FT5: Egregious Indie Rock Sell Outs

Some poor kid is listening to Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” for the first time today and he wants to like the song, he really does. The problem being that each time he hears Iggy say “I got a lust for Life”  he pictures some nine year old cracker with a goofy smile running down the deck of a cruise liner. Thanks to the marketing gurus at Carnival Cruise Lines that song is most likely ruined for a generation. I know nowadays the kids like to fall all over themselves defending their decision to sell out, and I’m not saying that I wouldn’t punch my grandmother for a little extra bread, but it’s never a pretty sight when you see an artist you respect making a sales pitch for some crappy chain restaurant. Like it or not, when an artist lends their music to a commercial it then loses its creative and artistic merit and is relegated to the status of jingle. So here it is; after the jump is a list of five of the more heinous indie rock sellouts.

5. Stephen Malkmus – Phantasies (Sears)

Maybe Stephen needed a new fridge or some tools, either way this one is a bit of an odd fit.  On the “sell out scale” this one seems fairly benign.  I mean, Sears sells a bunch of stuff people need and as far as I know they don’t club baby seals or sell the clubs people would use to go baby seal clubbing.

4. Modest Mouse – Gravity Rides Everything (Nissan Minivan)

I hope Issac Brock and the guys all got a sweet ride with the DVD/GPS package for this one.  This one hit me on a personal level for some reason because I thought this album and their transition to a major label had produced incredible results without any artistic compromise; then I saw this ad.  They also lent a song from this album to a Miller Genuine Draft ad.  Miller, which is partially owned by Philip Morris, could have made the list as well.

3. The Flaming Lips – The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (Kraft Salad Dressings)

This song blows anyways, so the only thing that bugs me is the lack of connection between a song that talks of self empowerment and salad dressing, oh yea, and the fact that Kraft is owned by Philip Morris. Sure, there might be a lot of choices in the new Kraft line of salad dressing but this one reeks of a blatant cash grab.  The Lips did an HP computer commercial that really didn’t bother me, and I hope they all got sweet new computers for it, but this one is a bit ridiculous.

2. The Shins – New Slang (McDonalds)

Geesh man, these guys did’t even wait until after the cringe inducing line in Garden State where Natalie Portman claims the Shins would “change your life” to hop on the sell out train.  Sure, they say they used the money to build a studio that helped feed the needy, but come on, give your music a chance to make you a little dough before you start suckling the teat of corporate America.

1. Of Montreal – Wraith Pinned To The Mist And Other Games (Outback Steakhouse)

This one made me spit out my blooming onion when I saw it.  I know Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes has attempted to explain this away, but it’s still horrific to hear. Lending your music is bad enough, but to lend your art to a company that rips it apart and puts it back together in a catchy jingle urging people to go to their nearest strip mall in their favorite section of urban sprawl is unforgivable. Worst of all, I went to an Outback for my mom’s birthday this year and the food sucks.

I understand that it’s tough nowadays with album sales down, due to the thieving kids and their Internet, for an independent artist to make a living, and that life in a band can suck at times but hey, them’s the breaks, and that’s the choice you make as an artist.

I’m sure I missed a lot and with the younger kids these days not having many scruples about selling out, I’m sure you guys can fill in some holes or tell me I’m an old cantankerous punk rocker that lives in an Ian MacKaye fantasy land.


  • I love the PS’d band photos. It took me a while to realize they weren’t real publicity photos.

    I haven’t seen the McDonald’s commercial with New Slang. That blows. I really liked that song.

  • Great list. And the pictures are priceless. Especially kevin barnes inside a blooming onion. As if you could fry an onion, open it up, and out pops Kevin Barnes.

    And to the question of how big of a deal all this is… I think it varies from case to case. How did Moby get away with it on nearly every track of Play?

    Imagine the bands featured on IPod commercials. That must be like hitting the lottery from a sales and exposure standpoint, but still doesn’t hurt your credibility as much as casual dining jingle.

    Of Montreal goes from underground rock band to unbelievable sell out overnight. Mentioned in the same breath as the Turtles – Happy Together / Applebee’s collaboration. “Steak and shrimp, and shrimp and steak…”

    I apologize in advance for putting that one in your head for the next few days…

  • I have 1 addition:

    That damn Postal Service riff on the UPS commercials (among others). Mostly because I want to punch the UPS “whiteboard” guy in the face. He thinks he’s so cool with his rolled up sleeves.

  • Here’s a link to an interview with the shins talking about the ad:
    Sounds like they regretted doing it, but made a lot of money off it. I think it ran briefly during the Olympics.

    Without Ipod commercials, CSS, Datarock, & Feist would still be mostly unknowns to the mainstream world. What Apple has done with advertising and keeping their “cool” image is amazing.

