Commercial Music And Artistic Integrity

For my 1111th post, I thought I’d do something special. I’m going to start a flamewar! :w00t:

Seriously though, this topic did end up in some heated debate yesterday in #renoise, and I’m wondering where everyone stands on it.

Part of the argument was this: Some believed that it was impossible for commercial musicians to have any shred of artistic integrity, and that as soon as anyone sells music, they’ve sold out permanently, and their music will forever be tainted by the thought of making money with said music. I personally believe that it is possible for a commercial musician or artist to hold up a sense of artistic integrity despite the money factor. My argument is that professional musicians have more time to work on their music, therefore are actually truer to their artistic vision than those independent musicians who can’t spend all their time on their music.

Other issues that were brought up along the way were the “timelessness” of music, and an individual’s ability to judge said timelessness or meaning objectively. It was argued that it was quite possible for someone to state that “this music has a meaning and emotion that will move people even X number of years down the road”… again, I disagreed. My view is that as an individual, it’s impossible to state which music will have meaning to society as it progresses because you are only one person, and you can’t possibly understand the essence of everyone else in the world. The other issue that was attached to this was an individual’s ability to judge a musician’s artistic credibility and integrity based on listening to their music or image. For example, I personally don’t think it’s possible to state that Kiss have little artistic credibility because they have a shock rock image, or that the Skinny Puppy have lost their artistic integrity or are going against their vision because their music has changed over the years. Again, there was much disagreeance.

As you can see, this was a highly philosophical discussion, and many a time did I see “I’m really not following any of this” fly across the page. I figured the forum might be a better place to spark this kind of discussion as it allows people to post their entire thought process instead of being in a chatlike environment where it’s impossible to get a complex thought out in a debate without being interrupted by the next person trying to do the same. So, I’m going to open this up… I’m interested to see what the rest of the community has to say on these, and their related issues.

Keep in mind, I’m starting this discussion for fun. I hope that we’re all mature enough to keep this from becoming an OMFGSERIOUS heated flamewar argument. I just want to see where all of us, as musicians, stand on these issues. :D

Ok… I’ve seen a bit of the discussion yesterday and I can tell you that a simple look at squarepusher’s roland 808 would solve the whole topic.

If we could see the roland 808 he uses today in 2008 (if he stills use one… does he even make music anymore) we would get our answer.

of course… even if the roland 808 someone use means something… that would only show an example with one person (squarepusher)

In 1996, was making money with his music, but probably not as much as in the 2000’s. His roland 808 was very old and dirty… same with his studio… I believe he updated… but I don’t think he cared about a nice looking 808 at the time… if money changed him that much… I believe he would feel that he needs a clean 808 to fit with his new house, car, gear, wife, penis…

What I really mean is that you can see if a musician changes after making money by what he has around him. I don’t think the question is really about “can you make artistic music if you make money out of it?” it’s more about, “can you be honest with yourself and keep your old value even if someone would pay you to change your mind?”

Some can, some cannot.
Some artists start making shit when they are getting paid for it
Some could make much more money/popularity if they were doing so, but they are not.

It’s idiotic to try to claim that everyone who makes money out of their art is a sellout… simply because not everyone on earth acts the same.


– from the chapter “Economy” in Walden by Henry David Thoreau

If it was possible (and I truly believe it is) to listen to music and totally forget about the people behind the music then I guess the music could be listned to for what it truly is. Today I often get the feeling that music cannot be fully judged without sufficient knowledge about the author and some people dislikes certain music for the most ridiculous reasons.

Music has become to much of “Start-Transport-End” and the song as whole must be judged as either good or bad. In in my oppinion music is so much more than just good/bad and If a song has only one nice sound or chord then it can still be interesting to me. I want people to like the music I make and take it for what it is instead of mix me as person with it.

Just make music. If someone is stupid enough to pay you for it, that’s his problem.

Both yes and no, depending on the context.

I strongly believe that commerce is the way to go in all consensual human endeavours. The trader principle of a mutual benefit is very powerful and art (including music) is no exception: the artist doesn’t just get paid for his labour, but the payment also works as a means to protect the integrity of the artwork itself.

The problem with today’s music industry is NOT that it is commercial, but rather that it is commercial on the wrong grounds. There is no free market. Instead we see an improper body of cartels and rendering of unearned profits that are made possible just because of politics. In effect, the recording industry has many similarities with the mafia.

But the reason why this is so, is because of the huge cashflows in Western welfare states, where millions of people are handed over money they haven’t really worked hard for. So when these people (including most teenagers) vote with the unearned money in their pockets, they will put them into supply chains they haven’t really chosen themselves – supply chains of patterns, memes, and values that others have created for them BECAUSE of the easy way to collect and transfer the money from their pockets.

There is no mutual trading in this. This is just cheap looting and fraud. And we see it everywhere: a dysfunctional capitalism that upholds the trading principle de jure, but acts to destroy it de facto.


Because some shit is poison? ;)

Unfortunately, the poison is often held up on the pedestal

Personally, I’m a control freak when it comes to my own music. I like to perform at concerts, but I hate the idea of releasing music. Once the music has been recorded, it’s dead to me. Recorded music is best for judging if a concert is worth going to, which is also why I think myspace, virb, and the like are very interesting places.

