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Clarification needed for rules against “selling out”

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Damn, but that Dylan ad for Victoria’s Secret is HILARIOUS. I’ve complained for years that Dylan had lost his sense of humor. He hasn’t done a good “Rainy Day Woman” or “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” in decades, but this ad makes up for a lot of it.

Look at his meaningful scowl for the supermodel in underwear and angel wings. Dylan IS the master thespian. Acting? Genius!

Yet, this silly ad has really and truly hurt the feelings of a lot of people. They’ve been somehow let down. Dylan has sold out.

Now Dylan is a whore. He’s in it for the money. He sold his soul to the corporate machine.

I don’t understand how, exactly. Is there anyone who thinks for a second that Dylan will somehow pull his punches on the next album to avoid offending a sponsor, or something like that? Dylan?

First, what does this phrase “selling out” even mean, and why exactly is it bad?

What exactly constitutes this terrible crime of selling out? What are singers and songwriters allowed to do to “legitimately” make a dollar on their music, and when does it become an offense against the proletariat, or something?

Is it “selling out” when a singer takes money to play a live concert? If he takes requests from the audience, does that constitute selling out? “FREE BIRD!!!!” Maybe you were going to play some song you wrote yourself, but gave in to the demands of the paying public to play a familiar cover. Is that bad?

Apparently, making an album is allowed, and NOT considered selling out, even if you manage to actually get paid. Are you selling out, though, if you take a suggestion from the record company to bring in some-and-such producer, or to cover some-and-such song?

Or perhaps the record company absolutely cannot have any legitimate say about the content of the record. Is it “selling out” though if you let them recommend an album title or cover photo?

Have you “sold out” if you play Saturday Night Live? Musical guests are identified on-air as sponsored by Budweiser.

Is it “selling out” if you accept tour sponsorship, and print the sponsor’s name on ticket stubs and a couple of banners hanging in the halls? What if you said the sponsor’s name from the stage? That used to be routine practice. The Light Crust Dough Boys were apparently named for a sponsor back in the day.

Is it selling out to do merchandise? Is it OK to sell t-shirts or baseball caps? What about TOYS in the bands image? Is it selling out when Alice Cooper licenses dolls and sculptures? Comic books?

Or is it OK to take money for your work only if you really “need” it? Someone who is broke might have justification for doing an ad, but someone like Dylan who is obviously a multi-millionaire has no moral justification for doing an ad. Is that the problem? How much money can you be making and still qualify for an approved exemption?

Who gets to approve these exemptions, and decide what those rules are in the first place? All I know is that SOMEBODY needs to decide how singers can and can’t legitimately make a buck.

Obviously from these comments, I’m not putting much stock in these cheap anti-capitalist sentiments about “selling out.” They strike me as mostly just pinko nonsense.

I personally tend to judge such things based on my own aesthetic assessment. I just HATED the damned California Raisins desecrating the image of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” I just hated seeing them foul one of the central classic songs of the Motown label with these dumb, thoughtless, soulless claymation raisins.

Likewise, I don’t know that I’d holler “sell-out,” but I’d be un-thrilled to see “Blowin’ in the Wind” pimped out to sell fans or air conditioners. I’d probably be a little irritated if Sam Cooke was heard singing “A Change Is Going to Come” in a diaper commercial.

I might, however, appreciate the irony if they used the Nirvana song to in fact advertise Teen Spirit deodorant.

Most pop star ads don’t make much impression on me either way, but some strike me as absolutely positive. This Dylan ad uses and exposes a decent lesser known song to a beautifully dry comic effect, for example. There was a lemonade ad that made great use of Randy Newman’s obscure classic “Dayton, Ohio 1903.”

I also really liked the Kohl’s department store ad last summer with Jonathan Richman’s “Ice Cream Man” which basically just illustrated the song, with kids trailing an ice cream man through a nice summer neighborhood scene. It was aesthetically pleasing to me, like a simple short music video and no heavy-handed sales message. It was just a feel good thing. [I note that Mr. Richman himself specifically says he did NOT approve of this usage of his music.]

