death. But a lot of fans felt it wasn’t right for the estate to release these songs, some of which were incomplete, as Jackson isn’t around to consent to it. I happen to agree with the latter, Jackson and other deceased artists had their reasons for keeping certain songs kept unreleased and these labels taking advantage of the fact they aren’t around to make a quick buck is an act of disrespect towards their legacy.


It isn’t just Jackson either, Tupac Shakur, Juice Wrld, Aaliyah, and Whitney Houston are just some of the artists who have had their unreleased music and demos released to the public after their sudden deaths. It rubs me the wrong way that the record labels have no issue altering and releasing the music of a deceased artist. It’s different when they are completed songs/albums that were set for release before their sudden death, such as the final albums of Prince and The Cranberries but these are songs either discarded or unfinished by the artist. These songs are never the artist at their best, it’s released without their creative input or touch. Take Tupac’s last posthumous album, Pac’s Life, released 12 years after his murder, the main complaint was that the modern mixing ruined its sound and it didn’t sound like Tupac. You can never truly replicate their sound without them alive. 


It’s hard to believe the motives of releasing this music are motivated by anything other than money. Record labels have never been the good guys and that’s not a secret but the consumer is at part to blame. When someone buys a Whitney Houston demo as a NFT for a million dollars, it sets a precedent that makes releasing this music as an acceptable thing to do. There’s talk now of unearthing the unreleased music of Aaliyah, something which Aaliyah’s longtime collaborators have been opposed to. The record labels are never going to grow a conscience, so the consumer has to take responsibility to not consume these deeply unethical albums.


There is a lot of debate on the ethicality of releasing these songs. But there’s something deeply wrong with the idea that people can do whatever they want with the image and art of a deceased person because they aren’t here to argue against it. Imagine if you died and someone showed all your loved ones your private and unfinished texts and journals. That would be immensely disrespectful to you. We have to treat musicians as human, they aren’t a commodity, they’re human. Ironically, humanizing artists is the only way we can escape the toxic pitfalls of celebrity worship culture. Respecting their right to keep their unfinished art vaulted, unless something is explicitly stated in their last will, is a step in the right direction.