Money is fake/Money is stupid/What we do is secret?/What we want is free?

November 12th, 2010 by

A guest column by MRR record reviewer Marissa Magic, from issue #331

Money is a necessary evil. Capitalism and consumerism are things that seem barely possible to avoid; the best most of us can do is try to step back and disengage as much as possible, questioning why we want this or that or the other thing. Do we need it? Who are we supporting when we buy it?

I feel like these days there is a faction of punk that has given up the fight against “the man” and instead has totally invited him in. It seems to have sprung from somewhere between a place of irony and a place of believing that you are somehow duping corporate America. Believing that fat wad of cash you received for turning one of your songs into a commercial jingle is somehow you pulling a fast one on said corporation. What is an absurdly huge amount to us is chicken scratch to corporate America. They just paid you pennies for a whole lot of street cred. It’s these kids who believe that they are changing the shitsystem by “infiltrating” it. If you are working within the shitsystem, you are working with the shitsystem. I was talking to a friend who was saying that he was going to try to use his new found LA connections to get his friends a sitcom on cable television; his reasoning was then at least someone cool was making that money that is just waiting to be made. Yeah, I get it. But are we really changing the shitsystem by existing in it, or is existing in it merely giving into it?

Accepting corporate sponsorship seems to have become totally acceptable too. Do you think you are somehow tricking some corporation because you got those pants for free? By you wearing those fucking jeans, Mr. Corporate is basically out zilch and they just earned a whole lot of street cred from you. You have become a walking ad campaign. On top of that there are only certain punks that have access to that free stuff. Not everyone is going to get a new free pair of shoes; only people who have the right connections are going to get that free pair of shoes. It’s not dumpster diving. It’s not a free for all.

Instead of basking in the romanticism of starving artists we’ve begun to dive into the waters of vapid privilege. Whenever I hear punks say they think so-and-so band should be topping charts because they’re so great, it makes me cringe. Things that I like and things that are popular are completely separate. The mechanics that make things popular and keep things popular are incredibly ideologically questionable. Do you really like it, or do you just think you like it because you’ve been told so many times that you do? No matter how much you think you’re fucking with corporate America, they are still the ones in power. At the end of the day the difference in paycheck you get for giving that corporation street cred compared to what the dude at the top is making is mind-boggling. Why are you trusting a corporation in the first place? Haven’t you seen Wayne’s World? No matter what deal they give you they’ve still got fucked labor practices. They’re still paying the kid at the bottom below a living wage. There is still and always will be an abuse of power.

And even if you do get that chunk of change for “selling out” or whatever, where does that leave you? What it sets up is a lifestyle of living off of your music—a lifestyle that you then have to maintain, or find yourself wanting to maintain, somehow. So how to maintain it? This is the line where your music ceases to be made for pure catharsis or pure passion or for the community or for the kids or whatever—it’s being made ultimately for a paycheck. Yeah, you might tell yourself/say it’s with the best intentions and that you are in no way compromising, but ultimately you are trying to pay rent. You need that money to pay rent. You then have to produce a product that is at least more likely to make that money. Right?

How does this really benefit you? Once something works, some song you wrote gives you a little dough—is it fun/interesting/worthwhile to repeat yourself? Is this what you wanted to do? Why did you start the band in the first place? To make money or to get that out of you?

But more importantly, how does this benefit the community? How does you paying your rent benefit everyone? Instead of trying to make the next album-of-the-year rating from Pitchfork or hustling/promoting your shit all day in order to stay in the limelight, in order to boost your sales or whatever, why not put that energy towards demanding universal health care? Or volunteering at rock camp? Or making music that is challenging and dangerous? Something, whatever it is, that helps everyone around you? When it comes down to it, living off your art is giving into capitalism, giving into consumerism. You may be getting your message out to kids, but really, in the end, you’re just producing a product to buy. I realize we exist in a capitalist society and it does cost money to be in a band, I’m not saying it’s possible or even logical to never accept money for being in a band—but when it becomes the main way to pay your personal bills you’ve put yourself in a weird space above your peers, you’ve alienated yourself from the community.

I read this book (Unmarketable by Anne Elizabeth Moore) that talked to artists who ended up doing art for corporate ad campaigns; their reasoning tended to be a lot of “I did it to be able to afford to move to New York” and “this allowed me to quit my day job and spend more time in the studio” and the like. This is selfish. This is aiding in the corporate appropriation of outside art—not to benefit the community at large, but in order to benefit only you. No one else. This is not punk.

So where along the line does “selling out” occur?