All in all, though, I recognize that what I like and don’t like aesthetically are not particularly moral judgments. I’m not particularly morally offended even by the uber-annoying Raisins.

If nothing else, I figure we don’t have much room to bitch about artists making money off songs they wrote by placing them in commercials while we’re busy downloading them for free on the internet. They got to make a living somehow.

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  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    This is great, Al. You made some great points that deflates a lot of the anger over “selling out.” I like taking the viewpoint that Dylan is doing this for humor – in that light, it is kind of funny. The juxtaposition of crusty (VERY crusty) old Dylan and a gorgeous model in lingerie . . . that has to be for humorous intent, right?

    The selling out thing . . . I don’t know. It’s one of those things that’s different for every artist. I think Led Zeppelin’s pairing with Cadillac is horrible and sad, but I have never minded the Who being used by Nissan or Nexium (is it? I can’t seem to remember the allergy drug – so how good is that commercial, then?) I find the Dylan/Victoria’s Secret commercial to just be perplexing. I can’t imagine Dylan will gain a whole lot of listeners out of it, and I can’t imagine the majority of women who shop at Victoria’s Secret suddenly being overwhelmed by a need to buy Dylan’s music. I just don’t get how this benefits either party.

    What I object most to when it comes to using music in commercials is that it simply gets burned out. There’s only so many times in any time period I can handle hearing a song. I never liked the Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week” but I sure as hell learned to hate it after Mitsubishi plastered every commercial break with it on every channel, everywhere, for years. I will never willingly listen to that song again. On the flip side, I’ve also sworn I will never, ever buy a Mitsubishi because of that ad.

    I think artists need to realize what they’re doing when they opt to sell a song off like that – they may be destroying what they hoped to give exposure to. I think maybe it’s the fact that an artist might risk that for some exposure that offends fans the most. It means that their music – their art – might not mean so much to them. More than anything, fans want the music their artists produce to mean something personal to them. Selling a song off like that is akin to selling off a kid in many people’s eyes.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    I don’t know if I particularly care about Dylan’s choice, but what I don’t like is when the marketing works, and I start to associate a song with a particular product. I just hate that it works — the song should just stand alone.

    Also, just think of how many kids today are learning the melody to some great classic songs by watching commercials between cartoons, rather than by just really listening to the music? Kind of sad.

    Then again, I learned all my classical music knowledge by watching Bugs Bunny cartoons.

  • Shark

    Here is the RULE:

    As soon as you get paid to say something, everything you say in the future is suspect.

    It’s very simple.

    And that’s not “MY” rule, it’s a God-Given Universal Law of Nature.

    The ONLY exception to the rule is if you need the money. Then we give you one free pass to get back on your feet.

    It gets more complicated with music being used in a commercial, but if you fancy yourself a poet, political, spiritual, sociological commentator — as I’m assuming Dylan does — then you don’t allow your material to be used to market a product NO MATTER WHAT.

    You want to show your “humor”, tell a joke, or show up for a concert with Calamine lotion all over your ugly mug.

    Another God-Given Universal Law of Nature:

    Marketing is Satan’s method of stealing your soul.

    One doesn’t give the Prince of Darkness additional tools. He doesn’t need the help of artists, writers, and musicians. He has plenty of help.

    If you help by giving him additional tools, that make you a despicable whore who is an accomplice to Evil.

    BTW: There IS NO DEBATE TO ANYTHING I’VE SAID.

    Thanks in advance for not arguing.

    Shark

  • Shark

    Oh, and did I mention that in addition to being a WHORE, Zimmerman is a fake, a fraud, and a motard window-licker who happened to be in the right place at the right time?

    But really, the essential question for me is:

    WWYT?

    (What Would Yeagley Think?)

  • boomcrashbaby

    I really ought to write my own dictionary, my definition of things can be so different than the rest of the world.

