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From Hell's Heart...

Feb 2002: What Is Selling Out?

 

Selling Out:
A Definition and three case studies. By JP

It seems quite often when a metal fan is disappointed in the output of his or her favorite band the criticism of "sellout" is leveled at the band. The term is used loosely as an insult, a slap in the face to bands who are deemed (correctly or not) to have sacrificed artistic integrity for personal advancement, usually monetary. However the "insult" of selling out is often unfair and I would argue the phrase is sometimes overused in the zeal of a wounded fan to describe his or her displeasure of that bands latest output.

I have a theory. It is probably unpopular but I would argue that based on a logical definition of "selling out" many bands (Metallica included) have not sold out and many other bands like Pantera and Sepultura have sold out.

I base my definition of selling out on a number of factors. Selling out is the act of significantly and rapidly changing a significant number of elements about a band in order to gain mainstream, commercial acceptance. Often a band will make public hypocritical statements in defense of their change.

One of the keys to this definition is "rapidly" or the speed of change. Was the change overnight or over a period of years? A band that changes over time, evolves as it were, is seldom accused of selling out. Is Rush accused of selling out? Hardly ever, and yet they significantly changed a number of factors about the band. Yet a band that changes musical style from one CD to the next is often criticized and often rightly so.

Let's use Sepultura and Pantera as a case study of bands that sold out and Metallica as a case study of a band that is accused of selling out but in reality has not.

Sepultura

  1. They changed their logo to make it more legible. Having a logo that is easy to read makes it easier for people to find your CD on the store shelf.

  2. They changed their names from cool, death metal pseudonyms to their real names.

  3. They changed the name of their fan club from the very cool "Bestial Sepulchre Cavalera" to the rather lame , but more accessible, "Troops of Doom".

  4. They relocated to the United States.

  5. They signed a multi-album, mega dollar contract.

  6. They started producing high end, glossy, MTV videos and Home Videos.

  7. They started doing cover tunes, EP's and other cash-grab releases.

  8. They started bringing in special guest stars and doing lame publicity stunts like exploiting the plight of native groups to sell records.

  9. Changed their hair, clothes and image to match modern MTV trends.

  10. They started writing slow, down-tuned songs as was the style of the popular bands of that time, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden etc…

  11. The changed their lyrics from songs about death to politically correct, left-wing sentiments popular with the grunge kids.

  12. And most importantly of all, they fundamentally changed their classic death metal sound to a modern, mallcore vibe.

I'm not opposed to artists growing and evolving. Many, many metal bands have grown and evolved, Fates Warning, Rush, Blind Guardian and many more. As for Sepultura anyone of those above mentioned factors alone would not be significant but all combined all together in a short period of time, it paints a powerful picture. Sepultura and Roadrunner had an ad campaign that claimed "Some music was meant to stay underground". A nice sentiment until you print it in every major metal magazine on the planet! Say one thing, do another. Hypocrisy (not the band) is a major factor in selling out!

Pantera

They were once a powerful metal band with very talented players. Suddenly they changed their look from jeans and leather to flannel and baggy pants. They started wearing those trendy, goat beards! They went from long hair to short hair. Other things changed too, the logo, the sound, the lyrics and they started churning out MTV friendly songs and videos and writing and playing simplistic, slow songs with down-tuned riffs. They have an incredible talent. Phil can actually sing! But he wastes his power and range by screaming. Darrell can actually shred when he needs to but again is happy playing simple, easy-to-understand riffs for the kids who were raised on bubblegum pop but want a band to scare their parents. Vinnie can pound those skins yet he constantly underplays. One of their big hits "Walk" sounds like it was written by AC/DC in the 70's, with it's extremely simplistic marching, anthemic beat…sorry guys that ain't heavy. Like so many bands in the early 90's, Pantera made the classic mistake of down-tuning the guitars, slowing down, underplaying and screaming. And like so many bands like Coal Chamber, Korn, Fear Factory, Slipknot, etc…they confused their new sound with being "heavy". Most of the riffs and song structures on Pantera's POWER METAL CD are far more heavy! And yet they fell into the trap and forgot the heaviness of metal is derived from speed and complex, well-written riffs backed by a pummeling bass line and fast drumming. They dropped the foundation of metal songwriting, got a big name producer and suddenly Pantera are the darlings of the MTV generation.

