How Much of a Sellout Are You?

On several occasions in the past, I’ve railed against established artists permitting their music (or images of themselves) to be used in ads. According to Bill Wyman (thanks to AdHack for the pointer), that ship has sailed.

There is no longer even a debate, let alone a stigma. “If you did an advert, you were a sellout,” notes Billboard Executive Editor Tamara Conniff. “The Rolling Stones broke that when they allowed the use of ‘Start Me Up’ for the Windows campaign. Though there was an initial backlash, it suddenly made it okay for bands of integrity to do commercials. Now, it’s almost as if as an artist you don’t have a corporate partner [or] commercial, you’ve not really arrived.”

Mr. Wyman still doesn’t think it’s a very good idea. However, he wants to quantify sellouts, and devise “an objective formula for determining just how offensive a particular rock-based advertisement is”.

Tongue firmly in cheek, he enlists the help of a mathematician. They invent a formula for calculating what he calls the Moby Quotient. Here’s an illustrated version, with a number of examples. The Clash’s “London Calling” selling Jaguars? Bad. Bachman-Turner-Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business” selling Office Depot? Not so bad.


  1. I’m a firm believer that artists should give their music away to their fans for free. The way that they can make money is by licensing it for use in commercials.

    They don’t have to take every job that comes around, but can instead hopefully choose to align their music with a brand they like.

    You’re a writer. You enjoy writing (I think), and you give your writing away for free on this blog.

    But you also write copy for your clients. Does that make you a sellout?

    1. But you also write copy for your clients. Does that make you a sellout?

      Nope, because I don’t sell my blog posts (or plays or essays or whatever) to my clients. I’d have zero objection to Feist writing a new jingle for Lacoste. But when she takes her artwork–clearly not intended for commercialization in its original form–and sells it to an ad agency, she debases herself and it.

  2. Perhaps, but many of the old models of promotion for music (radio, music videos, clubs, etc.) are fading in usefulness, so I think that’s another reason licensing for ads seems more acceptable than it used to be. Feist is a perfect example, since most of her current fans wouldn’t have heard of her without her — admittedly very tasteful — iPod Nano ad.

    Although I do find it funny that Wyman (not the former bass player for the band with the same name, by the way!) thinks the Rolling Stones of 1995 had much artistic integrity left.

    There is still a line somewhere, though, and at Slate notes, the Black Eyed Peas are probably its most frequent crossers. However catchy their songs are, they seem to forgo no opportunity to bastardize what they’re doing for further commercial gain.

  3. As a musician being a sellout means nothing to me. When my music gets licensed for commercials it usually doubles the income I would get from a given track. Licensing work is actually pretty sweet. And – bonus, marketing depts actually pay for stuff, unlike a lot of consumers. 😉

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