    To me, selling out does not mean promoting a product or something similiar. If a concert tour is ‘sponsored by’, I see that as the same as if there was a commercial on tv and someone’s music was being played to be associated with that product. They’re the same but they’re not selling out. What would be selling out to me, is if that song was written especially for the commercial, rather than the corporation paying for an already existing song.

    But I’m not necessarily against selling out either. I’d most likely do it if I was able to write good songs.

    Now to me, the TRUE definition of selling out can best be illustrated by Aerosmith. When you start out as a hard rock/blues band and that’s how you establish your career, and that’s what you become known for, it’s my opinion you sell out when you gravitate your music to pop/top 40 like ‘don’t wanna close my eyes’. What ever happened to the true Aerosmith of ‘Dream On’ and ‘Toys in the Attic’?? You’ve adjusted your ‘voice’ from what you really are, to what the masses wanna hear. THAT is selling out.

  • boomcrashbaby

    The true Kings and Queens of selling out would have to be Aerosmith, Phil Collins and Elton John.

    Once you’ve Disneyfied your music, it’s all over and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

  • Shark

    “Twenty five years ago, it was a given that any star –especially rock stars — who did commercials…..”

    more from Musuem of Stupidity

  • Shark

    Boomcrash, I hope your “Dictionary” has more clarity and consistency than your comment indicates.

    Also can’t wait to read your definition of “INTEGRITY”.

    Best,
    Shark

  • boomcrashbaby

    I’m not sure how to make it clearer, Shark. To me the definition of selling out is when someone gets into the creative field for ‘artistic expression’ but then they create work that they feel people want to hear rather than tapping into what they really want to express. If that’s not clear, well then I never expected my dictionary to be a top seller anyway.

    I would define integrity as holding to a certain ideal. A freedom from outside influence.

  • http://theapologist.blogspot.com CW Fisher

    Shark’s defending the integrity of music! I’m on the FLOOR! Musicians, rock stars, these folks work hard for the money they make and soul-selling is STEP ONE. It doesn’t happen at the end of a successful career but all through it.

    Do you think this is new? that Mozart and Beethoven and Bach didn’t participate in this same process? Have you never heard of commissioned work? I earned my living that way for 28 years, and I was mighty tired of it too, but one does what one must to survive, and yes, it’s all about the money and always has been. Stars are highly driven people, and money is their reward and measure.

    Bob Dylan doesn’t even exist, and this guy Zimmerman who’s been playing him for 40 years is a deeply troubled sociopath who lacks basic social skills to this day. This isn’t a comment on his writing, which I’ve always found to be deeply misunderstood and profoundly phony. To me, Bob Dylan is all about the beat. Sorry, Bob, but a poet you’re not. Still, I like him fine. He’s fine. And now he’s in a commercial. WHO THE FUCK CARES?

    Three people are going to burned alive tomorrow.

  • http://theapologist.blogspot.com CW Fisher

    Btw, Al, thanks for bringing my friend Ran into the mix. Randy Newman is the only “celeb” I ever wanted to meet. This man is truly funny. Yet when he goes on a talk show, he plays, they clap, he leaves. Why? He’s the funniest interview ever and he’s brilliant on his feet. I could read his lyrics without the music and still be entertained. Randy has never been shy about telling it as it is. It’s money that matters in the USA and that’s why “This is My Country,” one of the most cynical songs ever written, is the folksy theme of Country Insurance. If these folks ever listened to the second verse they’d die. Here’s a subversive son of a bitch who knows something about American intelligence: it’s absent. I guarantee you that when Ran saw Bob in the Vic commercial, he did what I did. He laughed. Real hard, shook his head, laughed some more. “Sold out.” Al!

  • Eric Olsen

    Randy Newman=”You’ve Got a Friend In Me”=serious Pixaration

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Shark, where did God write this one down? “Marketing is Satan’s method of stealing your soul.”

    Marketing means trying to persuade consumers to voluntarily make a choice. By definition, this does not involve stealing.

    This is just nonsense as well: “As soon as you get paid to say something, everything you say in the future is suspect.” Again, just arbitrary pinko prejudice with no rational basis.

