When Did Selling Out Jump the Shark?

It used to “matter” that certain musicians/artists wouldn’t sell out. It was a line in the sand where you knew some whack-ass pop star would sell his song/image to the highest bidder, but Neil Young would always say no to Budweiser and Bruce Springsteen said no to Chevy (and we all got the Bob Seger “Like a Rock” commercials).

So... this happened.

But one day, it just didn’t matter any more. Getting your song on a Lexus or iPod commercial was just good business, and really not that different from being in heavy rotation on the radio back when that was the only way people heard new music.

So….. what happened and when? Was it when that guy yelled “Judas!” at Bob Dylan back in 1966? Was it when Bob did the Victoria’s Secret Commercial? Was it U2’s ZooTV Tour in 1992? Was it 9/11?

Do you still care if/when someone sells out? Is it even possible to sell out anymore? When did selling out jump the shark?

Mike Eddy: This is a great topic – we all could go on and on about it. I say that because being a “sell out” means something to our generation. Not selling out validates the artist to us and somehow makes them seem more true to us. But if we polled a bunch of early 20-somethings, would they even know what a sellout is? Do they care? Probably not, due to the overwhelming amount of current music and artists selling/promoting different products. Infomercials, logo’d clothing, etc… promotion and endorsement is everywhere. It’s what they’ve grown up with and it’s very different from when we were that age. We are all like-minded in looking at bands that we enjoy and hoping that their 4th or 5th album is that much better than the first. The entire industry is now based on individual songs and no real expectation that the “artist” will still be around in 2 years: “take it while you can and as much as you can” seems to be more of the flavor in the minds of musicians today.

Not saying that I’d like “my favorite band” to be on the new Ford commercial, but at the end of the day it plays no part in how good their music is. We have the notion in our heads that selling out is lessening the quality when it is only our perception of what WE want them to be.

Jr. Worthy: I have pretty much come to the conclusion that most musicians look at providing music for commercials as yet another way to make more cash. My question, how much money is enough? I think it is fair to say that any of the artists that you mentioned are certainly in a strong enough financial position to never have to pick up their instruments or sing another note, and their grandchildren would never have to work a day in their lives. My opposition, if you can call it that, to “selling out” is that to me it takes away from the “art” of the medium. If artists are so attached to the products in which their music is used for commercials, why don’t they simply agree to write a jingle for Lexus or Apple? My gut tells me hat they would find writing jingles as beneath them and they probably wouldn’t even consider doing such a thing. Jingles are disposable, and when I hear one of my favorite artists schilling for shaving cream I feel like they care more about a consumer product over fans of their work. Certainly how they feel about me as a fan is their prerogative, I just hope that I never hear Bob Dylan pitching a Dyson bladeless fan to me.

TLF: Okay, I hear that, Neil Young and Bruce can afford to say no. But for bands like the Black Keys (who are “big,” but not rollin in Neil and Bruce’s cash), the Lexus commercial might be the best opportunity to get their song out to the masses (just as radio use to do the same, as I alluded to). So do we have a different scale for the new/lesser-known artists than we might if some uber-rich Rock Star did something similar just to get a new yacht? Didn’t Sting appear in some luxury car commercial? Certainly he doesn’t need money. But does that spawn yet another scale: it’s cool cuz we can just assume Sting will give the money to charity and save a rainforest…

Jr. Worthy: I thought we were passing on the back and forth email string. I gave you my answer. That is all.

TLF: Well you sparked something that I should have included when I first posed the question, and that is do we all see a difference between up’n’commers and established legends when it comes to how they promote themselves and whether or not they allow their music to be utilized to endorse commercial products.

Mike Eddy: The band Phoenix is a great example of what you’re talking about, Todd. They’d already put out albums, but then a car commercial starts playing their tunes and now everyone thinks French rock is cool..On another note, does the Beatles and Bowie selling off their catalogs open doors for others to not feel bad about doing it themselves?

Jaded Bitterman: My response is:

This Note’s For You”
-Neil Young

Don’t want no cash
Don’t need no money
Ain’t got no stash
This note’s for you.

Ain’t singin’ for Pepsi
Ain’t singin’ for Coke
I don’t sing for nobody
Makes me look like a joke

This note’s for you.

Ain’t singin’ for Miller
Don’t sing for Bud
I won’t sing for politicians
Ain’t singin’ for Spuds

This note’s for you.

Don’t need no cash
Don’t want no money
Ain’t got no stash
This note’s for you.

I’ve got the real thing
I got the real thing, baby
I got the real thing
Yeah, alright.

Lennsakata: What’s more important, the money or the freedom?

Bear: Mike Eddy said it best. It’s those [us?] pesky Gen-X’ers with all their rules. (And don’t you think musicians doing political rallies for one of the two parties is selling-out?)

Lennsakata: I tend to make my accusations of selling out while I’m taking a shower. So when I point my fuckin’ finger up my ass, I at least have soap on it.

Bear: Or just listen to Hooker with a Penis” by Tool and you will get your answer.



  1. I agree with most of your comments. However, was it selling out when RUN-DMC endorsed Adidas or LL Cool Jay with Kangol hats etc.? It seems like the genre of rap, selling out gets a pass somehow-why?


  2. The music industry is no longer making the large quantity of money it used to off artists. Modern technology allows us to download songs for free. So they bank on tours (sponsors) which is another problem. They aren’t selling out either. People wants to pirate music for free and watch youtube clips of concerts on their high def TV’s and computers. So where is the money coming from then? Endorsements, sponsors…GMA appearances?? I have seen recent music videos w “product placement” in it. I think that musicians today don’t see it as selling out but some way to have commerce in a changing music industry. Why do it when they supposedly have enough? Well they don’t get a lump sum and save or invest it. They pay millions to their team (lawyers, managers, etc) and the rest pay mortgages of their large homes and cars/buses. Their financial world is not comparable to ours. Yes they make a lot but they must also spend a lot.


  3. good points by both of you… MKK: agree, NOWadays everyone just shamelessly gets paid however they can. i guess we were trying to figure out how/when it all of sudden became accepted/OK. Geoff: dont know for sure, but back in those days those guys probably wore the gear/brands without getting paid. now, i assume if i see a guy wearing overt logos or mentioning products he’s got some sponsorship deal.


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