Headbangers’ Brawl 1/14: At What Point Does A Band Sell Out?

Posted by on January 14, 2011

Headbangers’ Brawl is a weekly column whereMetal Insider’s Bram and Zach take a moment to debate and analyze two opposing sides of a topical issue occurring in the world of metal and/or the music industry.

It’s been announced that BLS frontman/head honcho Zakk Wylde will be appearing on Showtime’s Californication this Sunday. That’s not really too much of a stretch, since we’ve covered how metal the show is in the past. That in and of itself isn’t selling out, but then again, it doesn’t seem like integrity is something that Zakk is obsessed with. We’re sorry, but any cred he had went right out the window after appearing with Ludacris in My Darkest Days’ ode to strippers “Porn Star Dancing.” Let’s not pretend that Zakk is a fan of Luda – he definitely lent a solo to the song and and appeared in the video to cash a check. Which leads to the topic of this week’s Headbangers Brawl. With car companies forming labels, and appearances in commercials leading to not just big checks but also album sales, Bram and Zach discuss at what point is a band selling out?

Zach: Part of me wants to say that the notion of “selling out” is bull. But then I’d be as full of shit as well. In the end, there’s a fine line between trying to reach a larger audience and putting your band’s logo on toys, condoms, and any other house hold good. I’ll admit, it’s a little disheartening to see a band like Motörhead not only appear in a commercial for Heineken U.K.’s Kronenbourg 1664, but also re-record a slower version of their classic “Ace Of Spades” for said commercial. Furthermore, it doesn’t help that Lemmy came right out and admitted that money was the sole reason behind it. But then again, if Motörhead was to appear in any commercial, it ought to be for alcohol (Jack Daniels probably would’ve been better, but beggars can’t be choosers).

I have no problem with bands or their music appearing in commercials, but bands still need to make an effort to not upset their core loyal fans when attempting to reach a larger audience. Fans are less likely to be rattled if the band’s appearance on a commercial medium fits the band’s “image” or “code of ethics” than if they were to appear on a show or commercial that totally goes against what the band stands for.

Bram: Yeah, but at the same time, at least Lemmy’s no-bullshit attitude led him to admit right off the bat that he was getting paid. Zakk popping up in a crappy song after a rap cameo seems pretty disingenuous to me. It’s like Steven Tyler appearing on American Idol – if it damages the brand, then it does more harm than good. I know there’s plenty of former Aerosmith fans that see this as the last straw.

On the other hand, Magrudergrind putting out their record on Scion A/V might be seen as selling out by some, but there’s no harm done at the end of the day. When you make art, it’s commerce, and it’s not like they’re writing songs about how rad the Scion tC is. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ve got KISS, who were all about the money and merchandising from the get go. When you see Gene and Paul in a Dr. Pepper ad, it’s hard to be shocked, because they got in the business for the sole purpose of selling out. I think in this day and age, it’s all shades of gray.

Z: See, I’ve been hearing a lot people lately calling Tyler a sell out because now he’s a judge on American Idol, and I don’t really understand why. Not that doing American Idol is the most credible thing for anyone to do, but it’s not like Tyler is a source of credibility either. Are you really telling me that doing American Idol is really that much more different than Aerosmith re-doing “Walk This Way” with Run DMC as a way to get onto MTV? Aerosmith has always found ways to cross over into the mainstream in order to gain a younger audience. They’ve done it for the past two decades through MTV shamelessly, and their fans didn’t seem to care then. So is doing American Idol, which will not only opens Aerosmith to more mainstreams but also shows off Tyler as more than a drugged up zany frontman, really selling out?

B: Well, the important thing about “Walk This Way” was that it was Aerosmith and Run DMC. This is just Tyler, which is essentially him giving a finger to the rest of his band. Given the behind the scenes (and onstage) ramblings we’ve heard, this is pretty much him doing his own thing, credibility and reputation be damned.

To a degree, Henry Rollins has sold out a bit in that the DIY attitude went out the window once he started appearing in movies. I don’t really think appearing in Jack Frost was one of his key beliefs when he decided to become a musician. But like I said, there are shades of gray. There’s nothing wrong with getting paid for your music, especially because getting a song in a commercial could potentially pay more than anything a musician would make selling an album. There’s not the stigma attached to lending your song to an add the way there was in the ‘80s when Neil Young’s anti-sellout video “This Note’s For You” got banned by MTV. But if you stand for something, then appear in an ad, film, commercial, or something that otherwise goes against your beliefs, that to me is selling out.

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Categorised in: Headbangers Brawl

  • Glenn

    “but bands still need to make an effort to not upset their core loyal fans”. What’s that even based on? They “need” to? Or, what? The authenticity myth that drives “debates” like this might be damaged? Or, egads, revealed for the emptiness it is?

    The charge of “selling out” simply reveals the accuser’s own insecurity regarding the always-commercial nature of the music industry. Motörhead was in it for a check in 1977 as well.

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  • Doug

    I have a problem with how selling out is being defined. I believe that selling out for musicians is when they start catering to a different fan base while negecting their core base of fans. In a lot of examples you gave really didn’t have anything to do with that. For instance Motorhead always sounds like Motorhead and BLS always sounds like BLS. Their cds cater to their core fan base. Zakk doing a rap song wasn’t for his base it was for the rappers. What they do outside of music isnt affecting their cds. Now Areosmith is another case. They sold out a long time ago when they realised they just had to put ballads on cds to sell them. Thus no longer catering to people who want to hear rock.

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