Selling Out: Art as Profit

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Written by Jenna Dreisenstock

The phrase “selling out” is one that is familiar with us all, and even the thought provokes a collective groan from music lovers. As admirers of those who create the beauty that encompasses our lives, in ways that are often unimaginable regarding the unity of humankind! Despite the music taste we hold dear to ourselves personally, there is a collective synergy between us all that binds us together; ranging from techno artists, to dream-pop lovers, to hip-hop die-hards – we all have something in common, which is an immersion in an incredible artform that shapes and molds not only our lives, but our world. However, what happens when suddenly those who bind us in a dynamic culture, leave behind the true essence of the artform?

Commercial music. For me, it’s difficult to describe the phrase without sounding – uh, mean. I suppose, for lack of a better and less offensive word. That’s just my honest truth; when a song graces the mainstream radio stations and I find myself trapped in a vehicle with this track, invoking true earworm even after I stumble desperately out the car door of the Uber – it’s physically painful. Playing over and over again in my head long after the ride, a part of me feels like screaming. Yet, it is unfair for me to claim that all commercial music is genuinely, heartbreakingly awful as that is obviously my subjective opinion. Many others find these tracks uplifting, exciting and meaningful. I will never understand it, but I guess – you do you. You know?

So what does it mean to sell out? Does it mean that an artist or band has their music on repeat on commercial radio stations? Does it mean an artists fame overrides their actual creations? It’s a difficult subject to tackle from that perspective, especially as objectively as possible on my part – yet there is definitely a pattern that is rather obvious. Selling out – it quite literally is the definition of the phrase. To disregard one’s personality, one’s distinguishable sound and even morphing their entire genre so that is is more accessible to a mainstream audience; it’s losing oneself, in what it means to be a creator, to the temptation of fame, and specifically; money. Profit here is the incentive. To see artists we admire go so far as to change their entire sound, personality (and even names!) to appeal to a mass audience, evidently not on the basis of personal growth but rather in the hope for exposure, unhealthy admiration and as mentioned in my latter statement – profit; it’s truly a punch to gut to fans and fellow musicians alike. Selling out doesn’t necessarily mean the turn from “underground” to “commercial” music, but rather; losing oneself as an artist in order to make more profit.

How do we deal with that admiration being stripped away in the name of profit? I have absolutely no idea, but that collective groan continues to reverberate in an echo chamber of fame and fortune.