Feb 2002: What Is 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.
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.
They changed their names from cool, death metal
pseudonyms to their real names.
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".
They relocated to the United States.
They signed a multi-album, mega dollar contract.
They started producing high end, glossy, MTV videos
and Home Videos.
They started doing cover tunes, EP's and other
They started bringing in special guest stars and
doing lame publicity stunts like exploiting the plight of native
groups to sell records.
Changed their hair, clothes and image to match
modern MTV trends.
They started writing slow, down-tuned songs as was
the style of the popular bands of that time, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden
The changed their lyrics from songs about death to
politically correct, left-wing sentiments popular with the grunge
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!
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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...
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?
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
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???
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
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
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.
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.