Sell or sell out?

July 13, 2011

Interesting article in Film and Music on the morals of bands selling their wares to advertisers The Great Rock and Roll Sell Out.

The old Bill Hicks routine about selling out to advertisers being pretty much the worst thing a human can do (…”off the artistic roll call forever. You’re another whore at the capitalist gang bang … Everything you say is suspect and every word that comes out of your mouth is now like a turd falling into my drink.”) has traditionally been my attitude. But thinking a bit more on the subject i wonder whether it is so clear cut.

Iggy Pop has disgraced himself, this is true and there can be no excuse. Likewise if Rage Against the Machine ever end up advertising for Asda (to the tune of Bombtrack: ‘Hey, it’s just another Rollback…hrghhh!’).

Certain artists will have a level of freedom that comes with vast piles of cash (although this is probably a diminishing number). If they start to spend their time advertising a brand it suggests that the accumulation of even vaster quantities of cash is an unseemly priority – who wants to spend a few hours ‘working’ when you don’t have to? Not cool. Some will probably advertise what they see as cutting edge brands (U2 and Apple for instance) which perhaps doesn’t sully you in the eyes of as many, but it still smacks of greed or a desperation to be down with the kids and their all important apps. But some might advertise products they genuinely like or use and i can’t see a problem with that. Unless it’s something like Uzis or grenades…

But what if you’re a good but jobbing musician or band who has similarish money worries to the vast majority of people? I remember the guy from the Dandy Warhols speaking about selling a track to Vodaphone for a million quid and him saying ‘I never need to worry about money again’. He attained a freedom to make music without having the record company man standing over him pressuring him for more saleable music. That’s surely a pay off in the pursuit of artistic freedom. Yes, it will leave a nasty taste in the mouth but I’m not sure why artists have to be purer than pure for their art. Why can’t they deal with some of the compromises, shitty deals and unwanted professional hand jobs everybody else has to deal with? Must artists be different in this sense? Is that what makes them artists, their somehow loftier ideals? Perhaps.

But i’m not sure with traditional revenues going down the toilet people can expect the same purity any more. Making choices in this context will require judgement and should never be in the shameless pursuit of more and more cash but surely a more subtle understanding from the buying public is required. And i wonder if there isn’t will the trend towards more and more musicians being middle class public school boys  – people who can perhaps afford to be more ‘pure’ – continue?

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