Musicians Past and Present on the Idea of “Selling Out”

There’s been quite a bit of discussion online about an interview Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy gave to the Chicago Grid earlier this week. Specifically, Tweedy discussed the fact that he licensed four of his songs to Volkswagen for a series of commercials, and the inevitable accusations of “selling out” that followed. Tweedy was unrepentant, arguing that “the idea of selling out is only understandable to people of privilege.” It’s always interesting to read what artists think about the whole idea of selling out, given that it’s something that fans seem the need to discuss ad infinitum. Here are some other perspectives from over the years.

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Kevin Barnes, of Montreal

“I like producing and purchasing things. I’d much rather go to IKEA than to stand in some bread line. That’s because I don’t have to stand in a bread line. Most people who throw around terms like ‘sellout’ don’t have to stand in one either. They don’t have to stand in one because they are gainfully employed. The term ‘sellout’ only exists in the lexicon of the over-privileged.”

After an of Montreal song was used in an Outback Steakhouse ad, via

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Henry Rollins

“I wonder if it ever occurred to people that the reason the music of these interesting and alternative bands is being recruited [for advertisements] is because their fans are now the ones calling the shots. In other words, we have arrived. Of course the ad is trying to sell you something, and to gain your confidence by exploiting the band’s integrity for a commercial end. So what? You’re not a fucking moron, are you? You see through that, don’t you? What would you rather hear? Iggy and the Teddy Bears doing ‘I’m a Punk Rocker’ in a car ad, or enduring some generic background music? Do you have any idea what some of these bands went through to make that music? The fact that there might be some money for them all these years later is great. You think that paycheck is in anyway a slight to their integrity? Are you fucking kidding me? Pay them. Pay them double. Pay them now. It’s about fucking time.”

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Kurt Cobain

“It’s really not hard to keep your dignity and sign to a major label. Most people don’t have any dignity in the first place.”

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Mike Dirnt, Green Day

“If there’s a formula to selling out, I think every band in the world would be doing it. The fact that you write good songs and you sell too many of them, if everybody in the world knew how to do that they’d do it. It’s not something we chose to do. Selling out is compromising your musical intentions and we don’t know how to do that.”

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Paul Simon

“There would be no offer that would tempt me. I actually really resent it. They’ve taken the music of my generation, and all this music I treasured so much and they’ve associated it entirely with selling and I actually really deeply resent it… The fact that the culture is co-opted and made to be entirely about money, that’s what I resent most of all.”

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James Mercer, the Shins

“It’s funny, because you write these songs and… don’t take them that seriously at all. When you realize that somebody does… it makes me feel like I maybe have a little more respect for my own stuff…. I would have hated it if any fucking beautiful Smiths song that I loved would have been in a fucking McDonald’s commercial.”

Quoted after The Shins’ “New Slang” appeared in a McDonald’s commercial [via]

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Estelle

“I think it’s a different age. [This song] was a nice fit, a nice click, [because I liked] the idea of writing a song that empowers women, encourages women to be themselves and feel better about themselves.”

After writing a song for something called “Kraft Crystal Light” [via]

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Macklemore

“In my stripped down definition, selling out is compromising your artistic integrity for money/fame. In my heart I can tell you that my personal artistic integrity remained completely intact over the weekend… The song’s subject is about shoes, but the guts of the record are about consumer culture… Does the NBA happen to fall under the capitalist umbrella? Absolutely. But it’s no different than the brands you’re currently wearing, the company that manufactured the couch that you’re sitting on or the computer/phone you’re staring into while reading this. If there was any trace of irony by Wings being one of the official songs of the 2013 All Star Game, that’s great. That means that we won. The song about consumerism was embraced on a national level, and played to the entire country of sports fans that tuned in. More people download the song, got the truth (the actual/full song) and we converted strangers that didn’t know who we were into fans. If that’s selling out to you, word. But to me that’s nothing but an all around win.”

After the song “Wings” was used as the official song of the 2013 NBA All-Star Weekend [via]

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Adele

“I think it’s shameful when you sell out. It depends what kind of artist you wanna be but I don’t want my name anywhere near another brand. I don’t wanna be tainted or haunted. I don’t want to be in everyone’s face. I’m a big music fan and I get really pissed off when it gets like that … and I don’t want people to get like that with me.”

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Steve Albini

“Whenever I talk to a band who are about to sign with a major label, I always end up thinking of them in a particular context. I imagine a trench, about four feet wide and five feet deep, maybe sixty yards long, filled with runny, decaying shit. I imagine these people, some of them good friends, some of them barely acquaintances, at one end of this trench. I also imagine a faceless industry lackey at the other end holding a fountain pen and a contract waiting to be signed. Nobody can see what’s printed on the contract. It’s too far away, and besides, the shit stench is making everybody’s eyes water. The lackey shouts to everybody that the first one to swim the trench gets to sign the contract. Everybody dives in the trench and they struggle furiously to get to the other end. Two people arrive simultaneously and begin wrestling furiously, clawing each other and dunking each other under the shit. Eventually, one of them capitulates, and there’s only one contestant left. He reaches for the pen, but the Lackey says ‘Actually, I think you need a little more development. Swim again, please. Backstroke.'”

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