Selling Art or Selling Out?

I can’t see the downside to this.

“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well I have others.” – Groucho Marx

Let’s face it: creative types rarely get to write their own ticket. Once you’re finished with that novel, that sculpture, that album, the people footing the bill get final say if you expect to get paid.

An example: in the late 1990s, 10,000 Maniacs was recording again after the departure of their original lead singer, Natalie Merchant.  Geffen Records listened to the recordings for their first album with Mary Ramsey, Love Among the Ruins, and said, “We’re going to do a remix, you need to record one cover, and give us another song, because we don’t hear a hit here.”

So, the album was remixed, giving it a dancier feel than their usual rock and roll fare, they covered Roxy Music’s “More Than This,” and they wrote “Rainy Day” on the fly.  Of course, they could have said no, but breach of contract, all that money to pay back, and no album, so…

Now, the album still works, somehow, at least for me and other fans, but the band was bitter over the whole ordeal for a long time.

Geffen dropped them after that, and later they recorded another album on Bar/None.  After the death of their lead guitarist, Robert Buck, they took a long time to get to their latest effort, Music from the Motion Picture.  This time, they funded it through Kickstarter, and are doing it their way.  They are much happier these days, they say.

So, was the label wrong?  They were paying for the studio time, the promotion, and the distribution.  Don’t they have every right to give an opinion on the final product?  What is reasonable, and how far is too far?

Blogger’s note: I know most of you are writers, but I used this example for a few reasons.  First, 10,000 Maniacs are still one of the best bands in the world.  Yes, they are.  Shut up, Jim.  You’re wrong.  Second, I’m a frustrated musician.  I just never had the discipline to be any good at it.  Plus, I’m a terrible singer.  Third, it’s nice to mix things up, no?

Anyway, my Youtube offering is the latest single from the Maniacs, “I Don’t Love You, Too.”  Great title, great song.

See you next week.

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8 Responses to Selling Art or Selling Out?

  1. ED Martin says:

    I think it’s important to find a balance with your publisher/producer. I’m really happy with my own publisher, because we both have equal veto power – on the cover (I get whatever I want, as long as they approve; they’re not going to stick me with something I don’t like), on edits, on promotions, etc. My publisher says we’re all a team, and that really shows in their approach to their authors.

    That said, a lot more of the work falls to me than if I were with a bigger publishing house. I’m fine with it, because I get more control, but that doesn’t work for everyone. I think the key is to know what you want and expect, and what your publisher wants/expects, before going in, or you’ll end up like 10,000 Maniacs.

    • Of course the bigger the money and the name, the less say the artist is going to have. As you point out, you’re doing more of the work, but you retain much more control. I think some artists are fine with giving up more. Each has to make that decision when the time comes.

  2. Jim says:

    Wait. Was that to me? Anyway…. we all know that the best band to ever exist anywhere in the universe at anytime, including before they were even a band, is Butthole Surfers.

    • Yep, that was to you.

      I might agree with that if it weren’t for Weird Revolution. So sad. But they make a good starting off point for a future post, so thanks!

      • Jim says:

        I don’t remember ever saying anything bad about 10,000 Maniacs. Never heard of Weird Revolution, so they couldn’t possibly be the best band ever. Sorry! hehe

        • No, you never talked trash about the Maniacs. I’m just kidding.

          Weird Revolution is the last Butthole Surfers album. Terrible. I’ve never been able to sit through the whole thing. Jeff Pinkus said that when they started really planning their albums, the quality went down.

          • Jim says:

            Goes to show how much I know, I totally forgot that was one of their albums haha. Yeah, I listened to some of it at a record store once not long after it’s release. It SUCKED! Still, best band EVARRRR!!!!!

  3. Best band ever is Nirvana. Full stop.

    As to the question of compromising your art, everyone has a different answer to that question. Mine is nope.

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