Indie Music, Fans and the Art of “Selling Out”
The dreaded “sell-out” moniker. Chances are good that at some point, your favorite band has been (or will be) saddled with that label, usually by a disenchanted former fan. Far too often though, calling your former favorite band “sell-outs” is simply a cheap shot. And it’s particularly cheap when you don’t like them anymore simply because they’ve become too popular.
Let’s say you love a band. Let’s say they’re local, let’s say you’ve known them forever, let’s say they played at all your parties in high school. And then almost overnight, they’re handed a recording contract by a major label, and before you know it, they’re EVERYWHERE. MTV, Clear Channel radio stations across the country, providing background music for Volkswagen commercials. And then suddenly you find yourself reexamining your affection for the band.
In most cases, they’re still the same four down-to-earth yet idealistic guys you always knew them to be. They still write the same power-pop teenage symphonies to God, or the same stripped-down haunting folk elegies, or whatever the case may be. So what has changed?
Mostly just the fan base. Instead of gathering with the faithful few-just you and 20 good friends in a dingy shoebox of a club-to see Issaquah, Washington’s best-kept indie secret, you are now greeted with the distasteful yet unavoidable prospect of sharing your favorite band with the teeny bopping boy-crazy neighbor next door. And kids like her all over the country. Kids who don’t yet know the meaning of “indie cred”. Kids who really didn’t care about the band before they hit TRL, but who are now quoting lyrics all over their Myspace page and playing their music on Gudang lagu.
And now that your boys have finally made it big, it’s almost bittersweet for you, the long-devoted fan. You were the one cheering for them long before they were playing arenas. And somehow, you now feel like all these newfound fans are stealing affection for your band without paying their listening dues. After all, these kids had the band handed to them on a silver corporate platter, while you’ve been attached from day one. How can some kid who just turned on MTV one day and decided they loved the band possibly feel the same way about them as you? They didn’t have to prove their love for the band when nobody else seemed to care. They took the easy way in. How DARE they?
And then you want to think, of course, that you’re a truer fan because you heard the band first. You want to think that since you were in on this thing before anyone else was, that makes your own appreciation of the band more valid than theirs, somehow. There’s just simply no way that some indie kid out in Minnesota-so late to the party-could possibly love your band as you do.
I think there’s a lot to be said for feeling like this. I’ve felt it firsthand, and I think it can be justifiable, to an extent. But frankly, it’s also a complete contradiction to feel this way. Because when it comes right down to it, what you’re secretly hoping is that your favorite band experiences LESS success. You’d actually prefer that their music not reach and inspire as many people as it could. And why? So that you can keep them all to yourself. So you can sleep soundly knowing that no one who doesn’t fit your definition of cool could ever appreciate your favorite band as you do.