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The Myth of Musicians Selling Out

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Sir Paul Sells Out

That’s a powerful headline. It’s also a pile of baloney. There is no such thing as “selling out” despite the best efforts of self-important artists and fans to claim that such a mythical beast exists.

The reality is that every single artist that you have ever heard of has “sold out” to one degree or another. If they hadn’t, you’d never have heard of them. The only question is the degree to which one’s personal taste accepts the capitalism of their favorite artists. And that’s exactly what it is: personal taste. There is no set standard for “selling out”: it’s just a label that someone sticks on an artist for making money in a way of which they don’t approve or, in some cases, for making money at all.

The reality is that every musician who ever recorded a song is in the business to make money – as much of it as possible, for as long as possible. They may create airs that they pretend to be uninterested in the almighty dollar, but when was the last time one gave away an entire album of their work to the world? When was the last time one went on a nationwide tour of free concerts? The answer is simple and obvious: never. Actions speak louder than words, so citing quotes to the contrary is useless. Show me their free concert tour and freely released body of work or believe the truth about your favorite artist: there really isn’t any middle ground.

(Before the naysayers start: releasing a single song for free is just giving away free samples to induce you to buy the full product. They do they same thing in supermarkets.)

They sell t-shirts, and CDs, and keychains, and all manner of other memorabilia and none of that is questioned. They get a cut of concession sales, appearance fees, and various other types of financial compensation without a peep from the peanut gallery. What kind of sell-out is every artist who ever went on a corporate-sponsored tour? Who is more the product of corporate promotion: the Rolling Stones or Britney Spears? The honest answer is that both are. The only real difference is only in the degree that Britney’s fans tend to be more honest about how much corporate money their favorite artist accepts.

They are all, at the heart of the matter, capitalists who earn their livings through the old laws of supply and demand. No different than any CEO or Working Class Joe like you or me. Their product is their music, and they are the heads of sales and development. You and I are the consumers, but none of it is a sacred relic forever beyond the impurity of the profit motive.

Some draw the line at using a song to sell a particular product, claiming that those who allow their music to be used that way have “sold out.” If you love the music, then every opportunity to hear it should be a joy. Does it truly matter if it’s on a commercial or on a CD? Not to a truly objective listener. But there’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? If a piece of music or an artist has touched us emotionally – either for good or ill, then we can no longer be truly objective about it or them any longer. To claim an ability to be objective is either to lie to ourselves or to have failed utterly in any emotional connection to the music.

What people are truly upset about is they have been forced to face the fact that their favorite artist is a capitalist, and no one likes having reality imposed on them that way. But that doesn’t make it any less true, and it doesn’t mean that the artist wasn’t a capitalist before they were given the opportunity to have their song used for a different commercial purpose.

On the flip side of loving a song or artist is the utter disbelief that another person would find a song that you hate to have value and be willing to pay for it. Either way, it’s not the money that’s truly upsetting: it’s the disconnect between reality and our own personal beliefs about the music that drives the emotional response.

PUB: TAS

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About Jim B

  • http://jonsobel.com Jon Sobel

    I totally agree with your main point, that selling out is a stupid concept. But I don’t understand what you mean about the “objective listener” – fans are by definition not “objective listeners,” whatever that means, and not expected to strive to be. My view is that the concept of “selling out” comes from fans feeling a sense of ownership of the music they love, and this is a natural, if somewhat misguided, part of fanhood.

  • http://celebritypro.blogspot.com Celebrity Pro

    That’s precisely the point. There is no such animal. There is no final arbiter of music or of a musician: especially those who put themselves forth as “music critics.” To paraphrase the rest of that paragraph, that person cannot exist because music affects us all on an emotional level – thereby destroying our ability to be truly objective about it.

    Anyone can state their personal opinion of a body of work or an artist. But it’s no more than that: a personal opinion, and shouldn’t be assigned any more weight than the opinion of another – no matter the pretensions of its author.

    Too many put forth their personal opinion as if it were the final word on the subject and are even willing to go further and flatly state that the fans of this artist or that music are “idiots” or the like for enjoying or buying it. They put down one form of music or another because their personal tastes happen to differ. Does that make them right? Of course not. It makes them arrogant and foolish – unable to discern the difference between opinion and fact.

    If there is a criticism to be found in my article, it is of those who claim an ability to declare an ultimate truth about an artist or a piece of music. Any claim to “objectivity” is false on its face. Music is indeed a subjective experience, and those who fail to recognize that basic truth are missing the point of music completely.

  • http://jonsobel.com Jon Sobel

    Well said.
    What really bothers me (on a gut level, not on principle) is not when a favorite song of mine is used in a commercial, but when that song is chopped up and destroyed so as to sync (more often than not badly) with the commercial’s content.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    Does that make them right? Of course not. It makes them arrogant and foolish – unable to discern the difference between opinion and fact.

    does that mean i don’t have to be embarrassed by my Shania Twain cds??

    yippee!!!!

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    I accidentally started the same conversation here yesterday (or was that early this morning?)

    “Selling out” is too strong …

  • http://utopia2000.org Barry Stoller

    Although this site is a receptive place to air pro-capitalist cant to the choir, your point is straw. “Selling out” isn’t selling to most fans, it’s CHANGING in such a way that compromises or cheapens the artist’s previous work. As artists acrue success and money, their ability to do bolder, more artistically challenging work should increase. In McCartney’s case, he squandered everything he built up in the 60s; Sting, to mention only one dollar-savvy megastar, buried Sir Paul effortlessly years ago for the pop crown.

  • http://celebritypro.blogspot.com Celebrity Pro

    Why does it cheapen or compromise the previous work? Have the melody or lyrics changed? Of course not. So, in fact, the work isn’t cheapened or compromised: nothing about has changed a whit.

    Is a great poem or novel cheapened by the other less successful or more commercial works of its author? Does that fact that the author also wrote an article for a magazine change the quality of the novel? Of course not. A work should be judged on its own merit. Failure to do so is a failure on the part of the reader, not on the part of the author.

