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 Princess Stomper

Is there really such a thing as selling out?

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Although Metallica kicked Dave Mustaine out of the band before they were terribly famous, both Megadeth and Metallica started off with a fairly similar thrash metal sound.

Therefore, when Metallica’s ratings-chasing Black Album became enormously successful, we could charitably consider that Megadeth’s ensuing Cryptic Writings was simply the result of like-minded songwriters coming up with similar ideas – and not at all that Mustaine thought, “if I sound like ‘Enter Sandman’, I’ll make a fuckton of cash”.

Even if the motivations for the change in sound were commercial, there’s an integrity there because – to put it bluntly – they’re fucking brilliant records. In order to ‘sell out’ in the proper sense, there must be some sort of loss of artistic integrity. You really have to suck a little bit. Someone obviously told this to Metallica, because their next album – Load – was generally dismissed as ‘a load of wank’, and Megadeth’s Risk album’s gamble was of alienating the fan-base with such pandering drivel.

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17 Responses to Is there really such a thing as selling out?

  1. Niall May 8, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Interesting article and good points.

    As a teenage Manics obsessive I didn’t fall out of love with them because they “sold out” – but because they became boring. Being huge was part of their plan from day one, and I wanted them to be big. It’s just unfortunate that it happened not quite how they had planned.

  2. Matt May 8, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Eh? Nobody accused Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson of selling out? Peter Jackson was blasted for The Frighteners (and, before LOTR was a success, you can bet people were damn apprehensive about him directing it) and Sam Raimi DEFINITELY copped some flack for Spiderman.

    Addressing the issue at hand, though – I think there’s definitely such a thing as selling out. I just don’t think it’s as easily quantifiable (or ubiquitous) as many would have you believe. My definition of selling out basically constitutes a deliberate and wilful compromising of values actively maintained by the band and, with that definition in mind, few acts I know really qualify for the accusation.

    Chase & Status, for example, have been hit with accusations of selling out with their recent album No More Idols – betraying their drum’n’bass roots for a wider audience – but that’s how they’ve *always* run their career. The only difference is that the album in question is fucking rubbish but I don’t think they did that deliberately.

    A band like Children Collide, by contrast, recorded an entire second album of reputedly experimental and atmospheric material and, at no one’s insistence but their own, scrapped it and wrote another album closer to what their fans had come to love about their first album. I’ve never been a huge fan of the band but that decision disappointed me significantly.

    I suppose I broadly agree with your conclusion. All I think that really matters is if a band is doing what it wants to do. As long as the music’s good, I don’t really care why or how they’re making it. Very well-written article.

  3. polarbearisdying May 8, 2011 at 11:41 am

    just saying “making music is a commercial venture” doesn’t make it true.

    because there are many examples where it isn’t.

  4. john May 8, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Excellent post. I used to think bands signing to a major in the the 80s was ‘selling out’, but they did it to try to access as big a market as possible and still do. Who can blame them… it also generally offers an initial financial stability. Rarely tho, does it result in artistic loveliness as the confines of the big labels (ie they have to make their bigger – than – an – indie advance back) steers creative output to be more palatable. Always exceptions to the rule, but bands : do it yourself! Then: licence your albums to majors to use the good bits a major offers!

  5. Ken May 8, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    The people who get into an act first are bound to have a higher commitment to music in general than the people who discover them after they’ve broken. They’re the people who spend far more time and money on music, and they’re quite likely to resent those who don’t pay their dues in crappy clubs and second hand record stores.

    I got into REM via Gardening at Night, and by the time Green came around and Stipe had started enunciating I got a bit snooty and lost interest in them. It was many years later that I finally returned to those very successful records from their heyday and realised how good they were. They hadn’t sold out, they’d just sold. I know Cobain was a great admirer of REM’s ability to be big without being hollow, and these days I can really see what he means.

    When Springsteen wrote “Born to Run” he wanted it to be the biggest song in the world ever. He spent 6 months on it. He wanted the visceral thrill he’d experienced as a teenager listening to Phil Spector. He wanted it on every goddamn radio in America. You can call that megalomania but I don’t think you could ever describe it as selling out.