I believe after struggling for 10 years they deliberately decided to change a number of factors overnight and in their case it worked. They sold out and made money. Good for them!! That was their choice and they cannot be faulted for that choice. Their popularity increased a thousand fold and they got a big record deal. They got to tour the world and hang with big rock stars! No longer content to hang out with Ron Keel or tour with Skid Row they dropped the trappings of the "metal" scene, which they had been a part of for 8-10 years and started dressing and acting like they were from the Seattle grunge scene. No longer "Proud to be Loud", or wanting to "Rock the World" Pantera attempted to bury their past and achieved stratospheric success in the mainstream by adopting a popular sound and image. To me that is selling out! If you still have doubts go re-read the autobiographical lyrics to, "The Underground in America" or "The Great Southern Trendkill". It obvious that what happened is that during the writing of TRENDKILL, Pantera realized the hypocrisy of what they had become. What happened next? They sobered up and delivered a semi-decent metal CD again with "Reinventing The Steel". It tanked in terms of sales but they regained a lot of credibility in the metal underground. At concerts Phil now rants about, "not forgetting your metal roots" and praises bands like Venom and Bathory! The band covers classic Kiss and Black Sabbath tunes, which only serves to further expose how far they went from their roots in their quest for success and acceptance. Now they are taking a long need break while Phil rediscovers his metal roots and is putting out some decent material, even if it is 10 years behind the times. Many people applaud his effort but if he really wanted to show his true metal roots to the fans instead of doing several black metal side projects he would have a) been in on the first wave of black metal in 1986-1990 or b) stayed with doing melodic power-metal with Pantera. I'm a little skeptical, Phil seems to have figured out (late) that Black Metal scene had some integrity and has jumped on that band-wagon. Is it a lame attempt at regaining the credibility in the metal underground he once had, by proving how "metal" he is? Or is it his true nature to explore new artistic outlets? You decide. Meanwhile the rest of his band mates continue to go back to their roots playing rock'n'roll with David Allen Coe!

Big stars like Pantera often are insecure and seek mainstream support and commercial acceptance although they vigorously deny it. The failure in self-confidence translates into compromising artistic integrity for increased popularity, a.k.a. selling out. If they truly had self-confidence in their original artistic vision they would not have changed overnight. Don't get me wrong, I still like Pantera to a degree. The above paragraph or two may read like Pantera bashing but it is just the harsh reality. My assessment of Pantera may seem a bit heavy handed to fans but they are truly a classic example of selling out. Sometimes you need to constructively criticize the ones you love! Their next CD will make or break the band. After 20 years in the business will they continue on the path to redemption and put out a heavy metal CD? Or will they miss the glamour, fame and money and in an attempt to regain status and sales be "Driven" to produce "Vulgar Trendfollow Part II"? Only time will tell.

Metallica

Did Metallica sell out? I don't believe so. They have evolved over time. They generally dress, act and talk the same way as they did years ago. There is not enough proof of "significantly and rapidly changing a number of elements about a band in order to gain mainstream, commercial acceptance." Metallica said they would never make a video and eventually 8 years into their career they did. Is that selling out or changing their minds over time? Sure they have money now but Metallica was never truly about the fans. They have often stated in interviews that they write songs to please themselves not others. Their attitude always was, "If the fans like it…great! If not…too bad". Metallica has been a band that has evolved, each and every CD is different from the last. I myself don't like the direction they have chosen, and I no longer support the band. But who cares? Did they sell out to gain acceptance? I don't think so, they just kept writing music that got simpler, easier to digest for mainstream North America and were rewarded with a large measure of success from 13 year old girls who like simplistic music. If Metallica jumped from "Ride" to "Load" I'd be freaking out and yelling sell-outs at the top of my lungs! However, "Ride" was many years ago and "Load" adopted the modern influences of bands they enjoy. I would argue Metallica did not sell out, they just drifted away continuing to do their own thing, oblivious to what the true, original fans wanted. Each CD shows progression away from metal.