    What has changed is that your personal opinion of the artist has changed, and you have allowed that to change your opinion of his previous music. It’s not the fault of the music or the artist: it’s entirely a creation of your own perceptions.

    You can call it “selling out,” but that would be a misnomer. He didn’t give away his previous work. He didn’t give concerts away for free either. He was selling then, and he’s selling today. What has changed is that you like what he used to sell, and you don’t care for what he’s selling today.

    You’ve created an expectation for, in this case, Paul McCartney that is your own projection and you criticize him for failing to live up to it. Like parents disappointed in how our children turned out, we have to ask ourselves: is the failure that of the children or of our own expectations?

    There’s a huge difference…

  • http://utopia2000.org Barry Stoller

    Nah, you’re clinging to your straw argument. Staying with McCartney, the melodies and lyric DID change. “My Love” was 2nd rate junk compared with “Hey Jude” and 100,000,000,000 willing consumers knew and know it.

  • http://celebritypro.blogspot.com Celebrity Pro

    But again, you’re making my argument for me…

    “Hey Jude” wasn’t cheapened or compromised by “My Love.” It stands on its own and should be judged accordingly.

    To say that his succeeding work wasn’t as commercially successful or as well received as his previous work is a far different argument to make than simplisticly dismissing him as a “sellout.” Lots of artists have gone on to create what many would call “greater” works which weren’t as commercially successful. Music isn’t to be judged by its commercial success but by its personal appeal to each individual.

    I’m sure there are plenty of people who enjoy “My Love” better than “Hey Jude” and who think the former speaks more to their personal experience than the latter. Who is right? Neither of you, and trying to claim victory in such a debate is futile and meaningless. You each have your own perceptions and emotional response to those songs and to dismiss those of another person who feels differently is to display the exact sort of arrogance and foolishness I pointed out in a previous comment.

    The bottom line remains that you like “Hey Jude” and don’t like “My Love,” and are trying to rationalize liking one and not liking the other by saying that he “sold out” in the meantime.

    The reality is that you’re not going to like every song an artist records throughout his or her entire career unless you’re some kind of obsessive fanatic. It doesn’t mean anything more than that it doesn’t appeal to you personally and trying to broaden that into a sweeping generalization is to be far off the mark…

  • janine

    Well I’m usually against the “selling out” charge, but to base it on the argument that since musicians do their work to make money they’re always selling out is a bit of a stretch. I don’t know why this is, I agree with the thesis but don’t buy the argument.

    Oh, I think it because that’s not what people are talking about. They’re talking about a marked change in content like Liz Phair or Jewel had. (I’m not arguing either of these women are sell-outs. Heck, I liked the Liz Phair album. Oberlin in ‘da house y’all!)

    The argument doesn’t address the sea change aspect, which is a major source of disillusionment for the sell-out arbiters. You gotta say soething about it, man. I’d say is part of artistic development.

  • janine

    …and based on comment #9, would you like to see an end to music criticism? Is that not the logical conclusion to you have your opinion and I have mine so since we can’t be objective it’s meaningless?

  • http://celebritypro.blogspot.com Celebrity Pro

    To the question as to whether or not I’d like to see an end to music criticism, my answer would be yes and no.

    Yes, I’d like to see an end to people who claim to be the be-all-end-all of musical knowledge. I’d like to see an end to people who proclaim that any music they don’t care for is garbage and the fans of that kind of music are “idiots.” I’d like to see an end to the endless discourse of this form of music being inferior to that form or this artist being a better artist than that one. It’s ridiculous and pointless, and too many “critics” feel it necessary to laden their critiques with plenty of such comments. What I’d like to see is a degree of humility and recognition that theirs is but a single opinion and not the only available valid option.

    No, in that I don’t think it’s without value to know another person’s opinion of a piece of music. I myself read critiques and find there are those critics with whom I generally agree and those with whom I generally disagree. I’m more likely to take the recommendation of someone whose tastes usually align with mine, but even then it doesn’t follow that if I disagree with his opinion that he is right and I am wrong or vice versa. We are both entitled to our impressions.

    There’s a difference between someone telling me that he thinks this new album is great and that I would be well served to check it out for myself or that he didn’t care for an artist’s latest offerings, and someone telling me that I’m a moron for enjoying the album that he hates or that the music he enjoys is somehow superior to the music I like. The first critique is a welcome addition to the music scene; the second is just the arrogance of a fool.

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

    CP, I agree wholeheartedly with the basic point of this essay, but you’re foundering in the comments. This statement specifically is simply factually and objectively wrong: “Any claim to “objectivity” is false on its face.”

    Certainly there is much subjectivity and personal taste involved in appreciating music, but there is at some point some MATH underneath it. Without going into a big dissertation, a simple example hopefully might suffice.

    Some people will say that Jagger/Richards were better songwriters than Lennon/McCartney. You prefer “Hey Jude” and I think that “Sympathy for the Devil” is the greatest thing ever, say. But they’re both great songs and songwriting teams. That’s arguably largely just a matter of subjective taste.

    On the other hand, if you want to argue that Milli Vanilli is just as good as Bob Dylan, then you are, frankly, an idiot who knows nothing of music. You could start trying to break that down technically, but the point should be basically intuitive.

    It’s good to be respectful and make nice. I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings unnecessarily, so I would try to avoid calling, say, 50 Cent fans a bunch of window lickers. Nonetheless, if they think that’s great music, they just flat don’t know squat about music.

  • http://celebritypro.blogspot.com Celebrity Pro

    Regarding Janine’s comment on “sea-changes” by artists:

    I would agree that it’s part of generally just part of artistic development. Even if we assume that the artist made the change solely because it would make them more commercially successful, I don’t accept that the artist really changed. Evidently, they were always interested mainly in commercial success rather than personal expression: they just changed the road they were taking to get there.

