Record executives and artist managers offered various explanations for the inconsistency, although many were not willing to speak on the record. Some musicians, they said, object on principle to the censoring of their work. Though once seen as a bold and risky stance — Green Day, for example, refused to edit its albums “American Idiot” (2004) and “21st Century Breakdown” (2009), and forfeited sales at Walmart — that rarely draws wide notice today.
Another reason was structural: In the streaming age, music can be made and released so quickly that little time is left for edits. Those albums may not get a clean version until days or weeks after their initial release, or never. If no edited version is available, radio stations — or random YouTube users — may simply make their own.
Ghazi, the founder of Empire, an independent distribution company that specializes in hip-hop, thinks that much of the industry fails to grasp the importance of clean versions. “It’s a lost part of the business,” he said.
He noted all the standard opportunities that would disappear without a clean song, like licensing for television and being piped into restaurants and retail shops. But Ghazi, who uses only one name, also pointed to outlets like JPay, which provides music — clean only — to prison inmates, as well as to online platforms in Asia and the Middle East that block explicit content. The existence of a clean version can increase some albums’ sales as much as 30 percent, according to Ghazi.
And the artistry of clean edits has made huge progress since the Swiss cheese days. Jaycen Joshua, a mixing engineer who has worked on releases by Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and many other artists — including Megan Thee Stallion — described an elaborate tool kit of sound effects, stretched-out sibilants and patched vowels to preserve the musical fingerprint of an altered word.
“Anything to give the illusion to the brain that a word is still there, even if you don’t hear that explicit word itself,” Joshua said.