Every musician writes a piece of music with a purpose. Some songs have a story to be told or a message to be spread. Other songs have the ability to captivate the minds of thousands of people, while some can only connect to certain people. In the music industry, to “sell out” means that the artist or band sacrifices their integrity and morals for personal gain. Artists and bands decide that their own self image along with their music isn’t producing the income for themselves that was originally desired so they turn to corporate america for assistance. Some turn to sponsorships that highlights their music and the product that is trying to be sold, while others look for money from the corporate world so that they can expand their name in the music industry. Along with this, I believe corporate power and sponsorships propel the artist’s career and music allowing them to sell out as well. Writer Shen-yi Liao writes about rapper Kendrick Lamar and how dealing with Reebok gave his music more value. He writes, “ Unlike pop, conscious hip hop does have defining values. But, of course, those defining values are highly contested. Even if we could reach some consensus on the defining values of consciousness, it remains similarly contested whether appearing in Reebok advertisements is concordant or discordant with those values. For example, someone might argue that raising social awareness is the defining value of consciousness, and that the reach of Reebok advertisements makes Lamar’s appearances concordant with that value” (Liao paragraph 7). He believes that Kendrick Lamar’s partnership with Reebok allows him to use his power to connect with his fans and spread awareness for social problems at the same time. A writer for The Washington Post by the name of Chris Richards wrote an article highlighting problems that have risen within pop culture. The article called “The 5 Hardest Questions In Pop Music” allows the author to dive into topics that may not be understood by some people within the music industry. When writing about the topic of “selling out” Richards explains, “It started when a new generation of entrepreneurial rap stars figured out that a lot of money was being made in their names, and they wanted to be the ones to pocket it. The human connection stayed intact because their refusal to be exploited felt entirely relatable…Now, corporate sponsorship has become a validating force in popland, where artists are routinely praised for thinking of themselves as brands” ( paragraphs 14-15). Richards believes that rap artists look for sponsorships and corporate deals to make more money off not only their music but their image as well. These artists have the survival of the fittest mentality instilled in them from an early age and believe “selling out” is just another way to make more money off their music. Writer Roy Cook believes that selling out requires more of a personal sacrifice for an artist or band. He states, “a band has sold out if they have compromised their personal values or musical integrity in exchange for financial gain” (Cook. paragraph 1). Cook believes that selling out comes with a price that all successful artists and musicians must face. Selling out in the music industry can also mean different things. Writer Javier Gomez-Lavin believes that there is a narrow and a broader way to sell out within the music industry. He writes, “Perhaps producing music—engaging in the generative practice of music-making—with a primary, commercial aim, could constitute a narrow reading of selling out…Let’s then identify a broad reading with violating certain group or community norms related to a generative art practice, generally” (Gomez-Lavin paragraph 2). He believes that a narrow approach to selling out which is producing music with a commercial aim does not require a group’s community norms to be violated within the broader spectrum. However, some critics and writers believe that selling out is more about the value and quality of the work than personal or group sacrifice. Many writers believe that pop music has no value and does not allow an artist to sell out. Writer Shen-yi Liao states, “To sell out, an artist needs to make a kind of art that has some defining value…Since pop has no defining value, pop artists cannot sell out” (Liao paragraph 5). Along with this, writers and critics have discovered that there are certain values and norms that allow an artist to sell out within the music industry.
There are many types of values and norms of music that would allow an artist or group to sell out. Hip Hop and Rap music is the genre of music that I believe has the most values to allow an artist to sell out. I have been listening to rap music since I was six years old, and the genre has really changed. Artists have changed the way they produce their songs and have allowed their music to become the genre of my generation. Everyone I know listens to rap music, and my friends and I become anxious waiting for our favorite artists to drop their next albums. The beats to these songs are contagious as you can automatically find yourself bopping your head along with the beat. The purpose of rap music is to tell a story. Some artists rap about romance, while others rap about loved ones who were murdered or how gang activity allowed them to rise to power and popularity. Although these topics are inappropriate and generally frowned upon in society, the stories of the artists are compelling and they have the power to capture the attention of the audience right away. I believe this power is what allows rap artists to become extremely wealthy and to eventually sell out.
Writer Mary Beth Willard believes that a partnership with a corporate business is a better platform for speaking out about social problems then speaking out without representation. She explains, “ He’s collaborating to make shoes that signify equality. The human connection stays intact also because the artists can directly speak to fans without appearing to go through a publicist or journalist or PR firm. More to the point, Lamar looks like the natural extension of all the bloggers and influencers and trendsetters who write about what they want and throw up the occasional sponsored post about a product that they assuredly would have liked even if it hadn’t been given to them for free” (Willard paragraph 3). Finally, I believe the artist or group’s connection with his or her fan base either forces them to sell out or not.
The connection between fans and the artist or band is very important. The fans provide the artist with the support they need to have the possibility to sell out. When a fan buys a song on Apple Music, or listens to the artists song on Spotify or YouTube the artist then receives money. A popular song from the artist can in return make them very rich. Along with this, the money gives the artist the chance to perform at concerts and music festivals which can generate millions of dollars in their name. Fans give artists the opportunity to create a name for themselves while producing new music in the hopes of selling out. Writer Mary Beth Willard believes an artist’s fan base is what makes the artists music unique. She writes, “Selling out isn’t just linked with making money, but with having changed your sound in order to get past the gatekeepers to make a lot of money. It’s losing what was unique, what made the band cool, what allowed the band and the fans to adopt the wry and Morissette-ironic pose that said that they didn’t really care about money or fame, but authenticity. Selling out meant that the band had caved to corporate forces and popular tastes, and liking a band that had sold out meant that you could now be identified. But that’s not cool, and cool was coin. Selling out means you leave behind Feeling Gravity’s Pull in favor of Shiny Happy People” (Willard paragraph 4). She proves that the fan base allows the artist to create music for the love of making people happy, not just for financial gain. In conclusion, I believe these factors can lead an artist to sell out although this is not always desirable.
Aesthetics For Birds. (2019, February 24). ARTWORLD ROUNDTABLE: CAN TODAY’S ARTISTS STILL SELL OUT? Retrieved from https://aestheticsforbirds.com/2018/09/13/artworld-roundtable-can-todays-artists-still-sell-out/#cook
“The Five Hardest Questions in Pop Music.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 2 July 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/style/wp/2018/07/02/feature/separate-art-from-artist-cultural-appropriation/.