Because nobody’s buying my shit. Har har.
Seriously though, the term “Selling Out” has been abused by hipsters and douchebags for so long, using it now flags you as one, like the words “sky wizard” or “crotch spawn” or “sheeple.” Yet while trying to figure out that point where something you like becomes a souless mockery of itself, I found no other term as useful, so let’s unpack its baggage, shall we?
The term Sell Out has been characterized to mean the following:
- “When everybody else jumped on the bandwagon and now I can’t get a good seat anymore. Boohoohoo.”
- “When my favorite band stopped making music I like in favor of literally anything else. Damn them for trying to stretch their creative horizons. I wanted the same old graunchy shit again and again!”
- “When my favorite thing appeared in an advertisement. How dare they use their IP to shill products of any kind. All money is poison!”
To that last one, I’m going to link this talk by Iggy Pop, proving that just because his music is now used to advertise cruise lines to Boomers, doesn’t mean he ever stopped being an awesome dude.
Yet the term Sell Out is a valid complaint in one way. It describes the moment an artist stops growing in favor of grinding out more of what people demand from them. It’s the moment you stop doing what you love and instead just do as you’re told, because you’re told what you love won’t make enough money. Here’s how the cycle typically plays out:
- A complete unknown does something so off the wall it attracts notice. It’s novel because it’s novice, and yet there’s talent there, an underlying charm. It’s crazy but it works somehow.
- Some corporate snoop picks up the scent on something new. It has just enough grassroots following to smell like money. The agent offers the artist a small taste of pie, knowing it doesn’t even amount to a piece in the long run.
- The artist now gets to go pro, perhaps full time, supported by a huge media engine. It feels great. The initial high keeps the muse flowing and what comes out is wonderful and a massive hit. The corporation makes a shitload of money and the artist keeps doing what they do.
- The artist is now worth enough money for the higher ups to take notice. They don’t like the artist doing all that crazy shit—exactly what made them notable in the first place. But that won’t do. Creative decisions can’t be left to artists! The corporate machine starts grinding its gears to make the artist more “market friendly,” in the hopes a toned-down version will appeal to not just the kids already into it, but their pearl-clutching great-grannies too. More money for everyone (except the artist, probably), hooray!
- The artist, now addicted to money (or drugs), and disenchanted, goes one of two ways: The artist can take all the notes from their corporate overlords and say, “Fuck it. Ok. I’ll do whatever.” Thus Selling Out, the rest of their career being a soulless grind. Or the artist burns out, either getting out of the business entirely or suffering endless protracted legal battles to get the hell out of their horrible contract so they can keep making art on their own terms.
Of course the moral of this story is not to sell yourself to big money-grubbing corporate scum in the first place, but that used to be the only way to get heard beyond your small community. Nowadays you can do most of the work, if not all, in the comfort of your own home and then slam it on up on the internet for anyone to peruse.
It’s not easy to attract notice, but we can hope the power of corporate overlords nearing its end because they understand the Internet even less than your great-granny. You don’t have to Sell Out anymore because we have other options, so long as the Internet doesn’t sell out itself.by