On Selling Out
Any band who is met with any type of mainstream success or a long career is forced to evolve in their music in order to survive in the dog eat dog world of music. The decision to evolve is generally met by a wall of “true fans” screaming at the band that it hasn’t evolved; it has sold out! The idea of selling out is a ridiculous one. Every single musician has constantly changing musical influences and interests, and each one brings a new angle to a band’s writing.
In order for a band to stay relevant for more than a few albums, its music must evolve and advance. The music industry is saturated with millions of bands, and it is not uncommon to see a band disappear after one album if people have found a more interesting group, album, or song. This factor alone makes it nearly impossible for a band to continue to produce the same music album after album; if the music sounds the same, people generally will just continue to listen to the first album, not feeling it necessary to buy anything after that. If a band is constantly adding exciting new elements into its music, however, people will generally buy each new album from a band that they love.
If one looks back on history, certain bands have constantly been the targets of sell out accusations: Metallica, Green Day, The Offspring, Linkin Park, just to name a few. All of these bands have a different sound than when they first started out. Metallica started out as the innovators of thrash metal, and have now slowed down. Green Day has become more radio friendly. The Offspring are the band holding the record for best selling independent label album of all time, with 20 million copies for Smash. Linkin Park used to be known as rap rockers with Meteora and Hybrid Theory. All of these bands have one thing in common: evolution.
One thing that is often not taken into consideration by people who are so quick to judge is that a band has to eat, and a band deserves to enjoy playing the music every night. If Metallica made Kill ‘Em All or Master of Puppets every year since 1983, they likely would have faded away years ago. The Black Album allowed Metallica to expand their audience, bringing in fans of rock and thrash, as well as opening the eyes of a new generation of kids to thrash metal.
The Offspring enjoyed huge success with Smash, an album that still carried many punk and grunge influences on it. That album was released, however, in 1994. The Offspring are still a household name today, but have also attracted quite a bit of hate for incorporating electronic elements into some of their more recent albums and for adopting a poppier sound. What no one considers is that even though Smash holds up in 2013, there is no need for the same album again and again until the Offspring call it quits. The Offspring used their commercial success and new audiences to explore new musical avenues. Really, is there anything more punk rock than a band making the music they love?
Green Day received some hate for 21st Century Breakdown, for becoming too radio friendly. Again, it is just another case of a band having fun and exploring what they love. Calling them too radio friendly on the album doesn’t even make sense. Green Day has been a rock radio staple since Dookie, and the same stations that played Dookie played 21st Century Breakdown. They were not suddenly dominating electronic pop charts. Green Day had a huge fan base before that album, so it was clearly no move to gain fans. The musicians are getting older, and sometimes the outspoken ideals of youth are replaced with age. And if anyone honestly believed that Green Day was a band of sellouts, Billie Joe Armstrong’s I Heart Radio Festival meltdown should have been enough convincing for anyone that Green Day is still the same band at heart as it was twenty years ago.
Linkin Park created a name for themselves as rap-rock giants, creating smash hits such as “In the End” and “Breaking the Habit.” With Minutes to Midnight, however, the band took the rapping out of the music, and shifted to being more of a rock band. “What I’ve Done” became a single for the Transformers movie, and the next album also had a single, “New Divide,” on the next Transformers movie. Calling Linkin Park sellouts for writing rock music sounds a bit ludicrous, considering Linkin Park was always a rock band, their music just contained elements of rap in it. For whatever reason, the band thought their music would be better without rapping; that was the band’s decision, and many people very well received the results. Being in a movie soundtrack didn’t suddenly make Linkin Park a “sellout rock band” either; any band forms to have people hear their music. Transformers were huge movies when they first came out, so it seems natural that a band would want their music featured in the series. After Transformers, Linkin Park became even more popular than they were before, but they still continued to make rock music; they were not suddenly making jazz albums.
In conclusion, selling out is an ignorant term. One who accuses a band of selling out is asking a band that they love to doom themselves to obscurity, to ride the wave of their once-greatness, instead of truly continuing the process of becoming an innovative and long lived band. Bands want to continue to make music for as long as possible, but to do that, they must evolve and remain relevant. No one would expect a person’s personality to remain the same over their entire life, so why should a band’s music be expected to stay the same, even as its members grow as musicians and writers? Selling out is a term that has no place in the world of music, unless it is about packed venues.