It's all cool to have yr music on an advert now, right?

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Mar 28 2011, 16h45

Want to know something really weird? Years ago artists used to have some hissy moral dilemma about “selling out”. No, seriously! Artists who had next to no money actually had to think about it when asked: “would you like more money?” and some of them actually, and this really happened, turned the money down. I shit you not.

These guys weren’t adverse to eating, having somewhere warm to live, buying medicine, buying beer, etc etc etc with money but it had to be the right sort of money. Honestly these guys decided that some money was ok and some money wasn’t. Some of the bad money was bad because of who it was who wanted to give it to them, some money was bad because it involved them doing something that they didn’t really want to do. (Oddly though money they paid to people for hard drugs didn’t often figure in their thinking of what bad money was... artists are fickle, no?)

Some old dead guy called Bill Hicks, who was a stand up comic, not only felt ok with himself saying the following, but also other people actually paid him money to hear him say such things;
By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing... kill yourself.
No, no, no it's just a little thought. I'm just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they'll take root - I don't know. You try, you do what you can. Kill yourself.
Seriously though, if you are, do.
Aaah, no really, there's no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan's little helpers. Okay - kill yourself - seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good, seriously. No this is not a joke, you're going, "there's going to be a joke coming," there's no fucking joke coming. You are Satan's spawn filling the world with bile and garbage. You are fucked and you are fucking us. Kill yourself. It's the only way to save your fucking soul, kill yourself.

Bill Hicks was not alone – many artists, and normal everyday non-artist types felt broadly the same thing (as I said, this was a long time ago and a lot of people were pretty messed up). Often this attitude was put to the test when a band was asked to leave their small independent label and move to a major label, sometimes the band were asked if a company could use their song in an advert.

Now for the first of those there was sometimes a good reason why the band said no to joining a major label. Often the major would ask them to soften the edges of their sound, try to become a little more mainstream and charge a little more for their CD or gig prices. People like Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi) thought he would prefer to keep prices for fans low, stay independent and keep ‘underground’.

Now, you might have thought that this attitude was consigned to the distant past but there are actually some bands from the last 5 or 10 years who still worry about such things;
  • Franz Ferdiand turned down adverts (http://web.orange.co.uk/article/franz-ferdinand-say-no-to-advert-offer) although have since had music in i-Tunes adverts.
  • Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill said that the band had no desire for their music to appear in adverts or on film soundtracks. "We had some people call us up wanting to know if we'd allow Use Somebody to appear in the trailer for their next movie, and we turned them down,” he revealed. (http://www.mtv.co.uk/artists/kings-of-leon/news/234831-kings-of-leon-turn-down-glee)
  • and Pulp said no to £100k from Coke (http://www.nme.com/news/nme/9283)

    You’ll note that two of those bands are actually rooted in an earlier age, PULP started out right at the start of the 80s/end of the 70s & many of Franz Ferdinand were playing in bands in the early 90s. Also all three of those bands have had mainstream success and big selling albums and tours so such decisions can be made from a place of relative security.

    These issues have never been problems for many artists however; mainstream artists are only unlikely to say no to the use of their songs in adverts, films or television, if the effect of using their song will be detrimental to future earning potential. E.g. Bruce Springsteen might think twice about allowing Born in the USA to Soundtrack a British Petroleum campaign in light of the off shore drilling disaster of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. Although he could calculate the loss of future earnings against the money he would receive for the advert... maybe it would be financially legitimate.

    Some artists find fault with making such a decision based solely upon cash value, they talk nobly of principals. What principals are these? Well, any artist will have their own set of principals but many will also find principals thrust upon them by their fans, or maybe the media.

    Earlier on I used the word underground, maybe I could have said counter-culture, maybe I could have used alternative. But those terms are often meaningless nowadays; the internet has pretty much seen to that, to the extent where there is no “culture” and “counter-culture” but only culture with a scale of popularity.
    Go blame MTV for marketing alternative as a brand if you like.
    The underground was once the community that railed against the mainstream, some of them were railing against “the man”, but the mainstream ate the only competition it had whilst adopting the stance of it’s prey when it needed to. This happy arrangement was only possible because there were enough artists out there to brave the cat-calls of “sell out” from their peers who saw the light and accepted the cash from the benevolent majors.

    These shouts of “sell out” are much quieter these days – you rarely even hear them. Everyone wants to get famous and make money, why not? But something did change, people really used to get bothered about this type of thing. Are there still bands out there failing because of a refusal to accept help? new bands I mean, not the old dinosaurs who have enough money to kick up a fuss about anything. When was the sea change and would we all laugh at the Bill Hicks of the world if we could go back in time?
    I mean laugh as in funny funny, not funny funny... well, you know what I mean...

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