I was at the EMP Pop Conference in Seattle last weekend, and during a free associative panel discussion on pop and the 2000s, conversation gradually shape-shifted toward the notion of "selling out." Artists, no longer drawing checks from record sales (if they ever were...), now look toward new platforms to sustain their careers, resulting in uneasy marriages of art and commerce's blunter forces, etc. etc.
It sounds like a previous era's concern, and in many ways, it is naive to think there was ever a time before music was a commodity. But there does seem to be something qualitatively different about how music and money converge nowadays, if only because the possibilities multiply daily, infinitely. A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal described the Black Eyed Peas as "the most corporate band" around, and some of the ways in which they align themselves with their sponsors are both brilliant and unprecedented. They've taken the logic of the arena call-and-response to its very literal end.
"I consider us a brand," Peas brain will.i.am explained to the writer. "A brand always has stylized decks, from colors to fonts. Here's our demographic. Here's the reach. Here's the potential. Here's how the consumer will benefit from the collaboration." On one hand, their ingenuity is breathtaking—their career refutes the commonsense that the recording industry is in irreparable decline. For many artists, the only way to advance a career will be to figure out creative partnerships with neighboring industries. But, on the other hand, this inevitability forecloses upon the possibility of having that conversation about "selling out," for whatever it's worth.