by Cari Cole

A few years ago one of my precious artists got an opportunity to co-write with one of the world’s biggest music producers (and songwriters). He was super excited and looking forward to that day. He had looked up to this man for most of his career and couldn’t believe he was so fortunate to get an opportunity to co-write with him. But what his mentor told him on that day was not what he ever imagined coming from someone he admired so much.

During the co-write, as they were shaping and molding the song, they started to disagree. My student kept wanting to go for something more authentic, something deeper and this producer kept wanting to go more top-40 and commercial. At one point his mentor actually told him “you are going to have to sacrifice your integrity in order to make it.”

Ya… whatever. Blah, blah, blah. We’ve all heard that story. But when it comes from a mentor, someone you look up to in the business? UGH. It’s a punch in the artistic solar plexus, the kind that knocked the wind right out of my pal. For days, weeks, maybe even a month or two. But luckily, not more than that. He knew enough to know that was BS.

And it is, BS.

Tons of artists, and big ones like Sam Smith, Adele, Pearl Jam and Nirvana don’t operate that way. Their fame is a direct result of writing the authentic, deep stuff that people want. Truth is, we’ve always seen great music come out of the UK. Is “selling-out” more prevalent the U.S. market? Well, yeah, kinda, sorta, yep.  

The big American labels that mostly dominate the airwaves are money minded, not artist minded. They have big payroll every week, they’re not thinking “art”, they’re thinking “cash.” Sigh.

That said, there are also many labels that don’t operate this way. Labels that have integrity like Blue Note and ATO Records (and many more.) But they are generally smaller, less payroll and can make more creative, artistic decisions. They have a backbone.

That said, how do you stay true to your artistry in a business that rewards “selling out?” To the tune of millions of dollars?

By being informed. By knowing what is really going on and by knowing which side of the fence you stand on.

By working with a small artistic minded label or people in the business you know and trust ~ who have your best interests at heart. People whose opinions you trust, that know how to stand up for art.

Yes. There’s an us and them. And it’s definitely tough to navigate, particularly in the American market (sadly.) But you can stay strong and work hard to put out exceptional material that makes a statement. It can be done, and is done every day. Adele sold over 30 million of her record 21 ~ without even touring. That’s how good that record is. That’s how much people want it. The music industry is still scratching their heads over that one.

Don’t subscribe to the BS.

Great artists who don’t sell out can win big. Bigger than everyone else if they stay the course…

There will always be naysayers and folks that will tell you to sacrifice your integrity. People like that will never go away, because they are “money minded.” They are entrenched in the machine of the industry. You just have to decide if you are going to listen. Will you freak out and cave when you don’t break through? Or will you persist and possibly break through even bigger and leave them scratching their heads? Can you stick to your truth and be satisfied with a career based on artistic merit? Ya, you CAN!


Who are your favorite artists who are not sell-outs? Share in the comments below.

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