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antiMUSIC is pleased to welcome aboard Trent McMartin who not only has been filing special news reports but now will give you the "lowdown" on various music related topics! 

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The Art of Selling Out: Compromising the Music

A few months ago I wrote an article entitled “The Art of Selling Out” examining the growing trend today where musicians are selling their songs to corporations to be used in advertisements. I debated the pros and cons of musicians selling their creations as a way to make money and to gain exposure in today’s short-attention-span music industry. What this new article will examine is the propensity of many musicians to compromise their musical integrity. When an artist actually chases fame and fortune putting aside musical quality, original intentions and moral convictions

In the summer of 1998 the Ben Affleck/Bruce Willis popcorn flick Armageddon was a huge hit in theatres and everywhere that summer could be heard the Dianne Warren penned hit “I Don't Want To Miss A Thing”. The song was sung by veteran rock act Aerosmith and it would become the band’s first ever number one hit even though they didn’t write it. This of course isn’t the first instance of an artist not writing their own material but it stood out because it took 25 years and someone else to provide Aerosmith with their first number one song. 

The king of rock and roll Elvis Presley wrote little of his own material hiring countless musicians and songwriters to provide him with the hit making material that would propel the unstoppable Elvis machine. Prolific songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote some of Presley’s greatest songs such as “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “King Creole.” 

Even if someone writes their own material or brings in songwriters there is always an inclination to come up with something catchy, new and relevant that has the possibility of becoming a hit. You cannot blame an artist wanting to make a living from creating music and wanting to spread their music to as many people as possible. That’s every artist’s goal but sometimes during the pursuit of success, the music is compromised. 

“I've been a punk-rocker for a long (expletive) time and I guess I've struggled with the thought of bands that would want to compromise the music they create to try to ‘make it’,” said Liam Harvey Oswald, vocalist for the Canadian pop/core outfit A Last Goodbye.“ I always thought that there are two kinds of musicians...the ones who play the music for the love of it, and the ones who just want to be famous.”

Fans are not stupid and usually they can pick up on the distinction between artists doing it for the music and others doing it just for the money. “I would say that ‘selling out’ is left up to the listener/buyer of the CD,” said Jason Manning, Music Director for Edmonton’s modern rock radio station Sonic 102.9 FM. “Some people get pissed when an artist sells a lot of one CD.  Take for example Moby.  Play sold a TON of records.....his last 2 CD’s...well they have not done so well.  Is his music crappier now....well that’s for his fans to decide.  I do not think bands automatically suck after they sell a gazillion CD’s,” Manning added. 

Oswald agrees. “We're seeing alot of really heavy bands, mellow out, and have producers work with them to help give them the 'hooks' that the radio execs wanna hear,” the vocalist said. “It's pretty much left up to you to decide which bands are full of (expletive), and which bands have any integrity at all.”

Can artists be blamed when they don’t or just cannot write the same material they did when they first started out? Many bands have been accused of going softer and because of that, they’re branded as sell outs. In 1991, Metallica would release their most popular record to date, The Black Album, which would go on to sell more than 10 million records bringing heavy metal into the mainstream. Many hardcore fans cried fowl calling it Metallica’s sell out album but others were kinder and less judgemental. “In my opinion their sound didn't change,” said 92. 5 JOE FM Assistant Music Director and huge Metallica fan Ryann Bradley of Edmonton, Canada.  “Why not go mainstream to make the bank account fatter and gain a more diverse audience?”

It’s really hard to say who has “sold out” and who has kept intact their artistic vision. A guy like Neil Young could never be accused of compromising his music. But it also could be said that Neil Young only has the ability to follow his musical ambitions because of the success and achievements he garnered early in his career as a solo artist and a member of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. 

If you’re an up and coming band it may be more tempting to write something more appealing to listeners or to bring in outside help. “The music industry is ruled by suits now, and you have to play by their rules,” said Cort Smith, television producer at Vancouver’s Global television. “You absolutely need to sell yourself if you have any expectations of making a career out of music.” 

And it’s this dilemma that tears apart many artists who feel conflicted between their artistry and the industry. Kurt Cobain went through this conflict up until his tragic death in 1994 taking the accusations of being a sell out very hard. Having the ability to write great hooks and catchy melodies should not be criticized but commended. As one community figure remarked to me recently, “art is a state of mind; and for one person to slag another person’s vision or opinion is crap.” 

And while many artists and people agree with the concept that selling out is nonsense, others remain hesitant to follow trends. “I don't think I'd ever be happy if I allowed someone to take complete control over all the things that make a band great,” said Liam Harvey Oswald. “I do believe that it is almost impossible to do it all on your own, and expect any sort of great success, but still believe that with hard work, and determination, anyone can achieve their goals,” he explained.

“After all, radio & video stations ain't everything... it's the people behind your music, at the shows, showing their support, helping to inspire, and allowing you to continue to do what you love to do.” 



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