    I don’t think there’s enough of that overweening ambition to get across anymore, in rock anyway. I’ve always felt any number of bands could have taken U2 out if they’d wanted it bad enough. As for Linkin Park, that’s like the Special Olympics.

  6. Conan Neutron May 9, 2011 at 8:31 am

    The entire world of social networking has changed what the idea of selling out even means. The first battle is getting noticed anyway, and whether that’s by negative attention or positive attention doesn’t matter at all.

    The idea that there is a meritocracy still involved with music and that good stuff will rise to the top is simply not true anymore.

    However, there is a distinctly odious trend towards changing your sound in a pandering way to something that is more popular and losing what made a the band/artist interesting in the first place.

    This line is great: “Making records is a commercial venture, but if you’re not making something magical, you’re better off working for a bank.”
    The biggest problem with punk rock is that it showed that “anybody can do this”, but now everybody is.

  7. hannah May 9, 2011 at 8:54 am

    I think it’s an interesting question and Princess Stomper raises some good points and uses fitting examples of how it is a subjective thing and each band must be judged individually. I think it’s a fine line between developing on a natural trajectory as a band and ‘selling out’ and that label is all too easily applied by broken hearted music fans. I read somewhere once that Courtney Love shouted at the hecklers at a Live Through This tour gig saying “I’ve changed and the sex is just not good any more” or something that mimicked a speech she’d give when breaking up with her boyfriend. It’s hard to accept when you and your favourite band grow apart and I think this is why so many fans get upset. I used to love Red Hot Chilli Peppers but I hated Californication- I thought they had sold out at the time. It took me a while to reflect on it and to see that each of their albums were a leap forward in style from their early thrash funk sound, to their grunge funk sound, to their pop funk rock sound after which point I lost track of them as the masses took over wearing their t-shirts. The thing is when a band first starts making music they can’t usually afford the best equipment or recordings and they are novices in the song-writing department. They are also free to play anything they like because there is zero expectation and no pressure from fans, record companies, critics or mortgage payments (or whatever) so they can mindlessly create in an unselfconscious honest way, and whatever comes out is an achievement. At this stage a band is closer to their audience as they are music fans who bridge the gap between gig-goers and rock stars. At this point they are on our side and we feel it and respond to that. But then things change and they develop or they stop making music or they are Cypress Hill- but there’s only one Cypress Hill. Anyway, I think it’s wrong to level accusations at bands like RHCP because either they kept getting ‘better’ at what they do (whether I like their ‘improved’ sound or not) or they end up unable to put out more records and tour. I agree that as a fan the degree of integrity we sense in the band’s musical development or in what products they get associated with is part of whether they can ‘get away with it or not’. I also don’t think the youth of today get the concept of selling out. They’ve grown up with the Carling Academy and the O2 something-or-other festival and don’t know that there was once such a thing as The Liverpool Academy and festivals named after the location. They have grown up with bands releasing records on mobile phone adverts and I doubt if they can even imagine another world- a world where selling out isn’t par for the course. I don’t know what people have got against artists making an actual living from their work. It’s like some anti-money propaganda. Did anyone ever accuse Pink Floyd of selling out? Or was the genre of Prog Rock given a free pass since they declared themselves as progressive before anyone could complain? I think the idea is one born of punk… and some of those so-called punks can be insanely conservative about their little world of rules. Contradiction or what?

  8. Darragh May 9, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    Love the point about fan’s feeling a loss of ownership of a band. I think it correctly sums up the way I feel about some bands.

  9. tickle May 9, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    princess stomper used to be cool and write about what was close to her heart.

    now this lame mainstream article pandering to the masses?

    SELL OUT!

  10. Princess Stomper May 9, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    @ tickle: LOL!

  11. Niall May 9, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    Who is the guy in the black t-shirt behind Hetfield in the pic? He looks like he just stepped off the pages of a Marvel comic.

