In Defense of (Not) Selling Out

Andrea Laiacona Dooley
5 min readAug 25, 2018

Or How I Learned to Love Generation X All Over Again

public domain pic c/o pexel

When I was in high school and college, many of my friends and I were preoccupied with the idea that people we knew and artists we loved might “sell out.” Saying that someone had sold out was a way of insulting their life choices and declaring your newly generated hatred for their artistic output.

This was trend was sparked in my peer group by Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit album, but it was nascent in the punk and indie scene for at least a decade earlier. A friend of mine was an early fan of Nirvana’s Sub Pop album and had been invited to a warehouse to watch a show, which would be filled for a video. When the video for Teen Spirit was released and he saw himself bopping along in the bleachers, he was furious that they had sold out, and that he’d been duped into participating in their corporate bullshit. He hated them forever after.

The strict dividing of artists (in this case, musicians) based on whether they had or ever would sign to a major label was soon justified by Steve Albini’s essay in The Baffler Magazine, which detailed the financial enslavement bands endured in exchange for selling their souls to a corporation. If enslavement seems too strong a word for this, understand that Albini’s invective led us to believe that such a terms was justified (it isn’t).

The flipside of sell-out culture was DIY (Do It Yourself). DIY was punk. It meant publishing your own magazines, producing your own music, starting your own record label and booking your own shows — in your own basement if necessary. These endeavors were time-consuming but rewarding. We learned new skills, created art and made friends. Kids were running their own companies for the fun of it, for the art of it, to stand outside mainstream culture. To stand above culture, looking down on it, judging it lacking.

I, for one, planned to never sell out.

The first time I realized that selling out might be justified (if not acceptable) was when I learned that a member of Built to Spill (a band that I liked) had a child with serious medical issues, and the band had decided to sign with a major label in order to pay for their families’ medical bills and insurance for the child. Their next album wasn’t as good as their “indie” ones…

Andrea Laiacona Dooley

I write, parent, arbitrate, not necessarily in that order. Please subscribe to my newsletter: