Meet "Kevin Rockstar". He is an amazing singer/songwriter. He's charismatic, good-looking and loves music with his very soul. He's been in a band touring regionally for ten years. He's got a wife, a young son and a little house in the arty (cheap) part of town. When he's not performing, he does handyman jobs around the neighborhood to make ends meet. He is tired. All the time. A record label approaches him and offers him a deal. (For the sake of this example, let's assume the record company treats him fairly and isn't going to screw him over.)
If Kevin Rockstar takes this deal, he gets to work with his favorite producer, his music could potentially be heard by millions, and he could (if he invests his money right) be set for life just by living his dream for a few years. He has finally achieved his dream.
Kevin Rockstar takes the deal, and his biggest fan, Blondy Hipster, thinks Kevin is a SELL OUT. Many agree with Blondy and give up on following their once-favorite artist because he achieved his dream.
This isn't the only scenario that can cause artist to be labeled a SELL OUT. Maybe they let their music be used in a commercial (for money), or for a greeting card (for money), or in a movie (for money). Maybe they performed on a TV show (for money) or accepted a sponsorship for their tour (for money).
Let's use a hypothetical situation: Let's say a 1960's glam/punk pioneer, who had moderate success in the early seventies found himself in the eighties with little money and little prospects. He doesn't have a record deal, and may soon be totally forgotten by the masses. He sells his most famous song to a ridiculous, not-remotely-cool scooter company, and actually appears in the commercial. He makes big bucks, then puts that money toward the creation of his most critically acclaimed album. He gets kind of famous again, and remains a well-regarded artist until his death.
Oh, sorry, that's not hypothetical. That's Lou Reed.
In a strange coincidence, I took a break from writing this post, looked out the window and saw a guy waking a "vintage" Honda scooter past my apartment. I hadn't seen one in years. It's too dumb of a thing to make up, yet vaguely interesting enough to mention.
[If you're not a Lou Reed fan, just replace "Lou Reed" with "Any Beloved Artist", and "scooter" with "candy bar" and "New York" with "A Great Album", and you'll see the point.]
I don't really understand why some get upset when their favorite artists make money. Is it somehow better if they're constantly struggling? Should they not be happy, and not get what they've been working on for years? I really don't get it.
Now, I do understand other reasons for dropping your once-favorite. Maybe they added a keytar player, and you just don't dig it. Maybe they suddenly mentioned they hold controversial views you disagree with. (He eats peas with a fork? Forget that guy!) Maybe you just tired of them. These things all seem like logical reasons to me.
But the "making money" thing…? Well, here's a little thought about that:
The very first penny that goes into an artist's pocket instead of back into the creative process, means that artist has sold out. That's it. SELL OUT. For some reason, that penny is ok to earn, but that million dollars? SELL OUT. Where is the line, exactly? Fifty thousand dollars? Five hundred thousand? One hundred thirty thousand, two hundred forty three dollars and eighty two cents?
If your favorite artist "sold out", please share your story in the comments below.