For what it's worth (and I know this is off-topic) I remember with razor sharp clarity the exact moment I knew it was over for Metallica. This memory will haunt me forever as the detailed are permanently scarred into my brain as one of the greatest disappointments of my life. In 1991, I was driving late at night in the pouring rain in Southwest Vancouver and I heard "Nothing Else Matters" on the radio. I remember it because I never listen to the radio. 99% of the time radio doesn't play music I like so I don't support it. It was always tapes, not radio in the car going places. However, I was with my girlfriend (she was "not-metal") so we had the popular rock station on in the car. The song came on and I didn't know who it was at the time but it sounded like Hetfield and it was so familiar. When the ballad was over the DJ announced it as the new song from Metallica and I almost cried. It was like I'd been stabbed in the heart and betrayed by a true friend. I knew at that moment Metallica was gone forever. JUSTICE didn't excite me, and BLACK was the final nail in the coffin. I haven't bought a Metallica CD since. With the CD that could have redeemed themselves from the lack-lustre Justice they choose to turn their back on the fans. Over the next few years I watched surprisingly unmoved and emotionally detached by Metallica's continued evolution away from metal. I avoided the Metallica "sell-out" debate that raged for years across the internet. People got so worked up about it and I just didn't care anymore. I gave up, accepted the fact that they were gone and moved on. For what it is worth, my two cents is that they were not sell outs…just constant change for the worse…

 

Every artist has the right to create and produce music for the sake of artistic expression and/or personal development. That cannot and must not be disputed. However when an artist publicly proclaims to do one thing and then rapidly does the opposite when it suits their personal advantage (eg. Money, Fame) that is truly selling out. I don't want to pick on Pantera and Sepultura alone. The metal world is littered with dozens of such examples of selling out from all genres. Warrant, Slaughter and Firehouse all rapidly switched to grunge in the early 90's and all have pretty much dropped off the map! So next time your favorite band puts out a crappy CD be sure to examine how and why that happened before you post on your local internet chat-room/ fan site that they are sell outs! Remember selling out in not necessarily a bad thing. It is a personal choice of the artist and therefore people don't have any right to judge. However, editorials are opinion pieces so I'm going to sit on my high (war) horse and use this space to judge.

I don't like selling out myself, but it's not my choice to make. However, MY choice is not to support bands like Pantera and Sepultura that sell out or Metallica that drift away and do something else. Artistic integrity in metal is more important then commercial success and some of the defining characteristics of metal are rebellion and individuality. The strength of the music, image and lyrics comes from fighting the trends not joining them. Some bands don't have that strength of character. The lure of fame and money are too much. Some bands choose a slow, lingering, painful death like Metallica and other commit suicide like Sepultura and Pantera. Either way, the true fans loose. Life is too short to listen to bad music. Support true metal.

 

What is Selling Out?
Michael De Los Muertos

"Selling out" is a term used in the metal world probably more lightly than it should be. It is, however, about the strongest indictment that can be made about a band or a person. I believe to "sell out" means to change yourself, into someone or something you would not normally be, solely or mainly for the prospect of monetary gain. It is offensive because it goes against the basic philosophy of metal, which is individualism and self-determination. To sell out you must suppress who you really are, and become someone or something you are not. The key element is that of dishonesty, a betrayal of some value that was once central, and allowing someone else to dictate who you will be in exchange for money.

There's really not an objective standard; whether a person or a band has sold out has to be determined case-by-case. I don't think you can apply steadfast rules, such as, if a band cuts their hair and sells X number of albums, or whatever. It's different in each instance.

As I'm sure others will mention, Metallica is the paradigm example of selling out. Opinions differ hotly on when the deed occurred or with exactly which album, but everybody seems to agree that by 1996 at the latest, Metallica had changed themselves into a pop/alternative band, and they did it solely because of the lure of mainstream profit. Similarly, to me there appears to be no argument that Megadeth sold out as well -- again opinions will differ on when, but "Risk" was certainly an example of a watered down, commercialized product that the band made ONLY to sell in a larger market. In both cases, these bands changed themselves into something they were not, or would not have otherwise become, only because of money.

