Hello folks, it’s Ezra Furman again.
Here’s the short version:
I am accepting money from the large clothing company called Billabong in exchange for letting them use some of my music in three commercials. I am really uncomfortable with this foray into the advertising business, but have decided the money is better off in my hands than theirs. After paying my manager and the Harpoons, I am giving 20% of the money to charity, and the rest I am using exclusively as a recording budget for my next album.
Here’s the long version:
I value the world of art as a separate place from the world of commerce and advertising. I know that art needs to engage in a degree of commerce to keep itself alive and healthy, but to me that usually means connecting with fans who want to pay to listen to your music and pay to go to your shows. It does not mean selling your music to large corporations to help sell clothing. I would like to be able to say that I am with the artists over in this corner, and I am not involved with the corporations over in that corner. Giant corporations, in many ways, harm our world daily. I would like to not participate in that any more than I have to. I would especially like my own art to stay uninvolved.
Indie artists, though, are increasingly being offered money to license their music for advertisements. Over the past ten years, it’s become commonplace for indie music to serve as the soundtrack for a TV commercial. Thus the word “indie” no longer signifies a refusal to participate in mass culture or any kind of rebellion against the world of big business; really, “indie” hardly means anything at all other than a marketing category. The thing that I find weird is that very seldom does anyone object to this trend. Whereas twenty years ago, hearing an indie band’s music on a commercial would scan as an obvious betrayal of “the underground” despite that being a nebulous and hard-to-define idea, in 2012 people tend not to feel betrayed. Musicians and their fans no longer insist on standing against international corporate culture. The reasons for this are complicated and subtle. Still, I find it disheartening. See for instance this post of mine from about a year ago: http://ezrafurman.tumblr.com/post/4162870366
Offered some money from Billabong which I could really use (I have not-a-lot-of-money and no idea how to finance my next album), I find myself in a fairly common situation. It would be different, maybe, if someone wanted to use my song in their film or TV show, which are art that can hold some consolation for their audience. But advertisements have always felt toxic to me. They are everywhere, all the time, and they throw themselves at you, making you feel bad about yourself, bad about the world, stupid and ugly and part of a larger stupidity and ugliness. I hate the role ads play in our lives, and I hate the role that giant corporations play in our world.
What I want to do, though, is get over that and see if I can use the money in a good way. It hurts my pride to license a song; I can no longer say I never sold out; I can no longer say that I do not do what corporations tell me to do. But maybe that’s more about vanity than anything else. After thinking hard about the situation, I came to the thought that maybe dismissing Billabong’s offer on grounds of artistic purity blocks me from the possibilities of what I could make that money do once it was mine.
So what I’m doing is this: I’m giving my manager his commission, giving the Harpoons their cut. 20% of the rest of it I am giving away. (Jewish ethics/law mandate that everyone give between 10 and 20% of your income to charity—for more on that, click here: http://www.jewfaq.org/tzedakah.htm ) The rest will be used exclusively to record my next album.
I don’t say this publicly in order to make myself look good or anything. I admit that I’ve given in to corporate pressure, and I’ve involved my art in the tawdry world of advertising. But I do want to publish my thoughts on the matter, so that fans of mine can understand my decision rather than blindly deride it or blindly pardon me. It’s hard to be an artist, and I hope you don’t feel too bad about another one giving a song to a corporation. The consolation, though, will be a fucking stellar album that I don’t know how I would make otherwise. And also, a charitable contribution which I would not make otherwise, and which will do a lot of good. (If you’re curious about who I’m giving to, I’m using this site as a guide: http://www.givewell.org/charities/top-charities I strongly encourage you to give to one of the charities listed there. I’m also going to give some to a specifically Jewish charity, probably this one: http://www.juf.org/donate/why_donate.aspx.)
In conclusion, don’t let the bastards get you down.
(PS: I feel weird about telling you that I’m giving to charity. I’m not bragging and it doesn’t make me special. I only mention it to encourage other people to do the same with some of their money. I think it’s especially important for an artist to do who is taking money from a possibly-immoral corporation. Please give money away to people who need it; it’s unfair not to. Okay I’m done now.)