You know you’ve SOLD OUT when…

February 4, 2014{ 25 Comments }

Bob Dylan’s appearance in a Chrysler commercial during Sunday’s otherwise dull Super Bowl seems to have outraged thousands of music fans online. My Facebook News Feed was filled with friends’ mini-tirades about the folk-rock icon “selling out” and how Dylan’s uncompromising legacy was co-opted by some corporate admen (& women).

Well — as to co-opting —  I’m sure Dylan was paid a pretty penny by Chrysler; so it’s not like he’s some hapless victim here. And we ARE talking about the guy who appeared in a Victoria’s Secret ad a few years back. Plus, I assume he slept quite soundly Sunday night.

Selling out just ain’t what it used to be

But what about “selling out?” Is there even such a thing anymore in an age where many musicians rely upon sponsorships and sync placements to keep their careers moving forward? And if so, who gets to decide whether an artist has sold out? Should that judgement be in the hands of diehard fans, listeners in general, or the artist alone? [In the case of the Chrysler commercial, it was Dylan’s image, song, and voice — and he doesn’t really OWE us anything.]

Have you ever purposefully changed your style to appeal to a wider audience? Have your songs ever been used in commercials? Depending on the person and the circumstance, either of those moves could be regarded as selling out or just smart business.

As an artist, what are your limits — and where do you draw the line? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Email Sign Up: Become a Smarter Musician

  • Christopher Hunter

    I do not consider Dylan the sellout in that commercial. He was delivering prepared lines in a way that only he can, and I think he did a great job.

    Chrysler have been building German and Italian designed cars for about 15-20 years now, having them assembled in Mexico and elsewhere, so their “Imported from Detroit” line is dishonest, probably created to please the politicians that kept them from closing in 2008. I don’t blame them for wanting to put big voices like Eminem and Bob Dylan behind their comeback campaign, but I think they’ll be better served putting quality of product above nationality or image.

    I hear the new Dodge Dart is a nice small car.

    I didn’t think many of the commercials in this year’s Super Bowl were that memorable, maybe the game itself was so forgettable that people are grasping for things to talk about.

  • Grey Dread

    When it becomes more about the money than the music, they’ve sold out. When they have abandoned their artistic integrity and betray their already-existing fans, hoping to scoop up more, they’ve sold out. When an otherwise talented group of musicians and songwriters go from amazing music to pop in order to sell more, they’ve sold out.

    • I’m not really sure where I stand on the money vs music debate. Zappa released loads of sub-par albums (by his own admission), saved up his money so he could afford to do one with the LSO. Was he a sellout?

  • speakeasy

    I keep seeing this opinion and i have to disagree. The reason that ‘selling out’ appears to be so normal as to even barely exist as a concept is because the corporate world has become such an all powerful dominant framework which permeates every sector of society in some way, that we have accepted the normality of such behaviour.

    In order even to function as an ‘Artist’ these days you will most probably have to deal with the profit motive at one time or another. But if the profit motive did not exist you would not stop being an artist. ‘Selling out’ i would define as relinquishing ones values or ceasing to back up your feelings or beliefs in order to gain financial reward.

    I think ‘selling out’ is very much alive and well, and it is sad that it is being perceived as a right of passage. There is music and there is business. The music scene is overflowing with gamblers attempting to make a buck out of the ‘business’ through some brand x copy or other cynical rehashing of established sound, whilst originators are left at the periphery. If you ‘sell out’ you cease to be an originator /artist and what’s more you are still not guaranteed any success at the end of the day.

    We live in a world where 87 people own the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3 billion, where the corporate world owns almost everything and what it doesn’t own it uses up anyway (roads, air, water etc), you can’t even walk down the street without your public space being invaded by incessant advertising. Just because it has become ubiquitous does not mean it is correct. This is not really about selling out this is about doing things right.

  • disqus_PQJqLBMd0x

    i thought the spot was a brilliant spot. Shit, I wish Chrysler would pay me to do it.

    • Ha. Maybe next Super Bowl.

      @ Chris Robley

    • Robert Jacobs

      i thought so too! it contained a evry Dylanesque feel. his voice, his tune. I thought it contained a lot of the qualities taht he’s always put forward. and, heck, it woudl be cool if The US were able to take back auto manufacturing. it’s part of our Cultural DNA.

