Selling out is a common slang phrase. Broadly speaking, it refers to the compromising of one's integrity in exchange for money or other personal gain. It is commonly associated with attempts to increase mass appeal or acceptability to mainstream society. A person who does this is called a sellout.
The phrase is often heard in the musical community, where it is used to imply that an artist has compromised their artistic integrity in order to gain radio airplay or obtain a recording contract, especially with a major label. Often, the label will force the style of a particular record producer on the performer, or insist on inclusion of songs by commercial songwriters. Or, the label may refuse to release an album, deeming it uncommercial, though this indicates that the artist or group maintained their standards or values.
Fans sometimes assume that any change in an artist's direction must be an attempt to appease record labels or to make more money through broader appeal. This may fail to account for natural artistic development, which may lead an artist in directions that their original fans disliked.
The accusation of selling out is often made against punk bands who sign to major labels, since punk has a cultural tradition of independence and doing it yourself. Similarly, it is often heard in the indie rock and metal communities, which like punk have a tradition of mainstream rejection and/or anticonsumerism. Metallica is perhaps metal's most famous supposed sellout. On the other hand, Metallica brought metal to the mass audience. Similarly, Bob Dylan outraged folk music purists by, in their view, selling out their favorite music for rock and roll. However, Dylan has changed direction repeatedly throughout his career.
It should be noted that many people see nothing wrong with tailoring a product to the tastes of its audience, or with taking practical and financial considerations into account when making art. A "sell out" show is a succesful show, and considered a compliment in theater. Selling out may be then gaining success at the cost of credibility.
Many songs have been written about selling out, including:
- "Sell Out" by Reel Big Fish.
- "Johny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts" by Less Than Jake
- "Never Sell Out" by The Exploited
The Who Sell Out is an album by The Who with mock endorsement advertisements on the cover. The album pretends to represent a radio station that plays nothing but Who music, including mock commercials and radio-station promotions.