Notes on the Underground
November 8, 2005 10:45 AM   Subscribe

I am interested in the different opinions musicians have towards "selling out".

Example #1, Example #2. Do you know of any quality examples [blogs, books, audio, video etc.] where artists have voiced an opinion on selling out?

I am aware of a previous ask.me thread that asks users their opinions on selling out. Nevertheless, I am more interested in the artist's perspective (across any era/genre).
posted by cloeburner to Media & Arts (47 answers total)
 
it's pretty subjective. and a pointless argument fueled by each person's idea influenced by whatever "what would my friends think" or "am I punk enough" mentality is hovering over their heads.
posted by angry modem at 10:50 AM on November 8, 2005


(MOST) musicians play only because they love it, and the dream is to be able to make a living doing what you love.
If you are given an offer which may allow you to do this, I think most people would take it. That is not selling out.
If I was given tens of thousands of dollars for recording and equipment, and was able to spend all my time working on music, I think I could do pretty well and be pretty happy. More happy than sitting here in this cubical, anyway.
I think "selling out" is what happens after you are "successful" and it becomes clear that you are only in it for the money. Metallica sold out when they attacked and accused thier own fans of stealing their money by swapping the music they loved with friends.
posted by bradn at 11:26 AM on November 8, 2005


I read an interview with The Apples in Stereo where they rationalised their licensing of Strawberryfire to Sony. Robert and Hilarie had just had a baby, and money was tight, and it seemed like a useful source of income.
posted by scruss at 11:31 AM on November 8, 2005


I think music fans are way too defensive of musicians for selling out these days, and I think bradn's comment speaks to that.

(MOST) musicians play only because they love it, and the dream is to be able to make a living doing what you love. If you are given an offer which may allow you to do this, I think most people would take it. That is not selling out.

I'm not sure how you can say that. Depending on what the offer is, it very well could be selling out. It doesn't matter whether or not most people would do it, or if it will improve the lives of the musicians, it might still be selling out.

Now, the important qualification is that selling out isn't an absolute evil. I've listened to lots of bands who have sold out; there are lots of bands I wouldn't have heard of if they hadn't sold out. I don't hold it against them. I, too, am happy when deserving musicians make a good living. What I do hold against them, though, is hypocrisy. "Indie cred" is a valuable thing, and too many people want to have their cake and eat it too. But you can't have your art in commercials for multinational corporations, etc., and still claim to be an idealistic artist whose work is pure and untainted. I'm pretty tired of the lengths music fans will go to these days to defend their favorite bands from accusations of selling out.

For a specific recent debate, see this thread (reg. required, I'm afraid) on the Decemberists message board regarding one of their songs appearing in a Hewlett Packard commercial. I believe Chris Funk, one of the band members, weighs in on the issue at some point. I'll try to find the relevant quote in a bit.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:41 AM on November 8, 2005


I am interested in the different opinions musicians have towards "selling out".

How are you defining "selling out"? Example 1 is about liscencing your music for commercials, and Example 2 is about becoming more popular because you changed the sound of your music.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:43 AM on November 8, 2005


Of course, it's also important to point out that there are many degrees of selling out; some I find completely acceptable, even though I think they clearly qualify as selling out, and others I find rather off-putting.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:44 AM on November 8, 2005


Yo La Tengo recorded a song or two for Coke, and there's an interesting story about it in their official site.
posted by electric_counterpoint at 11:47 AM on November 8, 2005


Ok, here are Chris Funk's comments from the Decemberists/HP discussion:

1) i'm not going to get involved with this one, but someone posted this once and I tought it was great...Dave Eggers on selling out. You should all read it. I'm transmitting this from my brand new lap top from a beach house the band all bought together in the south of France by the way.

http://www.armchairnews.com/freelance/eggers.html

2) Hey now,
We all (the band) read these posts, and it does mean something to us. Some of you have it twisted. we don't make music to sell to HP, nor do we do this to get rich. we will make the same music regardless of our "offers" in the future be it a label or commercial.

And I don't believe we are going to become overnight "mall sensations" as some of you have suggested. however if we did, who are we to say who "deserves" to listen and enjoy our music? I grew up in the suburbs and THANK GOD I had access to hear so much music large in part to corporations. so much of the music we glorify today was and is on major labels. that said, I'm always looking for new indie music and try to "vote with my dollar".

anyway, it stinks some of you are down on us for this considering I feel like we are the same musicians doing the same music from day one.

sorry to butt in.

-crutchy
posted by ludwig_van at 11:53 AM on November 8, 2005


* Iggy Pop has said that he doesn't care if his music is used for commercials since it wasn't created with a product in mind.

* Henry Rollins has said that he uses money from his voice overs (Life cereal, GMC trucks) to run his book and CD company 21361, so it's sort of like a culture jamming thing.
posted by Atom12 at 12:00 PM on November 8, 2005


Oh, and I should add that I'm a musician, and I sell my music. Not for TV commercials, though (so far).
posted by ludwig_van at 12:17 PM on November 8, 2005


Selling out is when a musician alters their sound to sell more units, and that can generally be linked with a decline in quality of said music. Artists are, by virtue of self-interest, generally poor arbiters of when they've sold out (KISS is about the only band that will cop to it). But no, just having songs in commercials isn't selling out, though it does raise troubling questions about the commodification of culture.
posted by klangklangston at 12:19 PM on November 8, 2005


Recently there's been some discourse about this over at Brooklynvegan.com and Stereogum.com, especially right around CMJ (The College Music Journal festival. Kind of a sweeps week for indie rock). The consensus seems to be that there isn't really a "selling out" anymore. With indie culture rapidly punching through to the mainstream and incredibly popular shows like the OC embracing indie rock so thoroughly, it seems almost inevitable. More over, I think there's now more of a sense of "Good for you" than "That's not very punk" and maybe that has a lot to do with where independent music is now versus 10, 20 years ago.

Something else to consider: What sort of product is being endorsed? Broken Social Scene rejected a 50k offer to use "Looks Just Like the Sun" in a Hummer commercial, but said they'd certainly consider other offers. I think it's almost more about personal ethic now than living up to some ephemeral DIY standard
posted by GilloD at 12:25 PM on November 8, 2005


But no, just having songs in commercials isn't selling out

I disagree, I think it can be.

Something else to consider: What sort of product is being endorsed? Broken Social Scene rejected a 50k offer to use "Looks Just Like the Sun" in a Hummer commercial, but said they'd certainly consider other offers. I think it's almost more about personal ethic now than living up to some ephemeral DIY standard

Right.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:34 PM on November 8, 2005


Jen @ Daily Refill collated the responses of various bands to the question of whether they would perform on the OC if asked here. Some not-so-serious answers and this may or may not fulfill your criteria for selling out but it's a fun read nonetheless to see some typical band responses.
posted by junesix at 12:43 PM on November 8, 2005


I don't know if this really answers the question but Eric Clapton was sorry he sold the song "After Midnight" to Michelob because it promoted drinking and he is now a recovering alcoholic, he no longer plays the song live.
But thankfully he'll still play "Cocaine".

Sting sold the song "Desert Rose" to Jaguar and was in a commercial for them. It boosted his album sales dramatically so he really benefited.

I personally will loose all hope for humanity when I hear a Pink Floyd song in a commercial.
posted by Justin Case at 12:43 PM on November 8, 2005


I disagree, I think it can be.

Selling out in a general sense is turning your back on something that you believe in, in order to get ahead. I think the only way that using music in commercials is selling out is if you have some sort of creed "Our music will never be used in commercials, harumph" or if your music ends up promoting a product which up to that point you have been staunchly opposed to. I mean, not everyone has a problem with Hummers.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:46 PM on November 8, 2005



posted by timeistight at 12:53 PM on November 8, 2005


Quick Google search turned up:

Bono's interview response to associating his music with the iPod [Chicago Tribune, reg]
"Selling out is doing something you don't really want to do for money. That's what selling out is. We asked to be in the ad."

Jack White of the White Stripes change of opinion from "No" to Gap to "Yes" to Coke
"The Gap wanted us to be in a commercial and we said 'No' and everyone said, 'Why not?'" he moaned.

Jack, after all, claimed this week that the composition in question [for Coke] was all about "love in a worldwide form" and aimed at doing "something globally positive".
posted by junesix at 12:54 PM on November 8, 2005


Selling out in a general sense is turning your back on something that you believe in, in order to get ahead.