    “They changed” the fans cry, but the truth is that they are the person they always were but the fans had the wrong impression of who the artist really was. It’s less traumatic when you stop laboring under the illusion that your favorite artist is “just in it for the art” and start to realize that to one degree or another all musicians are chasing commercial success.

    And what about getting older? Do you still listen to the same music you listened to 20 years ago? How many of you are still into the hair bands that were so popular in the 80’s? (And don’t tell me none of you were, they were selling millions of records to SOMEONE…) When you have artists whose careers span decades (such as Paul McCartney), should it really be any surprise that the music they’re recording today doesn’t sound like the music of decades ago? Of course not. Many of the fans who cry “sellout” are trying in vain to cling to a certain time in their lives by living vicariously through that artist’s music. When the artist’s music changes over time, it forces an unhappy realization that times have indeed changed and those days are gone forever. Someone has to be to blame, so they turn angry at the artist rather than accepting reality and moving on.

    It’s the emotional connection we have to music that makes such entanglements almost inevitable: it’s part of what makes music such an integral part of our lives. It’s the healthy among us who can differentiate between what is changing in our own lives and that our own tastes change over time rather than transferring that anger onto artists who are doing what they have always done…

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    50 cents may be good “entertainment”

    Celebrity PRO – I tihnk your post is arguing A and your comments are arguing sometihng else entirely.

    Anyway, good post. In your comments – yes people spend waaay to much time – and anger – defending their opinions. In many areas, time is worthwhile because there are facts. In music – A LOT is subjective and as you point out arguing over those aspects is what usually comes to the forefront.

    And I agree with Al.

    Man sometihng Paul is doing right anyway. I haven’t thought – musically about Paul McCartney solo … since never. now I want the album. Of course I liked the first song i heard so that helps a lot, too

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Let me rephrase that first sentence “50 cents” IS good entertainment and I like listening to some of his music.

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

    So Barry, are you claiming that Paul was insincere when he wrote “My Love”?

    Paul was always a sentimentalist. Not speaking of it as objective truth, but the dreaded “My Love” strikes me as more sincere, more heartfelt, than, say, “Michelle.”

    Plus, “My Love” is actually quite an excellent song. A bit sappier than I usually prefer, but a very memorable tune nonetheless.

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

    And by way of giving credit, 50 Cent surely isn’t the worst of it. He has a few songs that have a couple of hooks and a beat that might be moderately palatable, so long as you don’t mistake it for real food. As radio junk food, I would take him over, say, most modern commercial country radio fodder. But that’s faint praise.

  • Al Barger

    Al- You’re suggesting that Bob Dylan is good?

    Bob Dylan is probably one of the “technically” worst musician to ever sell over one million albumns. His voice, guitar playing, harmonica playing, diction, etc. was horrificly bad.

    Before you jump to conclusions, hear me out. I like his shtick….raspy voice, resolute countenance, wooping vocals, and his folklorist appeal by keeping it simple and nostalgic, but if you call someone an idiot for not liking Bob Dylan’s music then I’m going to have to side with Celebrity Pro on this one.

    Furthermore, I like songs. I prefer songs to the musicians that wrote them. I rarely buy an albumn because of the band or group (unless it is BAch because I enjoy everything i’ve ever heard of his). Also, someone had to write “Blame It On The Rain”, right?? If not Milli Vanilli, give someone the credit. I’ve hardly listened to a musician or group when I can’t say something redeemable about them. Britany Spears? She’s got rhythm. No doubt. Doc Watson? Incredible bluegrass guitar-playing improviser. Could he write a song comparable to that of Queen or a solo like Brian May? Probably not. There are alot of legs on the musical octopus…the musicians or songs you like the best happen to be the ones that combine those legs anagolous with your natural aural conditioning as a listener.

  • nugget

    al that was me. I have an odd habit of typing in the name of my addressee.

  • nugget

    that would be “analogous”

  • fred

    His voice, guitar playing, harmonica playing, diction, etc. was horrificly bad.

    senator, stick to politics, you know jack shit about music other than playing a skin flute, no doubt.

  • nugget

    bitch (fred),

    Say something besides “u doent noe shit!”

    You gonna prove me wrong?

  • nugget

    also fred…

    I, nugget, posted that thread. And I still think you are a bitch.

  • http://celebritypro.blogspot.com Celebrity Pro

    Is there a difference between Bob Dylan and Milli Vanilli? Absolutely. If we go beyond the fraud that Rob and Fab committed and just examine the songs themselves, it doesn’t mean that song doesn’t have value though.

    Bob Dylan’s music is “meaningful” and “influential,” but it’s not exactly the tune you’re going to get your groove onto while you’re trying to pick up women in the late 80’s. Not every song has to relay a greater truth or speak to a generation to be enjoyable to its listeners.

    It’s my opinion that any music which achieves its goal is good music. The goal of dance music is quite simply to make people dance. It doesn’t aspire to anything greater and shouldn’t be compared in any way to a song which does. Should I judge Bob Dylan lacking because I can’t dance to it in a nightclub? Of course not. It’s not the purpose of his music.

    Will anyone remember Milli Vanilli in twenty years? Doubtful in the extreme. But it doesn’t mean that when it was popular that people didn’t enjoy it and it didn’t make anyone feel good when they heard it. By that measure, it was good music and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand because it didn’t have a larger social message.

    This is what I mean when I say that each work should be judged individually. If it reaches someone who gets something out of it, even if it’s as simple as something to dance to then who are we to say to that someone who enjoyed it that the music was without value? They got to pick up women and enjoy the nightlife while you sat home in your room listening to Dylan. Who was living the better life? It’s a subjective judgment which could easily be argued either way.

    What if they prefer to get social commentary from the newspaper rather than from their music? Who are we to say that he is wrong and we are right in this regard? If we come to the same conclusion at the end of the day, are you more right because you listened to the socially-conscious rock of Bob Dylan who inspired you or am I because I reached the same conclusions on my own while choosing to go out salsa dancing instead?

