Making music for a living is great. Making money making music is better. Making money making YOUR music is the ultimate. Playing the music you write and making a good living from it is the dream of every independent artist. Most of these dreams are hindered by a variety of factors – but today we’ll discuss just one of those: the hesitancy to become a “sell-out.”


Here’s another spin on the term “sell-out” that is not a derogatory term. Wouldn’t it be great if your concert tickets “sold out” so fast you had to contemplate expanding to a bigger arena next tour? What if you were in such demand that you couldn’t keep up with all the offers on your table? What “selling out” means in these contexts is that demand for your music and performance is high – and the more people who want to pay to see you play, the more money you make. Therefore, if a sell-out is someone who “sells” a lot of music, tickets, merchandise, etc. that’s very much a good thing.


But that isn’t what people mean when they say an artist is a sell-out, is it? What they really mean is that the artist has put money before artistic integrity – tried to “cheat the system” and use tactics to sell music that lacks authenticity and meaning. A sell-out is someone pretending to be something they’re not in the name of profit.


But even if you are not a “sell-out” there are degrees of selling out. You might not realize how it might be nabbing you.


Are YOU a sell-out? Answer the questions below to find out.


  1. Have you ever had to “throw” your music together for the sake of getting it out there to sell?
  2. Do you think that as long as you have a great image that your musical content doesn’t have to be amazing? Or that less expensive productions will be masked by your awesome appearance or brand?
  3. When writing songs, do you try to write a “hit”? — And have you ever trashed an idea because it was a ballad and not up-tempo?
  4. Do you prefer to “look” and “sound” like what’s out there instead of carving your own sound and standing alone?
  5. Does the thought, “once I get big, I’ll do what I want” ever cross your mind?


If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you may be on your way to becoming a “sell-out”. But all is not lost!


Remember, even some of the biggest artists struggle with these same things. Katy Perry told Elle Magazine recently that she knows she can’t be a candy pop princess forever. Did she “sell out?” She knows she needs to evolve and dig deeper to maintain success – but will she bring her fans with her? These are not easy transitions to traverse. Years ago Kelly Clarkson released what she refers to as a more authentic record that BOMBED in comparison to her more commercial music and she went right back to her big epic power songs on her next release.  Is it true that once you go big you’re stuck in the genre you rose up in? Is there a fine line between being marketable and being a sell-out? At the same time, if your music is so eccentric or “out there,” even if you’re being true to you, that nobody buys – that’s not the answer either.


From what I’ve seen, if you stay committed to satisfying your own artistic desire first, and then build a brand around it (given your content and music is awesome) — success is more likely to follow. It’s important to be yourself, write the best music you can, speak authentically to your tribe, and don’t try to please “everyone.”


What music have you released without being a “sell out?” What has bombed and what has bloomed? Let’s get the conversation going! Enter your comments below.

©2012 Cari Cole, Vocal Mag, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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