Selling out is a very real thing. Artists become consumed with the idea of selling out. It digs into their brain and every even remotely commercial design is relegated through a firing squad of selling out decisions that infringe on their ability to be creative and can derail their career for the absolute worst. Artists are plagued by the idea of selling out.
Or are they?
Are they REALLY?
Artists in the music industry seem particularly infused with the act of selling out, something that affects them, but it doesn’t necessarily seem to affect other artistic mediums. In many ways, the act of selling out is almost exclusively populated in the music industry, and almost solely devised and further manufactured by fans who think selling out is even a “thing.”
It is SOMETHING, but it surely isn’t what people think it is.
Defining selling out, we come to understand that it is the act of forgoing creative and artistic choices for financial ones. Vague? I agree. What is the determinant figure of who sells out and who, well, doesn’t? Well, of course, that would be the legion of fans influenced my media and middle man sources. I mean, Metallica can give interview after interview saying they never sold out, but it could never make a mark against the public perception.
So selling out is forgiving artistry for money. It’s not exactly specific but like pornography, it is hard to define but you know it when you see it. In a musical sense, there many examples of what is generally considered selling out. The most common example is selling a song to a commercial. It isn’t unheard of that a car company will buy a song for 100k. Ace Enders from the Early November personally told me that one of his older songs was bought for 40k for a movie trailer, and it was only a few seconds. I can only speculate that he doesn’t consider this a selling out, but a way to fuel his future musical activity in a proactive way.
So selling out takes a few forms, largely filtered by groupthink, to where if many believe it, many MORE will believe it. That can be unhealthy in music, people who regulate their musical feelings by the group. A common evil, but one that is simple to human nature.
Now, are the artists that are said to have sold out, actually “sold out?” Is selling out even a relevant “thing” or just a manufactured fen perspective?
Selling out is definitely something that can occur. When an artist forgives some artistic license to create something more appealing on a wider scale, that is, in the most basic sense of the word, selling out. But it is really hard to determine if that arises from a desire for more financial success or a creative artistic decision in itself, and that is where the mud flies.
When the Black keys developed their conventionally more approachable album, El Camino, was that a conscious decision to be more approachable and thus earn more money- or a creative decision that was just par for the course and ignorant of financial gain?
Well, it’s both. When an artist decides to do something more hook-friendly or beef up a chorus, it can be a financial decision to appease a greater fan base AND a creative license. Because of this duality, selling out is no more a damnation to fans than it is a creative decision to make that type of sound.
In other words, selling out can occur, and has. Selling out occurs when someone adjust something in their creative output based on other’s expectations. I am not a particularly prolific musician, but I am creative. And I have never created anything that didn’t have those who would see it in mind. You try to remove those things, but you can’t. It’s just an instilled feeling. i am sure others have dissuaded those feelings largely, but when a measly audience like mine, it’s a far cry from a massive following many popular bands have, and the feeling is not only inevitable but apparent.
I am all for great artists accentuating their musical career with financial gains. As a matter of fact, if my favorite band was approached by a car company to buy their song, I would be happy for the group that they are able to get paid handsomely for making excellent music. But that’s just me. And when a band I hate has the same thing happen to them I think, I first think about the band’s sound. Is it THAT type of style? Then I think, well, good for them. That’s why they are making music and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
There is a certain stigma against certain attributes of selling out, and I think they are largely unfair. People should earn money for their artistic achievements. if they can make a living off doing so, than excellent. It allows them more financial freedom to pursue total artistic license in the future, or at least in theory. Many people understand this already, but many do not apply this ideology.
The fact is, pursuing greater financial success should not be a negative stigma but a reality of the desire to earn financial freedom from creating music. The idea of selling out can really only be determined by the artists themselves. They need to ask themselves- am I doing this to be rich or doing this because of a creative decision?
The selling out label can’t really be determined by fans, because the facts are filtered and information is regulated. They simply lack the whole picture. Even obvious cases of selling out can only truly be looked on in the perspective of the artist.
There are certainly cases of selling out. There are certainly cases of an artist doing something against their better instinct or choice to create something more appealing. But all mediums procure the same action. For one reason or another, it is music that gets the blame stick. This is the act of wanting success in an artistic venture. if you do, you will, in some aspect, sell yourself out. it’s inevitable. It’s absolute. It’s like playing the game of life without lying. You have to play the game. it’s in the rule book.
i guess it’s a question of tact more than overall selling out, but the fact is, selling out is inherent in music in any form, if there is a desire to earn money. The only ones not selling out are those still releasing music in MySpace because they can. They don’t care if people hear it- they don’t care if it is used for anything ever. Only then, is the music or artist pure enough to have never sold out. but then, they are working 9-5 at the Circle K.
Selling out is an inevitable byproduct of financial endeavors in any capacity- it’s not whether an artist does it or not, but whether they can seem like they have never done it at all.
Image Source, Selling Out Google, 2009 Hand Graphic Photo Copy
Ryan Merkel is a cool writer guy and contributor all over the internet, from blogs on music to magazines about music to sites about playing music. He is currently founder of SunState Investing and is head editor of the music entertainment magazine, CultureTease. He has written two novels, and is currently working on a third full-length novel, surprisingly, not about music. His novel “Splatter the Noise” earned accolades for independent publishing. Be sure to check out: www.sunstateinvesting.com
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