‘Selling out’ is an age old concern for any self-respecting indie band. But in the age of the internet, with all of the innovations in content distribution and communication in general, is selling out even possible anymore?
Obviously there are extreme examples of modern sellouts. The Mickey Mouse Club/American Idol fueled bubblegum pop is still big business. Anyone involved in that aspect of the art form is to some degree a sellout, in the traditional sense. Also clinging for dear life are the manufactured and “faux” rock stars, like the guys in Nickelback. Their music being but a carefully crafted and souless reference to the true spirit of rock.
Clearly there is still a lot of music in the world being created completely for self-serving and commercial purposes. However, will this ever again be a concern for an up-and-coming indie rock band with integrity?
Bands can now easily work to build their own fan base, distribute their music themselves, charge whatever they like for digital downloads and swag (thanks to industry innovators like Bandcamp.com), and even network much more easily with producers and labels. Never before could a band handle all of their affairs on their own, and still suceed in becoming a sustainable entity with a purpose.
The story of Arcade Fire is a good one to demonstrate what is possible. Their powerful creative force rose to international prominence without ever associating with a major label. Never has their content been wattered down or have they been forced to allow the commercial use of their music for anything they don’t believe in. Merge Records gave them a little nudge out of the gate when they were young and frigid, and the rest is history.
In a recent interview, Sean Parker (founder of Napster) and Paulo Coelho (author of The Alchemist) discuss the future of the music industry. They concur that what any true artist really wants more than anything is to have their message heard. While it may be a tad ironic to see two very successful individuals discuss the plight of the struggling artist, they nevertheless expound well on many of the industry’s concerns with regard to openness and integrity.
Art existed long before capitalism, and it will also outlive it. It’s part of what makes us human. Humanity is an evolving product of its own imagination. We become what we tell each other to be. If a band wants to have an impact today, they should strive to communicate a distinct message. True art is, however abstractly, about reciting the human condition and shaping the perceptions of future generations. At its root, music has nothing to do with money.
To those out there who’s music is wholly commercial, you’d do well to take a few notes right about now. Your star is fading fast, and the only way to live on is to create something of substance.