Success doesn’t mean ‘selling out’
By Kristin Fiore
There’s a disturbing disease going around college campuses
lately. It’s more contagious than the flu and more deadly than any
STD. It’s transmitted orally and seriously affects the brain. It’s
called "sellout paranoia."
Yes folks, the person next to you may have it. So before you
share your soda with them, check for the following symptoms. Do
they complain of their favorite band doing any of the following:
signing to a major label, making videos, selling T-shirts, playing
larger venues, getting more popular or refusing to play older
While any of these symptoms alone may be a harmless, everyday
teething exercise all of us must go through when our favorite
"secret" band becomes a household name, the mention of many or all
symptoms is certainly cause for alarm. But at the risk of being
unpopular, I have compiled a cure guaranteed to ease the swelled
heads of the afflicted masses.
Simply ingest the following information, all at once or in small
doses, twice a day for one week. If symptoms persist, you’re a
self-righteous indie snob and there is no hope for you.
Let’s begin with the most basic, yet most misunderstood,
concept. Musicians have a right to success, too. Romantic though it
is to think of your favorite four-piece flicking off the big shots
and opting for terminal obscurity, it doesn’t pay their rent. The
music biz is hard enough as it is, why aggravate things by refusing
success when it comes your way?
If they haven’t changed their sound to please anyone but
themselves, where’s the indignity in moving up in the world? Before
you answer, let me remind you of your job flipping burgers at $4.35
per hour. But I’m sure you do that out of love as well.
So, what constitutes success/ selling out? For most, it is the
infamous move to a major label. Bad Religion did it, Sonic Youth
did it, REM did it and none without major griping from their "true
fans" who immediately dismiss their major label debut as a pile of
Are they really hiding under the veil of "mass distribution"
when what they really want is big bucks? Well, sometimes. Hey, it’s
the American way. But before you nail them to the wall for pulling
in "$200 million a year," consider the following scenario. You are
signed and given $250,000 to record an album, all of which will be
taken out of the album’s profits.
MTV’s Kennedy loves you and (as compensation for that grueling
title) you sell a million albums. Instant millionaires? Sure, until
you include packaging (20 percent of gross), the producer’s cut (3
percent to 5 percent), promotion and video costs ($75,000 apiece is
common) and recording costs. Then your cut, split four ways among
your band, is more like $100,000. But wait!! You owe your record
company $100,000 for your last album which bombed! This brings your
earnings to $75,000, which has to last a few years if you stay
popular, and the rest of your life if you don’t.
This is why they sell those damn T-shirts and posters. They’re
not being overly greedy; some of them are just trying to pay the
The other common gripe is a variation on the old dating ploy,
"If you loved me, you’d …" as in, "If REM had any credibility
left, they’d play their old stuff on tour/ not make videos/ be
‘loyal’ to their fans/ blah blah blah."
Sure, it takes no guts to go your own way and risk exile, but it
takes a lot of courage to cave into the whims of your fans.
Suddenly, years of touring out of a grimy van, living on Twinkies
and monthly showers and making great records is subordinate to a
Grammy appearance or a video.
Hey, most artists don’t like making videos, going to award shows
(yawn) and smooching ass any more than we like watching them do it.
But if you want to be successful, or even heard, you’ve got to pay
your dues. If any of you haven’t figured that out yet, you will
Indie bands are great not because they’re obscure and cool, but
because they make innovative music. If they get popular by doing
it, so what? Letting the charts dictate who you don’t listen to is
as lame as letting them dictate who you do. So the next time you
find yourself ripping apart a band for daring to achieve success or
reach a wide audience, think about what they’ve had to go through
to get where they are. Then stop thinking, goddamnit, and just