Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Big Sell Out

I've gotten into countless arguments with musicians and others regarding whether or not selling a song for commercial use (in, for example, a commercial) is a perfectly respectable way for a band to make money and get exposure or if it cheapens and commodifies a song and strips it, and the artist, of dignity. You can probably guess what side of the argument I fall on. Then again, as a friend of mine who had just sold a song for use in a commercial once pointed out, I've never been offered $25,000 for 30 seconds of material. What would I do were I to find myself in my friend's shoes? I have to honestly say I don't know. That's some pretty weak shit from an opinionated, sanctimonious asshole like me, huh?

Anyway, here's a link to a blogger who addresses this issue much more adeptly and with considerably more humor than I could manage. Maybe it's how I'm reading it, but I think the guy's on my side.


in the aisles said...

While in my younger days I took the firm stance that “Selling your music = selling out. Period”, time, wisdom and seeing way too many really great bands break up due to lack of interest/money has lead me to alter my stance considerably. I think it’s unreasonable of me to demand that musicians I like hold steadfast to my ideals and therefore turn down much needed cash and [possible] increased notoriety so I don’t label them a “sellout”. Who the hell do I think I am? So in my mind, my simplistic sellout equation has seen much revision over time. And I think it looks something like this:

(1) “Do you have to change your song for whomever wants to buy it?” If the answer is yes, proceed with caution. If the answer is no, then maybe you’ll just have more people hear your music, increase the interest in your band and make some loot. If you write a hard-rocking party anthem and Ford wants to put it in a commercial because they like the song’s energy and guitar riff and it’s gonna play on national TV – cool!

(2) If you do have to change your music, is it something that you can live with? Inserting the name of the product into a song is a tough one to swallow, no matter how you look at it. But changing the word “shit” to something else so it’s palatable for the airwaves may not be that big of a deal (or it may in fact be a big deal if it’s integral to the song). That’s something the band has to decide.

(3) Maybe the proposal before you requires you to do some stuff with your music that you’re not totally comfortable with. But there’s a big payoff involved. Decisions, decisions. Now I see how many of you are absolutely jumping up and down screeching “SELLOUT SELLOUT SELLOUT!!!” like a bunch of monkeys as you read such a thing (and I respect that sentiment). But from my perspective, if it helps keep your band afloat and produce records and keep touring so you can come to my town and I can go out get drunk and stoned and see you play and totally enjoy it, so fucking what? But you can’t sell you soul.

(4) If your music is particularly political/anti-establishment, you may not be able to sell you music ever. “Rage Against the Machine” should never be the background music for a Starbucks ad.

(5) If you’re struggling and really need the money, see rules 1 through 4. If you’re a super-rich rock icon, you’re selling out. Period. Example: Zeppelin never sold their music to advertisers. Not for 30 some-odd years. I’ve always admired that about them. Then “Rock and Roll” appears in a Cadillac ad. Sellouts!!! C’mon fellas, you guys are absolutely loaded, why ruin the legacy? That’s greed plain and simple and it sucks.

(6) If the endeavor makes you look pathetic and/or like a carnival barker, that’s bad. Really bad. You sellout.

(7) When the “sellout” is carried out by - and mainly benefits - anyone other than the musician himself, it’s a total sellout. Example: Hendrix’s relatives selling his songs and rolling around naked in the dough for songs they had no part in creating is sickening. You leaches. Same goes for slimy managers who somehow ended up with the rights to an artist’s catalog (usually through underhanded trickery and legal fine-print manipulation). You suck.

(8) Why don’t more artists agree to license a song for a commercial and then donate the money to one of the myriad worthy causes that rock stars keep yammering on and on about? If Zeppelin sold music to Cadillac for the intent purpose of donating all the money to charity, that amounts to an admiral gesture that’s too ridiculously easy not to do (and I’m sure we’re talking about a large sum of dough here). A good cause gets millions of dollars without anyone doing any additional work. Instead of playing all these large benefit shows (or in addition to) in which the burden is put on the fans to up the money for the charity, why don’t you use the evil corporate entities to your advantage. “Steal from the rich and give to the poor.” Except without the stealing part.

I think that’s where I’m at with the “selling out” thing at this point…

Anonymous said...

As per usual, In the Aisles has helped immensely in crystallizing my thoughts on the matter. It's nice to read well resoned arguments in a blog comment, and thus far the readers of "Cultural Senescence" have done a wonderful job. I guess I'll have to write something really inflammatory now....