Ongoing History of New Music

The Ongoing History of New Music, episode 945: The concept of selling out, part 1

One of the worst insults you can throw at an artist is to accuse them of selling out. The most basic definition of this is when the pursuit of money compromises, corrupts, or otherwise interrupts the pursuit of truth and beauty and all the purity and goodness that is supposed to flow from art.

That, however, is an awfully broad definition that can be applied in a billion different highly subjective ways. At one extreme, some people believe that taking money for any kind of art is perverse. On the other, anything and everything has its price, high or low, depending on the circumstances.

And the world has changed. Making any kind of art costs money. Competition for attention among artists has never been greater. And we’d like to think that great art inevitably and naturally rises to the top. But it just doesn’t. In a true meritocracy, it would. But we all know that’s true.

Ever since the internet started reshaping the way we find and consume music, the value ascribed to it–that is, how much we’re willing to pay for it–has dropped to near zero. Thanks to streaming and YouTube and social media, almost all the music ever created in the history of humankind is available for free.

There, however, are significant costs to making music. Artists, and those associated with its creation, have a right to make a living. But where does this money come from?

From a lot of different places, as it turns out. The sources of this working capital and personal income may be distasteful to some, but if you want to be a working musician these days, some financial, creative, and philosophical compromises need to be made. Selling out ain’t what it used to be.

Songs heard on this show:

  • Reel Big Fish, Sellout
  • The Clash, Career Opportunities
  • REM, Orange Crush
  • Clash, Should I Stay or Should I Go
  • Moby, Porcelain
  • U2, Vertigo (Live)
  • Incubus, Pardon Me

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38410 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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