I believe in ending up in a situation where all the sudden your band is making enough money to fully live off of—sometimes these things do just happen—but then what? It’s a slippery slope. Guaranteed that lifestyle of living off your music “without compromising it” won’t last unless you make it last—meaning, altering what you do, even if it’s ever so slightly, in order to continue how you are existing; turning it into a situation where “not compromising yourself” ceases to be not altering what your music is but becomes about not altering your living situation; the fact that you don’t need a job and you can devote all your time to music.

But also, even the moment you start seeing music as a career option some part of you begins to steer it in that direction. Consciously or subconsciously there is an effort to make things commercially viable. There is a drive to be part of the shitsystem rather than dismantling it.

These things, especially free stuff from corporations, are extremely vague. There isn’t really a clear line of what is or isn’t selling out, when it’s OK to give in to corporate America and when it’s not, what’s OK and what’s not. I was in a band that scammed a sponsorship from Sparks. We would throw “warehouse parties” (punk shows in my basement) and Sparks would give us entire flats of the stuff. We would charge at the door with the promise of free unlimited booze and then give all the money we made to the bands. We were paying bands $100-plus for basement shows in Olympia. Unheard of. Did I feel like we were scamming Sparks? Yeah. And I fully realized that people would probably be buying it at the corner store and drinking it anyways. Did I still find it kind of questionable? Yeah. So it benefited the community but still felt kind of bullshitty. I still felt like I was supporting Sparks’ corporate agenda in some way. I mean, I was, honestly.

Is it important that what we do is secret? Does that still apply? Is it truly important to “not sell out” or is it just a romanticized lifestyle at this point? Should we look at punks getting paid as “well at least someone cool is getting paid?” Is it that the current shitsystem is so entirely unavoidable and we might as well participate?

17 responses to “Money is fake/Money is stupid/What we do is secret?/What we want is free?”

13 11 2010
Blair (01:19:27) :

I gave up trying until such time everyone agrees with me haha, ‘the truth – everyones pulling it towards them’. I’ve been abused by more ‘rich’ punks than i care to remember, as long as ya doing ir right ala punk then your’re alright with me, they don’t need to sell out, they buy in but i smell them at ten paces and do the alternative because i know it rightious and i believe in inclusitivity to a reasonable point, even ignore those who ‘ya helped along the way who wanna see you fall, ‘its bigger than…’ and hey they’re only 10 percent right, somebodies gotta, i don’t have to like you you perse to agree wth what you are doing visa vee, it is nice not to be lonely and please mr mould is gay, do you feel it maaan, word! big ups to you! you! you!

13 11 2010
BigCandy540 (05:51:40) :

While I mostly agree with you, I have to question your definition of punk. I mean to say something isn’t “punk” is assuming there are rules to being punk. It honestly sounds like more of an opinion than a fact. Consumerism is sometimes an unavoidable necessity in life, such as in the case of my good friend Mike. Mike makes buttons, punks wear buttons, button parts are not free, mike has to charge ($20 for 100…not bad). Now by the logic in the article Mike is now serving the shitsystem, he is profiting from art, and making a buck of of punks…he is branded a sellout, why?. Because buttons and design work sustain him. But someone has to do it, where would you get your buttons to wear? Now lets assume he makes nothing from selling buttons, he figures out how much parts are, and paper, and printing, and it all equals out so nobody profits. Who is paying Mike for his time? Love of the community doesn’t pay the bills, at least not where I live. As far back as I can remember punks have pretty much looked out for themselves. If a dollar could be made they were making it and using it within the subculture. But honestly who isn’t guilty of selling out by your standards? A band makes a record, to what end? they aren’t free. They get said record pressed on limited edition purple splatter ( a marketing tool…desirability). Said record gets sold at a show, said band makes a fist full of cash. Where does the cash go? I can name a couple of places the cash goes 1)the gas tank, and at this time I have not seen an independent non-corporate punk owned non profit gas station. 2)Beer, soda, food, once again not free unless you eat exclusively at soup kitchens in which case the drunk punx are SOL. Somewhere at some point, their money is going to pay for some corporate jack-offs vacation to Barbados, it’s an unavoidable fact. Does this depress me? yes, but I also know that I live in a capitalist society and you just have to live and survive and make your frustrations known. Until people are ready to tear down these corporations with violence and fire, I can’t sit here and worry about what punk is or isn’t. I’m not out to completely flaw your logic but assuming we are ready to completely detach ourselves from society is just not applicable. And as far as the free clothes go, so what? free duds is free duds,even if you rock clothes from good will your still advertising something, Even band shirts are free advertising for bands. Is Toxic Holocaust paying YOU to advertise? No, you bought that and are advertising Toxic Holocaust…. its marketing, consumerism, capitalism. So exist within it, put their money to good use, plant a community garden, throw some shows, and make some buttons…and maybe enough people will be enlightened at some point to make a difference, change doesn’t happen overnight. Sorry If I sound preachy,and I’m not saying you are wrong, I did like what you wrote, just look at the bigger picture.

