To: The Hot Topic TeamFrom: Aaron FlemingRE: Selling Out
Ah, the old sell-out debate, a contentious issue for sure. The accusation of selling out is bandied about so frequently that it's readily noticeable on the tips of tongues everywhere just as soon as a band (since music is almost custom-built for this type of discussion)begins to sell albums that aren't CD-Rs wrapped in cheap photocopy. But what is selling out, and what precisely is being `sold out' in this process?Herr Brewster pinpoints two main areas in this debate: the use of artistic creation to explicitly sell commercial products, and changing that artistic creation (or the way in which it is created) with the express objective of attracting a wealth of fans. I must say that in itself gaining a large amount of fans does not confer sell-out status; although I like as much as anyone to enjoy something not yet plastered all over the cultural zeitgeist, but this doesn't necessarily reflect the actions of the artist in question, and I think placed at the core of the notion of selling out has to be the artist. The cries of "sell-out" echo so resoundingly so often because we assign especial prestige to artists, who are perceived as independent of the toils of everyday life - as unique and distanced from the homogenised labour that permeates society. In the reification ofartistic creation, it's all too often forgotten that not only are these individuals forced into the socioeconomic reality of requiring money to live, but they too share the neurosis and psychological failings of the human condition. Surely what is being sold out are an artist's own principles. Principles which we can only extrapolate from prior examples of their work. So, over time we learn that such-and-such are the ideals that this person holds dear as an important value. But does one not change over time? Can one not discard and acquire new principles? I would say so. Then how can we judge at all? Well, we confer our own values upon said artist, a projection which in many ways place ourselves in their position. Though of course this is a fallacious method to make a judgement, as Mat says, would he crumble to the sounds of banknotes being proffered his way? Only speculation and conjecture is possible.In short, what is being sold out is our own ideas of what an artist should do, which is predicated on the special esteem we ascribe to them. With this in mind, and returning to Mat's dual areas of selling products and attracting fans en masse, I would view both these in a negative light. It's clear that what links the two is money. The utilisation of a song in an advertisement brings revenue to the artist, but it also strips a certain amount of cultural credibility from the piece as it takes on a purely functional purpose. Changing to attract fans increases sales and opens the gates to an array of synergistic marketing. As a Marxist I see both of these as wretched and, on the whole, pointless, but also it must be borne in mind that people need to make a living. So, and I'm reminded of discussions with The Duke on this matter, shilling products can be excused when the alternative is poverty or having to give up creative endeavour to get a 9 to 5 job. But when it comes to someone with easily enough money to live on, then I cannot think of any good reason not to view them as corporate whores.That's my ideological position, which in the end comes down to a mere subjective outlook. But what can be taken from this, that is, the valorised role of artists in society and the fact that we're even tackling this question, is that creativity, after all the garbage spectacles of capitalism have been pealed away, is seen as the most valuable and admired tropes of the human condition.To: The Hot Topic TeamFrom: Mark SaleskiRE: Selling OutSongs carry emotional information and some transport us back to a poignant time, place or event in our lives. It's no wonder a corporation would want to hitch a ride on the spell these songs cast and encourage you to buy soft drinks, underwear or automobiles while you're in the trance. Artists who take money for ads poison and pervert their songs. It reduces them to the level of a jingle, a word that describes the sound of change in your pocket, which is what your songs become. Remember, when you sell your songs for commercials, you are selling your audience as well. I wish I had written the paragraph above. So succinct. So eloquent. But it wasn't me. It was Tom Waits. Waits walks the walk, not only refusing to sell his music for corporate advertising, but going to far as to take companies to court who attempt to sidestep his refusals by hiring 'soundalike' artists. This Waits quote resonates with me because obviously it's how I think and write about music. The idea that music is more than product — that it often carries emotional import to the listener — is a powerful one. That's why when I do hear things like The Who's "Baba O'Reilly" or Regina Spektor's "Better" in the context of a television theme or an ad, I feel a shadow of disappointment. Sure, those artists own their music and can legally do with it whatever they like. Still, I can't help but feel that the intensity of my memory has been compromised against my will. Yes, the music is made and is sold. There's no getting around the commercial aspects. But there's a difference between great art that happens to sell and art that's made to sell.To: The Hot Topic TeamFrom: Mary K WilliamsRE: Selling OutI would like to know, how do you not sell out? How can an artist for example, not redirect his work towards a mainstream audience on occasion? When we start out young, figuring out our talents and dreaming of the future, how many of us never EVER dream of ‘making it big?' For some, that’s all they think about. Others just want to have a little recognition and respect from peers, but it’s the rare person that doesn’t have some little image of being at a podium or another, channeling Sally Field, “You like me, you really like me!” Suppose a young girl sits in her art teacher’s office, listening to the likes of, ‘you have superb talent, you need to take this further’ – you think that this girl didn’t have a flash of a fantasy involving her work hanging in a tony Manhattan gallery some day?I loved Mat’s example of his friends’ experience in the Caymans. Some talented dudes taking a break from their standard work (their own original music) and stretching their musical muscles in a different direction. And they happened to get to do this in a beautiful location, AND get paid! This is absolutely fantastic, and nothing to be ashamed about. I can’t consider it a ‘sell-out’ even though, as we’re learning, the term has varied and subjective meanings.There has to be – there IS – a discernible difference between exploring different kinds of genres in your field; and a musician planting tidbits of gossip here or there, that will result in full blown write-ups, and further result in record sales. I think when we look at the more derogatory association of ‘selling out’ – it could mean an artist trying to overtly manipulate their fans or the media in order to gain publicity. The sellout is the tipping point of over-saturation of a given artist whether by design or circumstance. Not to mention the earning of a heap-load of extra cash.To: The Hot Topic TeamFrom: DJRadioheadRE: Selling OutWhat constitutes selling out? Is selling out good or bad? Who gives a fuck either way?There are a lot of issues at work here and I have given several of them some degree of thought. Here is as far as I have gotten with them: The relationship between an artist, their work, and the fans is a complex one on many levels. When an artist creates a work, for example a songwriter writes a song, that song belongs to the artist. It's his. They can do what the fuck they want to with it. They wrote it. They own it. It's theirs. Period. What is so complicated about that? When a song connects with an audience, it takes on a new life beyond the control of its creator. When a song connects with an audience, it becomes sacred and personal. This is where the conflict between artist and audience begins. Consumerism might not be evil, but it sure isn't sacred and when those two seemingly competing ideas are asked to co-exist, it feels tantamount to a betrayal and said betrayal goes up our collective asses sideways. When you distill this all down to its basic elements, it is all pretty fucking silly. The song is bigger than the artist or the audience. If Bruce Springsteen wants to sell his half of "Across the Border" to Taco Bell to peddle chalupas, it should have no bearing on what I do with my half of the song. This is the TiVo and iPod generation. We, the end users, the media consumers, watch shows on demand and buy and listen to songs in the order and context of our choosing. Blocks of programming are rendered pointless, the concept of the album is eroding. An artist can no more insist we hear their music as they intended than we can insist the artist treat their creations to suit our contrived and convoluted sense of ethics.