What Does it Mean to be a Sell Out in the Music Industry? Reality Bubbles and Marketing in the Post MTV World

After reading some of the more recent (and ridiculous) news from the music world, I became inspired to write a little piece about the latest in music industry marketing. The articles that inspired the bout of laughter that in turn inspired me to write this article came from two places.

First: A brief piece in Rolling Stone about how some punk pop band called Cartel will be recording their new album inside a giant bubble that will be filmed for reality TV. You can read that short post here, but I think the second one is more worth it: http://www.rollingstone.com/rockdaily/index.php/2007/04/24/five-things-bands-should-do-while-living-in-a-bubble/

Second: A more lengthy rant from Bob Letsetz, who I've mentioned before, specifically because of an epic April Fools Day prank, about Cartel and includes a response from the band's manager. I must say the more I read of Mr. Letsetz work, the more I like his style and humor, definitely worth checking out. Read Bob's post here: http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/index.php/archives/2007/04/23/marketing-run-amok/

Bob's viewpoint is basically that this publicity stunt is ridiculous and will certainly earn the band no respect from the music community, while Rolling Stone pokes fun, but stays significantly more neutral than what was probably a laughter fueled rant from Bob. I think he makes some great points and the article (like many of Bob's works) is pretty humorous as well, definitely worth reading, but what I found most the comment posted from the band's Manager defending the group's actions pretty interesting as well.

When I first read the Rolling Stone piece, I actually dismissed it as something completely ridiculous and didn't even think of it from a marketing perspective at all. After reading both of these pieces, I thought it would be interesting to discuss "selling out" in the music industry, as well as how bands will market their music in what is now a post MTV world seeing as how MTV doesn't even play videos anymore.

So what makes you a sell out?

Well that depends... Some would probably say doing anything that compromises your art, principles or beliefs purely for financial gain. That sounds about right but in the entertainment industry, which is highly competitive, how is a new up and coming band supposed to make their mark in the mainstream, while walking the line of being labeled a sell out?

One way, like Bob discusses in depth, is to be innovative and making great music that is never a rehash. Innovation and new ideas (and drugs... wait, that's not right) is what drove the Beatles, Pink Floyd, probably all of progressive Rock, the Who and many other of the most successful acts of all time. A band simply cannot make a living though, without some form of marketing that will get their music out to the public. Is recording in a bubble out in public and showing it on TV the best way?

This is where it is interesting to hear the response from the band's manager as he states quite politely and frankly how the band debated doing the show. I know I would immediately be thinking that my band would permanently be labels as a publicity stunt... "The Band that Recorded in a Bubble"... (even though this has been done before in other countries I believe) if I was asked to do something like this. When I first heard Velvet Revolver I was a little dubious as they too started on a reality show, but seeing as they were coming from two already huge groups in Guns 'N' Roses and Stone Temple Pilots, but just so you know, I did not watch a single second of the reality show they were involved in and instead let the music speak for itself. Even now it seems like every so often Velvet Revolver gets criticized as another one of the "super group" marketing ploys, and that label is something that will be hard to overcome. If something like this bubble reality show flops, which for some reason I would almost bet money it does, it could be a horrible black mark on the bands reputation. For a group that is big, it could really tarnish the groups reputation and for a band that is trying to make it big, it could be the death card.

Even if it were a brilliant marketing idea, for this band the timing just doesn't seem right.

If a band that was already huge was doing this kind of thing, then I'd still consider it somewhat of a marketing ploy, but would at least be more interested in hearing about their recording process and that might make it something that can be pulled off. I mean in one way, it is very similar to what the Beatles were trying to do with Let it Be, the major differences being of course that when the Beatles were doing it, they were already the biggest band in history and had written some of the best music of all time. Would I watch a reality show where the Beatles record live for people to see? I think so... Doing this for a band that may have been touring for 4 years but remains somewhat unknown, makes it seem like the band is looking for their big break and willing to do just about anything to get it... And that kind of sounds like selling out, especially because I'm pretty sure it wasn't the band's idea.

I'm sure that the group debated this quite heavily and I think they do have guts for attempting it, even if I don't think it is a smart career move. Sure, this is probably the most the band's name has been in print on the web, but I have yet to find a publication (at least in the ones I read) that thinks it is a good idea.

If I had a band, I would have said no way, but I'm not sure if it's because I think its a bad marketing idea or just because I can't stand 90% of reality TV and have no desire to be involved with it in any way.

So how do new bands gain a foot hold in the music mainstream?

Well, as I've said before, I think we're in a transition phase for music promotion and that soon the music mainstream may collapse as more and more bands find the right marketing techniques to use online to get their music out to the people who want to hear it. That is one of the things I like to do for the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll; promote new bands that I think have some talent, who's music speaks to me and that I think deserve a little press. Sure, it may not be much help, but it might be enough to turn some other people, even other bloggers, on to their music and inspire them to write about it too... you never know.

In the end, I say best of luck to Cartel... Maybe some people will be watching, but I certainly won't be one of them.

To any other bands out their, before you go set up a giant bubble to record in, you can always consider sending you music to the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll instead as a marketing technique... and if I like it, I'll probably write about it...for free.

Sounds easier than a bubble to me.

- The Soul of Rock 'n' Roll is a division of Fifth Column Media - www.fifthcolumnmedia.com -