The Sellout

Amongst my friends (or maybe more appropriately FRIEND, as I only had one) at the technical school I attended the only good music was the stuff that wasn’t marketed or produced all that much. If it sounded polished, smooth, or even as though the band might know what they were doing, then it became “radio music” and wasn’t listened to any more.

I had seen this happen to a lot of bands that I had liked, the big one back then was Gob. They’re a four man punk band out of Vancouver that would work the “local” (ie. national) circuit playing small shows. They had varying success all over Canada, until they finally broke through and got some airplay on MuchMusic and on the radio. I suppose that they didn’t really reach their full success until a couple of years ago, when they signed on with one of the Big Wig labels down in the States (I believe it’s the same company that does Jimmy Eat World and did Blink 182). Regardless, Gob was getting a fair amount of local radio play, which made them Bad, and they went off the CD rotation.

I don’t really get it. The songs on the CD were exactly the same ones on the radio. They didn’t change their music style, their attitude (as far as I could tell), and their target audience didn’t really change either. There was a bit more marketing, maybe some larger shows (they would play real venues instead of a soccer field, etc.), and higher quality merch (which? Is one of my favorite parts of shows).

We did go to a show after they reached local “fame”. I remember my friend sneering at the crowd, complaining about all the teeny boppers, and how they would ruin the show. I didn’t care who was there – I loved Gob, and I had a brand spanking new pair of underwear that said “Gob Licks Ass” in glow in the dark print on under my kilt. It was a good day. Anyway, we both sang along, we both punched the air at the right spots in the song, and we both screamed our little hearts out for the band. It was what we did at shows, and we always had a good time. Unfortunately, I think she went home and thought about it, because the next day she was talking about how much of a sellout they were, and how she hated them, and blah blah blah. It really irritated me at the time, but I let it go because fighting with her sucked, and I didn’t think it was worth it.

Now, I wonder… why does radio = bad? Why is it that as soon as anything gets on the radio, it instantly becomes crap?

I like to read Tesco’s blog quite often. He talks a lot about music, and the biggest complaint there is that the stuff on the radio sucks – and a lot of it does. I understand the sentiment that there isn’t enough good music out there, that it seems that anyone with a pretty face or enough money can put out a CD (case in point – Paris Hilton, although I think she looks like she got hit by a bus). I can also understand different tastes in music. Maybe the readership over at Tesco’s blog just prefers the grungier, noisier, less polished music and that’s ok.

But what is it about the radio music that just drives people nuts? Is it the repetition? The inane DJ chatter which causes people to be distracted from the music? Or the fact that you have to listen to several mediocre songs to hear a good one? Is it just the fact that it’s marketed, that it IS polished, that the people who are on the radio have stylists and maybe don’t always pick out what’s in their wardrobe? Is it because they are making thousands (millions?) of dollars to do something they love? Is it because when you listen to the radio you are being “told” what to listen to?

It just makes me think. There are a lot of artists out there who take painting commissions. They get told what to paint, what it should look like, and what colours to use. They don’t get to chose the medium, the canvas type or anything. Does this make them less of an artist? Does there work mean less because it didn’t come from inside their head?

Are these musicians who perform a certain way to make money (basically taking a commission painting) any less talented because they’re being smart business-wise? What is it about music that makes the listeners say “It’s art! It has to come from inside of you” or whatever mumbo-jumbo is being spewed at the moment. Why is this so important? Am I worse of a musician because I have to read music instead of making it up myself?

Anyway, I don’t have the answer. I’m just speculating on why this happens, so feel free to leave your two cents.