  • So you’re saying if you are an artist who has been making music for years with little financial gain and some company just asks to use a clip of your music for possibly tens of thousands of dollars you’d say no? Especially when you have a family? Come on. For a lot of artists (of Montreal ESPECIALLY) after several years of your music going ignored by the masses there comes a point where you can either choose to do something like this or quit your profession all together and take up a normal job because it’s the only thing that can keep you afloat. I don’t know if you would just prefer the latter to happen but most of us would enjoy it if our favorite bands were able to keep making music and putting on shows. Kevin Barnes used a good portion of that money to put on one of the most mindblowing tours I’ve ever seen in 2008. I’m incredibly happy he sold that stupid melody to Outback.

    Selling out = changing your music and forfeiting your artistic integrity in favor of something more accessible and often shittier in an attempt to sell more albums. Lending a company a clip of your music does not change your records. The only people who care about indie bands selling their music to commercials are teenagers. There comes a point where you grow up and realize there are certain things you have to do sometimes to survive. I don’t know if you have noticed but almost all commercial songs today come from indie bands. I can’t turn on my TV these days without hearing Apples in Stereo, Mates of State, Sigur Ros, Cloud Cult etc etc somewhere. This is how these people push on. Well, not Sigur Ros. I think they’ve just gotten greedy.

  • @RayRay: That interview is awesome. “He’s working for a company that designs missiles that will land, bore into the ground and deposit super-sensitive surveillance equipment so the government can find underground bunkers and then blow them up and kill people” kind of makes selling out to McDonald’s seem not so bad.

  • “Kevin Barnes used a good portion of [Outback’s filthy blood-] money to put on one of the most mindblowing tours I’ve ever seen in 2008.”

    He pays for his own tours? What a bummer. He should really look into selling tickets or merch or something.

  • I’m not sure how allowing a company to alter your song lyrics, while still maintaining the exact same melody is anything less than selling out. Some of these other ad spots I can see as career missteps, but allowing Outback to genetically mutate an Of Montreal demonstrates precisely the lack of integrity Jaime seems to think the band has.

    And…I would have much rather preferred a less extravagant show on the most recent Of Montreal tour in place of the horrific music that they half-heartedly played not long ago in Austin. I can put on one hell of a spectacle, but I’m not going to claim to be some grand musician.

  • Amen! Number 1 is on the spot. No doubt.

    Honorable mention…Noah and the Whale in Saturn car commercials. Kings of Leon was used in a VW New Jetta commercial before anyone knew of them. And perhaps one that could have been prevented had the artist been alive…Nick Drake’s Pink Moon also in a VW spot.

    On one hand we have to appreciate the young visions of some of these corporate marketing ideas…but on the other hand they people behind them should know better.

  • I think your number one should have been Kings of Leon’s shitty new record.

    Here is a better view of Kevin Barnes explaining his sellout.


  • [hijack] how do the “freecreditreport.com” guys not get on this list!? bias! [/hijack]

    that said, you mentioned in #4 Modest Mouse going to a major label… if you didn’t see “selling out” in the near future for them that’s just nearsightedness. obviously money was a motivator to sign on to a major label.

    whether it’s for justifiable reasons (which i assume @Jamie might agree with) like “feeding yourself”, or “feeding your kids”, or “buying a car that is not an Econoline”, sometimes you gotta look out for No.1.

    i found this article entertaining, don’t get me wrong. but in today’s music world it seems its either “Sell Out” and “Cash In” on your fame or live to appease the people who probably downloaded your album for free.

  • @L. Hollyfeld: They have a lot of props and a lot of actors on stage and stuff that they need to pay. They spent a LOT of money on their 2008 tour which they otherwise would not have been able to had they not done a couple commercials.

    @nathan.lankford: You do not know the whole backstory to the outback thing. Them changing the lyrics was a big misunderstanding and perhaps the only thing Barnes feels sorry about. Tell me though – how does this change his recorded music? If Kevin Barnes was really intent on selling out or whatever Skeletal Lamping would have been the LAST thing he’d want to release to the public. He clearly doesn’t give a shit. I think people have a very strange notion of what ‘selling out’ is.

    The rest of the artists who simply have clips of music in commercials have nothing to apologize for. Who is it hurting when Animal Collective lets Crayola use one of their songs? Certainly not them. Certainly not their fans. It’s usually people who didn’t like them in the first place or who were rather lukewarm who get all bent out of shape about it.

  • ya particularly modest mouse, i remember looking up their discography when they Blew up on the float on album and having never heard of this band thats been around for 10 years…

    what we (bloggers/blog readers, indie fans) should realize is that we are Such a small small minority of the audience… for a lot of these guys, they’ll gladly sacrifice some artistic integrity (debatable) for some exposure and most important – profits…

    i know the feeling of having someone in 2009 say “hey man i just heard of this new band MGMT, they are cool i caught a commercial…” blah blah.. and you listen to them b/c you dont want to be rude.. then you say “yeah i Think i’ve heard a couple of their songs…”

    but if that is the bands aim, then so be it.. we’ll have a new Harlem or White Denim to step up and fill their shoes and they’ll be all our own… at least for a few months..

