Selling-out: Now a necessary evil for musicians?

Selling-out: Now a necessary evil for musicians?

Grouplove. That’s the band in the most recent iPod commercial (“Take me to your best friend’s house!..”).

This is a band I’ve been selling my friends, cats, countryfolk and anything else within a few hundred feet of my stereo on for months.

“Never Trust a Happy Song” is the collection of beautiful, masterful tunes that actually overshadowed 311’s glorious comeback as my favorite album of 2011.

I mentioned to L. recently that I did not begrudge Grouplove for selling a song to a major corporation so quickly (a feeling I would have absolutely had in the past).

Evidence might indicate that these kids, at one time, held feelings on par with my own: talented as Grouplove is, one glance at a band where the lone female sports the second-shortest haircut of the five might label them as some of the most anti-establishment hippies in the biz. Their back-story even suggests so: Hannah met Christian (at his solo show in N.Y.), who followed her – a week later – to Greece (she had an art residency) where they met the rest of the band, wrote all their songs seemingly naked and drunk on the beach and have been on tour ever since, riding that energy.

At one time (college) I would have ripped them a new one for the commercial. Of course, my college days coincided with MTV’s all-N*Sync-all-the-time phase and Fred Durst and Staind collaborating to turn rock radio into a fine gray mush for us to enjoy moderately.

In fact, Q101 played that one Staind song so much (don’t think about it! It’ll be in your head!) that I turned off the station for the next 5 years.

But then came the economy: it’s been said plenty that the recession affects us all, but rarely does anybody set up a Save the Musicians! fund and stand outside the grocery store ringing a bell (granted that ringer would have excellent rhythm).

Even if your job is supposedly fun – or something that many of us aspire to do – not every part of it is fun in a tough economy (Zach Galifianakis: brilliant comedian AND star of The Hangover 2).

And even if you’re a band willing to relentlessly tour just to get the name and a song out there, so few people are filling bars and venues that you still may not be reaching anyone who cares.

So my feelings have changed. “Good for Grouplove,” I say now (to paraphrase myself). “And good for us all that a bunch of people who DO dig the music are now looking them up on YouTube.”

But my jaw may have actually physically dropped when I read Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys make basically the same point in last week’s Rolling Stone (the one with them on the cover).

Auerbach explains it as such: the Keys initially turned down a six-figure opportunity to have a song in a mayonnaise ad. But after a 2004 European tour actually LOST them money, they had a change of heart.

Auerbach’s words: “We said, ‘You know what? F*** this. Let’s take the f***ing money. No one’s hearing our music, we’re not selling any albums.”

For a while after that you could hear the Black Keys’ music anywhere from car commercials to video games (and on Gossip Girl… so I hear).

Great. Somebody has to be out there doing what they love in order for humankind to still get to enjoy music. And those somebody’s now have to jump on the money while it’s being offered. Scoring things with awesome tunes seems like a fun solution for everybody.

There is, however a caveat.

“When no one’s buying your records, it’s easy to justify selling a song,” says Auerbach. “But once you start selling records, you can’t really justify having two songs in Cadillac commercials. It looks greedy. And it is greedy. This whole music thing should be about music.” (R.S. 1148)

I agree with the man.

It’s a fine balance between getting attention and raising ire. Vampire Weekend sold their song “Holiday” to so many people during HOLIDAYS! 2010 that it’s all I remember from that Xmas.

So this selling-out thing should abide by a few obvious rules:
1) Scoring a commercial doesn’t necessarily mean that your band should have anything to do with Colgate, but don’t stand there pitching us something insane (“Mommy.. Why is Ke$ha telling me I should douche?”)
2) Please no Chevy “Like A Rock”-type deals that last so long I’m seeing trucks riding over rocks against a pale blue horizon in my head now just from typing this sentence.
3) Once you’re huge, reward your fans by slashing ticket prices and sending them all cake.

So, basically: have a soul. But, for the good of us all, go jump on the money while you can.

Because who doesn’t want to jump in some money?

[ And in case you happened to miss the song – or have been frantically looking for it – here’s a live performance of “Tongue Tied” below. Grouplove makes simple, storytime songs brightened by their energetic harmonies and Christian Zucconi’s extraordinary voice. THIS is jam rock.]

[ …And if you’ve heard that one enough by now, here’s another lovely energy song from the band (that’s actually the bassist singing lead). ]


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  • I was on these guys last year when they dropped "Colors," and I was shocked to know that they were the same group from the iPod commercial, as I didn't have the full length, just the EP ("Tongue Tied" wasn't on it). I do like that song, but it seems they are going in a "happier" direction...
    I agree at this point. If it takes a commercial to get heard, than fucking do it. Who is left to impress? Huh? The indie kids who are illegally DL'ing this shit? Pu-Leaseeeeeee!

  • In reply to radstarr:

    Hahah!.. Right on. Yeah... those DL's are a blog for another day..

    I was surprised at a couple of the songs that didn't make the LP. "Getaway Car" is a personal fave and "Don't Say Oh Well." If you see one of the latter's many cuts on YouTube, it's slightly less peppy when performed live (a little label influence there?). My fave new song from the full-length is "Itchin' on a Photograph." Man, i dig that groove.

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