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What does it take for a musician to ‘sell out’ in 2014?

Dark Dark Dark recently had their song "Daydreaming" placed in a Prada ad (Publicity photo)

Whether you’ve consciously or unconsciously noticed, chances are you’ve heard an indie rock favorite in an advertisement for some product or another. Ten years ago Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse was blasted by fans when “Gravity Rides Everything” was used in a Nissan Quest commercial after The Moon & Antarctica was released in 2000 to praise from critics (FWIW, Pitchfork gave it a 9.8). So why is it now, nearly 14 years after Modest Mouse lost a chunk of its fanbase, that bands are not only being praised for landing a sync, but sometimes even encouraged? What does it take to sell out in the year 2014?

In November, Dark Dark Dark revealed a 42-second Prada Resort video that featured “Daydreaming” off their 2012 record Wild Go and has just under 140,000 views on YouTube.

Most fans commented on the Facebook post with support, but others with disappointment. (“Good music shouldn’t mix with this crap material world based on buying, buying, buying… This is disappointment,” wrote one fan.) I spoke with Dark Dark Dark’s Marshall LaCount about the matter.

“I have not engaged in the discussion on Facebook, but simply ‘liked’ the comments that were disappointed in nature,” he says. “It is hard to read when someone is upset, both because we do care about our audience’s opinions, and because we may have lost some fans, [which is] generally frowned upon by industry standards, but honestly when I saw the thread, I thought, ‘Hopefully we can make great art that transcends this tension.’”

He mentions that most bands look to syncs as a way to make ends meet, or maybe pay back the expenses of being in a band, or even help with new material. “The idea that an artist’s ‘ship has come in’ when they get a movie or an ad is prevalent, and attractive for most, but even the process and budgets for licensing have been driven way down by the ‘industry climate’ and the internet and the saturation of bands,” he says.

This isn’t Dark Dark Dark’s first sync. In season seven of Grey’s Anatomy, “Daydreaming” was featured—this time for a whole 77 seconds. That same season, fellow Minneapolitans Communist Daughter synced two songs in an episode that had just over 10 million viewers during its premiere.

The episode aired while frontman Johnny Solomon was in treatment. “If it weren’t for Grey’s Anatomy royalties I might have given up and just got a day job,” he says. Though Solomon is sober now and feels he may have put himself out of the running for most alcohol advertisements, he admits, “If some whiskey company wanted to use a song then why not?”

But he mentions another benefit besides the money. “I think people forget that not all of us musicians want to be entertainers,” he says. “If I had my way I’d make my music at home and only play live when I wanted to, but as it stands almost every musician has to be a road warrior if they hope to make a living and that sucks for a lot of reasons when you aren’t in it for the lifestyle or the adoration.”

With the internet being as prevalent as it is and with the amount of bands waiting to be discovered, Solomon hopes people are starting to notice that it isn’t an especially profitable time for artists to sell albums and that they will root for them to have success.

So what does it take to sell out nowadays, if anything at all?

 

Previously:

  • Will Crain

    A couple of years ago, there were some ads for a video game that used Gang of Four’s “The Problem of Leisure” – a song that presents a Marxist critique of the leisure industry. The pairing of that song with that product was so absurd that it almost went beyond sell-out to become an artistic statement on its own.

  • grammadeb

    ooo I do NOT see it as selling out! I see it as “Taking Over”… LOL I have more than once, clapped my hands in joy over hearing some obscure band I love in a commercial! YES! I say- resistance is futile… you WILL listen and love too, world! I LIKE it when indie bands get heard and everyone says WHO is that? It’s a good thing.

  • http://scottolstad.com/ Scott

    I think music fans in general are becoming more understanding of the financial realities their favorite bands face. It’s so prevalent to hear an indie band in a car commercial these days, I don’t even notice anymore.

  • http://dubsnsteps.tumblr.com Johnny Preston

    As it goes, big ticket name bands will not have an issue making ends meet. For a smaller artist, I understand much of the bill rests on merch sales. In the midwest, we have a neat music circuit that mustn’t take a band farther beyond Chicago really. Don’t forget to buy a beer and tip your servers. Relax and dance; the magic doesn’t flow from the wallet ;)

  • Jason Schaner

    I agree with grammadeb completely but, as an artist, I have a difficult time understanding the idea of “good money.”