  • Well, with Dylan, it’d be tough to say what his cause is. He went from civil rights/protest song/folky Dylan to psych-surreal rockin’ Dylan to reclusive bleak-folk Dylan to weird world-inflected Dylan to Christian Dylan to pencil-thin moustache guy… But I get your point. We want something from the people who’ve benefited from our support — especially when they’ve been so effective and powerful shaping certain cultural and musical trends.

    @ Chris Robley

  • bodytech

    Income streams for artists and songwriters are drying up every day. I have no problem with what Mr. Dylan did. Is a doctor or lawyer a “sell out” for accepting money for his or her services? No.

    There is a cruel juxtaposition of philosophies concerning art, especially music, in this country – it’s important, it’s necessary, but God forbid we should pay for it; yet when someone like Dylan exercises his right to earn money from his music and his image, suddenly he is sullied, a “sellout”.

    America, if you don’t want artists and writers to “sell out”, then pay for the music they create. Period.

  • The image of the guy who wrote ‘Maggie’s Farm’ hawking cars is a strange and memorable one. I think that one reason some people didn’t like it was that, if an iconoclastic millionaire is going to lend his image to sell some SUVs, then where does that leave the rest of us?

  • Robert Caleb Potter

    Bob Dylan did not sell out…he matured. Not so much to protest about when you fulfill your dreams is there? I am sure many here are trying to do just that…or should be.

    This all raises an interesting question I have always contended with though. How ‘political’ can a musician be? Should we just hold in our political beliefs because of a fear of turning half (yes…it will be about half) of our potential market off?

    Some of my more Liberal music friends (gave myself away didn’t I?) think they have to personify the downright slobbering soul who weeps at the thought of a single leaf falling from a tree in order to be a good folk singer. I mentioned to one that I had learned to play the basic chords on a guitar while serving with the Marines in Vietnam. He thought that was somehow sacreligeous.

    Just a thought.

  • Connie Fredericks-Malone

    The Chrysler ad was powerful and really got my attention. Two icons -Dylan and Chrysler. Bob Dylan presented a very au courant image and I applaud him for doing it. The Chrysler ad with Dylan was one of the more impressive commercials during the game. BRAVO!

  • Chris Huff

    I think it’s hilarious after all these years that Bob Dylan can still piss people off. He’s been angering his fans for almost 50 years. That’s pretty hardcore. By now we should be used to it!

    Lou Reed had an interesting interview before he died talking about how commercials had become an excellent source of revenue for artists since most of the normal revenue streams (especially those related to the label) had dried up. And he even praised their artistic merits and said he thought people “loved them” more than ever. I think Andy Warhol would be proud to hear him talk like that.

    I don’t think we can judge anyone anymore for “selling out”. It’s brutal out there, and more and more it’s revealed that the “best” way to have a long term career in music is to be an independent. You have a higher profit margin and you have complete creative control. People do what they have to do to survive. Some people think the sacred path is to work a day job and be “purely artistic” after hours. Others play covers, teach lessons, and make music for commercials/TV; they can live off of musical jobs but maybe don’t have as much time for their pure art. The balance between art and commerce is one that every artist in every field has to figure out for themselves, and it’s been going on for centuries. Van Gogh’s brother supported him. If you don’t have Theo Van Gogh to pay your bills, then you have to figure out some other way. The idea, though, of tailoring your music to make it “more commercial” can backfire. I think it’s important to keep a foot on both sides – an eye on current trends but another eye on your original artistic voice.

  • Tom Benardo

    Music is one of those fascinating entities that is both art and business. He didn’t compromise his art (it’s not like he sang “Like a Rolling Chrysler to the tune of “Like a Rolling Stone”). I would say that if you are not compromising your art, the decision is then image/business. If the decision is business, then the market decides whether it makes sense. If he loses concert ticket sales or downloads or CD sales because people think he sold out, it was the wrong thing to do. Otherwise it was the right thing to do: Big Money, Big publicity. Neither Dylan nor I care much about your perceptions of what he chooses to do to make a living.

