By Jason Muller The inevitable moral quandary of any thoughtful artiste is the eternal struggle of being the sellout, or avoiding it altogether. The industrial machine of popular music is something both despised for it’s banality and revered for its consumerist success. Imagine, if you will, men in monochrome suits with pie charts for the ‘latest craze’, what’s ‘in’ and ‘out’, who‘s ‘hot’ and who‘s ‘not’.
This is the subjective view of any rebellious spirit. Fuck the system. The system is bad and anyone associated with it might as well be another Rod Stewart. This, however, is not the case if objectivity is your coup de grace. To use a vintage example, in 1977 The Clash famously chose to sign with American record giant: CBS. The media, fans and critics alike were united in their opposition to this move, arguing it was the antithesis of Punk rocks ideal. They foresaw ‘The Clash Go Disco’, or maybe songs about the positives of royalty. As it turns out this was not to be. The Clash broadened their musical horizons all right (and in turn produced one of the greatest albums of all time in: “London Calling”), but at no cost to their perceived ‘artistic integrity’.
The reasoning behind this move was simple: mass market appeal. Lead singer Joe Strummer argued that, had they signed to a more obscure label, their music (and therefore their underlying message associated with it) would not have been distributed to such a large audience. A valid point. If there’s one thing major record labels are good at, it’s product distribution, and all the marketing associated with the distribution of said product. The tangible negative, as argued by detractors, is that this comes at the cost of an artist’s freedom of expression. This is the moral quandary mentioned, do you risk being labelled a sellout for the appeal of a mass market audience, or do you stick to your (perhaps naïve) principles, and reject the allure of fame and fortune in order to chase that eternal thing known as ‘artistic expression’.
If you’re a realist you realise that the positives of “selling out” must far outweigh the negatives. However this is the artistic world, where ‘realism’ is usually a subjective experience. The world is only what we make of it. The beauty is in the fine print. As countless artists have proved (The Clash and self-confessed “musical chameleon” David Bowie being standout examples), you don’t have to adhere to the stereotypes of big label music in order to be a success, and still retain integrity as an artist. The market evolves, relatively obscure labels (I’m thinking of a certain Island) grow to become part of the system, all the while remaining true to their idealist roots.
So what does all of this have to do with “Indie” music you may ask?, I mean it’s in the title for christ’s sake! Indie, like Punk before it (and Folk before that), revolves around a perceived ‘Do It Yourself’ attitude. The irony (of what is certainly seen as the ‘selling out’ of these ideals), has been around almost as long as music itself, regardless of genre. The world is only what we make of it. You may not need a big podium to impart your perceptions of it, but it sure as hell helps.
Jason Muller is sonically astute, musically inclined, convoluted, creative and slightly insane (he can live with that)
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