Do Musicians Have Any Business Starring in Ads?

What about Bob Dylan then, who most likely has more money than God? Well, in its own way, what's more counterculture, more punk, than doing whatever you want to? Maybe the man just likes Chryslers. More importantly, when you've spent as many years as he has flouting the world's expectations of you, you essentially have carte blanche to run wild. Who's going to seriously question Dylan's credentials in 2014?

Hip-hop as a genre also raises an interesting point here. Rap music is one form of expression that perhaps has its deepest roots in realness and truth; there's a reason Rick Ross is criticized for making up stories in his songs. Everyone does that in other genres, but in hip hop you are expected to be real, be yourself, and stand for only truth.

Yet more than any other genre of music, hip-hop has embraced commercialism and capitalism wholeheartedly. No other genre glorifies a paycheck as much as hip hop. No music other than rap music is so intrinsically tied to things like endorsement deals and wealth.

No one bats an eye when Jay Z makes a deal to release an album exclusively with Samsung, or when Lil Wayne gallivants on stage drinking shilling Mountain Dew, or when Ghostface Killah signs a deal with Adidas. That's part of the game. That being said, if anyone ever found out Jay Z made up all those stories about selling crack on the streets, the entire world of hip hop would want his head on a pike.

You see the dichotomy, right? Somehow in the confines of rap music it's become acceptable, even encouraged, to "sell out." It's something fans of other genres could perhaps take a cue from. Music is a business, and musicians have to get paid to keep producing quality work for their fans. No fans have understood that as much as hip-hop fans.

It sounds nice to embrace a punk ethos of rejecting capitalism and financial gain, but it's completely unrealistic unless you're selling ten million copies of every record you release. Since no one is doing that in 2014, musicians need their music in ads -- and the paycheck that comes with that -- more than ever.

That doesn't make them sellouts, it makes them human beings who unfortunately need money to continue to live and practice their craft. Maybe the world would be a better place if artists' financial needs were met by wealthy benefactors, but the world no longer works that way.


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While Dylan's commercial may be weird to see, and let's not even get into the whole "American engineering" concept behind it when Fiat just purchased the last bit of Chrysler they didn't already own, it's simply a product of our times. The idealism of counterculture punks and hipsters has to die for the music they love to live on. It's a nice fantasy, but no one can actually survive in that world.

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Brent Tisdale
Brent Tisdale

As a musician, I'd have to say a resounding YES, people still care about selling out. However, it's not as simple a concept as it used to be. If a revenue stream presents itself, you have to carefully weigh the options. On the one hand, you have no choice but to make at least a certain amount of money, otherwise you can't continue being a band, or put food on the table. On the other hand, you don't want to compromise the integrity of the band in the process. Would I do a commercial? Depends on the product, and if my acting is any good.


Music, and all art, is fundamentally a commodity. We like to pretend that it's not, but it is. Nobody disputes Michaelangelo's greatness, even if he sold his talent to the Medicis. Where it gets hairy, for me, is when your art becomes associated with a product. I admit being disappointed in Iggy Pop for letting a cruise line use "Lust for Life"--on the other hand, the song is itself an indictment of the consumer culture, so maybe the joke is on Carnival Cruise Lines or who ever it is that uses the song. 

When I shop for groceries, do I really want to hear the Beatles playing in the store? It's one of the things I love about Fiesta. They play old-school music. And yet "Hey Jude" is a classic, very touching song that sort of loses its impact if you're listening to it while looking for deodorant. 

I think a more appropriate definition for selling out is that moment in which a musician is no longer in control of his or her work and is now in the service of others. Some of these bands get so big, they develop a small industry around what they do. If they don't go on tour, not only do they not make any money, but their roadies don't make any money, their manager doesn't make money, maybe their label doesn't enjoy the sales that come with the exposure that a tour brings. The sound guys, the promoters, all of these people are depending on you to get off your rear and go to work. At that point, it's less about your art and more about doing a job because you've got to do it.

Or, maybe we inflate the importance of pop music as an A-R-T. Or maybe all art. Or something. I reckon if you have the ego it takes to charge people money to see you go on stage and play music, you've already sold out in some way. Maybe the only way to avoid it is to go all Daniel Johnston and wreck every opportunity you have to make a decent living.


@Anse  Anse. thank you for this response.  i appreciate your being direct. you really took the time  to explain this.

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