“All the selling out talk is really overrated, the funny thing is it hardly ever comes from bands, it comes from some kid who thinks they’re so punk because they have a purple mohawk.”
-Tom DeLonge, musician
Throughout the course of music’s history, bands have dealt with fan responses. Often times, when they release a new album, the response is positive, and they celebrate its success. But what happens when a band changes their style or sound, and release a new album? Usually mixed. Most fanbases dislike change and their response to a band’s new material is lukewarm at best. Bands have become known as “sellouts” when they drastically change their sound in an attempt to go mainstream and gain more appeal. This theme is not uncommon in the music industry. But is it legitimate to call a band a sellout? No, absolutely not. The term “selling out” has in fact become a catch-all phrase for any listener dissatisfied with change and isn’t motivated to see why the artist/band changed their sound. Let’s begin by determining why this is.
Neglect the Human, Neglect the Costs
Evolution. Timing. Sustainability. All keys to the music business. Bands and musicians undergo the process of changing sound for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps, the most essential one to understand is the fact that like us, we change. We are all human, and we crave new and exciting things. Especially now in the digital age. You don’t watch the same shows you’ve already seen a million times, do you? Okay, I know, some of you probably do. But, for the rest of us, we want something unique, exciting, that will stimulate us. Much is the same in the music business as a career. Musicians have experiences that many of us would love to have and it affects them. Not always positively, but it still does. And in turn, these experiences shape their music. They want something new and exciting too. In your job, if you’re doing the same exact thing over and over, you eventually ask if you can do something else, right? Well, musicians want to experiment with their sound, and if that means becoming what’s deemed more mainstream, so be it. It’s what makes them happy. Change is healthy.
On a truer to life side, changing sound for a band can have a monumental impact on their income. Just think about all the commercials you’ve seen. Many bands and musicians, in an effort to add a little income, contribute to these types of endorsements. Is this selling out? Perhaps to music elitists. But, once you dig a little deeper and realize that many bands change their sound in order to live, “selling out” makes more sense. But what opponents don’t realize is that selling out does not mean a band will never return to their old sound. Take for instance, one of the most notable bands that were deemed “sellouts” at several points, Metallica. Arguably the biggest name in metal music, they have been riddled with accusations of selling out. They started out by playing a new form of music called thrash metal, influenced by hardcore punk. In the earlier days, they gained massive success for their style of music.
But then, on their self-titled album, nicknamed The Black Album, their sound developed into a more traditional heavy metal sound. Turns out, many people considered this the first time in which they “sold out.” It ended up however, that this very album became their most financially successful and best-selling album. Call that selling out? They might’ve sold out of copies, but it was the change they wanted to make, and they were rewarded. This wouldn’t be the last time the metal giants would be accused of selling out. On their 2003 album, St. Anger, they produced an even greater musical departure from their established sound. This album was not as well received but still proved to sell fairly well. If selling out allows musicians to make a living, I’m all for it. Are you?
What ‘Selling Out’ Should be Deemed
Now, I’m not going to say “selling out” in some sense doesn’t happen. It does. Take for instance the endorsement of musicians promoting different products. This is “selling out” to the highest bidder. Especially when you have no association with the product being sold. So, in a way, “selling out” doesn’t make much sense in musical terms, but it has an impact on musicians. How, you might ask? Morally. When musicians are willing to adapt their sound to sell what the record company wants, that’s “selling out.” Should musicians have a moral obligation to be true to themselves?
All Sold Out
“Selling out” is something that most bands will be accused of at some point. Parkway Drive, a band whose new album just came out today has been accused. Despite some saying they should stick to their roots, I enjoy their new sound. I think that is a problem with a lot of the stigma around “selling out.” If you don’t like the change move on. The band clearly has. What do you think? Is “selling out” in a musical sense actually a bad rap? Or, is the issue over-exaggerated? Let me know your thoughts!