I think that's too weak a definition. If music is supposed to be art, co-opting it for advertisement purposes certainly seems like selling out, unless it's advertising a product that the artists believes in and wants to promote, or one that is somehow related to the artist's music. Even then it would be a stretch. The artist is allowing the original intentions and context of his work to be twisted because he's getting paid.

If the art was commissioned for the ad, however, I think that's fine.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:01 PM on November 8, 2005


And just wanted to point out that in other parts of the world, there isn't the same stigma of "selling out."

In Asia, every conceivable consumer product is endorsed by musicians and other celebrities. In fact, new singles are often released with new commercials. The shampoo commercial features the new single played in the background (often with a faint subtitle of the song name) with the artist washing her hair and at the end of the commercial, there's a quick 5-second plug for the new single. The shampoo manufacturer gets a hit single and a celebrity appearance in their commercial and the artist gets a fat paycheck and a quick TV promo for their new single. The release cycle is very different there with singles being sold as independent releases prior to the full album release so promotions for singles are big business (as opposed to just radio teasers for the album).
posted by junesix at 1:17 PM on November 8, 2005


Here's Neil Young's take on selling songs to commercials. The video is great. It was made to look like a Michelob beer commercial and pokes fun at Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston among others. (video link) It won MTV's best video in 1989.

"This Note's For You"

Don't want no cash
Don't need no money
Ain't got no stash
This note's for you.

Ain't singin' for Pepsi
Ain't singin' for Coke
I don't sing for nobody
Makes me look like a joke
This note's for you.

Ain't singin' for Miller
Don't sing for Bud
I won't sing for politicians
Ain't singin' for Spuds
This note's for you.

Don't need no cash
Don't want no money
Ain't got no stash
This note's for you.

I've got the real thing
I got the real thing, baby
I got the real thing
Yeah, alright.
posted by wsg at 1:30 PM on November 8, 2005


If music is supposed to be art, co-opting it for advertisement purposes certainly seems like selling out, unless it's advertising a product that the artists believes in and wants to promote, or one that is somehow related to the artist's music. Even then it would be a stretch. The artist is allowing the original intentions and context of his work to be twisted because he's getting paid.

Who says that music is supposed to be art, and who says that art cannot be used in more than one context? If that's your own definition with regards to music, then for you, sure, using your music in ads would be a sell-out.

But you can't know the way that most artists view their music. Most artists don't talk about the intentions and context of their works. If you feel that someone thinks that their work is above being in commercials, but they never actually come out and make that claim, then that's not selling out. That's you imagining a mission statement for an artist's work that does not exist.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:34 PM on November 8, 2005


In 2002, the anarchist band Chumbawamba sold one of their songs for a GM commercial and then gave the money to IndyMedia and CorpWatch, though they wouldn't take any money from Nike or GE. An interesting, case-specific decision (rather than a blanket "songs in commercials=bad" judgment).

Relevant CorpWatch article here, including some statements from the band.
posted by unknowncommand at 1:42 PM on November 8, 2005


Selling out begins the moment you lay your hat on the ground and play for pocket change, pure and simple. Income is income. No amount of rationalization changes that.

If that definition has any leeway, then that lies in even earlier still. The moment you play air guitar in front of a mirror and imagine yourself on a stage, even though you can't play a lick of music on a real guitar, you have already sold out.
posted by mischief at 2:51 PM on November 8, 2005


Dreaming is selling out? That's harsh.
posted by InfidelZombie at 2:54 PM on November 8, 2005


If you want a more concrete landmark, if you belong to the musicians union, you have definitely sold out.
posted by mischief at 2:55 PM on November 8, 2005


"Dreaming is selling out? That's harsh."

That's life! Put another way, you can't have your cake and eat it too.
posted by mischief at 3:04 PM on November 8, 2005


Who says that music is supposed to be art, and who says that art cannot be used in more than one context? If that's your own definition with regards to music, then for you, sure, using your music in ads would be a sell-out.

But you can't know the way that most artists view their music.


How are you asking me if music is art, and then referring to musicians as "artists" in the next paragraph? It doesn't matter how a certain musician views his music. Ads are for selling things. Music in ads is used for selling things. Using your music to sell things (besides the music itself) is part of selling out.

