Selling Out?

Posted: September 20, 2012 in Music & Related


In 1957, a teenaged TV actor named Ricky Nelson took control of his destiny and became a pop musician.  He recorded an album made up of songs penned by popular songwriters of the day.  That album reached number one on the album charts.

Over the course of the next five years, Rick Nelson continued to record other writer’s songs, along with a very few of his own.  His albums and singles were tremendously popular.

In 1964, the British Invasion changed the course of rock and roll, and Rick Nelson’s popularity waned.  He chose to take his music in a different direction – the direction of country music.  His new sound was the forerunner of what would eventually be called ‘southern rock’.  During this time, most of the songs he recorded were ones that he had written, though he also chose to record songs penned by Rolling Stones members Keith Richards and Mick Jagger and by folk icon Bob Dylan.

In 1971, Rick Nelson was invited to play a rock and roll revival concert at Madison Square Garden.  He went out on stage dressed in bell bottoms with his long hair loose around his shoulders, and after playing a couple of his old hits, launched into some of his new music.  The new sound and the new look were too much for his old ‘fans,’ and he was booed off the stage.

Fast-forward forty years.  The year is 2012.  Music has changed and evolved and changed again.  The one thing that has remained the same is that music ‘fans’ are still afraid of change.  If anything, ‘fans’ have become more afraid of change.  Every time you turn around, some band or artist is being accused of ‘selling out’ because he or she or they decided to try something new, to change musical direction.  ‘Fans’, it seems, have learned nothing over the years.

The interesting thing about the majority of the bands accused of selling out is that they all tend to respond in the same way, the same way that Rick Nelson responded to his reception at the concert in Madison Square Garden.  These bands all say that they write music primarily to please themselves.  Nelson, after the disastrous revival concert, penned a song called “Garden Party” that talks about that very same thing – how it’s not possible to make everyone happy, so you’ve got to look to your own desires first.

Ironically, writing songs for their own pleasure means that these bands and artists are doing exactly the opposite of selling out.

So what’s the point of this post?  What’s the moral of the story?  Simple, and two-fold.  One, don’t be too quick to judge a band’s integrity based upon whether you like the direction their music has taken. And two, write (or draw or paint or create in whatever medium you work in) whatever makes you happy and feels natural and right to you, and don’t worry too much about what the reader or listener or viewer, because if you put your heart and soul into something, the right people will appreciate it, learn from it, and be inspired by it.


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