Princess Stomper

Is there really such a thing as selling out?

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Metallica selling out

by Princess Stomper

I know this is going to come as a shock to you, but albums aren’t made by little pixies waving magic wands. Whatever dreams are spun of, Phase 1: plan to be famous; Phase 3: profit, the reality is more mundane. It’s something we accept about the film industry, because it lets us in on its processes. We understand it’s a giant corporate behemoth mired in politics and dodgy dealings, but can appreciate that this can still result in magical works of art.

From Inception to Aliens, Casablanca to The Godfather, we can reconcile the thought of thousands of people – some highly paid – contributing to a commercial product that can still be emotionally and mentally satisfying. I don’t recall anyone saying Sam Raimi ‘sold out’ when he made Spiderman. I’m pretty sure that nobody expected Peter Jackson to keep making zero-budget splattercore films forever. Most moviegoers were pretty happy that Lord Of The Rings was as popular as it was good. We understood that investors had risked huge amounts of money to make it, and were pleased that its success meant future projects could be funded. Phase 1: invest capital; phase 2: make something people like; phase 3: profit.

There isn’t a whole heap of difference between making a film and an album. You need an investor to put up the capital, a director/producer to assemble the cast and crew, you need the artists to bring the vision to life and then people to physically produce, package, distribute and promote the finished product. If you are making the end result publicly available and asking for any sort of contribution to cover your costs, then your product is a commercial enterprise.

When I was a teenager I ran a fanzine, but was still negotiating print rates, persuading local newsagents and record shops to stock it and bugging people at gigs to buy the thing. A commercial enterprise on the tiniest scale. The ‘underground’ bands I covered were fairly popular at the time, heavily featured in the national music press and often breaking the charts.

After a couple of years, someone suggested launching a magazine. Though I was featuring a broad spectrum of music, it wasn’t broad enough to be commercially viable. Put simply, I’d have to include a lot of the more popular bands that I didn’t really like in order to sell enough copies to keep it running. As a fanzine, I had the luxury of turning down an interview with Oasis.

Fortunately, I got a call inviting me on board for a new magazine that was a good fit for me: it covered the same spectrum I did, but broader still. It featured the bands I liked, and the bands I didn’t. It could make the compromises I couldn’t. In an internationally-funded environment, attracting a far wider array of publicists eager to ply their acts, I had access to music so magical that I could well believe it was made by little pixies waving wands.

Sadly, those same powers that gave increased reach and resources introduced new pressures: the magazine featured less and less of the music I liked and more and more of the music I didn’t. Maintaining that balance is, in practice, almost impossible.

Almost. Not entirely.

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