Selling out

Selling out

By Joe IdeasTap 17/01/11

It has seldom been harder to earn a living in the creative industries, however, it doesn't have to be this way and so we explore the age old act of selling your soul...

With the proposed arts cuts coming (£350m over the next four years at last count), it has seldom been harder to earn a living in the arts, particularly for those just starting out. But who’s that mermaid singing on the rocks? It’s The Man and he’s got loads of money.

In many ways selling out is the great artistic taboo; despite the amount of times it’s been done before, and the stature of those who were accused of doing it (Warhol, Dylan, McCartney, anyone?) this heinous act still causes controversy. Alt-comedy deity Bill Hicks described artists doing adverts as “another whore at the capitalist gang-bang”, but did this stop them doing it? Hell no.

The classic example of selling out usually concerns someone who used to fight the good fight, but is now the proud owner of a Scrooge McDuck-style money pool. Enter stage left: Ben Elton. He spearheaded the alternative comedy charge of the early 1980s; his stand-up was brash, abrasive and unapologetically political. Then he wrote The Beautiful Game with arch Tory Andrew Lloyd-Webber and was branded (by, er, Toby Young) “the biggest sell-out of his generation”. It quickly became an albatross around his neck, one that he has failed to shake loose. So he wrote Love Never Dies.

In these chastening economic times, though, taking the money can, in some cases, be quite necessary. As the good ship music industry continues to sink, it has become harder for new bands on smaller labels to operate. As such, hearing your favourite band’s song on an advert is not as unpleasantly surprising as it once was. For example, the money Wild Beasts received from Santander for the use of their track Underbelly helped finance the eventual release of their Mercury-nominated album Two Dancers. Lovers of strange time signatures rejoiced.

Some in the music industry, however, surely don’t need the money. Sting is never one to shy away from soiling his last dregs of artistic credibility. Last year he performed a concert for the daughter of Uzbekistani dictator and torture fan Islam Karimov. Sting protested he was merely in the country to spread “art and ideas” and then priced tickets at 45 times the average wage. For further powdering of his moral backbone, Sting pocketed a cool £1m.

Selling out so wholeheartedly can be easier to swallow when it is as brazenly embraced as author Fay Weldon in her 2001 novel The Bulgari Connection. For the princely sum of £18,000 Weldon was required to mention Bulgari at least 12 times in her books 224 pages.

In the Guardian Weldon tried to defend her corner: "When the approach came through I thought, oh no, dear me, I am a literary author. You can't do this kind of thing; my name will be mud forever”, but then she gave up. “After a while I thought, I don't care. Let it be mud. They never give me the Booker prize anyway."

After all that, it’s refreshing to hear the words of fresh-faced, 31-year-old rapscallion James McAvoy. In an interview with The Times, he recalled the moment when he was advised that he could avoid paying tax on his earnings by becoming a “branded company”, his reaction? “F*** that, no way”. Amen.

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