The real cost of selling out

Sad news reaches us from New York, where it has emerged that there is now a $100,000 minimum spend at the bar of rock stardom. Hapless poster-bros for self-importance Abner and Harper Willis have penned a tear-jerking article for Time Magazine in which they bemoan the fact that for all their effort, no record label has yet offered them the “blank cheque” they believed they’d been promised. Instead, they calculate – with accounting that would make the Lehman brothers proud – that they’ve had to spend $109,000 dollars of their own money in order to generate the massive groundswell of public opinion that has so far seen them gain 92 twitter followers. That’s over $1,100 per web-enabled fan, so they should probably get around to firing the PR guy they’ve already paid $1000 to cook up their spam.

The article is so full of whiny self-entitlement it’s hard to know where to start pulling it apart. Perhaps with the fact that they whinge about the fact that their parent had to spend $25,000 on instruments for them and another $500 a month on voice lessons. Maybe the fact that they claim they have to live in New York, ignoring the hundreds of great bands who’ve used the opportunities provided by the internet to release their music from bedrooms all over the world. Then there’s the fact that a big chunk of the 100k comes from spurious opportunity costs – one of the brothers is apparently turning down freelance writing jobs worth $400 each week so that he can focus on the band. So what are the band doing with all this dedication? Their list of accomplishments includes both “posing for photo-shoots” and “hanging out with models” and not, as you might expect, writing a great song. I just looked it up in my Encyclopedia Rocktania, and it turns out that Keith Richards isn’t the greatest rock star who ever lived because he bought lots of expensive guitars, hung out with models or moved to New York City. Keith Richards is the greatest rock star who ever lived because he’s such a phenomenally talented songwriter he wrote the riff to “Satisfaction” in his sleep.

If it were true that the decline of record labels was making it tougher for interesting new artists with good ideas to get them out there, then Two Lights’ article would be a timely warning. Fortunately, the decline of record labels is tied directly to the rise of internet distribution and cheap home production tools. If Two Lights insist on living in one of the most expensive cities on earth, they should at least take the time to go and check out a DIY masterclass from someone like Jeffrey Lewis, who has built a worldwide, passionate audience without major label backing through a steady diet of touring and writing brilliantly funny, clever and original music. The idea is still king, and the casualties of record labels not handing out “blank cheques” will be the sort of safe, originality-free posers who believe that playing at being a “rock star” is more important than writing great music. Two Lights don’t need a blank cheque, they just need some better ideas. Something like the song I’ve just written for them, composed entirely on the world’s smallest violin.

Originally published by British GQ.