13 11 2010
Hank Chinaski (08:36:43) :

“Street cred” is meaningless bullshit. Only kids want it, need it, or care about it. Grown-ups realize you need a roof over your head and food.

Punk rock is music. I’ll take mine without juvenile politics, thank you.

13 11 2010
Frankenstein (22:23:01) :


14 11 2010
fuckpunxpolice (11:13:33) :

BigCandy540…thanks for putting things into a more realistic perspective. As an actual functioning adult with bills, a car, and a roof to put over my head, I was forced to give up (temporarily) my dream of continuing my education and career as an artist. I moved away from my home and planned to attend graduate school, when the recession happened and i realized how much debt I was in from my previous 4 years of education, I quickly realized that it was either: 1. continue to get into debt and go to school anyway, 2. get a shitty fucking job and save money hoping I could continue my education outside of the academic system in the meantime.
I started to work full time and commuted to a studio an HOUR away on the other side of a mountain (re: copious hills with a not so reliable car & expensive gas) to do a work exchange program. I would be able to use the facilities (I am a ceramic artist so I can’t just “do it at home” equipment and materials are expensive) in exchange for work around the studio and keeping it clean. THIS MEANS I WAS NOT GETTING PAID. i was using my own money to continue to work, no one was paying me. In the gospel of “punk” according to you, I should not be selling my work to help cover the cost, either. ultimately it didn’t work out for a number of reasons, one of the biggest was the fact that I could no longer afford it.
As an artist my biggest gripe with non-artists, is that some people think everything should be profit-free, D.I.Y. and possible to do at home or a community center…I have news for you, even community centers and D.I.Y. businesses need money. I disagree with the idea that I should not be selling a product because this means i AM the shitsystem. well guess what buddy…the cups and plates you eat off of were designed by someone. you want to eat off the floor? you want to be “punk” guess that means you can’t use cups and plates anymore because you are supporting someone who is trying to make a profit off you with their idea. better throw that shit out fast! LEST YOU LOSE YOUR STREET CRED…

The arts community in general has to work just as hard if not HARDER than the music community to exist. Our society devalues the people that want to make art and sustain themselves from it. I think that is very “un-punx” and pretty much bullshit. Without art there is no culture, and you know what? I think it’s pretty punx to spend hours doing something you love and having it ultimately become someone else’s to use and enjoy, AND being able to support yourself doing it. because if i’m working in my OWN studio and for MYSELF i’m not working for “the man” and taking one more step away from the “shitsystem.”
I don’t see your article doing much to change the status quo. If you feel so strongly about it, I honestly hope you are involved in your community in a way that is actively doing something to change it and not just another lazy punk sitting around listening to records and complaining about what’s punk and what’s not.

14 11 2010
Ariel Awesome (14:00:42) :

Dudes, read the article again. This isn’t about vilifying money exchange in general. By insisting on your “realist” stances in this capitalist world, you are missing the point. Marissa is obviously (obvious to me anyway) chanelling her rage at a very specific kind of money in the punk scene: corporate money. Pabst sponsored loft parties, bands who get free shoes because they put up a vans logo vinyl banner when they play, selling your music to be placed in a commercial… This is shit happening right now in punk. Why is this okay? Does making money this way to support yourself, your band, your scene come at a bigger cost of integrity? These are the questions we should be looking at. Bands selling merch or people trying to make a living is not the issue. We all gotta get by, we have to support eachother, sometimes that’s through cash paid at a show or to have buttons made.
We use money, but we don’t have to let it use us.

14 11 2010
Ariel Awesome (14:02:43) :

Also, I <3 Frankenstein.

14 11 2010
Marissa Magic. (23:30:14) :

Ariel got it. When I refer to the shitsystem I mean corporate america. As I said, never accepting money for anything is illogical and materials do cost money. This is more about being anti-corporate and questioning motives.

As Ariel said, read it again. Maybe don’t decide my opinion for me.

20 11 2010
complexities (16:50:45) :

thank you for the clarification in your last post, and perhaps a well thought out edit on your part will make your stance more clear.
It was not obvious to me in reading your article that you had considered the valid points made by “funxpunx” and “bigcandy” or that you were targeting specifically artists jumping onto the corporate train.
To be honest, as i read it, i felt hopeless.
Like, god, how are artists and musicians suppose to support themselves!? I wanted to immediately get critical of you, thinking, how old is this girl? Where does she get her money to pay for what she needs!? What is her class background and how has it effected her view points?
I didn’t want to get critical as I read it, and I believe a little bit of rewording on your part wouldn’t have made me go there. Because really, is that where we should be- being critical of each other and judging everyones decisions?