  12. Scott Creney May 9, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    When someone asked Krist Novoselic whether Nirvana had sold out, he replied, ‘I think if you vote Repbulican, because they’re the party of the rich and you’re going to get a tax break, I think THAT’S selling out.’

    Couldn’t agree more.

  13. Scott Creney May 9, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    Also, I think signing with a major corporation, using their money to hire Flood to produce your album and Alan Moulder to mix it, and then turning around and slapping your old indie label’s name on the side for (I’m assuming) reasons of credibility–I think that constitutes selling out as well.

  14. Matt May 10, 2011 at 8:08 am

    Niall – Rob Trujillo, Metallica’s current bassist.

  15. Darragh May 10, 2011 at 11:52 am

    …and also former bassist of Suicidal Tendencies. Back when they ripped shit up.

  16. Everett True May 12, 2011 at 6:42 am

    (from Facebook)

    Sadie Anderson
    I don’t really understand what this article is trying to say. “selling out” means exactly what it says on the box. You either make your work primarily for money or for the sake of the work. There are many bands and film makers who either start off with the intent of becoming rich and famous, whether as a stated aim or not, there are also those who buckle under hideous pressure from labels or whoever. But there are many people out there who make their work for love not money, even if it means not being able to pay bills etc.
    It is simple, there is a principle involved, either you abide by the principles or you sell out.
    Of course we’d all like to be able to be like sonic youth and have our cake and eat it. But the reality for most of us is we make our music, art, whatever because we think it is healthy. When we do it primarily for money then that ceases to be the case. X

    Paul Lloyd
    Although I realize that the dynamics differ in different areas of the arts, I assume it is accepted that musicians are artists. Just like painters, sculptors & photographers are. So, just as those aforementioned choose to make their living out of their art, so do musicians. The salient point here is ‘make a living’. Signing up to a label with superior means of production & distribution doesn’t mean, in my opinion,that you are after getting unfeasibly rich. It could just be that the independent or self financed outlet for your talents can no longer support you in it’s current state. I am currently rereading the book ‘Dance of Days’ and it’s pages are littered with bands who, faced with punishing touring and recording schedules, had to make a decision as to whether they wanted to continue to live a life of handouts, sleeping on other peoples floors and then coming home to no other means of raising income. Sooner or later they, like many other types of artists, have to decide whether they are going to make their art their hobby or their primary means of income. Making a living out of making music is just as much a valid choice as being a journalist,sales person whatever.Why do people think that in order to be an artist you must automatically accept that you are going to be on the margins of poverty for the rest of your life? We make much comment on the uber rich or high profile artists just as much as we laud the well-meaning downtrodden heros of indiedom. Let’s not forget the people who live inbetween those two extremes just trying to make an honest living out of a skill in their chosen area of the arts.

    Sadie Anderson
    I know what your saying paul and I do agree, however the difference between selling out or not lies in whether or not you do it ‘primarily’ for money. Making an honest living or a ‘living wage’ from what you love doing is not the same as producing something with the driving aim being commercial success.

    Sadie Anderson
    Of course there are times when people ‘sell out’ because they feel have no other choice, or for valid reasons i.e. Ken Loach directing a macdonalds ad so he can fund his next film. I am not suggesting people should never sell out just that it should be recognised for what it is.

    Paul Lloyd
    I too agree with you, Sadie. Just pointing out there is a difference between signing for a large concern to better your chances of actually making a living & chasing the maximum dollar by whatever means possible. Much like yourself.

    Sadie Anderson
    Sadly I have seen bands sign to big labels with the very honest intent of making a living and getting their music heard, only to be gradually conned and manipulated into a position where their fans quite rightly feel they have sold out. It can ruin lives and careers. I feel that being more aware of the basic principles involved would have helped guide those people thru the abusive quagmire in which they found themselves.

  17. Gerry May 12, 2011 at 9:17 am

    http://www.negativland.com/albini.html

    This is certainly worth reading. It may be dated somewhat, but is a gentle reminder that prostitution is still a better career option than music (’cause you’re fucked either way, but at least one of them pays! Ha, ha, ha, etc.).

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