Music

“Authenticity” is a trap

The idea of “authenticity” and “selling out” when applied to artists, musicians, and other folks is largely bullshit. Worse, it’s a trap.

Let me back up a sec. The other day I was on the Twitters and noticed an exchange about how some artist wasn’t “authentic” anymore because they licensed their music for a commercial of some sort.

Now, I get it. Music is highly personal. We (potentially) attach all kinds of emotions to a piece of music. That spills over to emotional attachments to the artists themselves. A lot of people want to think that the art they are highly attached to is “pure” rather than a crass cash-grab.

Grab that cash (as ethically as possible…)

I wish we lived in a society where musicians, artists, open source contributors could do their thing without concern about money. We don’t. Since that’s the case, I’m emphatically in favor of people taking opportunities to convert their work to income. You know what happens when artists don’t make money from their art? It often inhibits their ability to make more art.

SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEYIf a band isn’t making money, it’s hard to record and release more music. It’s hard to support open source development without finding a way to pay the developers and support the infrastructure, etc. As crappy as it is, just about everything costs money. (This includes people’s time. If a person’s art or contributions don’t bring in money, they have to find another way to support themselves. That’s time they can’t spend doing art or contributing.)

You might quibble with specific ways that people take cash for their work. Maybe licensing music to or working for Evil Corp is a line too far.

But the idea that anybody has to be “authentic” and “pure” is right there with the idea that people have to suffer for their art. And that’s just garbage.

We shouldn’t want people to suffer. We shouldn’t hold people to standards of scraping for a living in order to consider them “authentic.” I’m probably not going to buy an album full of songs about “Jeeves, get my my slippers” and “I got the blues, my private jet is in the shop” but I really want everybody to have financial stability. As boring and non-punk as that may sound.

It’s a trap!

Trying to achieve “authenticity” by rejecting licensing deals or whatever? It’s a trap. You don’t win any real benefits by appeasing the authenticity police, you only lose.

My music library is full of bands and artists that didn’t put out as much music as they could have, because of problems with money. Maybe it was a label messing them around because they didn’t sell enough copies. Because money, they didn’t have full control of their catalog. Maybe they were independent but couldn’t afford studio time. Maybe money problems impacted their life in other ways that futzed up their ability to record and release music.

Whatever. If a band can solve some of that by letting their music be used in a car commercial or vacation destination or deodorant, I don’t really care. If an author can write more because they sold the rights to a book that gets turned into a crappy movie, I don’t care. I still have the book. I still have the albums. And they’re getting to eat.

The Monkees were a cash-grab, studio creation. And, you know what? “Last Train to Clarksville” is still an amazing song. The list of musicians and artists who were “authentic” and ended up struggling and dying poor is too long to even get into.

I’m not saying fat stacks of cash should be the number one goal. But authenticity – which really translates to “be broke and not too popular” – is a bogus yardstick.

If I hear one of my favorite artists or bands is “selling out” by licensing their work for commercials or something, I’m just going to smile and say “good for them!”

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