    We can certainly say about Milli Vanilli: a) I wouldn’t choose to listen to it, b) I prefer my music to deliver a meaningful message and Milli Vanilli fails in that regard, and c) I would rather listen to Bob Dylan and each would be defensible statements of personal opinion, but it doesn’t mean that it was garbage and shouldn’t be classified as music.

  • fred

    the senator proves he doesn’t know shit about music by virtue of his own statement about dylan. His own words indict him. Why not call a spade a spade?

  • nugget

    fred. Um, i don’t think you’re getting something.

    I, n-u-g-g-e-t, not “da senator”, made that bob dylan comment. I also followed it up with why I liked him, idiot.

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

    Nugget, I would not say that someone is an idiot if they don’t particularly dig Dylan- or any other particular artist. He’s not to everybody’s taste. A little of him generally goes a long ways with me at this point.

    It’s important to recognize that there are things that are really good in different ways that just don’t suit your taste. For example, I recognize their achievements, but I have very limited interest in Pink Floyd. To me, they’re mostly just way too miserable and depressing. Yuck. Still, they’re clearly highly accomplished musicians.

    Bob Dylan has his better and worse aspects. Primarily, his strength is songwriting, not performing. I would, however, defend his singing. I understand the technical limitations of his instrument, but he sure made the most out of that limited instrument. One could reasonably somewhat argue against his skills as a performer, I suppose.

    However, there is some floor of MATH and structure under all this stuff that is not just entirely subjective. There’s a lot of latitude for taste and judgment, but Milli Vanilli is just objectively not in an artistic league with Dylan.

    I picked that example, by the way, because one of them actually said something to an interviewer like that they were as good as Dylan. Leaving aside exactly who to credit (or blame) for MV’s songs, “Blame It On the Rain” just wasn’t that good. It’s not the worst record ever, but you’d just look dumb trying to argue that it’s up there with, say, “Tangled Up in Blue.”

  • nugget

    that’s fair. And kudos to you on Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd is mind-numbing!

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

    CP, I’m not arguing that all music needs to have a “message,” meaning some social, political statement. I actually tend to think the other way, that “message” music is mostly cheap and shallow. “Tracks of My Tears” is obviously FAR more meaningful and profound than any Rage Against the Machine nonsense.

    But dance music can perfectly well be real music, with melody and harmony and thoughtful lyrics. Prince leaps to mind. If you want to make it a comparison of “dance” music, then side “Girl, You Know It’s True” up against, say, “Sexy MF.”

    Again, I’m not really down on Milli Vanilli. I actually liked the music better after the nominal “fraud” was revealed. I suppose I was tickled by seeing the egg running down the faces of Grammy voters.

  • fred

    hey nugget, then the Senator, as a poster, needs to do a better job using some html code to separate quotes from other posts with the current text content. My apologies to the Senator on asserting he doesn’t know jack shit about music.

    Now that I’m clear who wrote what, it is YOU who doesn’t know jack shit about music.

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

    Fred, dude, who do you think you’re impressing here? You’re doing nothing but being hateful, and making no significant argument while doing it.

  • nugget

    “Now that I’m clear who wrote what, it is YOU who doesn’t know jack shit about music.”

    proove it. And don’t say “cuz u don’t lyke bob dylan i don’t hav 2!”

    I’m sorry if you courteously hold bob dylan’s nutsack when he wipes his ass, but that doesn’t improve his skillz.

  • nugget

    also fred,

    I seriously doubt you could talk to me about the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, the way he organized his counterpoint and around what harmonic principles.

    I doubt you could recognize palestrina, gesualdo, monteverdi, josquin de prez, telemann, handel, haydn, chopin, schubert, schumann, ives, albonini, strauss, bernstein, gershwin, liszt, paganini, rodrigo, tchaikovsky, rimsky-korsakav, stravinsky, torroba, glass, witacre, york, dove, schoenberg, debussy, sammartini, CPE Bach, Beethoven (ok MAYbe beethoven’s 5th if you’re lucky), Mozart, Giuliani, Tarrega, Rachmoninoff, Ravel, Ellington, Waller, Armstrong TO NAME A FEW.

    son, to add, I have a degree in music and have forgotten more TODAY about performance, improvisation, harmony, theory, rock n roll, pop, all forms of jazz, (or any other genre) than you will ever know.

    spare me the lessons.

  • janine

    Man, Captain Hazelwood could stay on course better than you people!

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Um, nugget, I couldn’t do a lot of that either.

    But I know what I like. And I can explain it well (most of the time).

    And if you’re not using your music degree in your job … you’ve sold out, man.***

    ;-)

    ***Attempting to add levity to a way too heated over nothin’ much “conversation.”

  • guppusmaximus

    To post my opinion without starting warfare would be a waste… “Selling Out” is very relevant especially to the music scene. Ofcourse all musicians like making money but for the most part it’s great just to make the ends meet because if the artist isn’t loving what he is writing or playing then that could be construed as “Selling Out”. If the artist blatently changes his style of music and the money starts a flowin then you can be rest assured that his main goal was the greenbacks. Just because an artist wants to get paid for his work doesn’t necessarily mean that he/she wants to be on MTV. Everybody wants to get paid for work and if you think music isn’t a hard job then you’re fooling yourself but to just write mindless crap because a label is willing to hook you up with the benjamins then you are just a businessman and really have no love for the art. “Selling Out” is also used when a lot of artists exploit a certain look or sound just to gain exposure.Unfortunately, the Top 40 have become accustomed to this formula…If it’s dancable,catchy and fits into a 3-5 minute segment then you’re golden….

  • nugget

    templestark: understood. Perhaps I was a bit reactionary, but I’m 23 so cut me some slack. It’s an eyesore to read men 20 years my senior proclaiming Bob Dylan’s genius. Also, I am a guitar teacher but will be practicing law in a couple of years.

  • The Duke

    Selling out is a bit strong. Milking it for all it’s worth may be a better definition.

    I like the Beatles, Sir Paul, Poor ol George and of course my personal favority Ringo. John was a snit, but a lad nonetheless.

    Anyway… selling out usually applies to a Jazz artist who… rooting deep in the artform… desides to eat cake and shift into a pop formula to keep revenue coming in.

    There have been many. George Benson, Wes Montgomery etc…. I personnally think it a great thing that the artist can start making some real money for the hard work that was put into their craft before “selling out.”

    But Sir Paul has a billion in the bank, and is just putting out product line. This is not selling out, this is making more profit… maybe bilking the market.

    Truth be told (and I mentioned this on a Doors blog the other day).

    My sisters wet their panties over the Beatles in the ’60’s and because of that, I always thought they were pussies. It’s a personal opinion, I am working through this with my therapist, and hopefully with lots of perscriptions and couch time I will rise above my prejudice and rejoin society in accepting the bilking.

    By the by… I think the of lead break on “My Love” as one of the most articulate and lovely guitar lines in the history of pop. No kidding. It was truely an inspired moment. I just can’t for the life of me remember who did it. But it wasn’t Pauly and it wasn’t Denny. It was some other dude, with bad teeth from the Crocker outfit.

    Gotta go.

    Peace

  • Vern Halen

    Most music is made with some combination of two extremes in mind: can I make something artistically pleasing, and can I make some dough off of this. I think selling out would be making a particular kind of music for the sole purpose of making money and not feeling any sense of artistic accomoplishment.

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

    guppusmaximus, there is a common false dichotomy between making art and commerce, which actually mostly tend to go together rather than apart. That is, “selling out” to write crappy songs for commercial purposes rather than the best and truest art doesn’t generally work well in practice.

    Generally, the best way to make a hit is to write the best songs you can. An artist’s best work is usually also its best selling work. The Beatles didn’t sell a kazillion records by dumbing it down, but by writing the best, tightest pop songs they could.

    Sometimes people buy crappy pop music, but it has always been thus. Still, this is about as good as even those people have in them. It’s not like Britney Spears had a new Ode to Joy in her, but she’s sold out her art.

  • http://www.iamcorrect.com Lono

    The best words on the whole sell out issue were cleverly and eloquently dropped my Maynard of Tool in this tool song.

    I met a boy,
    wearing Vans, 501s,
    and a dope, beastie-tee,
    nipple rings, new tattoos,
    that claimed that he was OGT,
    back from ’92,
    from the first EP.
    And in between sips of coke
    he told me that he thought we
    were sellin’ out, layin’ down,
    suckin’ up to the man.
    Well now I’ve got some advice for you, little buddy.
    Before you point your finger you should know that I’m the man,
    and if I’m the man, then you’re the man, and he’s the man as well
    so you can point that fuckin’ finger up your aaaaaaaaaaass!

    All you know about me is what I’ve sold you,
    Dumb fuck.
    I sold out long before you ever even heard my name.
    I sold my soul to make a record,
    Dip shit,
    and then you bought ooone.
    I’ve got some Advice for you, little buddy.
    Before you point your finger you should know that I’m the man.
    If I’m the fuckin’ man then you’re the fuckin’ man as well,
    So you can point that fuckin’ finger up your aaaaaaaaaaaaaass!

    consume,
    be fruitful,
    and multiply

    All you know about me is what I’ve sold you,
    Dumb fuck.
    I sold out long before you ever even heard my name.
    I sold my soul to make a record,
    Dip shit,
    and then you bought oooooooooooone!

    All you
    read and
    Wear or
    see and
    Hear on
    TV
    Is a
    product
    Begging
    for your
    Fatass
    dirty
    Dollar.
    So … Shut up and
    Buy, my
    Buy, myyy
    new record
    Buy, my
    Buy,
    Send more money
    (Fuuuuuck you, buddy! 4x)

  • nugget

    “Sometimes people buy crappy pop music, but it has always been thus.”

    It has not always been thus. Selling out started with the big band era. Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, and yes even Louis Armstrong to a lesser extent. After Duke Ellington everyone wanted to box up a perfect band. I think Glenn Miller was the worst case. Even though I enjoy alot of his music, it was for the public at the expense of the composer’s artistic wit.

    All this to say that music outside of a tavern, saloon, or opera house was unfathomable until recording. Recording changed everything and it allowed people to lie and sell things that supposedly represented themselves rather than present them and their talent as it was in a live performance.

    anyways, music before circa 1915 was in those forementioned places and as raw and uncut as can be. Just imagine the old blues guitar player black guy sitting on his front porch. He’s still there but no one cares because everyone is arguing about Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd or 50 cent or whoever.

  • The Duke

    Oh yeah… sweet music. The biggest critic of the big band era was Artie Shaw. The “sweeter” the band the more sacharrine (sp) it was considered. Sickly sweet. And there were a bunch of them. The Miller outfit is considered the creme de la creme of sweet music.

    But you know what, people (schmaltzy sweetfreaks) bought it. Sucked it up, made Miller a household name… wow, it’s like the Beatles. Were the lads really “that” good? Certainly they enjoyed great success; but the early Beatles were schamltzy too! Lot’s of love songs and songs about relationships and more teeny love tunes. It’s sounding like Britany now isn’t it.

    Zappa had some choice words concerning this practice, and stated that “I have never written a love song” that’s the other extreame.

    So does selling out constitute catering to the teen crowd with disposable income?

    Remember when FM radio was somewhat subversive? Remember when FM radio was “underground” well it caught on, went commercial… made a great format for advertising… sold out.

    Sold out is terminology, nomenclature, just like catagorizing music to the extreme. Probably started by the listening public or by record stores as a way to file away the music stock neatly onto the shelves in order to make the consumer buying experience easier and more enjoyable.

    I think a lot of “crappy” music is marketed well and purchased. There are bands and musicians out there who will never be “discovered” because they don’t look good enough to package. They have skills, are gifted but they won’t sell (according to the industry) therefore are left on their front porch steps. I also think that it might be a fairly recent shift in marketing, say around the mid-70’s. There were a few groups or artists that slipped under the radar in the mid to late 60’s when record companies were scrambling to catch up and signed anyone. Again Zappa refers to the practice as a reason the Mothers made it as far as they did. The got contracts becuase they were on stage entertaining.