  • Shark

    “Shark’s defending the integrity of music!”

    Actually, I’m defending the integrity of people who think it’s their job to have something to say regardless of who they piss off. There’s a difference between Steve Earle or Bruce Springsteen — and say — Justin Timberlake.

    And CW, the difference in a commission for a piano concerto and a song used as background to sell a product should be obvious.

    If not, phtttt… I give up.

    BTW: I think ‘music’ is a relatively grey area in the ‘sell-out’ category, and unlike Boomcrash, I think a musician writing music for a film is fine; that’s their “job.”

    And BTW, this constant cry that “It’s about money! It’s always been about money!” — is, IMO, the reason this country is going to hell.

    There are many things I refuse to do for money, but try finding someone under 30 to say that.

    “Integrity” is what’s missing from our culture, and making excuses for its demise is a cop-out.

    Somebody has got to start saying “NO”.

    It would have been nice if Zimmerman had.

  • Shark

    Al, “Marketing” has turned our population into a mass of brain-dead, sleepwalking consumers of crap.

    It’s Satan incarnate.

    re: “As soon as you get paid to say something, everything you say in the future is suspect.”

    Man, it doesn’t get much more self-evident, and if you don’t get it, well, I can’t help no matter what I say.

    “Hi, I’m Al Barger for Pinko Ideas.org! Visit our web site and become a liberal socialistic anti-gun tree hugging fanatic.”

    (spokesman was reimbursed for testimonial)

    (Al cashes check and begins to wonder if his fans will ever believe another thing he says.)

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Well obviously MY words would be hereafter suspect if I became a paid spokesman for your Pinko Ideas organization, as it would obviously run directly counter to my personal beliefs. If, on the other hand, the NRA put me on the payroll to go stumping for them, that would be something else entirely.

    Marketing has not turned our population into anything. You are essentially implying that we are helpless little consumer bots.

    We are not. I don’t buy everything I see on the tv, nor does anyone else have to. Indeed, advertising has many times prompted me NOT to buy or vote for a product or candidate.

    People respond to the marketing and go to those Disney movies because they LIKE them. They LIKE Big Macs and Guess jeans. Nobody’s FORCING them.

    Now, you pinko types like forcing people to buy and do things, paying for benefits at the force of a tax-collector’s gunpoint. But advertisers work by VOLUNTARY PERSUASION.

  • boomcrashbaby

    How odd.

    Shark says: you don’t allow your material to be used to market a product NO MATTER WHAT.

    Then Shark says: I think a musician writing music for a film is fine; that’s their “job.”

    Then Shark says I’m inconsistent. I’d like to remind people here that a film IS a product.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Re: comment 14- Also, taking a commission to write a piano concerto most likely means being expected to write something in the style that the patron wants to hear. Otherwise, perhaps your pure artistic muse would lead you to write a symphony or an opera instead.

    On the face of it, it would seem that writing for a patron would likely compromise your pure artistic vision far more than licensing a piece of music for a commercial from an album you made years ago.

    Integrity to WHAT idea is being compromised Shark?

  • boomcrashbaby

    and while I’m thinking of it, in addition to a film being a product, in Disney’s case, is often created with the sole intent of being nothing more than a 2 hour commercial to help push the forthcoming action figures, video games, bedsheets and pillowcases, cereal boxes, keyrings, stuffed animals, dolls, games, puzzles, books, etc

  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    okay, I just scroll-wheeled through all of this since I’ve never cared (read: gave a flying fuck) for Bob Dylan other than Nico saying that her career goal was to be a singer like Bob Dylan.

    Now, if it was Fugazi, I could understand.

    But as Burchill and Parsons said about Bob Dylan’s motorcycle crash, “close, but no cigar”.

  • Shark

    Yeah, I think I’m done with this one.

