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Underside - Selling Out V Keeping It Real

Author: NJ V Mikolai
Tuesday, 26 February 2008
Selling out is easy. There’s no talent or skill required in selling your soul to the devil. Usually, the transaction is remarkably simple and straightforward, a case of ‘sign here and the truck with the money will arrive shortly’. While that sounds like a laugh, it’s not all polo games and matching 4WDs. Selling out is usually a one-shot deal. It’s a short term money grab. Mess it up, and you’re likely to end your days eating cat food on toast.
Let’s start with the obvious. Selling out is fun. No doubt about that. There’s something inherently satisfying about turning your nose up at good taste and decency and taking the money. Thing is, that better be some giant cheque you’re picking up - because you aren’t going to be seeing too many more in the years to come.
When it comes to creative industries, selling out can often be career suicide. Imagine if Radiohead licensed one of their tracks to, I dunno, Holden. Or a baby murdering machine. It wouldn’t look so great. In fact, it would go against the group’s entire ethos. 
There’s the rub. There’s a considerable difference between earning a living and an outright money grab. No one can argue with artists attempting to sell their work and get it out into the world. Unless you’re dealing with some kind of raving communist lunatic, commercial gain is pretty reasonable behaviour. But changing your entire shtick because someone waves some money in your face is, quite frankly, ugly behaviour. It’d be like waking up one morning and realising that all the DJs are playing shit electro house. Oh. Wait. That already happened.
Seriously though, there are considerable long term problems with just taking the cash and running. For starters, you might well be screwing yourself over financially. Just look at the Spice Girls and Rage Against the Machine. Both groups disbanded while still reasonable popular and refused all offers of cash for nearly a decade. According to legend, Zac De La Rocha was offered a suitcase filled with $1 million dollars to keep the band together back in the day. He refused. God knows how many millions he recently received when Rage finally decided to get off their arse and tour again. Same goes for the Spice Girls. Not selling out can actually be a shrewd investment if you play your cards right.
Finally, and I know it’s an old-fashioned concept, but artistic integrity and ‘creative vision’ and all that hippy shit still means something to people. And it’s these very people who usually push the arts, science, or whatever, forward.  The indie movie directors, the novelists, the photographers or producers who do something they believe in, rather than the pay cheque, are the ones who advance the arts. They might not necessarily get rich for their efforts, but they’ve contributed a damn sight more to society than the guy who writes jingles for Shampoo commercials. Or all those cashed-up bastards doing club mixes for rock dinosaurs.


There’s only one way to get ahead in this world, and that’s to come up with some brilliant idea that no one has thought of before, build it up with your blood, sweat and tears until someone with a whole lot more money than you decides they want it, and then sell that idea off for the highest price you can get, consequences be damned.
Who cares if they turn your staunchly independent grass-roots record label into a cash cow and drop all of the artists not selling in the millions- What does it matter to you if your idea for fully biodegradable plastic bags gets bought by Mega-Plastics Inc and buried where it will never be found; you’re kicking back on the coast with a yacht and a trustworthy shares adviser.
The trick is to make sure you patent and sell your idea before people have the chance to co-opt it for themselves. For instance, Coca Cola has just launched a new marketing campaign called the Summer Huggin’ bus, where a busload of people drive around the country hugging randoms. You think the guy who came up with the Free Hugs idea in the Pitt St Mall is going to see a cent from this- Like hell he is. Sure, maybe he’ll get a spot on the bus giving hugs for $4.99 an hour, but he won’t be receiving any royalties from Coke for re-popularising the public hug, and that’s because he’s a silly bearded hippy who just wanted to give out free hugs and didn’t even think of the concept of patenting the cost-free-embrace.
Take a look at YouTube. A good idea a group of geeks came up with in their garage and sold 26 months later for $1.65 billion. You should cut out posters of these guys and create a little shrine because they should be your heroes. Build it up and sell it off to the highest bidder, whether that’s Google or the CIA or Al Qaeda or, god forbid, Bill Gates. Just hock that bright concept to someone in the business of buying and ruining good businesses, because then you’ll never have to think again for the rest of your days.
Screw ‘keeping it real’. You know what keeping it ‘real’ means- Real poor and real stupid. Keeping it real means working some two-bit salary job for 50 years while the owner takes home twenty times your wage each week while holidaying in Barbados. Keeping it real and underground means renting over-priced hovels for the rest of your life while your less ethically-challenged friends acquire acres of real estate and up the rent every six months. You should be the slum lord with the huge stocks portfolio, and if you weren’t so damn determined to go on keeping it real, with your free hugs and your open source code, then you would be.
Sell out, cash up and chillax.