  • A.J. Steel

    I’d say who cares. All the posers/hipsters spouting terms of ‘selling ou’t, either don’t have a music career, don’t want a music career or aren’t trying to create a music career. Streaming rates from Spotify and the like a so low it’ll be a long road to re negotiate and better rate when more people come online. You’re starting from such a low base now, 0.003c/per play, WTF!. I’m sure the CEO is paid well from’ providing a platform’ for people to access your music. Thanks for the platform, but are you really doing artists any favours? Let’s face it you’ve got a free catalog of music to play. You’re in it to cash in, that’s why you went into business yeah? So you say it’s all about the live show, yes you’re right. But, who’s going to pay for gas, rehearsal room costs, instrument purchase and maintenance, hotel costs and even, posters. To establish a career takes money and effort. Effort is free but money has to come from somewhere and if someone wants to pay you to use your music for something that you don’t object too and introduce you to potential new fans that will grow you career, get more people through the door at your shows, then go for it.

    Most artist want to be heard and those that don’t do not even need to worry about entering into the discussion because it’s irrelevant for them.

  • J Alexander

    Bill withers said during an interview when Travis Smiley decries the dangers of selling out. “I’m not crazy about that word,” Withers replies. “We’re all entrepreneurs. To me, I don’t care whether you own a furniture store or whatever, the best sign you can put up is ‘SOLD OUT.’ Can we make that ‘subservient’?”
    Lets face it in the right context it’s a great thing and with all the piracy and the free music that isn’t generating revenue for these artist, especially of his fame. It’s time the artist start to take advantage of their name’s and all the hard work they have put in and get paid for that work. It’s their legacy their retirement. Hence record labels love 360 deals as they know now that there is a lot more money being made off of merchandising (scents, clothing, endorsements etc…) than in actual record sales. Just my two cents on the matter. Congrats Mr. Dylan

  • adam williamstein

    there’s no such thing as selling out. people who are envious of musicians, but, themselves, struggle to make a living, every day, don’t want the musicians to have money, so they look for places to accuse the musicians of selling out, and look for opportunities to steal the musicians’ music by downloading it for free, illegally. what you put out, comes back to you, and if people want to treat musicians like crap, then, one day, the music will suck on purpose, and the personal economy of thieves of artists’ music and people who look for excuses to put down artists, will suffer. the reap what you sow, karma, energy put out comes back to you law always works, flawlessly, thank God.

  • J Alexander

    Additionally regarding the commercial did you listen to what was being said? It was about American pride and that is the one thing that can’t be imported. It’s a very nicely worded and inspirational message about being made in America.

  • Fremont John Ashton

    When he starts singing Jimmy Buffet tunes, he’ll be a sellout. As long as it’s Dylan he’s putting across, more power to him. He’s being Dylan and doing what it takes to get HIS music out there. You go, Bobby!

  • Vivian Garcia

    “Selling out” only means something to the person who feels betrayed. Artists should feel good that they can use their talent or notoriety to make money or grow their fan base.

  • DanaJorge

    Dylan played Carowinds theme park back in mid-1980’s. That event made headlines and left some wondering what a legendary celebrity like Dylan with a name as famous as the Beatles was doing headlining such a localized event.

  • What is selling out? Is anything pure anymore? When you see an artist like Bob Dylan in a corporate ad like Chrysler or any major Corporate giant, it doesn’t mean that they’re selling out. It just means that Corporate America see’s the benefit of using a Icon like Bob Dylan and associating him with their product as a plus. It’s good for the Corporate America and it’s good for the artist. If you’re fortunate enough to get as well known as a Bob Dylan and Corporate America comes knocking on your door for an endorsement and you turn it down, then you can call Dylan a sell out, that’s if you get so well known for them to come knocking. Until then, you can’t call anyone a sell out for making deals with a large major company, it’s just good business sense to do so. For years Artist have used Corporate America to sponsor their tours, offsetting the cost of travelling from city to city. It allows the Artist make a profit by advertising for that company on tour. Both parties benefit from the deal, so if that’s selling out, then artist have been guilty of selling out for years. So wise up, and if you’re fortunate enough to have a company like Ford, GM, or Chrysler come knocking at your door to use you in a commercial, don’t be stupid and turn it down. It’s not selling out its just good business, for you and them.

  • It seems to me that Mozart had a “Sponser”. I think he was a king or some such. do you suppose he sold out????

  • Jet

    The first time someone drops change in your guitar case or stuffs a dollar in your tip jar you’ve sold out. After that it’s only a matter of degree.