Sunday, November 04, 2007

Culture Clash

I saw this commercial on TV tonight. The music is a cover of Pressure Drop by the Clash.

When I was a kid there was this quaint concept around music we used to talk about called "selling out". It was a cute notion that art trumped everything else and making music for money or popularity was an act of betrayal and if you tried too hard to profit from your art then you'd be compromising it and just "selling out". That's why you couldn't imagine hearing a Led Zeppelin song on a TV commercial. If you did hear their music used in that way you could have been assured that they would have lost all credibility with their fans.

Later on the punks were much more hardcore about this concept and the Clash was a band that epitomized this ethos having once insisted on releasing a triple album for the price of a single album and then allowed to do so because they made a deal with their label to tour for free to make up for the loss. I remember hearing Generation X speak for punks and deride the earlier generation by singing "we'll never sell out, like they did" and then watched as Billy Idol sold every shred of dignity he had as a punk in the following years by cashing in with cheesy songs, videos and staged concert hyperbole.

Things have changed. When Moby licensed every song on his album Play for TV ads no one begrudged him. Instead he was praised and admired for his business acumen. Hip-hop artists often prefer to be called entrepreneurs first and musicians somewhere down the list. The latest generation perhaps has a more accurate understanding of the music business by understanding that it is a business after all. That doesn't mean that they don't appreciate true art. They just don't think there's anything wrong with getting paid. It's considered perfectly OK to fleece those suckers at the ad agencies for the privilege to play their music. Just don't ask these kids to pay for the privilege of listening to that same music. They'll then tell you that music should be free and not about making money.

No comments: