Selling Out is Kind of OK Now, Right? So Why is Titus Andronicus So Angry at Kurt Vile?

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No more Bank Of America overdraft fees for Kurt Vile
Today, Pitchfork reports that Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles was pretty unhappy after learning Kurt Vile's song, "Baby's Arms," was used in a Bank Of America commercial. He ranted about it on his Twitter account, tweeting things about Vile like "I thought you were, like, the best dude in music!"

While many share the opinion about Vile's music --  this year's Smoke Ring For My Halo is some of the best music being made -- it didn't stop Stickles from lashing out against the artist, whom he seems to respect.

Isn't his criticism a little self-righteous, if not completely outdated?

We're living in a time when it is virtually impossible to make decent money playing music unless artists license their songs to television shows, movies and advertisements.

Maybe I'm getting old, but I can still remember 20 years ago, when leveraging your art for money was considered the lowest thing a credible musician could do. You were selling your soul, jeopardizing your art and your fanbase for some cash. Greenday was chastised for signing to a major label. So was Nirvana and even Vanilla Ice. (You might remember a This Week In Dallas Music History story we ran recently, in which Vanilla Ice claims his manager made him pocket all the money from "Ice Ice Baby.")

Nowadays, who cares? Artists are scrambling just to find enough money to continue making art. In Vile's case, he can't be accused of anything more than that. So long as his music doesn't suffer, who cares if you hear it in a Burger King bathroom? (For the record, Vile's music is doing just fine. "Baby's Arms" is a gorgeous song)

Stickles cares, especially because the song was licensed to Bank Of America. By making his statements, it seems that he is aligning himself, whether he means to or not, with the sentiments of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

"Did I hear Kurt Vile's great song 'Baby's Arms' was in a Bank of America commercial? If so, man, that's #SHITLIST if anything ever was," he tweeted. "Come on, Kurt Vile, yr a million times better than that. #Crushcapitalism ... "

But if Vile can't lend his music to Bank Of America without getting his hand slapped, who can he license his music to? A small business, like popcorn gift basket company? That's still capitalism.

If musicians can't license their music to corporations, they're screwed. It's not like they're making much money on album sales, given that almost anything is available on Mediafire. 

In the end, Vile isn't helping the corporate machine continue, as much as he is exploiting it to continue creating his art. And for that, he ought to be commended, not criticized.  
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Jethro
Jethro

Daniel Hopkins is making a ridiculous argument - that any participation in capitalism is the same, as if there are no ethics involved in what products we buy or endorse ("Who cares if you hear it in a Burger King bathroom?").  He goes further to say that Vile should be commended for licensing his song to Bank of America.  As if Vile were exploiting B of A and their cool hunters and not the other way around.  Is Mr. Hopkins seriously arguing that Vile is exploiting a company that just moved something like $55 trillion in faulty credit derivatives over to the the bank's publicly-insured commercial side?  Asinine.     

I've never even heard Titus Andronicus, but Strickles is right.

Brett Netson
Brett Netson

This douchebag journalist and Kurt's sleazy ass manager are symptomatic of a much larger issue. As is the fact that ANYONE would take a fucking stand for this kind of helpless bootlicking for money. At least someone is giving shit. I may check out Titus Androticus. And maybe now people will actually think for one second that there may be consequences from taking the money.

Coleman
Coleman

can we...you know...keep it down about mediafire, please?

MattL1
MattL1

On some level, I kind of agree with Stickles.  I've never been entirely comfortable with artists whoring out their work to corporations, especially the ones I don't like.  However, I'm not a working musician and it's not my damn song.  Therefore, I don't really have any authority to judge the guy.  Were I in that situation, I'm not sure what the hell I would do.

HWAP
HWAP

Something tells me that no matter what Kurt does, BoA is still going to be a bloodsucking corporation. This doesn't change the fact that there was probably a $50,000 payday for zero marginal effort, and zero compromise of his art. Hence, there is no downside - only upside in the form of further patronage. I agree that if he dilutes it to serve corporate interests, then that would be "selling out". Otherwise, it's just "selling". You could claim that this recontextualizes a good song in a 30-second spot for a greedy drag-on-our-economy, and hence it denigrates the art. But then again, so does simply recording it so a bunch of jerks can fileshare their way to ample music collections with no skin in the game, no profits in Kurt's pocket, and no real appreciation for the social costs of creating art (aka feeding artists). Any of you art-types who think that BoA is going to cry over missing out on a hip song are delusional. Or, if you think that "protesting" BoA by withholding your sweet, sweet tunes is going to make a difference, then you're sorely mistaken.

The bottom line is this. Kurt didn't sell out, he doesn't owe us anything, and protesting capitalism a la Patrick Sickles is totally feckless and useless. Wanna protest something? Then don't give BoA your business, don't invest in the bubble machine, don't give money to shit you don't believe in. That is all.

Little Lebowski
Little Lebowski

I hate BofA and the banksters as much as the other 99 Precent, but people who denounce musicians for "selling out" invariably live a very cushy existence, and have never had to try to survive on the meager scraps that our society offers working artists. 

If this is a way for Kurt to get his music out in front of more people, I'm fine with it. It's not like he's acting in a BofA teevee commercial...

Jethro
Jethro

Please Lebowski, Vile is from Lansdale, PA.  It's a solidly middle class suburb of Philly. 

I call shenanigans
I call shenanigans

"Vile isn't helping the corporate machine continue, as much as he is exploiting it to continue creating his art" No, actually, he's doing both. Your argument is the equivalent of "I'm not a prostitute, I'm just exploiting my despicable customers to support my lifestyle."  It's a self-serving claim that's an attempt to rationalize what amounts to hypocritical greed. 

Disappointed
Disappointed

"If musicians can't license their music to corporations, they're screwed. It's not like they're making much money on album sales, given that almost anything is available on Mediafire."

Wow. That pretty much sums up the vast majority of people's attitude toward music in a nutshell. Because people steal music, it's okay to sell your song to the highest bidder? Doesn't sound much like artistic integrity to me. If the majority of music consumers actually paid for their music, whether that be in physical or digital form, then artists wouldn't feel the need to do this kind of thing. But that certainly doesn't make it right, nor should any artist be commended for taking that route.

Artists need to start taking a stand against the "fans" who continually exploit and steal from them. Kurt Vile is in a unique position and certainly doesn't need to do this to make money. As you've stated in this article, he is making some of the best music today, and the positive press alone from that would be enough to keep him selling out shows and selling albums to those who actually care about his music. 

Instead, his true fans now have to put up with this great music being neutered to sell RRSPs and grease the wheels of the corporate machine. Kind of gives new meaning to his song "Puppet To The Man"...

Adapt or Die, Son
Adapt or Die, Son

"Artists need to start taking a stand against the "fans" who continually exploit and steal from them."

Keep on taking that "stand" and see how far your art gets.

Daniel Hopkins
Daniel Hopkins

Your point is valid. Fans stealing music has put the music industry in a bad place. But, how is Vile's art being neutered by being in a commercial? "Baby's Arms" is a brilliant song no matter where you hear it. And if he can use it to exploit one of the biggest banks in the world, good for him. As far as I can tell, he didn't change the lyrics to encourage people to open savings accounts.

And, it's not like the money he made from it, assuming it's no more than $100,000 (probably much less), is going to take care of his retirement. But it will put him on the road for a few more years.

The second his art changes as a result of these commercial placements, then he will loose his credibility. For now, it's still great. And if this means he'll be able to make more art in the future, instead of getting a 9 to 5 somewhere, then I say go for it. It's just the times we're living in.

I call shenanigans
I call shenanigans

So selling your music to an entity which you oppose is ok as long as your music isn't influenced by it?  If he licensed his music to a Rick Perry or Mitt Romney campaign ad, would you be ok with that? 

Owhosane
Owhosane

Maybe he doesn't oppose Bank of America.  We don't know.  The point is that he should, or at least should refrain from endorsing them.

dudebro
dudebro

Maybe Kurt Vile doesn't oppose Bank of America?  I guess he loses all credibility for that "Eff BoA" song of his, but the others are still cool.

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