Thursday, 14 May 2009

Selling out is the new...Not selling out.

There is a lot of hate in the music industry. To quote the great (!?) Charlie Simpson "Fans take as much pride in hating bands as liking them." It may be a sweeping generalization, but in my experience people, and indeed reviewers, find and cling (sometimes correctly) to any reason at all to hate bands without ever alluding to their music.

Of course sometimes you don't need to. A band that doesn't write its own music rarely deserves the success it gains. In today's industry, where songwriters are ten a penny, many talented musicians are pushed out of the limelight by bands like Westlife, who can quite frankly screw themselves with a rusty spoon and get tetanus.

But all too often I find respectable, talented musicians lumped in with the tripe of boy and girl bands. I'm talking of supposed "Sell Outs" who are claimed to be in it for the money or fame, not the music, simply because they sign to major labels, or start writing more accessible music.

An excellent example is Greenday, no longer sub-level punk rock heroes but world arena superstars, who "sold out" in 1994 by signing to a major, and then somehow again when they released American Idiot. While it was a departure in many ways I think that the album was superior lyrically, emotively, musically and productionally to all their previous records. What is more, the songs on this album, to me, are less catchy and accessible than anthems like Basket Case, Longview or Time Of Your Life.

There seems to have been a movement against corporate music, magazines and labels since Bob Dylan's controversial move from acoustic to electric, which alienated half his fans who believed he was bowing to commercial and progressional pressures.

But the whole notion is absurd, contradictory and completely self destructive for artists. Had Nirvana not signed to Sub Pop (a label half owned by Universal) we would probably have never heard of one of the most influential artists of our time, and the Foo Fighters may have never existed. Of course Kurt Cobain is famous for hating the popular culture lifestyle he was forced to live. Had he been able to embrace it maybe things would have been different for Nirvana.

Money aside, major labels offer an opportunity for musical exposure that few (actually independent) indie labels could even hope to create. They offer advertising campaigns, contacts and placement that can bring an artist right to the public eye. It also creates profits that reflect the talent and work that goes into being in the music industry. Why is it that for an artist to have integrity they must earn a small wage packet and be heard by as few people as possible, or stick to the music or genre they started in?

I maintain that the hardest music to write is commercial music, and in particular commercial music that doesn't sound like everything else on the radio. This does therefore not include the mind-numbing-music-murdering number ones that Westlife or Atomic Kitten churn out. I'm talking about bands like Feeder and Coldplay, songwriters like Gary Barlow and innovators like Matt Bellamy, who despite their vast wealth seem to lose respect of the "elite" the more popular they get, but have offered so much more to music than many of the bands NME claim will "Change your life".

I saw Muse at Wembley, largely because Biffy Clyro we playing, and was completely and utterly blown away by the talent, variety and sheer technical ability Matt Bellamy, and the whole band, showed during their monster 2.5 hour set. And still by many Muse are seen as this over-hyped, overly successful band (type "I hate Muse" into google and you'll see) when I think they will be seen as one of the greats of our era, and for years to come.

Thankfully this notion of "selling out" is slowly disappearing. The creation of iTunes, myspace and illegal p2p software has meant that smaller bands get better exposure, reducing the polarization of the big and the little bands. Bands like Biffy Clyro and System of a Down have managed top twenty SINGLES, and this will hopefully give rise to the pushing out of watered-down R'n'B and manufactured pop artists.

In fact everyone is now selling out, with bigger turnovers, TV ads and interviews, being heard by more people and being branded as commercial without the derogartory insinuations. Downloads mean charts are more accurate representations of music consumption and many indie labels are being brought out, offering new opportunities to their bands.

Music is more and more accessible, but in so many ways the cloud of musical snobbery that surrounds so many genres is yet to clear, even now that the boundaries are gone. We can't all like pop, or rock, or rap but we can at least accept and applaud the achievements of musicians in their areas whether they make money from it or not.

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