We are all prostitutes…or should a musician take brand cash or arts grants

We are all prostitutes…or should a musician take brand cash or arts grants


Recently I was on one of those panels debating whether bands should take sponsorship or brand money and how far they had to bend over before we could all shout 'sell out' at them.


Of course the whole concept of sell out is pretty spurious as a term. It was often banded about by the media working for music papers owned by huge companies slagging off bands signing to major labels, especially in the punk era.


It's a difficult one to qualify.


The notion of the debate is should bands take sponsorship money, should they take it without knowing where it comes from and is it selling out to be involved in taking this money.


It's a contentious debate, for some taking the adman cash and the brand dollar is totally wrong and that's a fine and noble stance and one we all wish we could comply with. If you can survive outside the system then hats off to you, as long as you are truly outside the system and not using any major company produced phones or computers and not any major corporation produced fuel when traveling etc..


Another topic that was raised was is it really purer to take money from arts grants than from a mobile phone company? At first sight it is a very different world but no-one gives money away for nothing…is it just a case of governments advertising themselves by handing money over to starving artists? Is the money clean or dirty? Does it matter if the money comes from a right wing government or a left wing corporation? And does it really give you the moral high ground if you are subsidised by arts money to criticise the artist who takes money from the brands? And is it fair that are money will only go to certain types of musicians?


And if you take money from brands how far do you have to leap through the hoop before you are 'selling out' . I guess changing your song to incorporate the name of the product is pushing it a bit far…a lot of people didn't like Iggy Pop or Johny Rotten appearing in ads but seemed to have no problem with John Peel doing the voice over for many ads or The Fall providing the music for ads- is giving your music away to an ad wrong or right? Or does it depend on wether you like the band or not? Or now that everyone nicks music for free can we really expect artists to survive on no money? And did Michelangelo ask these questions when he took the money from the rich patrons in order to paint?



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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. take arts grant money for sure, big brands putting their logo over everything when they sponsor a tour or festival is not so good, not good at all. Doing ads for synch is ok as long as its not some ugly corportation, supposedly four tet turned down 100k a few years back for a shell tv ad. musicians have to survive.

    The clash refused to go on top of the pops………but signed to CBS and their music was licensed to loads of tv ads , jeans etc….

    do people even care if you ‘sell out’ nowadays? it seems to have gone out as does the notion of copyright.

    Lydon and iggy got stick because they acted in the ad themselves, and lydon is just f**king an irritation now anyway.

  2. What about Looking at it this way Round. “Selling Out” is giving up be a Musician (which most People do) and just becoming another Suburbanite.

  3. Guess it depends what you take the money FOR.
    If you take the cash and make exactly what you would have anyway, it’s all good. (But how would you know you weren’t sucking up to the £, even just a wee bit.)

    If you’ve already made your art: have the cash no guilt involved.
    (Except for the bit where you give the paymaster some of your credibility, I guess. But if they’re someone you like, no problem at all.)

  4. Let us take a look at every picture of every single band on stage…
    hands up who is guilty of having offending MARSHALL logo’s all over their guitar gear… lets see how many of them have shure or sennheiser across their mics… how many have gibson on the end of their guitar…they are getting advertising for free every day.

    I use crate heads and cabs.. and have epiphone/ gibson/ ltd/ wesley and peavey guitars and bass’s I have pearl sprawled all over my drum hardware…

    advertising at its finest.. if somebody is prepared to pay you for something you already use and advertise for them anyway, and it helps you get a few tracks down in a recording studio to send to the all ellusive event organisers then fair enough…

    lydons advert pisses me off because he gives us all a bad name anyway, people judge punk labelled bands by his and other former sex pistols behaviours when they first appeared on the scene.. he doesn’t show how many of us are not like that and that times have changed.. he makes us all appear to be the bunch of w*****s that he himself is!
    you mention punk to anybody unknowing and the instant response is lydon or sid :s..
    it is about time he showed the world what the scene is really about and not what an utter arsehole he acts to change things for the better..

    I am in a band because I hope that one day people may see what we as a band are trying to do and raise awareness of things that people need to understand/ the wrong doings/ the illnesses/ attitude/ crimes like rape or pedophilia .. to take more of a stand towards acceptance of all and not judge by skin color or disabilities or the way we look… we are the voice of people ..

    i may useTIGI hairspray that costs me 11 quid a can.. purely for the fact that i am allergic to wasps so sugarwater or gelatine doesnt work for me… but that 1 can lasts over a month and i have my hair up most days… Because that is me…

    damn if they want to send me a years supply of it for me sticking a sticker on my guitar I would be game.. I love the stuff, it works for me and I always have a can of it on me… would i however swap my hairspray i use to a different brand just because somebody says it is wrong ? no! would i be payed to use a different brand and have their sticker on my guitar? NO … If it is something we use then fair enough, get payed by the brand or get something out of it to help you in your journey.. recording studio and merch costs are far from cheap, but to go against something you believe in for money gain.. defintely not.. that in my eyes would be a sell out.. I often wonder what insurance iggy pop uses and what sort of butter lydon has on his toast.. i dare bet they are not the ones they are advertising :s …

    anyway the question at hand.. is it wrong…
    in some cases yes.. in others ..no .. live by your morals.. dont be a hypocryte!
    every day / every time we play we are selling out to whatever brand you have on your guitar or on your equipment… i make my own clothes… would i walk around in addidas trainers or tops… to be honest yes.. i train for marathons.. the design helps stop chaffing and sweat and doesnt break my feet… would i walk around like that outside of a marathon or gym,,, definitely not!! everybody has to make enough to survive.. would i ever charge 20k like some bands that have played big events… NO what is the need.. cover costs and a little bit extra to help with merch or recording yes but damn me… guys get a grip!!!


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