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Selling Out In 2021

What is selling out in 2021? I think it’s a fair question to ask because while most musicians are doing what they can to survive, there’s still an extent to which someone can commercialize themselves that hurts the perception of their art to their true fans. Back in the day, let’s say the 60’s, it was a much bigger deal, when you had instances like Jim Morrison coming out of a drunken stupor to realize The Doors had sold “Light My Fire” to a car commercial and having it almost ruin the relationship between him and the band but this would almost be unheard of now because it’s just an accepted part of the industry now, everyone gets that bands don’t sell as many records and have to find ways to make money.

I guess what is interesting about the commercialization of artists in 2021 is to what level they can go to and still not be commercialized. The Black Keys are interesting to look at in this regard because while they have been able to sustain a level of legitimacy, they have been condemned in many circles for selling out to anyone from Hewlett Packard to Zales and they’ve even come to the point where they make jokes about it in interviews. While they have a good sense of humor about it, I really think it has had a toll on their music because even though it is still relatively the same sound, everyone has become so inundated with it that we judge it differently, it puts a new connotation on it when we hear a song we love too much, it becomes stale, that’s just a fact.

While the Black Keys may be a good example of this from a modern perspective, I think the ultimate example of this is Jimmy Buffett. Now, I know most people may be of the mindset of ‘who the fuck liked Jimmy Buffett in the first place’ but, as a person who lives on a boat, who grew up with Parrothead parents and who adheres to a beach bum lifestyle, I have to say there are some songs that ring true, like “Wonder Why We’d Ever Go Home” and “Come Monday” and while it’s sad to say a Jimmy Buffett song describes your life, when you’re a 3rd generation sailor, “Son Of A Son Of A Sailor” is kind of just your song. The point of all this being that despite the intrinsic love my family has for Jimmy Buffett, they still also feel he has sold out. Once again, I don’t want to hate on anyone for making sound business decisions but I think Buffett has gotten to the point where his business dealings have come to affect his musical reputation because making “Margaritaville” bars and hotels may be profitable, it makes the song a joke. Not to make Jimmy out like he was trying to be Beck or something but I think he had some talent, a sound, a following, a unique idea and while it fit this cult following of cruisers, he gave it away to the larger tourist industry and even my Parrothead parents have lost some of their genuine love for him.

I think one of the most notorious bands known for being difficult about their music rights is Led Zeppelin. I’ve heard of several instances of this but my favorite was an extra clip on the School Of Rock DVD where Jack Black, backed by a crowd, is begging the remaining band members to use “Immigrant Song” in a scene (which side note: was perfect) but in some ways I get it. It’s a very fine thing, allowing your music to be used for other artistic formats. Because while it can turn out great like in situations like “Layla” in Goodfellas, it can also lead to a disingenuous feeling toward a song like “Happy” that came to be more known for the movie than the actual song itself.

That seems to be what musicians are left with these days because while the public may be more accepting to the monetization of music since artists are not getting nearly the album sales they would have previously, it is still a detriment to the music to have it be everywhere. I guess that’s my whole point here is that while I don’t blame musicians for taking any opportunity they can to make money, it still takes a toll on us as fans.

Maybe it’s exclusivity but I don’t think that describes it, it just sucks when you hear a song too much. Take my poor Parrothead parents for example, because once there was a Margaritaville retirement home, it was no longer about the music and even if Jimmy wrote that song about a genuine experience, the fact that it has now come to represent an entire business entity has affected the emotional value the song has. While I don’t want to ask any artist to turn down money (because I doubt I would), I would ask maybe to look at it from that perspective, the one of a fan who really loves their music.

Photo Courtesy of Kenny Gouts

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