Selling out begins the moment you lay your hat on the ground and play for pocket change, pure and simple. Income is income. No amount of rationalization changes that.

That's another way to look at it. Really, selling out happens in stages. Making any money from your music is the first stage of selling out. Selling music for commercials is another step. Dumbing down your sound is another. By all means, if you're a musician, sell out as much or as little as you want, you deserve to make a living like anyone else, but don't be a hypocrite and refuse to call it what it is.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:11 PM on November 8, 2005


"don't be a hypocrite and refuse to call it what it is"

Hold up, ludwig van! Music is performance, and performance is as much image as it is technique and artistry. Image often demands denial.

As you said earlier in a simple yet accurate statement: the important qualification is that selling out isn't an absolute evil. Do you think Billie Holliday put her soul into her every performance of "Strange Fruit"? Absolutely not. She was human, she had worries outside her music and on occasion, she went through the motions of her work just like anyone else. There is no evil that.
posted by mischief at 3:30 PM on November 8, 2005


There's been a lot of talk on a Steve Earle email list I'm on about him selling "The Revolution Starts Now" to Chevy for a recent truck ad. So far the only comment on it from his management has been that it was a 'business decision they decided to go with'.

Opinion from fans on the email list is divided between those who think it's his song and he can do what he wants with it and those who are shocked, saddened or disappointed that Steve would sell that song, his 'call to arms' against the Iraq war, for a truck advert.

I'm in the surprised camp - surprised that Steve Earle would sell a song that has such an 'anti-oil-war' political message to be used in a car advert. He usually has a lot to say about a lot of things, yet has stayed quiet about this so far.
posted by essexjan at 3:32 PM on November 8, 2005


"from his management"

He has management? Sell-out!
posted by mischief at 3:40 PM on November 8, 2005


mischief: But I'm not saying that selling out is always wrong; I'm just saying that it's selling out. I feel like too many people today want to brush the whole question under the carpet, like there's no such thing as selling out, or there's no alternative to it, or that there's no point at which it could be construed as distasteful. I don't agree with that, and I think that artists should always be considering the role of their art in society and how it's affected by commerce. The moment art is created with the intent of being consumed, it changes, however slightly. I think it's better to acknowledge such things than to pretend they don't exist.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:41 PM on November 8, 2005


How are you asking me if music is art, and then referring to musicians as "artists" in the next paragraph?

Calling musicians "artists" is a convention -- it's shorter than "musicians" and more inclusive than "bands" (which doesn't cover solo acts).
posted by kindall at 3:44 PM on November 8, 2005


By all means, if you're a musician, sell out as much or as little as you want, you deserve to make a living like anyone else, but don't be a hypocrite and refuse to call it what it is.

It's not hypocritical to adhere to a commonly held definition of "selling out". Your definition is so broad that it includes selling one's music at all. Most people's definition of sellout does not include bands with albums who are successful enough to not lose money. If taken in that light, the topic of discussion becomes "I am interested in the different opinions musicians have towards making music without losing money." A discussion on that topic is going to be very boring. Who wants to argue for why someone should do something that loses money?
posted by 23skidoo at 3:50 PM on November 8, 2005


It's not hypocritical to adhere to a commonly held definition of "selling out".

I suppose hipocrisy is not necessarily the right term here. The point is, musicians in general like to be seen as artists, not businesspeople or salesmen. The problem is, if they're selling a product, they're both, and I think it's disingenuous to try to deny that fact, as they often do.

"I am interested in the different opinions musicians have towards making music without losing money." A discussion on that topic is going to be very boring.

No it's not. The idea of "selling out" covers the whole spectrum of interaction between art and commerce. I already explained that I view it as a continuum, not a line to be crossed, although there are those who are less forgiving about such things than I.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:00 PM on November 8, 2005


ludwig: not only do I acknowledge that, I take it as a given. How many of the so-called indie artists have written a song for a girl cuz they knew it would get them into her pants?
posted by mischief at 4:00 PM on November 8, 2005


How many of the so-called indie artists have written a song for a girl cuz they knew it would get them into her pants?

*raises hand*
posted by ludwig_van at 4:02 PM on November 8, 2005


Shoot, I forgot the one point I wanted to make about non-musician fans arguing about what is selling out, virtually none of them have a clear understanding of the business of music. They don't realize the need to belong to the musicians union, and they ignore that even bands signed to so-called indie labels have management.

