Resnikoff’s Parting Shot: The Art of Selling Out

Oh, the joys of being an opulent rapper!

The rags-to-riches, f-the-man narrative is so incredibly strong in hip-hop, it seems that rappers can get away with anything!  Entire albums are dedicated to ridiculous, materialistic bragging – cars, women, houses, Cristal, ice – and everyone sings along.  Leave the “middle class artist” idea to the indies… a middle class rapper is an oxymoron!

And that makes it so much easier to embrace overt advertising deals.  50 Cent brags about a little deal he did with some “sugar water” (ie, vitaminwater) to mint millions.  Lil’ Jon thanks Seagram’s Gin “cause I drink it, and they’re paying me for it” in “Freek-a-Leek,” and everyone has a good laugh.

But step outside of that world, and the credibility equation changes a bit.  The anti-branding sentiments of the 60s and 70s have subsided, and artists across all genres can join the fun.  But this is a more tricky game for everyone else, including the brands themselves.  John Legend and the more “conscious” Roots are streaming a performance from JFK on Vevo next week, and American Express will be branding the action.  But just like Arcade Fire before them, there are limits to how strongly the Amex bull can charge.

But let’s test the limits, shall we?  Enter Weezer, whose ‘Hurley’ album involves a sponsorship by none other than – Hurley International.  At first, guitarist Brian Bell explained that Hurley – the company, not the Lost character on the cover – was sponsoring the release.  “[Hurley] was funding the record at the beginning of the process,” Bell explained.  “We actually did some sort of advertisement… I don’t even know how they’re tied in so much, although we got some clothes and we did a photo shoot and we were wearing these clothes, and I think we’re selling these clothes in malls.”

Alight!  A full-blown sellout!  Own it, baby.  But wait.  Bell later explained that this was a big mistake, and that the real inspiration for the album was the Hurley character from Lost.  Then, Hurley – the company – started sponsoring a series of release parties, and…

But the outrage never really materialized.  Sure, purists have decried the marriage, but do you really care?  Or, would you rather see a band get paid – and paid well – for its creativity?

Actually, most artists want to get paid – and paid well – though they understandably carry some sensitivity towards commercial relationships.  Enter Exhibit B – Dave Matthews.  Just recently, a rep from Riazul Tequila reached out to Digital Music News to talk about an “unofficial” relationship between the singer and the brand.  As in, Dave just loves this stuff on his own, and oh – here’s a photo of him posing with it backstage. “If Avion Tequila has Entourage’s Vincent Chase as a face, Riazul Tequila may have Dave Matthews… at least unofficially,” the rep continued, while insisting that no money changed hands.

Another tale?  Depends what you believe, though it looks like the art of selling out remains a tricky craft indeed, with lots of different approaches to be applied.  And increasingly, this is an art that needs to be practiced in order to survive.  And, as long as the fans stay on board, everyone is still in business.

Paul Resnikoff, Publisher 

8 Responses

  1. keithmohr

    Paul, you are pretty hard on these artists. It may be a matter of survival than selling out. I mean.. golfers, race card drivers, and other entertainment entities are sponsored. Why not artists? Makes perfect sense to me.

    • Jason S

      I think there are a couple factors that can help make a rock & roll brand sponsorship more palatable…

      1) The brand fits the audience. In Weezer’s case, Hurley is an appropriate fit. Its market could be characterized as “snowboarder bros” who are into videogames, saying “dude”, and music like Weezer. The branding doesn’t HELP the album, but it doesn’t HURT the fans’ perception (except maybe a few hardcore fans, who will continue to support Weezer anyway), and most importantly, the band gets PAID. Same goes for the pop-punk and emo bands lending their names to Dennys Late-Night menu foods.

      2) The brand is neutral (and the branding is unobtrusive). AmEx sponsors a TON of music-related content, but it’s inocuous. They’re not trumpeting low-interest-rate cards during the Arcade Fire concert stream…just doing low-level awareness branding. Inoffensive, neutral. Nobody minds, and again, the band gets paid (or at least the broadcast gets produced, which leads to more artist exposure)

      3) It’s clear that the sponsor company is helping the artist do something special. Case in point: State Farm Insurance and OK Go’s “This Too Shall Pass” video. If fans believe the sponsor’s support helps the band, and if the band uses those resources to do good work, fans are willing to accept it.

      Of course, there are instances where sponsorship WON’T work…if the company is the wrong fit for the artist/audience, or if the branding is too crass, or if the music sucks. Or a combination of all of these, like the “Dr Pepper/Wal-Mart/KFC/MTV Band In A Bubble” stunt from 2007. An embarrassment for everyone involved (except MTV, who has no shame left to lose).

      On the whole, would I say sponsor branding is inherently a good thing? No, but it’s not necessarily bad. I’m willing to accept it for the sake of something IS good — bands getting paid.

    • dave

      it’ll be nice when artists can act just like athletes and celebrities like you said. somehow the relationship with fans is totally different – the bond is totalloy different.

    • presnikoff


      I think that’s a great point. After all, I’m approaching this topic from the vantage point of ‘selling out,’ why not approach it from the other end? Certainly perceptions are changing, and you raise a good question regarding athletes, celebrities, and others receiving endorsements with far less baggage.


  2. Maxwellian

    Think if Weezer had to do it all over again, they’d own it from the strart. Maybe they were scared of this backlash, really never happened I think people really dont care so much anymore/

  3. @Who_Is_YPP

    Clever–and not so clever–ways to partner artistic talent and corporations

  4. Branded

    partnering w/a sponsor is sometimes necessary (i.e. pay for the tour, logo on tickets/stage etc). using a track written/existing for another purpose (art) and later used as background for an ad, not too bad. letting the corporation pay for the music video with product placement (see singer/rapper drinking it in video) is more questionable, as then it’s just an ad. worst is when songwriter is paid to include brand name in lyrics– then they are just a shill. (and it happens all the time. you hear a brand name in a song, and in some way it’s been paid for. either the artist/label has been approached from the start to write the song, in return for funding, or the artist has written the song with a brand name, and will change it for whoever can be found willing to pay. this is why you never hear a brand name in a song portraying it in a bad light. this also happens in novels. and even in bar conversations–corporations have been known to send out “cool” people to “buy” and have name-drop converations about the brand at “cool” locations. be afraid, be very afraid.)

  5. Andy Lykens

    I just can’t see why people ever cared about “selling out.” There’s a big difference between now and the 60’s when selling out had more to do with supporting politics and ideals vs. continuing to enjoy your favorite brand of whatever and getting paid for it.

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