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As The Black Keys Take on Pizza Hut, We Wonder What Selling Out Even Means Anymore

See also: What Are the Ten Most "Spotified" Songs in Phoenix

Last week, NPR blogger Emily White got a whole bunch of discussion started about how musical artists are and aren't getting paid. (We chimed in, too, discussing music-streaming service Spotify.) If White's thought -- that my peers and I will "never pay for albums" -- is any indication of the future of music (gawd, let's hope not), where does that leave bands looking to earn a living from their tunes?

That answer seems to be "selling out," which used to be a taboo in indie and punk circles, but has long dominated the recording industry. And while it used to a bad word for cred-conscious acts, a few bands whore themselves out shamelessly. In fact, Vampire Weekend and The Black Keys squared off in a "sell-out-off" on The Colbert Report over a year ago, ticking off the many advertisers they sold their tunes to.

Everyone from Zales to Victoria's Secret to Honda to Tommy Hilfiger has got a piece of these two "indie" bands, and that's great for them. If musicians, major or independent, can't rely on record sales to put bread on the table, they'll have to turn elsewhere. Maybe selling out isn't as shameful as we once thought, but a few bands seem desperate for their cash flow, The Black Keys in particular.

Late last year, The Black Keys refused to allow their newest album on Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody or other music-streaming services, explaining they don't get enough moolah from it. And fair enough: This infographic claims they'd need over 4 million streams per month just to make the equivalent of working at Burger King for the same amount of time.

Now, The Black Keys (along with producer Danger Mouse) are suing Pizza Hut's parent company, Yum Brands Inc., and Home Depot Inc. for using sound-alike songs in ads. Home Depot used something that sounded a lot like "Lonely Boy" in a commercial for Ryobi brand power tools, while Pizza Hut played a pretty "Gold on the Ceiling" sounding song over a clip for Cheesy Pizza Bites. You can listen and decide for yourself if this counts as infringement.

This seems to be a running gag in the advertisement world -- other bands that have been imitated or blatantly stolen from in ads include Audi vs. Eminem, Nokia vs. the xx, Dell vs. Broken Bells, and McDonald's vs. Phoenix.

Dream pop duo Beach House was a recent victim when "Take Care" was musically mutated for a Volkswagen ad. Beach House, however, was more diplomatic, posting on Facebook that "comments/anger should not be directed towards VW or us. It was the ad agency that made these moves." They added a few days later, "Let them off the hook and they'll keep doing it."

In the future, it may be more profitable for these bands to collect dinero through their lawyers' coffers than to risk cred helping to promote cell phones and tampons on primetime. But maybe it comes down to the listener -- maybe buying an album once in a while, or a T-shirt or concert ticket, would make it so our favorite artists aren't on minimum wage.

Disagree? Sound off in the comments.

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Troy Farah is an independent journalist and documentary field producer. He has worked with VICE, Fusion, LA Weekly, Golf Digest, BNN, Tucson Weekly, and Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Troy Farah