  • I thought I was gonna puke when I heard the Jonas Brothers on the new Target commercial. They used to be all about the music and three-part harmony.

  • I don’t think that Santogold was an established act long enough to constitute selling out. No way. She was pop from the start.

  • Jaime – I understand a band wanting to make a little cash with a song in a commercial and I would say most of these in our top 5 are pretty forgiveable. We don’t really hold anything against any of these bands for selling a song to a big company, we just find it as maybe a bad career choice. I still love every band on this list.

    The Of Montreal Outback commercial is the only one here that is complete and total selling out. When Barnes himself apologizes for it and has even been quoted as “feeling like a sell out”, you’ve got a problem. How could a “misunderstanding” lead to his song being completely changed and re-worked? Being a well known and well paid musician, does he not have a lawyer? Does he not read contracts? I just don’t see how any competent business person could just let something like that happen by accident. The Outback commercial will go down as one of the biggest sell out moments of all time.


  • in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with getting paid to do what you love. and doing whatever it takes to keep that relationship going, even if it means altering a song and selling a jingle. at some point you gotta pay some bills and think about your future, not just right now (401k, kids, ect).

    i have no problem saying that i listen to most of those bands that soldout. and when i do listen to them, i don’t think about Corp America. i wish some of my other favorite bands would’ve soldout back in the day, that way i would’ve been able to catch them live. but now i can’t because they had to put food on the table and pursue other options.

  • I see no problem for getting paid to do what you love either. Many bands have sold songs to movies (Spoon, Explosions, etc.) and tasteful commercials (Wilco, CSS, etc.) and made a nice pay day on it without changing the integrity of the song. With so many companies grabbing up music from “inde” bands, I don’t see why changing a song would be neccessary. Maybe some people don’t see anything wrong with that, but as a part time artist, I do. I’m not going to stop listening to Of Montreal because of it, it just makes me question the guys integrity. Course does my opinion really matter?

    As I said earlier, I still rank all of these artist highly on my favorites list and I don’t think about corporate America when I listen to any of them. However, I can honestly say that sometimes when I hear “Wrath Pinned to the Mist” I picture a big juicy steak. That’s just sad… Or maybe I watch too much TV..

    We could probably make tons of money making porn sites instead of this website, but we don’t.

  • RayRay – if you ever decide to take some cash from a business and put up one of their banners on this site, i won’t complain. promise. because i’m all about people getting paid to do what they love. and if you change your mind, and decide that you love making porn websites instead, i’ll support that too. just let me know the url.

  • Maybe we can save some time and just get porn sites to advertise on our site?

  • I wrtoe this because I don’t understand why music gets a pass as an art form when it comes to commercialization. If you walked into your favorite art gallery and your favorite painter had sold the rights to his paintings to McDonalds and his art was now surrounded by a McDonbalds frame you would be outraged. The art it self remains the same, but it’s now cheapened by a gaudy frame. Same thing with literature; how many corporate sponsered book jackets do you see floating around. I have no problem with major labels or artist getting paid for what they do as long as artistic intergrity is kept in tack, it’s just the commercilization of music that bothers me.

  • Good point Corey. As if starving artists (painters) would get the same kind of recognition by displaying all their art in McDonald’s themed frames or something…

    Here are some comments from matt of Matt + Kim in a pitchfork interview re: selling out.


  • I would sell out in a heart beat. oh wait i already did.
    I love the article. I think of montreal sold out for reals.
    I understand selling out though. Especially if all you want or need is money.
    And youre willing to openly state your greed.
    I respect that. Just dont pretend what you did wasnt for money.

  • Two great quotes from Bob Dylan about music. Take what you will from these words that I’ve taken out of context and put here on this thread, or whatever you kids are calling it these days.

    Great paintings shouldn’t be in museums. Have you ever been in a museum? Museums are cemetaries. Paintings should be on the walls of restaurants, in dime stores, in gas stations, in men’s rooms. Great paintings should be where people hang out. The only thing where it’s happening is on radio and records, that’s where people hang out. You can’t see great paintings. You pay half a million and hang one in your house and one guest sees it. That’s not art. That’s a shame, a crime. Music is the only thing that’s in tune with what’s happening. It’s not in book form, it’s not on the stage. All this art they’ve been talking about is nonexistent. It just remains on the shelf. It doesn’t make anyone happier. Just think how many people would really feel great if they could see a Picasso in their daily diner. It’s not the bomb that has to go, man, it’s the museums.

    Music can save people, but it can’t in the commercial way it’s being used. It’s just too much. It’s pollution.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *