Just about every popular artist is accused of it at some point. They toil for years in obscurity and then finally find “the formula” that connects with the masses and then both their original fans indignantly cry “sell out!”

And every time I hear it, it gets under my skin. Do these people realize how talented you have to be to be able to “sell out”? There are innumerable artists who would sell their immortal soul to be able to sell out. Very few reach the point where it’s even an option. As a songwriter, I want my music to reach people; a lot of people, if possible.  If I can find a way to reach a larger audience, I’d be an idiot not do it.

An example of a band accused of selling out is my all-time favorite, Genesis. Throughout the 70s they toiled in relative obscurity. They wrote dense, complex, and to me at least, thoroughly enjoyable music. As the 70s turned in to the 80s, they adapter their sound to fit the times and began enjoying massive success. To this day, “real” Genesis fans vent their anger and disappointment at their favorite band for selling out.

So, let me get this straight. A band spends over a decade desperately trying to produce music people want to hear and suddenly people actually want to hear what they produce and they’re sell outs? They did what any artist who has bills to pay would do. If you could do something at your job that would make you a lot more money, would you do it? Would that make you a sell out? Why is music magically different than any other job?

Another great example is the singer Michael Bolton. Did you know he was a rocker in the late 70s and early 80s?



Not bad, eh? The problem was he didn’t get much attention.  He shifted his focus to middle aged housewives and struck gold. Did he sell out? Absolutely. Was it the smart thing to do? Absolutely.


People want to romanticize music, but for the people whose livelihood depends on music, they have to be cognizant of what listeners want to hear. If they’re talented enough to be able to give people what they want, then they should be applauded, not criticized. Sure, the new direction the artist is taking may not be to everybody’s liking, but if they’re finding success, then they’re doing what any smart business person would do.

All the whiners on Facebook and internet forums can pick up their own instruments and toil in obscurity making “real” music to pick up the slack. Shouldn’t be a problem for them. After all, they know music better than everyone else.