I don’t think the issue is black and white- like either be a corporate sell out or live in a moldy basement and dumpster the rest of your life. Both are incredibly problematic.

I would hope to see a follow up article from you on some awesome and inspiring solutions for how punks can support themselves. How can we get older and really live sustainable lives? How can we create a thriving punk “economy” ( money ideally only being a small part of that economy) where we all feel nourished and like we can actually live like this when we are 60 and not get burnt out. How can artists make part of their living by selling their art to people that love it and stay out of the main system?
Lets start creating some realistic solutions to this problem, and then maybe less punks will be selling out to big corporations because they will know they have other options.

21 11 2010
RazzleDazzle (22:20:49) :

LOL @ any of you thinking there’s money to be made in punk.

27 11 2010
zeitgeist (06:28:02) :

Artificial scarcity is required to create profit. Resource based economy is better than monetary based capitalism. Have you heard of the venus project/zeitgeist movie/movement? Work towards this.
or if you are more of a primitivist you may have heard of Derrick Jensen:
but don’t think that rejecting technology is the answer.

28 11 2010
Marissa Magic. (22:27:14) :

I’m not trying to act like the issue is black and white and honestly, after re-reading it I don’t think it needs to be better worded. As I said before this is about being anti-corporate and trying to bring up all these questions again because I think people stopped questioning the motives of corporations and started joining in so they could make a buck.

I’m not trying to rain on anyones parade and I’m not trying to act like I have an answer or a solution. I don’t. This is an incredibly complex topic and all I’m trying to do is bring up these questions.

4 12 2010
zeitgeisty (03:56:14) :

But why is it better to be indie capitalist vs. corporate capitalist?

Neither is the answer. Just another divide and conquer tactic?

Both have issues. Both have “strengths”. Both are tied to money and the monetary system, which is inherently corrupting/problematic. Zeitgeist addendum and further vids from p joseph give more detail. Profit motive requires inefficiency, scarcity to get ahead. Perhaps whatever enables us to begin something new, the resource based economy is better in the interim?

9 12 2010
Marissa Magic (18:47:47) :

It’s true. A capitalist system is a capitalist system, whether indie or underground. However, I like to think that indie capitalism is a little bit more on the creating, nurturing and keeping money within the community side rather than financing one or two fat-cats at the top. I realize this idea is a bit naive and that indie capitalism is just as capable of screwing people over, but at the same time because indie capitalism works on a smaller scale there is more accountability there – so though it could screw people over, hopefully it’s less likely to because of that accountability.

What I was trying to point out with the above column more than anything is that it seems like people don’t question where or why their money is going to this or that or where or why their money came from this or that.

I was reading something the other day that made an off-handed reference to the “post sell-out” society we live in now – while I don’t agree with “they’re a sell-out, fuck them!” finger-pointing I do think that the lack of “what were your motives for accepting/spending that money” questioning is kind of lazy.

7 01 2011
Nietzsche (20:29:21) :

“No matter how much you think you’re fucking with corporate America, they are still the ones in power. ”

The music industry as we knew it is no longer in power. The dug there own grave overcharging for c.d.s, etc., and, they are fucking, dead.
I am in power. And, so are you, and, everyone else with a p.c. who can download.
I can’t remember the last c.d. that I bought, but I can assure it was used and cheap.
Piracy has leveled the playing field, and I find it harder to judge somebody for prostituting their finger painting, when I don’t pay for it. If I don’t like it, I won’t dl it, simple as that. If I wanted to listen to fucking Justin Bieber I’d dl his shit, but I don’t want it. It’s a new world and the music industry is buried, (coked out, clueless, record execs anyone?). Good riddance to the wastes of space.

27 01 2011
ooo (22:26:01) :

Nietzsche look into the copyright infringement act that is making its way through congress. Look at the tea parties stance against net neutrality, learn that comcast just merged with nbc. It is true that Internet, unlike tv, billboards, radio, and even schools, is still a free frequency but for how much longer? So your right we are in power, but you must realize that they are trying to get it. Goldman Sachs just bought facebook for 50 bil. The futures looking daunt. This is one of the greatest battles of our generation. We are all writing history.

23 04 2011
gauntlets (19:39:44) :

Complexities, you made my fuckin’ day with your little note. Thanks to both you and Marissa for giving me some good brain food.

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