    Witness the trend of “boy bands” or En Vogue’s or countless other package deals, put together at Warner Brothers or some Disney subsiderary. The people in those groups don’t play instruments, they sing and dance… the musicians are behind the curtain making union scale. Those out front don’t even know each other, dress alike, move alike, have arranged personalities, are marketed proficiently and sell to masses of hormonal teeny girls and boys with braces, unisex haircuts and clothing… and make millions. They don’t sell out, because they are contrived to begin with. They’re crafted, molded, shaped and marketed.

    Who wudda thunk it?

  • WTF

    This album is a WingSpan retread, without the T.V. show. Remember than publicity roll out? Big McCartney T.V. special with McCartney commercials… then the following Monday WingSpan hit the storefronts. It must be nice to have big money.

    I think a taped the special… and yes I bought the CD as Costco.

    But this is just a rehash. Paul’s got the formula. I wonder when he’ll wane. This could be an indicator. He’s gone Beatle-less here, on his own merit, riding the Wings legacy.

    Did Paul buy back the Beatles catalog from Jackson?

  • MusicWhore

    Nugget proudly states:

    “I doubt you could recognize palestrina, gesualdo, monteverdi, josquin de prez, telemann, handel, haydn, chopin, schubert, schumann, ives, albonini, strauss, bernstein, gershwin, liszt, paganini, rodrigo, tchaikovsky, rimsky-korsakav, stravinsky, torroba, glass, witacre, york, dove, schoenberg, debussy, sammartini, CPE Bach, Beethoven (ok MAYbe beethoven’s 5th if you’re lucky), Mozart, Giuliani, Tarrega, Rachmoninoff, Ravel, Ellington, Waller, Armstrong TO NAME A FEW.

    son, to add, I have a degree in music and have forgotten more TODAY about performance, improvisation, harmony, theory, rock n roll, pop, all forms of jazz, (or any other genre) than you will ever know”

    He’s my hero!!!!!

    xoxoxoxox oh baby oh baby oh baby you are soooooo coooooll!!!! I just love a musical hunk…. hump me daddy, hum little Paganini nasties in my ear….

    oh yes!!!!!

  • Vandevander

    “I doubt you could recognize palestrina, gesualdo, monteverdi, josquin de prez, telemann, handel, haydn, chopin, schubert, schumann, ives, albonini, strauss, bernstein, gershwin, liszt, paganini, rodrigo, tchaikovsky, rimsky-korsakav, stravinsky, torroba, glass, witacre, york, dove, schoenberg, debussy, sammartini, CPE Bach, Beethoven (ok MAYbe beethoven’s 5th if you’re lucky), Mozart, Giuliani, Tarrega, Rachmoninoff, Ravel, Ellington, Waller, Armstrong TO NAME A FEW.

    son, to add, I have a degree in music and have forgotten more TODAY about performance, improvisation, harmony, theory, rock n roll, pop, all forms of jazz, (or any other genre) than you will ever know.” – The Nugget

    Wow… I bet you know more about music than Sir Pauly Poo McCartney too!! Only he’s a helluva better off financially than you or I will ever hope to be. Without all the edu-ma-cation to boot!

    That’s great you spent all those years at university — so did my ex. She now teaches somewhere in Arizona, and probably doesn’t use a fraction of the syllabus and curriculum she labored through for so many years. She’s a great theroist though, and with the help of several texts she turned me on to, I can figure out just about any thing. Plus I learned to approach a composition as a whole, rather than note for note. Which helps in the analyzation, aiding the overall understanding of the composition. Sadly, it doesn’t convert to mere rock and roll, the 3 chord, minor pentatonic drival that oozes out on the air waves. Sometimes it’s cleverly disguised, but by picking it apart… it misses something that only the masters used, and that is a full tonal pallatte. I find Rock very boring… very loud, very powerful, physical… but boring.

    But rock evolved around my lifetime… not the early rock and roll but Rock. I played it, listened to it until around the mid ’70’s… kept up with it until the early ’80’s then moved along to other styles and have enjoyed music immensely since. But I had to move out of the banal 3 chord formula to styles repleat with depth and scope… which Rock doesn’t have. Granted art-rock, fusions of rock etc… have brought interest, but from a popularity standpoint they are outliers, and do not dominate the market. I’ll go with the Duke… it’s all about marketing. Real composition in pop music (which is what we’re talking about here) was lost with the 40’s.

  • http://jmaximus.blogspot.com John Bil

    Thats why they call it show BUSINESS.

  • nugget

    vandevander:

    I’d hate to be Paul McCartney. Being that famous? I couldn’t imagine. Also i chose music as a major because I was good at it and loved it. Studying music can aid the most talented or talentless. What’s with the myth that all music majors are fraudulent pedantic note nazies? Some of the most naturally gifted musicians in the world, gulp, studied it in college!

    I’m not saying that you were disagreeing, but I got from your tone that majoring in music is pointless. I got a job easily out of college because of a degree. That’s what i wanted. I’m glad i’m not some shmuck in the studio who could “play bah ear cuz he’s awsom an didn’t need nnotes to lern!” lunatics…

  • Vandevander

    I have made the acquaintance of a number of studio musicians. Both in and out of union auspices. Guess what, nowadays, probably 90 percent are college grads, with degrees in music. It’s become the industry standard.

  • http://utopia2000.org Barry Stoller

    > So Barry, are you claiming that Paul was insincere when he wrote “My Love”?

    Sure. The Beatles in ’68 could do no wrong and they knew it. Their wildest experiments validated them artistically while the records still sold millions. By the time of “My Love,” though, Paul was in serious sales trouble and I think “My Love” shows an obvious intent to crank out a hit in his most predictable style. I believe the lead guitarist on that track toured with Wings but shortly departed, stating to the press he just couldn’t face another night of performing that tune. Imagine such a response to “Hey Jude.”

