Well, for someone whose blog gets about 50 hits a day, this whole “sell out” thing is quite the scene. Since even the Great Light-Blue Satan has devoted several posts to the subject today, I figure I’ll throw my response out there.
First of all, for all of those that are able to continue enjoying these songs after they’ve been in a Taco Bell commercial, I envy you. Really. Whenever I hear ‘New Slang’, the image of a bloodstained Ronald McDonald pumping BGH into a sedated cow pops into my head, and I assure you its completely involuntary. (Though Natalie Portman, mercifully, pops in there sometimes)
“Selling out” is certainly subjective. For some it is signing to a big label, to some it’s making videos, to others it’s charging more than $10 for your show. I tend to reject each of those arguments. I even don’t mind letting your song be used in a film, because it is at least being used in another art form (though if it’s some shitty Brockenheimer film/matching video synergy thing, that’s very questionable).
I happen to draw the line at allowing your song to be used to sell widgets. The commercialization of every aspect of our culture is something that really sickens me. You might be one of those people that watches the Super Bowl to see all the new wacky commercials, but I think that phenomenon is a sad commentary on our society. I don’t find being manipulated to give my money to Wal-Mart amusing. And if I hear someone at my work gush about how cute the talking duck/frog/lizard/dog/anus is on the Ex-Lax commercial, I’m gonna fucking snap.
If you’re only making music to get rich, live in a mansion or get laid, go ahead and sell your song. Your music is likely crap anyway. But for those with genuine talent such as the Shins or Modest Mouse who present themselves as serious musicians to sell your song for a Nike commercial, I think this says something about how seriously you value the music you make. Which is entirely up to you, not me. But if you don’t object to your music being used in this manner, don’t expect me to take your music seriously either. I’m sure you’ll get lots of new fans, so that’s no loss to you.
Its also fair to judge bands differently based on what “level” they’re at. For Bob Dylan to sell ‘The Times They Are A Changin’ to the Bank of Montreal for a TV ad….there’s just no excuse for that. He’s been an embarrassment for the last 30 years, so this and the Victoria’s Secret and Ipod commercials merely cement this fact in my snobby book. And Elvis Costello pitching luxury automobiles for rich white guys makes me vomit in my mouth a little. Ditto White Stripes and Coke.
For unsigned bands struggling to get by, it’s certainly a different story. But again, I think it says something about how seriously you’re taking your music. Bands like the Shins and Modest Mouse don’t fit in this category though. Modest Mouse was already well known and could sell out any place they wanted to. There was no reason to allow the minivan commercial other than wanting more money, or being “bigger”. Which again, is their right to do, and some might not care at all, but it really rubs me the wrong way.
Amanda says in the comments that selling your song to a commercial could allow more of your music to flow freely through the internet and allow the band to lower their prices to $20 a show. Ideally, this might be true, but I don’t think it will work out this way. Modest Mouse shows are $30+ through Ticketmaster (at least) despite the minivan money. And the Shins, post-McDonalds, rarely tour and I’d be surprised if their tickets prices aren’t similar. Considering how unimpressive their new album is (IMO), its also possible that commercial money will make bands rest on their laurels, touring less and feeling less pressure to put out the best music possible. It’s certainly selfish on my part, but I think that bands touring to make a living gives the fans more access and also pushes a band to improve their music. Bands inevitably get older, or richer, have kids, grow apart, get burnt out, lose the creative ability and drive they once had. The commercial money might exacerbate this process (not the age…yes).
I take politics and music very seriously (in that order). It may be silly, but I get just as upset when a band whose integrity or music I respect sells their song to a commercial as I get when a politician who I respect makes a terrible vote. So when Obama refused to campaign for Lamont and rid us of the dreadful Lieberfucker, I had a similar reaction to seeing the Elvis Costello Lexus commercial. And if Sonic Youth sold ‘Teenage Riot’ to The Gap, or R.E.M. sold ‘These Days’ or ‘Begin the Begin’ to Ford….my head would explode.
(cross posted at BlueGrassRoots)
…I’ll add that Carlos Zambrano’s 5.61 ERA is also deeply upsetting.