The definition becomes harder to apply in less clear-cut cases. Did Entombed, for example, sell out with their dreadful "Same Difference" album? What about Mayhem and their bizarre "Grand Declaration of War"? Queensryche and "Promised Land" and "Hear in the Now Frontier"? I personally believe all of these are examples of selling out, but arriving at that conclusion necessarily means making subjective guesses at things that would have happened or not happened in other circumstances. Was it really the lure of the dollar sign that caused Geoff Tate to cut his hair, write a bunch of lame alternative songs and perform shows in a tuxedo? Or would he have done that anyway even if money was not a factor? We can state our opinions but no one will ever really know, possibly not even the bands themselves, since in most cases bands who have sold out are usually not aware they've done it -- or pretend they are not aware.

Not just bands, but people can sell out too, and based on the same definition -- changing who you are solely for money. There are many metalheads out there who, often because of employment requirements or some other factor, have short hair and refrain from wearing Cannibal Corpse T-shirts to work, but clearly they have not sold out. Everyone knows a few metalheads who don't appear to be metalheads at first glance. Yet, a person who stops listening to metal, gets rid of all his or her metal items, and pretends to be someone they're not, solely in the hopes that they will gain acceptance into a particular group, is a sell out. Again it's difficult to draw a bright line where selling out truly begins.

Harder still is the question of who WILL sell out but has not yet done so, or who is likely to sell out, or when they reach a "point of no return." Any metal band that encounters commercial success while sounding different than their debut album is likely to encounter the charge of "sell out" at one time or another. In Flames has been changing to a more "commercial" sound and recently toured with Slipknot. Are they selling out? In the case of people, did your brother cut his hair, sell his albums and start acting like a Preppy just so he could run with the "right" crowd, or did he genuinely lose his interest in metal? Who is to say? How do you know? These are questions without easy answers. The best we can do is call them like we see them.

 

Selling Out
By EvilG

Just about every day I read something about a certain band being a sell out. When someone says a band who writes music to sell are sell outs, I disagree! If the band commercializes their sound and image to copy what is "in" just to sell albums, they are then sell outs. But the desire that a band has for selling albums does not mean they are sell outs...it's the way they achieve their goals that count in the integrity department. If a band doesn't want to sell any albums then why don't they just record it in their garage and never play a live gig or sign to a record label? Of course bands want to SELL albums and keep their fans happy. That's a big part of it in my mind...keeping their FANS happy. There is of course no problem with gaining new fans but if the band in question turns their back on who they are or who got them where they are by embracing a popular style of music and image that is nothing like what they were about...then that is selling out. There is nothing wrong with a band evolving and changing (for example: bands like Amorphis and Sentenced sound nothing like they did at the beginning but they are not sell-outs!) but when you can point to evolution and image change as an attempt to copy what the flavor of the month is, that is selling out. Here are some bands that I think have sold out, or at least have questionable motives.

SLAYER: Mallcore Intervention?
I LOVE Slayer! I've often called them my favorite band since about 1990. Since 1990 the quality of their material has been going downhill. I am not calling them mallcore or saying I completely dislike what they are doing. I still LIKE newer Slayer, but I question their motives. I came to this opinion after the release of their newest album, GOD HATES US ALL. I "like" this album, but it was a let down. When you see the band using seven string guitars, down-tuning and claiming in interviews that bands like Shitsnot have somehow influenced them, something is seriously wrong! Tom's vocals have been getting worse as well. All his vocals are very much monotone screaming and nothing like the great vocals from his past. Slayer's drumming,  guitar solos, and lyrics are as great as ever - it's the riffs which have gotten really un-Slayer sounding. Again, I have to point out that I like some of the new Slayer and I would still call them one of my favorites....but unlike many fans I do not listen to a band with blinders on!!! I do not shut out the FACTS just because I want to say "Slayer is my favorite band." The fact is they have been changing and influenced by some god awful mallcore that has been shoved down the throats of kids in North America.

METALLICA: The Thing That Should Not Be
I remember the first time I heard Metallica's Black Album in 1991. I had called them my favorite band since I heard MASTER OF PUPPETS. I remember reading interviews about them having Bob (cock) Rock producing their album and them "simplifying" their sound by instead of having 7-10 riffs in a song they would have 2-3. When I heard the single "Enter Sandman" I was not completely crushed but it didn't sound like the Metallica I had loved. Hearing the ballad "Nothing Else Matters" put the nail in the coffin. That piece of shit song really made me mad at the time. I remember feeling insulted and betrayed by them back then. Everything they stood against, they had become. It only got worse as the albums went by to the point where they are now not even a metal band anymore. I've long since given up on giving a shit about what this band does. In there current state, they are dead to me. Sure I'd love to hear MASTER OF PUPPETS Part II but that isn't going to happen and I'm not holding my breath waiting for it. So many other bands have picked up where they left off and carried the flame to new realms.

