The Big Hurt: Selling out right

By DAVID THORPE  |  September 25, 2012

Shamelessly whoring your art is the only way to survive in the 21st century. Here's how to do it with dignity and class. 

With declining record sales pushing artists ever closer to a corporate sponsorship model, the concept of "selling out" has become a charming anachronism. In the '90s, people got pissed when bands signed to indies owned by majors; in 2012, nobody bats an eye when bands release singles under Mountain Dew's vanity label or play shows under 50-foot Doritos machines. Fun. signed to a major label, hooked up with Kanye's producer, got covered on Glee, soundtracked a Super Bowl commercial, and still get called "indie-pop" with a straight face. Oh, and I'm pretty sure Foster the People is that Free Credit Report Dot Com band.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, just the reality of a changing industry. Still, it's possible to go too far — we should set some rock-bottom standards of artistic decency to keep everyone from turning into Weezer. Here are a few suggestions for young bands looking to sell out tastefully.

NEVER GO FULL MOBY. Go ahead and license your first big song to car ads, beer ads, and iPhone ads; people used to hate this, but now it's super cool. With Spotify, iTunes, and your label dicking you over, you're going to need the money for weed and food and finally getting rid of that goiter under your beard. Fun. singer Nate Ruess told Billboard, "Obviously you never write the song hoping it ever fits into a commercial of something, you just want to write a good song." Sure! That's a really healthy attitude to pretend to have while you write your big jingle, but beware: if you license every song on your album to every brand that comes knocking, you'll wind up like Moby: forgotten, frail, bald, and sucks.

KEEP YOUR PRODUCT PLACEMENT SUBTLE. If your label finances a video, they'll want to make their money back before they spend it. This means a few shots of phones and Smirnoff bottles; if done tastefully, it goes down easy — but when that Beats By Dre logo pops up for the 10th time, the viewer will smell a rat. "Do it w/ style & grace. . . .Not so in ur face like some," tweeted Nokia enthusiast Katy Perry. Again, Fun. got it right: the HTC Titan phone only rears its sleek Windows Phone branding in a few key shots of the "We are Young" clip.

NO WINE. When you get old, like KISS or Iron Maiden or Train, you're going to want to make your own wine. Don't do it. Everyone will laugh at your wine.

PROVIDE YOUR OWN PR QUOTES. Eventually, you'll be roped into some horseshit promo partnership. They'll want to put out a press release about it. Your instinct will be to ignore it and let them do whatever, but that's dangerous: if you don't give them a quote, they'll make one up. Since all press releases are written by idiots, it will be something like, "When I'm out on tour with my band, Fun., we like to have a lot of, you guessed it, fun. And nothing turns 'Some Nights' into memorable moments like Reynolds Wrap brand aluminum foil."

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