Friday, 23 February 2007

Selling Out

Selling out. It's a relatively modern phenomenon as these things go, but I think it's a big issue. Not a magazine, no. Rather, a thing which people talk about.

Recently, on the front of NME Magazine (I'd put a picture up, but I would rather swallow my own vomit before I bought such a publication) appeared the Kaiser Cheifs (possibly the most unoriginal band since the last 'indie' band) with the slogan "Selling Records isn't Selling Out" and looking all mean and stuff.

Now, for anyone not really up on the music business, the Kaiser Chiefs tried, quiet desperately, to break into the charts early in his decade. All their hits which get the 17 year old lager louts and ladies bopping around the dancefloor, however, failed to stick. Good job it worked the second time around, eh, record company? (Their first record company, like their first band, collapsed).

As mentioned, the hits they tried to release previously were the ones that 'Everyone' loves now. The Kaiser Chiefs, indeed, only have a limited discography. One major record, with their new album coming out soon and a crappy EP. So round it up to three. Three albums and they're scheduled to headline Glasto this year.

Many people are unimpressed to say the least. Myself amongst them. There's no doubt that, for the record company at least, KC are a success. However, what about people who actually give a shit about music?

In 2005 the Basement Jaxx (praise the lord) were headliners at Glasto. At last count, the BJX have 7 albums, as well as numerous singles and remixes to speak of. A bit more than 7. And they've certainly been plying their trade for a lot longer - paid their dues, if you will - compared to the KCs.

But that's the music business.

As for selling out, the KCs think selling records isn't selling out. Well, the first time they tried to sell some records, it didn't work very well - as previously pointed out. So maybe they should've said "Selling Records is Changing Record Companies and Waiting For The Right Mood to Come Along to Launch Our Band". Not as catchy.

My hatred of these guys - two of which once tried to chat up a friend of mine with the lines "Don't you know who I am?" and "Do you want to phone a friend and I'll speak to them for you?" - aside, they prove a great point.

What is selling out? I think in order to sell out, you have to sell-in first. That is to say, be a bit of an under appreciated cult band (in the music business, anyway). Now, a Kaiser Chief can may argue otherwise, but I don't think the band could ever count as 'Underground' (2005 was their big year, and prior to 2004 they were a garage band called Parva).

A perfect example of a band that were underground before hitting the big time is Reel Big Fish. Reel Big Fish was formed in the ashes of The Scholars in 1992. They plied their trade for three years before, when unsigned, Everything Sucks became an underground hit. They signed to Mojo and released Turn The Radio Off in 1996, which established them on the underground music scene even further. The aptly named 'Sell Out' was the major hit of this album, and even broke onto MTV (with one of the best videos ever). 'Sell Out' is all about what happens when a record company comes knocking on your door, and the sheer temptation of the piles of cash they offer. They took the decision to sell out, and in 1998 released the album 'Why Do They Rock So Hard', which failed to throw them into the mainstream (and the money).

In 2002 they released the album 'Cheer Up!' from which they released 'Where Have You Been?', their first major horn-less single. In the (quite boring) video for this song, the brass players stood around looking quite bored, which is debateably RBF laughing at themselves and their predicament. Indeed, in recent live performances they add horns to this song as a point. In 2006 they released the album "We're Not Happy 'Til You're Not Happy" which, thanks in part to their record label (Jive) didn't fare very well. RBF themselves refer to WNHTYNH as the 'secret album' to emphasise this. Recently RBF parted company with Jive to set up their own label and have gone back to their DIY origins.

Now, what differences can you see?

Well, RBF have been around for longer than 3 years. They worked a lot harder before they became famous. They've had toured a lot more than the KCs. And, of course, they admit to selling out.

I think a band has to have existed for a decent amount of time (the 'sell-in') before they can be counted as 'Sell Outs'. The KCs, therefore, do not qualify.

As for redemption post-Selling Out, that's a trickerier business. Did RBF leave their fans in the lurch? Not really. They still sell t-shirts for a tenner. Tickets to their shows haven't inflated ludicrously over the past 10 years (compared to relatively new bands like Jet, for a random example, who are charging 20 squids a ticket). But, they did sell out. When I saw them on tour in '05 they weren't good value for money. But now their new live album is good fun, and they look to be back to their fun-loving best. Redemption? No. Forgiven, perhaps?

And why? They firstly admitted that they sold out, quite humorously in fact. Like alcoholism, you have to realise you have a problem before you deal with it. What else? You can't return to the underground, but they are trying to make things better for the old school, hardcore fans. That's a start.

Recently, I had a discussion about Banksy and whether his much publicised sales to Angelina Jolie mean he's really sold out. The basic fact of the matter that even I couldn't argue against is that Banksy is a graffiti artists, and he's started selling stuff he puts on canvas. To famous movie stars. That's a strong case to say he's sold out. I argue back that it's not as if he doesn't do work on street corners anymore, because he does. And he hasn't stopped making his points to make money, because whilst putting together his warehouse gallery in LA (yes, the one with the elephant) he also did this. (Wait for the movie to load, it's worth it). My main point was that Banksy has always had a point to make, and that he may have felt to make this point he had to become 'big'. Where my point falters, of course, is that to become 'big', you have to sell out. That's a fact.

And so I come to the crux of this post. Everyone sells out. Because everyone has a price. I could reach and find a crumpled up copy of Private Eye and name 3 politicians who are now on the Exec boards of not-very-nice-companies early a lovely salary. It's hard to believe, but at one point those guys probably wanted to help people.

Selling Out is like the Dark Side. It's so easy, and there's so many pretty things over that side. I racked my brains for a while to think of a person, a group, a ANYTHING that hadn't sold out.

I still haven't thought of anything. There seems to be two types in the world. Those that have sold out, and those who are waiting to.

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