Last Friday, I posted the Pearl Jam Target commercial. The video generated a lot of great comments, which are worth reading if you have a moment.
A brief comment, which I think raises an interesting point and touches on the complexity of the issue, came from A Kramer:
"Oh, and one more reason this isn't really 'selling out,'
it's not selling a car, a blender, a toaster, a computer
it's selling Pearl Jams album :P"
Eddie Vedder interviewed my band back in 2004, and he asked us if we would ever do a commercial for the iPod or for iTunes. Those commercials — like PJ's one for Target — are basically ads for the band itself, and for music in general, as much as they are commercials for the brand. Between the three members of my band, we could not agree as to whether we would or would not be opposed to the idea. (Of course, we would never have even been asked to do an iPod ad, so this was all in theory.)
Eddie's question revealed a very problematic gray area: In an industry wherein record sales were declining, where there were fewer mainstream media outlets in which to be heard, and where unless a band was touring constantly, there was no consistent form of income, was there anything really wrong with making a commercial, especially if the commercial was for music, your music?
Five years after that interview took place, the music industry is even less financially hospitable for a musician. Sure, there are seemingly more bands than ever, and Web sites and blogs have increased accessibility for fans and artists alike. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, there is no dearth of musical variety and sonic greatness. But, as I've said before on this blog, most of us as consumers have become dabblers, even tourists. And whereas tourism might keep a quaint coastal town afloat, it does not keep local record stores, labels, print publications and artists aloft.
So, where does that leave us?
It leaves us in a time when, instead of a label, radio station, indie magazine or record store acting as a central, crucial outlet for music — getting to be the impresarios and the purveyors — commercials and brands have become the most ubiquitous and widespread artistic curators. Fortunately, there are blogs and music Web sites that can take on smaller, more niche curatorial, news and distribution duties.
For me, it's not sad that Pearl Jam joined with Target to promote its record; it's just depressing that commercials and brands have become the largest, most powerful means of revelation.