My friend Mark and I have had extended conversations about "selling out." It came about because a guy we both really like, Stephen Malkmus, sold his song to Sears for use in a commercial.
I thought that was pretty crappy. I said that agreeing to let your music be used to sell something that has nothing to do with your values is selling out, and it demeans the song. It says to the listener, "this song is a commodity. It does not mean anything. It can be used as an advertising jingle to sell a product." Obviously, this idea would not hold if it were used to sell something you believed in, like an iPod (YeaH!)
Mark said these musicians have to make money and earn a living, and they need any money they can get. Plus, for an undiscovered or obscure indie band, the commercial could be just the exposure they need to become popular. I saw his point, but disagreed.
I lamented that few bands (that I knew of) were refusing to sell out, and I thought that was a shame. I was wrong.
The Thermals, a rambunctious rock band from Portland, Ore., were en route between gigs last year when they got a phone call from their label, Sub Pop. Hummer wanted to pay the band $50,000 for the right to use their song "It's Trivia" in a commercial.
"We thought about it for about 15 seconds, maybe," lead singer Hutch Harris said.
They said no.
Washington's Trans Am was offered $180,000 by Hummer for the song "Total Information Awareness."
"We figured it was almost like giving music to the Army, or Exxon," guitarist Philip Manley said.
They said no.
The post-punk band Liliput, who broke up more than 20 years ago, could have pocketed $50,000 for "Heidi's Head" after making close to nothing during their five-year existence. But they, too, said no.
"At least I can sleep without nightmares," Marlene Marder reasoned.
These guys are my new heroes. Read the entire story here.
Also, the Sex Pistols have refused induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Now THAT is what I call punk rock ethics. Read that story here.
However, before you get too excited about punk rock ethics, note that they have refused an honor that would have brought them no money, while selling their back catalogue in a multi-million dollar deal.
Thirty years after the band challenged capitalist culture with Anarchy In The UK, the John Lydon-fronted group [The Sex Pistols] will cash in on multi-million pound deals with blue chip companies such as British Airways and Range Rover.
And the tracks will be used for anything from mobile phone ringtones to movie soundtracks.
Read that story here.
Again, the music means nothing more than a paycheck. Songs are simply the audio equivalent of mass-produced Campbell's Soup cans (or prints thereof.)
This is almost as sad as Bjorn Borg selling his Wimbledon trophies. Read that story here.