BEFORE...

AFTER...

 

MACHINE HEAD: The More Things Change, the more they suck!
This is one of the more drastic examples of selling out available. When Machine Head released their debut album BURN MY EYES in 1994 I was immediately a fan. It wasn't quite like band leader Robert Flynn's previous band, Vio-lence, but it was still thrash...90's sounding thrash. The following album, THE MORE THINGS CHANGE (1997) was basically part two and although it didn't show much of a change it was still a great album. Between 1997 and 1999 something drastic happened. Somewhere along the way the band completely changed their sound and image. The image change was drastic and shocking. All the hair was gone and the clothing was fucking Adidas jump suits and other such Korny bullshit. The "whiggerization" of the band was sickening. It was not only the image that did a 180, the singing took on the rap influence and the guitar and riffs became like all that detuned mallcore bullshit that I hated since the first time I ever heard it. I was VERY disappointed with Machine Head. They had clearly taken a look at the state of heavy music in North America and saw what was being pushed and therefore selling to the sheep. They wanted in on it and they got it. In the process they pissed a lot of people off and have properly earned the title SELL OUTS!

BEFORE...

AFTER...

Dishonorable mention goes out to:
Sepultura, Judas Priest for their DEMOLITION album, Megadeth for their RISK album. For the record I love these bands but some of their albums reek of trendyness. Megadeth have somewhat made amends on their latest THE WORLD NEEDS A HERO (although it's no RUST IN PEACE) and by properly re-relasing KILLING IS MY BUSINESS..., Priest still have plenty of fire in them and I'm hopeful they will realize they can still be leaders, not followers!! As for Sepultura, I've kind of given up hope. Even if "Mallcore Max" returns, what's the point? His band Kornfly is an abomination anyway. Bands and people change over time, but when the change is that drastic one must wonder what the motives are. 

On a closing note...I DO NOT base my opinion on if a band has sold out on how many albums they have sold. There are long lasting heavy metal bands out there that sell plenty of albums and are not sell outs. For example: Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, W.A.S.P., AC/DC (if you want to label them metal), etc. etc...

 

Selling Out
By Pete

What is selling out? Many people throw the term around as an insult. But what is it really? What is selling out and how do you define it? Give examples!

To me, selling out is basically giving in to something that is totally against what you believe in. Unfortunately in music this term can be confusing. Does a band "sell out" if it becomes successful??? Does a band sell out if it goes in a different musical direction????

Any band out there cannot deny that they want to be successful. Success at any level is great. Sometimes that involves media, airplay, videos, etc., and some people blame that as not being 'underground' anymore, that a band has 'sold-out' and they're not true to their fans anymore. This is not always the case as sometimes these outlets are the only way that bands can get exposure. For any band to say that they don't want a #1 album or radio airplay is bullshit. Iced Earth strike me as a band that as they become more successful and sell more albums, that they will stay TRUE to their sound and not 'sell out', even though they've toured w/Megadeth. 

As far as musical direction goes, a band can "grow' without 'selling out'. Obviously, Metallica weren't gonna do a "Master of Puppets II" or Megadeth wouldn't churn out "Rust In Peace II", but I guess they've wanted to explore their musical territory(?).But when Judas Priest try their best Pantera-esque riffs, W.A.S.P. use distorted vocals/industrial sounds and Machine Head sporting their mallcore look/sound, I guess the sellout shoe kinda fits.

I'm not hear to preach as to who's a sellout and who's not, as we've all got our own idea as to what a sellout is. As for Metallica, they're pretty much the Led Zeppelin of our time. But then again, would Zep have collaborated on a rap song???

 

Selling Out
By Cid

I think I would broadly define selling out as a band giving up their artistic or musical integrity to earn more money.

