The Life of a Sell-Out
Money is a pain in the ass. Even wealthy people are bothered by it constantly. I chose to pursue music in college, and among the many risks of being a musician is a huge financial one. I happily took on that risk because I never really cared all that much about money, but I did care quite a bit about making music, so it seemed like a no-brainer. But we all have to make ends meet, and the rite of passage to a creative life is to take on jobs that have little or nothing to do with your field of passion. Every day, my heart aches a little more when I’m not able to devote my time 100% to what I love to do. But no matter how little I care about money, I still need (and want) it, and it sure would be nice to have a lot of it. Because maybe money can’t buy happiness, but there is one thing it can buy: Freedom. Sweet, sugary freedom.
Sell Yourself, Sell Your Soul
The music-money relationship is a tricky one. To make money from music, you inevitably have to turn it into a business, and turn your band and your CD into the product you’re selling. Someone once told me, “make it fun, don’t make it work.” Well, the point of trying to make music my “work” is because it’s always fun. Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. Don’t we all want a fun job? That’s all I’m trying to get for myself. When I make it work, it’s the most fun work I’ve ever done. It makes me want to work.
And so we come to the ubiquitous phrase: selling out. It’s one of the most over-used terms in the music business, particularly by fans. The problem is that there is no actual definition of selling out, because it’s totally different from everyone’s perspective. For a lot of people, selling out has simply become a synonym for success. As soon as a band makes it big, they’ve sold out. As soon as they sign to a major label or appear on MTV, they’ve sold out. But accepting money for your work isn’t selling out, even if it’s a big fat sum of money. The artists who have become rich are well-off because they have a ton of fans who shell out cash to buy their music, a T-shirt, a concert ticket, etc.
Selling out, to me, involves sacrificing your music’s integrity for money. Too often, signing with a major label means you give up control over your own music and have to squeeze into an artistic cookie cutter. Any time you let a so-called authority change the way you go about your art (in a way you wouldn’t normally change) for a few extra bucks, I think you may well have blown it. If you’re lucky enough that your music already fits the mold of what’s popular, then you’re good to go. I’d love to sign a major label contract today, but only if it meant that I wasn’t a slave to the trends. Fat chance, really. But there will always be some amount of compromise… It all comes down to how much is too much, and what you feel comfortable with.
Basically, I’d love to be making money from strumming my guitar, fiddling with ProTools, and being creative. I don’t particularly care about much more than that. I’d love to be in a successful touring band, or play guitar for recording sessions. It would be fun to write music for films. I’d even enjoy recording background music for SportsCenter clips or TV commercials. But if you ever actually see me appear in a goddamn 1-800-COLLECT commercial (Lit, I’m looking in your direction), remind me to slap myself in the face. With a brick.
One thing’s for sure: selling out is always associated with success. Sometimes, I think, this is a result of jealousy. Think about it: you’d be way more likely to think that Coldplay sold out if they said they like Miller Lite than if your local cover band got paid for saying the same thing. Actually, that reminds me, I really, really enjoy Smithwick’s Ale, and I could surrrre go for one right now.
No? OK, fine. But don’t say I didn’t warn you: someday you’re probably gonna tell me I sold out. But I probably won’t agree with you. And you know what? I’ll just think you sold out for working your 9 to 5 instead of pursuing your dream. So we’re even.