Does Selling Out Still Matter?

Over on Hitsville, Bill Wyman explores the concept of selling out, and seems frustrated that people no longer seem to differentiate between pop music and rock and roll:

The extent you care about this in directly related to whether, as a matter of first principles, you believe that rock and roll holds a special place in the pop-cultural firmament or that it doesn’t.

If you don’t, in a way you’ve excluded yourself in the discussion, because you don’t have anything at stake in it.

That said, you might consider whether there’s any line you will draw. Should Saul Bellow have done commercials? Should he have stuck in some paid product placement in his novels? (“Saul: Manischewitz wants in; can you have someone making matzoh?”) […]

In other words, you either believe in art as an activity separate from the crassly commercial or you don’t.

Worth a read. And personally, I’m still as conflicted about the issue as I’ve been every time it’s come up since we launched this site in 2001. Wyman defines selling out as “when artists embrace rock’s attitudinal posturings early in their career, and then turn around and sell the songs they made their reputation with to some TV ad.” That seems as good a definition as any, but it might exclude pretty much all post-70s music. Can you think of any current indie rockers who even come close to embracing “rock’s attitudinal posturings”?

6 thoughts on “Does Selling Out Still Matter?”

  1. The Darkness

    Actually, Jack White seems to embrace those posturings (and I mean that in a good way). That said, he’s apparently OK with making a buck or two from marketing managers too.

  2. i liked it when Chumbawamba took the tens of thousands it got from use of Tubthumping in a commercial and gave it to an italian anarchist group

  3. This is not the Bill Wyman I was anticipating.

    I found it strange that Bill Wyman would be interviewed about this in 2009.

    This guy should change his name so I don’t get confused in the future.

  4. No, this one is a former Chicago Reader critic a/k/a “Not That Bill Wyman”.

    Note that this Bill Wyman was born Bill Wyman, a few years before the famous bassist changed his name from “William George Perks” to “Bill Wyman.”

    Samir: Hmm… well why don’t you just go by Mike instead of Michael?

    Michael Bolton: No way. Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.

  5. The original rockers didn’t have any qualms hawking products – Little Richard sold hair product, Johnny Cash hyped donuts, Buddy Holly wrote (unused?) jingles for beer. There were plenty more ’60’s rockers who did radio ads than Wyman remembers – the Who and the Yardbirds participated in shake mix promotions, Tommy James and the Troggs promoted a clothing store chain, and the list of artists who did Coke and Pepsi radio jingles is heavily populated with some of the earliest inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

    Any performer’s appearance on a radio or TV program with any kind of corporate sponsorship implies the artist approves of the products being sold. Any performer’s appearance in a venue dotted with signage promoting refreshments, local businesses, etc., implies that the performer is OK with such commercialism. You played a no-pay gig with your punk rock band at a shitty dive with a Miller Lite clock? You just passed Selling Out 101.

    I would suggest that all but the most fervently anti-consumerist musicians since the advent of rock have been OK with “selling out”. What’s the difference between seeing a performer sing their most beloved song in a stadium peppered with ubiquitous ad banners, and hearing that performer’s song in an ad supporting a specific product? It’s splitting hairs to me.

    I do take issue when the meaning of a song totally counters the content of the ad in which it’s used (most pointedly, the “patriotic” jeans commercial that used select lines from CCR’s decidedly anti-war “Fortunate Son”), but whether or not the song is being used at all seems to be a non-issue to me.

    If performers don’t want to be accused of selling out, they shouldn’t sell anything – including their music. Once the “art” is any kind of product, the selling out has already taken place – and, in rock’s case, the “attitudinal posturings” are helping to make the sales.

Leave a Reply