    This isn’t to fall into your straw argument that “Hey Jude” is negated by “My Love” (returning to the sellout point) but McCartney’s reputation as a living performer and songwriter was compromised and, with the Wings’ move towards a teenybopper audience around the time of Venus & Mars, his rep was seriously imperiled. He’s since “written” operas and “classical music” but no one is fooled by these attempts to repair the damage. He’s a sellout and his “high brow” productions suggests he seems to occasionally sense it.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    The reality is that every single artist that you have ever heard of has “sold out” to one degree or another.

    ———-
    So where does that put artists I’ve heard who have never sold any products?

    Sounds like a straw man argument to me: everyone who sells something sells out, therefore a musician who goes from an independent to a corporate label or lets their songs be used to sell shoes, is not a sell out.

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

    Barry, You’ve got this storyline you’ve concocted about Paul “selling out,” as if he was ever other than a hit-seeking pop songwriter, and you’re trying to arbitrarily force everything into it.

    I don’t see how “My Love” shows an “obvious intent to crank out a hit” any more than does “I Want to Hold Your Hand” or “And I Love Her.” In fact, it’s an outstanding, memorable melody, and seems utterly sincere and right in the range of what McCartney does.

    Some of his stuff has more experimental structures, like “Uncle Albert” or “Band on the Run” while some are more straightforward ballads, like “Yesterday” or “My Love.” It’s all good.

  • http://utopia2000.org Barry Stoller

    You guys are so into your Ayn Rand doctrine you aren’t even speaking credibly about music anymore. Whatever.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Nobody’s a consumer now. We are all commodities.

    The current economic system is not set up to meet our needs. That may have been its goal once, but that changed a long time ago, decades or even centuries ago for certain segments of the population. Now the economic system sets out to create needs, not to fulfill needs.

    We are no longer consumers. Now we are the consumed.

  • nugget

    I’d like to see barry ELABORATE. alas he won’t.

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

    Macy Gray could really sell “My Love.” She could do a Motown-ish arrangement, put a little bit of r&b swing under it. That would really kick ass.

    But we’d have to ask Ayn Rand’s permission, of course.

  • http://a you

    you’re a fool

    free concerts around the world?

    every artist being a capitalist?

    do musicians have to dig ground up for food, and sheet music?

    you only know the successful mainstream ones,

    most musicians are not rich at all,

    they make music, yeah, ok, but they need to make money just like you do.

    no need to explain further you’re a sad motherfucker

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    I’d seriously be interested in reading a response to my comment, #52.

  • http://celebritypro.blogspot.com Celebrity Pro

    The whole point of the post was to say that there is no such thing as a ‘sell-out.’ It’s a term used by embittered fans who: a) never liked the artist in the first place, b) used to like them but don’t anymore, or c) don’t like to whom the music is being sold.

    To call someone a sell-out is only to reveal your own ignorance of the way the world really works. This isn’t a utopia of perfect motives: it’s the real world where capitalism drives our available range of music. Musicians are no more immune to it than anyone else no matter what we might like to believe about them.

    If an artist is attempting to make a living selling their music, then they are selling their music…period. Whether they sell that music to a record label or an ad agency, it is still being sold and questioning to whom it is being sold is irrelevant.

    As for those who have never sold their music, then there are two different categories: 1) those who would like to sell their music but haven’t yet found a suitable buyer, and 2) those who perform solely for the joy of performing it and freely share that music without asking – or accepting – anything in return.

    Just because an artist hasn’t yet gotten a recording contract, it doesn’t mean that it’s not their intention to do so. It’s common to hear unsigned artists claiming that this or that well-known artist has ‘sold out’ when in fact it’s just an expression of envy that they haven’t been given the opportunity to do so themselves. To claim that they aren’t ‘sell-outs’ is to ignore their intent and assume that a lack of current demand for their music somehow equates to pure motives on their part. One plus one does not equal three no matter how many ways we try to make it.

    Now we come to the last category of artist: those who perform for pure joy. You’ve never heard of them because no one is willing to distribute their music for free, they will never make a living (either full or part-time) selling their music because their pure-hearted desire to share their music wouldn’t allow them to ask for pay in return for the sharing. They will never perfect their craft because they are weighed down by the mundane requirements of having to make a living in another capacity. The only place you’re likely to hear them is in their living room or on the front porch because no one puts on or promotes a concert for free.

    Whether we like it or not, the only artists we have ever heard of – or will ever hear of in our lifetimes -outside of our own neighborhood are those who have ‘sold out’ if you need to put such a label on it. Trying to single out one artist or another to slap that label upon is foolishness.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    Ok, thank you for that explanation. I’ll think on it.

  • Trent McMartin

    The Balancing Act Between Art and Commerce

    “Ain’t singin’ for Pepsi
    Aint singin’ for Coke
    I don’t sing for nobody
    Makes me look like a joke.”

    Neil Young, This Notes For You, 1988

    Neil Young’s lyrics from his 1988 hit “This Notes For You” demonstrated one artist’s defiant stance to license his music to corporations but as Young’s friend Bob Dylan sung so many years ago, “The Times They Are A Changing.”

    It’s been ten years since The Rolling Stones’ hit song “Start Me Up” appeared in those Microsoft 95 TV ads and since then the commercialization of music has become so common that using songs to sell products is now widely recognized as another outlet to promote one’s music.

    In an interview last year with Canada’s Much Music, U2’s Bono and Larry Mullen Jr. were explaining the change in attitude of branding. In the interview Bono explained selling out is an old idea left behind from the 60’s. Drummer Larry Mullen than concluded that if people wanted to keep it real “they should work in a (expletive) coal mine.”

    U2 of course was featured, along with their song “Vertigo” in those iPod commercials, which ran night and day last fall and during Major League Baseball’s World Series. Denounced by many critics as “sell outs” the boys from the emerald isle turned down an offer to license their 1987 hit song “Where the Streets Have No Name” for use in a television ad earlier this year.