We can see this more and more these days. Many bands change their sound to broaden their fanbase by making their music more accessible, more appealing to the section of the audience who holds the bigger monetary capacity.

It is an endless debate who sold out and who didn't. I do believe that some bands that are often labeled as sell outs did in fact progress in their sound of their own artistic volition rather than to increase their sales. This is the case of Dark Tranquillity. Their Gothenburg Death Metal days are over, producing sequels to SKYDANCER or THE GALLERY would be beating a dead horse and desecrating some of the very best albums to ever grace the Swedish scene. Instead they have opted to re-invent themselves and their sounds, they have evolved into a more mature version of themselves by incorporating elements of different types to their music.

On the other hand, I regard In Flames as a good example of a sellout (and many will yell at me for saying this). The band started out with what granted, was an experimental album (LUNAR STRAIN) and followed it up with a mini CD for a link. Then The Gothenburg natives put out their masterpiece, THE JESTER RACE and they found themselves at the top of their game and made a lot of people interested in their work. Shortly after that, they put out what I consider to be an intermediate album which marked their passage from one thing to another. WHORACLE was very disappointing in the form that the album failed to live up to the expectations of being TJR's successor, but more importantly, the sound was changing. COLONY and CLAYMAN were without a doubt in my mind conceived to target a new audience. Younger people with teen angst were avid for this kind of music, and seeing the positive effect COLONY had on the target audience, the band decided to add to the elements that had worked for them and put out CLAYMAN. Many agree that this is the ultimate sellout album because In Flames, while vaguely retaining some of their Gothenburg roots, have drifted much more into a "poppy" sound.

This said, the debate about who did and who did not sell out could last forever as fans from each band will defend their preference to the Death, and the one common point in which I do believe the entire METAL (read again, METAL) community agree is that the boys from San Francisco sold out like nobody had sold out before.

That's right, Metallica is your prototype sellout band! They had it made, lotsa fame, lotsa money, lotsa women, what's left to do? Make some more great thrash? No, Thrash was becoming unpopular with all the thrash acts out there. Instead, after Cliff Burton's (RIP) untimely death, Metallica turned around 180° and thought more about making themselves heard than making good music to be heard.

I do believe that this is the perfect example of selling out. Not caring about music anymore, just wanting money, fame and exposure. But then again, this is just my 2 cents.

 

Selling Out
By Thiago

Great and tough question. For me, selling out is when a band stops doing the music they want to do from their hearts and do it just to make higher sales. For instance, if a band plays metal their whole life and suddenly decides to play grunge just to sell more albums, they would have sold out.

It seems quite easy to define, but it is indeed difficult to know when it's happening. Popular cases are Metallica and Queensryche. Different from most of the people, I don't think they sold out. Metallica is making not-so-good-quality music (to say the least) since LOAD, but they seem to be quite honest at this. They don't lie about what they did like and they stand at it. If it's right or wrong to do keep the band's name to such a different and non-metal albums, I don't think it's the point here. But it seems that they are doing it because they were tired of playing metal. Can I blame them? Everybody should live their lives as they want to. It's better to see bands playing metal cause they enjoy it than bands that play metal just because their fans want it from them. About Queensr˙che, how can we say that they have sold out if they haven't got more sales or anything like that? If you look at all their career, they have never made the same album twice. They just wanted to move on with their music. Some people hate it, some people not. 

One of the things that I don't like is when an artist makes a move on his style, get shit and then return for 'metal roots'. Rob Halford seems to be the perfect example. After getting nothing with the Two project, he returns to Metal. Ok, RESURRECTION is an amazing album, all the lyrics he says that he was wrong about his past deeds, but can we really believe it? The same thing I can tell about Bruce Dickinson returning to metal after the loser SKUNKWORKS and Megadeth after the ridiculous RISK. Their "return to metal" albums are really great, but if their 'non-metal' album had gone well, would they be metal again? Are they just metal again because it's on the heavy metal field where they sell more? 

As mentioned before, it's quite difficult to know those answers, that's why I don't really care for 'selling out'. I don't think I'm able to judge anyone's character, even less the ones that I don't really know personally. So I just listen and judge their albums and if I like them, good reviews, if not, bad reviews. If they have sold out or not just doesn't matter to me.

 

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