  • http://expatcat.typepad.com felix

    It’s a good point that Bob Dylan is/was a character invented by Bobby Zimmerman, so we shouldn’t be so hasty to accuse a fictional person of “selling out”.
    Still, it feels a bit like finding out your father is a serial killer. I’m old enough to remember Bob’s fiery protest songs (including lines like “money doesn’t talk, it swears”, ironically enough) from the early 60s, and THAT Bob Dylan, fictional or not, wouldn’t have done it. Oh tempora, oh mores!

    And I reeeally don’t want to think he was just marketing to the masses when he generated songs like this:

    Come you masters of war
    You that build all the guns
    You that build the death planes
    You that build the big bombs
    You that hide behind walls
    You that hide behind desks
    I just want you to know
    I can see through your masks

    You that never done nothin’
    But build to destroy
    You play with my world
    Like it’s your little toy
    You put a gun in my hand
    And you hide from my eyes
    And you turn and run farther
    When the fast bullets fly

    Like Judas of old
    You lie and deceive
    A world war can be won
    You want me to believe
    But I see through your eyes
    And I see through your brain
    Like I see through the water
    That runs down my drain

    You fasten the triggers
    For the others to fire
    Then you set back and watch
    When the death count gets higher
    You hide in your mansion
    As young people’s blood
    Flows out of their bodies
    And is buried in the mud

    You’ve thrown the worst fear
    That can ever be hurled
    Fear to bring children
    Into the world
    For threatening my baby
    Unborn and unnamed
    You ain’t worth the blood
    That runs in your veins

    How much do I know
    To talk out of turn
    You might say that I’m young
    You might say I’m unlearned
    But there’s one thing I know
    Though I’m younger than you
    Even Jesus would never
    Forgive what you do

    Let me ask you one question
    Is your money that good
    Will it buy you forgiveness
    Do you think that it could
    I think you will find
    When your death takes its toll
    All the money you made
    Will never buy back your soul

    And I hope that you die
    And your death’ll come soon
    I will follow your casket
    In the pale afternoon
    And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
    Down to your deathbed
    And I’ll stand o’er your grave
    ‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead

  • http://fando.blogs.com Natalie Davis

    I don’t think he was marketing to the masses then. I weep that he is now. And oh, those masses. :(

  • Euphonious

    Has anyone hear heard the song “Hooker with a Penis” by Tool? I think that this song gives a different perspective on what selling out is. My summary of the song: Bob Dylan is all he ever SOLD us.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Natalie- Perhaps you should get some Gatorade in you or something. Between all the weeping and puking here at Blogcritics today, you’re going to be all dehydrated. Also, is your public display of supposed bereavement supposed to constitute proof that Dylan is wrong?

    I still have not seen any explanation in this thread at all of what specifically Dylan has done wrong. Shark said something about losing his integrity by doing a commercial, but no one can tell me what principle he has betrayed.

    Again I ask: WHERE’S THE BEEF?

  • Shark

    Shark said something about losing his integrity by doing a commercial, but no one can tell me what principle he has betrayed.

    Al, if ya gotta have Integrity defined for ya, well…

    Nevermind.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    “Integrity” is not just a free floating concept, Shark. The question is, integrity to WHAT SPECIFIC IDEA?

    “Integrity: Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code. ”

    What code of ethics (that he ever agreed to) has Dylan violated?

  • Eric Olsen

    Very interesting post, Al, and some thought-provoking, counterintuitive points I am still contemplating. I don’t think any category of revenue generators is automatically a “sell out,” although how a given song (or whatever artifact of popular culture) is used can be so contrary to its own message, or the general message of the artist that it could create a cognitive dissonance that would approximate “selling out.”

    These issues are all the more important now and in the coming future with the business model of the music industry turning away from record sales and more toward sponsorships, corporate support, even forms of patronage. Don’t artists deserve to make a living from their art?

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Oh, there are PLENTY of commercial uses of songs that I find questionable aesthetically. There are also some I find questionable on a personal level for the artist. I raised an eyebrow when I saw the Who being sponsored by a beer company for example, given Townshend’s very public alcohol problems. Perhaps Budweiser could use “However Much I Booze” for a commercial.