Republican Governor Charlie Crist is using a Talking Heads song in an ad for his Senate campaign without permission. So David Byrne is suing his ass. Here’s why:
The general public might also think I simply license the use of my songs to anyone who will pay the going rate, but that’s not true either, as I have never licensed a song for use in an ad. I do license songs to commercial films and TV shows (if they pay the going rate), and to dance companies and student filmmakers mostly for free. But not to ads.
I’m a bit of a throwback that way, as I still believe songs occasionally mean something to people — they obviously mean something personal to the writer, and often to the listener as well. A personal and social meaning is diluted when that same song is used to sell a product (or a politician).
As anachronistic as these ideas seem nowadays, I’m happy there are still some artists who refuse to allow their songs—especially older, established songs—to be used in ads. I know, I know. I’ve heard it all. Ad nauseum. But still. Kudos to the artists who can afford to say no.
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”?
The term “sellout” only exists in the lexicon of the over-privileged. Almost every non-homeless person in America is over-privileged, at least in a global sense.
Obviously, I’ve struggled with the concept. I’ve struggled because of the backlash following my songs placement in TV commercials. That is, until I realized that the negative energy that was being directed towards me really began to inspire my creativity. It has given me a sense of, “well, I’ll show them who is a sellout, I’m going to make the freakiest, most interesting, record ever!!!” … “I’m going to prove to them that my shit is wild and unpolluted by the reach of some absurd connection to mainstream corporate America.”
I realized then that, for me, selling out is not possible. Selling out, in an artistic sense, is to change one’s creative output to fit in with the commercial world. To create phony and insincere art in the hopes of becoming commercially successful. I’ve never done this and I can’t imagine I ever will.