Indie-ness, 2.0

Posted by Rob Walker on July 6, 2007
Posted Under: America,Murketing,Subculture Inc.

I don’t where I’ve been, but I completely missed the news — apparently first revealed here by Pitchfork — that Sonic Youth has been working on what Thurston Moore called, “this Starbucks record that’s coming out.” Sonic Youth, doing a project for Starbucks?

Evidently. And this occasioned a piece on, headlined “Selling Out Sans Guilt.”

The partnership between the corporate coffee giant and iconic counterculture band has reignited a discussion about what exactly qualifies as “selling out” these days, given the struggles that the music industry has had marketing artists during the decline of commercial radio and the rise of all things mp3.

That piece mentions the Doors’ drummer vetoing a deal that would have involved Cadillac paying $15 million to use one of the band’s songs. That serves as sort of an old-school example. For the new school, the piece links to this column, “In Praise of Selling Out,” by a writer for the Chicago Reader. The writer reels off a long list of recent entanglements between indie artists and corporations, and basically wraps up this way:

If you remember the days when it was tantamount to treason for an indie rocker to sign to a major label, you might feel like commercialization is eroding a vital but intangible spirit and polluting the noble ideal of art for art’s sake. But people who make music for a living have always needed to support themselves somehow, and they have to change with the industry that pays their bills — if they can’t stay safely in the black by playing gigs or selling records, some of them are bound to choose licensing deals and sponsorships over day jobs or credit-card debt.

That sounds more like resignation than praise. But I think the upshot is the same: My sense for some time has been that the whole concept of “selling out” has largely faded away. Many (not all, but many) indie entities — bands, brands, artists, whatever — see these sorts of deals as essentially co-promotion opportunities, and have found that they pay very little if any penalty in the marketplace for doing them. Thus, turning down potentially useful corporate dough is now viewed by many (again, not all) as romantic at best, and at worst naive.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

sonic youth have undboubtedly paid their dues, but there’s nothing particularly remarkable about sitting around and collecting them. i’d be happy if they proved me wrong. really.

Written By cousin lymon on July 7th, 2007 @ 12:04 am
Next Post: