Fandom and the Fan is a Black Witch series that will continue for the duration of March. Normal Black Witch postings will resume in April. This column is guest written by a friend of mine, Lindsey W..

Suddenly the little band you love is everywhere. It’s the new “cool band” and they’re everywhere. They’re on the tv, movie soundtrack, the radio, magazines and even gossip columns. For some, it feels like a betrayal, the band’s a “sellout”, cashing in on their music. How could they do that? Doesn’t that band treasure their music, their fans?

Step back, take a breath. Let’s look at that again. Are you just angry that you now have to share your precious band with thousands of others? Or is it truly because all the band’s decisions are made for their personal gain?

Sometimes a “sellout” really is just a band that “made it”. They started out fully grassroots (created itself from scratch) before the industry took noticed and wanted to market them. Marketing is not evil, it helps the band with their finances (and yes, most of the time they need help). Let’s dispel some rumors and look at how artists make decisions in regards to money and their fans.

The biggest misconception is surely if you’re in a band, touring and signed to a label you have money. Furthermore, since you have money from the band/touring/label you can focus on the fans and the shows (if you’re actively touring).

Lets take for example, Jonny Craig of Dance Gavin Dance and Emarosa. He’s the lead singer of more than one band and has his own album. Surely he has money or would at least be able to recoup and make some with his music and touring. Fans believed and embraced that idea full hook, line and sinker. So when Craig said he was selling his macbook for some quick cash, fans responded, thinking they would get a computer deal – from a musician they respected no less. He got some three thousand plus into the scam before the fans figured it out, there wasn’t a macbook. Craig had already sold the laptop to a bandmate and pretended he had one, even put up pictures showing him with it in hand. Sadly, the money Craig got was spent on drugs and bills, thousands of dollars worth combined. As a remedy to potential nasty backlash and lawsuits, Craig’s label, Rise Records offered to pay back the fans and put Craig in detox before sending him back out on the road.

But what does a fan do in that situation? They could take the side of the artist and say, “It was the drugs or whatever.” Or they could write off the bands and the artist that he arguably is. There wasn’t a specific way of dealing with the situation but it deals specifically with the issues of a “sellout”: money and the trust of fans.

Craig obviously didn’t have money even if he does have multiple music outlets and was on the Alternative Press Magazine Tour only last year, but he’s used fans as a gullible income source. The thing is, he should be equal to a sellout, not nationally, but at least in the alternative music scene. But this is not the case, and the poor musician is much more common than that of a sellout. In the end, the label has the money and Craig’s commitment to them. (More on the label/artist interaction next week).

So a scene singer with multiple bands isn’t a sellout. What about a band that has three albums on a major label? Multiple singles/music videos? Sell out arenas? Has merchandise found in Hot Topic? Surely they have to be sellouts in every possible way.

Hear this pitch: “You’re a band that has a large goth fanbase, we have a movie that not only appeals to that base, but also the general public. If you give us a song for this movie, you will have a larger fanbase and, if you’re lucky, a good percentage on your royalty money and we might even pay you well because of it,” only to later hear, “Come on, you know you want some of that Vampire Money…”

This is an imagining of how the conversation went for My Chemical Romance concerning the Twilight soundtrack. Cause that’s it: Fans = Money. Royalties = Money. Payola = Money. Could you guess what  My Chemical Romance – a well-known band that packs arenas, has plenty of radio play, backed by a large record company, Warner Brothers/ Reprise Records – had responded to the deal? They said no. They said, the very band that has been called “sellouts” before, they didn’t want their song on the soundtrack.

The reason behind it? Could it be there already sold out to the point they didn’t need the money? Maybe. Or was it because they wanted to control how they were seen? Possibly. Was it because they are comic book fans that expect their vampires to be scary? After all, they wrote a whole song about vampires “tear the skin right off our bones” and that “razor sharp white teeth rip out our necks” (“Vampires Will Never Hurt You”). Hm, perhaps.

For whatever reason MCR declined, the lingering tag line of “Vampire Money” stuck to them so much that they wrote a song by that name on their latest album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. They ridicule Twilight in “Vampire Money”, talking about “sparkling like Bowie” and “wanting to be a movie star”. So, they did end up making a song for the soundtrack, but on their terms and for their fans. Even without ever knowing this backstory, you can hear the joke in the song.

So even “sellouts” can make decisions that are best for the fan and themselves, forsaking money. Doesn’t that mean… they’re not a sellout?

[I could go further, cataloging My Chemical Romance’s full history from small NJ band signed to Eyeball Records (Gerard at the time singing on label-mate Murder By Death’s album because Murder By Death was as small as they were) to their fourth neon-dance-pop album that was a second shot at an album, one of which the label was hesitant of getting behind (but generally the fans embraced). Their rise to fame mostly consisted of a lot of lucky breaks and label marketing support.]

I can’t end the article before mentioning the biggest “sellout” argument in the news recently. Steve Stoute, an ex-record industry rep, commented on the Grammy’s, his beliefs were simple: Justin Beiber should have won Best New Artist and Arcade Fire shouldn’t have won Best Album. His main argument? “Justin Bieber, an artist that defines what it means to be a modern artist … his cultural impact and success are even more quantifiable if you factor in his YouTube and Vevo viewership … he was a talent born entirely of the digital age whose story was crafted….”

Although Arcade Fire didn’t need to respond, their manager did: “Arcade Fire are now one of the biggest live acts in the world. It’s not all about record sales. It’s about making great records and it’s about building a loyal fan base. The band make great albums, they’re not a radio-driven singles band. On top of that, they own their own masters and copyrights and are in complete control of their own destiny. Things couldn’t be better.”

That’s what caps things off. Arcade Fire summed up what it really means to be a modern artist. They made it and found recognition for it and didn’t sellout to get there. They fully control their decisions regarding the band, and their fans either respect their decisions or not. Yes, you did hear their song in the trailer for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” but did you know they also matched up to $1 million to Haiti Relief Donations and toured with part of their ticket price going to the charity of Partners In Health?

You really have to look at what the artist is doing before saying they’re a “sellout”. Personally, using venom against an artist because there no longer your personal favorite small band is inconsequential.

Next week: Bands’ want out of their contracts – but they can’t tell you… Some signs and shot’s in the dark of what’s coming next for the band/fan/label ecosystem.

Questions, comments or want to ask about something in the article? Feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to respond.

About the Author: Lindsey W. has been going to to concerts since she was able to stand. To date, she has gone to more than 100 shows. Music is her passion and technology is another, and thus why the music industry is so interesting to her. Her favorite music genres are generally rock and alternative, while trying to be eclectic. Former local radio host, she hopes to make a dent in the larger market in the coming year.

Hey everyone! Black Witch here! I just wanted to announce the winner for the Travelin’ Light: Lasers Giveaway! As promised, I picked the winner for the giveaway on March 8th, the day that Lasers would come out for that lucky person who would win a free copy of Lupe Fiasco’s latest (and hardest fought for) album. The winner was Janae W.! She will be receiving her copy soon!