    “We almost did. We sat down.” U2’s Bono said after rejecting the offer. “ I know from my work in Africa what £12.5 million could buy. It was very hard to walk away from £12.5 million”. In the end the band agreed not to accept the offer because “Where the Streets Have No Name” was a song they did not want associated with a commercial.

    As with many of today’s young acts the classic rock artists of yesterday feel no regret in renting their music out especially in today’s atmosphere of fierce competition. Respectable rock artists that have used their songs in commercials include Aerosmith, The Beatles, Led Zepplin, U2, The Ramones, The Who, Bob Dylan, The Clash and former Police front man Sting.

    Sting has collaborated with various corporations most notably Jaguar. The song Desert Rose was used in a commercial and it ran continuously exposing the song and Jaguar at the same time. Brand New Day, the album that contained Desert Rose was the biggest hit of Sting’s solo career.

    Like other older artists, Sting has trouble getting his music on radio and video music channels. “Radio in the 21st century is a far, far different beast than even 10 years ago,” said Cort Smith, former member of the Edmonton rock band Jack Dicky and a current producer at Global television in Vancouver, Canada. “Take the Canadian radio industry… you want to get your song played on the radio in Canada? Guess what? You’re going through the chorus radio network, because they own near every station in the country”. “If chorus doesn’t like what they hear, forget about it… you’re not getting played”, he added.

    Hip-hop artists are known to brand their music with many videos resembling extended commercials. Nike’s Air Force One shoe was the subject of a Nelly song of the same name and video. Canada’s leading music station Much Music pulled the video because they thought it looked too much like an ad.

    Many large music acts and events use official tour sponsors. The Rolling Stones were the first to do this in 1981 in support for Tattoo You when Jovan cosmetics offered tour sponsorship. Since than artists like Michael Jackson and Britney Spears (both Pepsi), and events such as Lollapalooza (X-Box) and Ozzfest (Sony Playstation) have all accepted sponsorship.

    Sharon Shapiro, director and promotions of Sony Computer Entertainment America, issued an online press release last year stating “Ozzfest is a great opportunity for Sony Computer Entertainment America to bring the PlayStation 2 experience straight to our gamers who are also metal fans, many of which attend the festival year after year”.

    Many artists and promoters see sponsorship as a way of minimizing touring costs associated with a large-scale tour or event. The Rolling Stones have always argued that sponsorships benefit the fans, who get cheaper tickets as a result. “I don’t know about the evils of sponsorships,” Keith Richards said in a 1989 interview with Forbes. “But sponsorships enable you to keep the ticket prices down in order to build the kind of stage that’s required. And stages don’t come cheap. . . . I have no qualms about a beer company (Anheuser-Busch) wanting to put their name on the ticket.”

    The overwhelming attitude in the music industry today is that selling out is an obsolete belief from a distant era. Cort Smith agreed. “My feeling is that the notion is dated; it (selling out) doesn’t exist,” stated Smith. “Everyone sells out, and if you don’t, you’re left behind to die.”

    “You can write the best songs in the world, but if you don’t have a vehicle to get them out there, what difference does it make?” Smith said. “You absolutely need to sell yourself if you have any expectations of making a career out of music”

    “The music industry is ruled by suits now, and you have to play by their rules,” he added. The renegade rocker is gone, and if he does exist, you can bet he’s been told to act that way. After all, it’s image that sells records”

    Trent McMartin

  • http://gonzo-marx.blogspot.com/ gonzo marx

    to Lono for comment #42..ya beat lil ole me to it..

    let me just say….”i luv you Man”

    that hits the problem right in the nuts..

    to my way of thinking the whole “selling out” thing stems from old school fans of a band feeling as if the Artist(s) have stepped away from whatever drew the listener to them in the first place..

    an example…

    Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine = Audioslave

    when the singer Chris Cornell wanted to get more mainstream and commercially viable in his music, it alienated the rest of the band…so they split up…in Rage, the band memebers no longer wanted to stick with the socio political commentary of the singer, Zach de la Rocha, and they split up…now we have Chris as frontman for the musicians of Rage in the band Audioslave

    the difference is the age old argument between a “commercial artist” for whom profit is the largest motivator, and the conceptual Artist for whom the Work itself is the reward…and is why you will always have a rift between “pop” and interpertive Work

    not a bad thing by any means…and it is well within the purview of the Consumer to voice their Opinion and vote with their wallets depending on which path, or changes in path any Artist(s) take

    2 examples of bands who have made good money while sticking to the Principles of their Art…Motorhead and Rush…

    both bands have been artound for quite a long time, have stuck to their guns on making th ekind of Music they find fufilling, and yet have found an acceptable level of monetary reward in the marketplace for their Art

    it’s rare, but it is doable

    in the end, it’s an age old conflict between the Producer and Consumer…dissillusion the Consumer, and they are going to bitch even while you expand your fanbase to increase financial rewards…

    many years ago, i went to a small venue and saw Metallica..they played for 3 hours and railed against the poser hair bands of the day, swearing they would always stay true to their Ideals…years later, i took my brother in law to a big arena show…they still played well for 3 hours, yet they had become everything they once ranted against…and to me, their music had declined in that certain quality(i was never really a fan in the first place, but i do appreciate Craft)

    thus, to me, they had “sold out” and rendered me uninterested in what would produce

    the opposite was Pantera, who had started out as a “hair band” then took some time to find themselves as Artists and came out with 3 damn fine albums that helped redefine a genre before going their seperate ways…

    i still say Lono nailed it with the Tool lyrics in #42…read them again…

    your mileage may vary

    Excelsior!

  • Philby

    Rory Gallagher never sold a single but managed to fill out concerts hall’s all around the world for his entire career, never been controversial, always kind to his peers and helped the up and coming bands no matter what their choice in the business. Showman to the end witch you pay money at the door for the best night of entertainment and buy an album to bring home to listen and play his music until the next time he came to your town. Is that selling out. I don’t think so?