Monday, March 06, 2006

Selling out

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.


Shug said...

I see both sides to this issue. In reality, isn't all commercial music invented to sell something? Even the music itself is for sale...right? What's the difference if Capitol and the artist is making money on their music vs. Chevy and the artist making money. I thought about Jimmy Page selling "Rock and Roll" to Caddy for probably a mint. Did he sell out? I don't think he did. Maybe I'm baised...whenever I get the chance to hear a Zep tune...I'm gonna take it. Eric, in your mind does the product being sold and the company doing the selling matter? Caddy's are pretty classy so it seems to fit. But what if Walmart wanted to use a Beatles tune?

Eric said...

No, not all music is designed to sell something. I actually can't believe you said that. So you are saying that there is no difference between a gallon of gas and Communication Breakdown. You are saying that both are designed simply to be sold. If you believe that, how can you be a music fan? That would be like saying you are a textiles fan.

If your music means something to you, you should be choosy about how it is used. You should believe in whatever it is you lend your music to. There is a big difference between selling your song to Greenpeace v. Exxon, don't you agree?

For instance, let's say, based on the skills I have exhibited in my profession, I am asked personally to help write speeches for a Republican Congressman. Should I do it? My education credentials were earned to make money. My editing skills were honed not "to do good," but to make a living. Does that make it right?


Music IS sold, and I have no problem with that. If a musician creates something I love, I should support him by buying his record. But I can't believe that music's sole purpose is to be sold.

Anonymous said...

The music made by the artist is (hopefully) made with passion. But read above...I said all "commercial music" is invented to sell something...all the way right down to the CD it's printed on and put in those sparkly jewel cases for the masses to consume. Commercial music is made for consumtion and nothing else.

Eric said...

Then there is nothing different between commercial music and a Firestone tire?

How do you define commercial music?

Anonymous said...

Any music that is played in heavy rotation on the top 200 FM stations...or anything within the Billboard top 20. Those songs are the long-lost siblings of Firestone tires...pure product...nothing else. Plus, I believe if a little known band gets a song in the top 20...that song instantly becomes commercial and the band will soon follow.