Hell, many chart-topping musicians never learned the reality of the music biz and just a few years later, they were bankrupt.
posted by mischief at 4:05 PM on November 8, 2005


Ain't singin' for Pepsi
Ain't singin' for Coke
Ain't singin' for Miller
Don't sing for Bud


That's genius, he's mentioned FOUR brands in a song against commercials! Imagine what he'd do if he wrote one in favour.

It won MTV's best video in 1989.

Ha!
posted by funambulist at 4:26 PM on November 8, 2005


"I am interested in the different opinions musicians have towards making music without losing money." A discussion on that topic is going to be very boring.

No it's not.


Okay, then can you point out some musicians who have argued that musicians shouldn't in any way make money from their music? If you can't find anyone who says this, then everyone's saying the same thing. That's what makes a boring discussion.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:37 PM on November 8, 2005


23skidoo, I think you're misconstruing my position.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:06 PM on November 8, 2005


I don't feel like music and money coexist in any positive ways. When I'm on tour I like to get enough $ for gas, but otherwise, I prefer to play free shows & barter discs. I sell discs, though, instead of giving them away, because they are in small editions and I want them to go to people who actually want them.

(I also play music that nobody likes, and am quite happy about that)

I got some inspiratin early on from Chris Knox (Tall Dwarves, NZ) who said something like, "if your livelihood is in any way dependent on your art, then compromise is inherent." I intend to avoid any relationship between my food/shelter and my music, so I don't ever have to rely on people liking my music. Of course, sometimes people like it, and I'm pleased, but it's like an extra this way.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:16 PM on November 8, 2005


I lose thousands of dollars a year making music, FYI; it's the main reason I bother having a job.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:16 PM on November 8, 2005


let's see ... when a band does a commercial for a corporation that's selling out ...

so when you and i get up in the morning to go to work for a corporation, what's that? ... when we buy stuff with brand names on it, what's that?

selling out

with the exception of those who are living in the woods and catching fish with their bare hands out of a stream, we're ALL selling out

so it goes ...
posted by pyramid termite at 10:17 PM on November 8, 2005


Since your original question stated that you're interested in an artist's perspective I'll mention that I heard an interview with the dude from the White Stripes on Fresh Air a few weeks ago where he briefly addressed this. Apparently, they started playing in small clubs in Detroit and when they became more popular and started playing larger venues some of their original fan base accused them of selling out. He chalked it up to those fans liking the White Stripes for the wrong (perhaps selfish?) reasons. So in that respect selling out may be a subjective label applied by specific fan base. When Beyoncé does a soft drink commercial her fans don't call it selling out because it's what they assume she'll do. If Green Day did an underwear commercial they'd be kicked out of town. A quick search of the NPR site should yield the White Stripes interview.
posted by quadog at 11:32 PM on November 8, 2005




tool on this:

I met a boy wearing vans, 501s, and a
Dope beastie t, nipple rings, and
New tattoos that claimed that he
Was ogt,
From ’92,
The first ep.

And in between
Sips of coke
He told me that
He thought
We were sellin’ out,
Layin’ down,
Suckin’ up
To the man.

Well now I’ve got some
A-dvice for you, little buddy.
Before you point the finger
You should know that
I’m the man,

And if I’m the man,
Then you’re the man, and
He’s the man as well so you can
Point that fuckin’ finger up your ass.

All you know about me is what I’ve sold you,
Dumb fuck.
I sold out long before you ever heard my name.

I sold my soul to make a record,
Dip shit,
And you bought one.

So I’ve got some
Advice for you, little buddy.
Before you point your finger
You should know that
I’m the man,
If I’m the fuckin’ man
Then you’re the fuckin’ man as well
So you can
Point that fuckin’ finger up your ass.

All you know about me is what I’ve sold you,
Dumb fuck.
I sold out long before you ever heard my name.

I sold my soul to make a record,
Dip shit,
And you bought one.

All you read and
Wear or see and
Hear on tv
Is a product
Begging for your
Fatass dirty
Dollar

So...shut up and

Buy my new record
Send more money
Fuck you, buddy.
posted by beerbajay at 7:05 AM on January 27, 2006


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