But it’s impossible to generalize with this issue, as stated previously, everybody’s different. I think some artists got lucky, being in the right place at the right time, and continue to have support from their label. That’s cool, I have no problem with that.

Pop music, for instance, means popular music. Does this imply that the music is of a certain genre?

I hope what I’m about to say won’t sound too harsh, but the argument that selling your music ruins your artistic integrity sounds like an excuse for all those who never succeeded at selling their music, or never found the confidence to try.

Saying that commercial music eventually gets bad is as absurd as saying that all free music is unconditionally good.

So what about those who don’t have geographic access to your live performances? :blink:

… seems to me the value of recorded music is that it makes it accessible to more of those who may like to hear it :P … if I never rendered my musics and sent it across the internets, the only people who would ever hear it would be my friends, whom, for which ever reason, hate harsh electronic music. I live in a small hick town, so asside from rocking the worlds of the local punk scene with music they don’t want to hear anyway, I have no audience here. It may be different where you are, but you never know… I might want to hear your music sometime. Should I not be allowed because it becomes “dead” to you in recorded form? Do you think the essence only exists when people are hyped enough not to pay close attention? If so, you’re selling yourself short.

Jordy Has Spoken! :drummer:

the only reason why I would like to make money on my music, is simply that it would have given me the opportunity to make MORE music, cus then i wouldn’t have to spend 8-10 hours a day at work - wishing I could rather make music :)

Whatevs. Just make music and stop stroking your beards.


don’t be so existential.

there are certain themes in art and literature which translate well between generations regardless of how the medium was recorded.
why do you think people still watch classic movies? gone with the wind? why do people still read shakespeare?

there is one theme that everyone can relate to that if articulated well enough, will become “timeless”. this theme is Love. other popular themes are war, suffering, competition. i don’t know if you could write a song about those things, but there certainly are love songs.

are you telling me that, if an album was done well enough, and ran the gamut of all of the aspects of love, including infatuation, joy, relationship slowly fading, loss… and was so heartwrenching that it affected most people who heard it. and it happened to end up selling well.
are you telling me it would be wrong to predict that this album would be timeless?

on the broader theme of this topic:

my opinion is that the only people who argue the point that “artistic integrity is lost when music is sold commercially” are snobs. of course it’s not lost. if it was, then the first musician who ever played a lute on the street in an ancient kingdom would have lost his artistic integrity as soon as he started playing for money out of his hat. every subsequent musician who ever dreamed of making money would have lost his integrity immediately as soon as they even conceived of making a living doing it? then all of our music theory, notation, instrument development, pretty much everything related to music, was done “out of greed”, so to speak. money makes the world go round. if no one had ever built instruments and sold them, if no records were ever made, music would not be as widespread. and we would have none of the framework which we use to make our music now. there would be no guitars, no vsti’s, no renoise, etc.

i thank my lucky stars for commercial music

if it weren’t for it, there would be no way possibly for me to be exposed to as many different cultures as i have, and i would have never had some of the more meaningful experiences of my life.

but that’s just me

p.s… riddle me this:

did the Renoise developers lose their integrity when they decided to sell Renoise as opposed to the usual free model for tracker software?
i think if the same people who thought this about artists going commercial thought this about Renoise, they wouldn’t have been in the #renoise channel… so…

should software development be treated differently? if so, why?

I should have clarified… I agree that someone can predict somewhat well when music WILL be timeless… however, predicting the opposite accurately is infinitely harder.

Hells no. They simply gave themselves the means to have more time and resources to bring Renoise closer to their artistic vision. This was my point about music entirely. If the team was driven primarily by money, we’d have a piano roll and a beatslicer and timestreching and an arranger by now. Not to say we won’t get a few of those anyway, but it’s pretty obvious that the more pressing matter is proper implementation of the features that do get implemented, so as to make Renoise function as well as possible, and not to hinder the initial vision. In that same respect, if Skinny Puppy was driven by money, they’d be doing remixes for Timbaland. They’re not. Why? Because their artistic integrity has not been compromised. They stick to their vision because they continue to receive support from their fanbase in the form of money… which they use to produce more artwork… that comes closer to their goal each time. If they had to work regular jobs just to live whilst making music, I guarantee they wouldn’t make music anywhere near close to their initial vision.

Yadda yadda yadda, -insert overused and biased opinion here- yadda yadda yadda yadda.

Ho and common, can you people get over timbaland and stop using him as the every time “no integrity artist” whatever. Ok he ripped off tempest, and still, he’s making more original music than everyone in this thread. So what make you a more integer artist than him? You never used a copyrighted sample in your song? You never (over)used an amen break? You never sampled this or that? The so called “integer artist” you acclaim never sampled others artists?

That’s the usual circliejrking discuss about the subject heard 9000 times. Soon someone is gonna come up and tell us that NIN is the perfect example of integer artist and they make awesome(yet utterly pretentious, annoying and boring) music not for money (but still selling tons), contrary to most of the “commercial music” and yadda yadda yadda yadda.

You see endless threads like this every week of every month in every single music production forum. Now think just for a little minute, what if, all the minutes those people took to make long TL;DR reply with their self opinion that no one really care except themself, used this time instead to produce what they call “arty and integer” music? Or maybe they just can’t?

I agree with Lunat.

Nobody here can draw the line where commercial music starts and/or
ends. I daresay the majority of people wouldn’t even recognise artistic
integretity if it ran em over with a freightrain.