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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sell-Outs?: The Quiet Rise of Indie Music

Writing the review for Metric's "Grow Up and Blow Away" this morning got me to thinking about the number of times I've heard indie music in television advertisements. In case you missed it, back in 1999 Polaroid debuted the i-Zone camera and the North American ads ran a version of Metric's "Grow Up and Blow Away." It's unclear what kind of help that commercial had in Metric's rise to fame over the last decade, but one has to asume that in made a little bit of difference, right?
From Metric's forgotten i-Zone commercial. The look of shock is a result of the poor sales of i-Zone cameras.

Of course, with every commercial to which an indie band lends its music, there's aways a mob of hipsters with torches and pitchforks close behind, decrying the band as "sell-outs." Of course, labeling a band as such is probably a bit misguided, not to mention completely inaccurate. For me, an artist selling out means that they changed their sound, or who they are as a band for money, fame, or what have you.

A perfect example of this would be the band Staind. Back in 1999 they released their album, brillianty titled "Dysfunction" (that's sarcasm, folks). With it, they released the single "Mudshovel." It got it's fair share of play on MTV and on the radio for the better part of a week, and then it disappeared. So what did Staind do? They changed their approach. They went soft. They released "It's Been Awhile" to much hype and fanfare, and since then every song released has sounded exactly like it. Staind went from Headbanger's Ball to MTV Unplugged and never looked back.

That, friends, is selling out.

Are indie bands selling out by allowing their music to be used by companies for advertisements? I say no. Sure, Of Montreal may sell their melody for "Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games" to Outback Steakhouse, but what came of it? According to the band, the profits were used to add screens and costumes for touring. Anyone who has been to an Of Montreal show, both pre and post Outback commercial, knows that the difference is astronomical and well worth the 5 or 6 fans that may have decried their actions. And when you really look at it, Of Montreal took the money they made on the commercial and gave it right back to the fans. In no way is that selling out.

But what about other bands who aren't giving these profits back to the fans, so to speak? As a musician, one of my primary goals is to get my content to people who are willing to listen by any means necessary. I can't help but thinking that this is a somewhat universal goal in the world of music, especially for indie artist. If that's true, then how is selling your music for one company to use on an advertisement any different than putting out a CD through another. It's all just another way to get the music into peoples' ears.

Does that mean that Wilco's deal with Volkswagon, Mates of States' deal with AT&T, Dntel's deal with that car company, and even The Elected's deal with Orbitz gum are all justified? Absolutely! I mean, indie artists aren't exactly living in mansions and driving Bentleys. If they want to make a little extra cash and get their music to the people at the same time, more power to them; especially if it ends up going back to the fans as Of Montreal has done!

So before you set out to burn all your indie albums, think about this: would you rather hear Wilco or Nickelback? Of Montreal or Rihanna? Mates of State or Justin Timberlake? The choice is yours. Personally, I'm happy that the artists' that I love are being heard. It may mean that I have to put up with more prepubescent tools when I go to a show, but if it means that I don't have to put up with as much garbage, sign me up.


A Medium said...

Agreed. And "Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games" goes hilariously with Outback. I laugh fits of entertainment every time I see or hear it.

However, I do think I would appreciate the commercial and the band even more if they made a song specifically and originally for a commercial. It would be wonderful and creative, and then no one has to ever worry about a band that exploited a song they once loved (not like that's a huge deal anyway. Get over it, ya know?).

Gary said...

I thought it might amuse you to know, I referenced this article in an essay I wrote for my Anthro class at uni :-) And I got an A+. yay.