Selling Yourself

So the title might sound a little more anti-conformist than this post deserves but it describes an issue any musician is faced with when they begin to sell their own music.  Music has always been in large part tied to the image that a given song creates.  Phat beats and a stadium synth can place the listener in the hippest night club ever.  A twangy melody and a lap guitar will send you to the broken pickup out back.  And yes, even three power chords with enough fuzz will have you raging against any machine.  But when it comes down to it, the image of a musician has a lot to do with they those sounds produce their corresponding reactions.

Staying true to the foundation of this website, Mormon musicians are not exempt from the identity crisis that is the music scene.  And while some musicians choose not to place their faith in the limelight, being of a “peculiar” people makes this easier said than done.  This brings up an interesting question, is it ethical to use your religious beliefs or background to sell music?  While making money from one’s faith is the basis of this question, we will focus on the music point of view for this post.

I recently heard of a cigarette company who donated 70 million dollars to a local charity.  Nice, right?  Well, after doing so, the same company then spent 100 million dollars to tell everyone about it.  While some people view “LDS” in a band bio as a helpful sign of their music being family friendly or Sunday appropriate, the argument could be made that divulging one’s faith in this manner is being motivated by personal gain. Almost as if the fact that the artist is LDS is what gives the music value and not simply the music itself.  While I love to learn that musician I admire are people of faith, maybe even my faith, how this information is presented plays a big role in how it is interpreted.

Where there is a niche, there will always be someone to find it and fill it.  We have seen this with those CDs that are for sale in Deseret Book claiming not to be my “mother’s” LDS music, whatever that was.  The niche going after younger LDS people who want to listen to something different yet up to par with their standards (whether it is different is debatable).  Linescratchers could even be placed into this niche-marketing practice.  We believe that creating a sense of community among LDS musicians/music-lovers is valuable for a number of reasons and thus this site was created, to fill that niche.  Is it a bad thing to cater what you create to serve the needs of those consuming it?  Absolutely not.

I guess where the ethical question comes into play is when the quality of the product is no longer the issue but rather how the faith of a given person can be spun in order to advance their own interests.  Personally, I have never noticed more “success” from being up front about my beliefs, though it has certainly never hurt how my music is taken in.  I have never found myself saying “I’m a Mormon!” on stage but at the same time, I have songs inspired by my mission and my awesome temple marriage that I am happy to explain to people.  I would really like to know if our Linescratchers artists or readers have ever had experience with this.  Does being LDS help or hurt your music endeavors?  Or neither?  How do you feel about a band when being “LDS” is a big part of their act and not just their personal lives?  You can comment here or email me at thesweaterfriends(at)gmail.com.  I plan to write more about this topic in the near future and would love your input.

Jake

Selling Yourself

5 thoughts on “Selling Yourself

  1. There are times when it’s acceptable to be up front about your Church membership, and those times are like firesides or when you’re asked about it after a show. However, for my testimony grows the most through discovering that bands I love share the standards I do, but are still fulfilling their dreams. Fictionist is a prime example. I discovered them online and upon finding out that they were from Utah I went to a show as soon as possible. They were amazing! It was cool enough just knowing they lived in Utah too. After the show I was casually conversing with the bassist and in between asking me about school and my music the question slipped “are you planning on going on a mission?”. Just out of nowhere! As we continued to talk I discovered that they were all RMs and very active. I’ll never forget this experience because at that moment I knew that I could be anything I wanted to be and still live my standards.

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  2. matt says:

    Good point to ponder on Jake. I think there is sometimes a fine line between what is appropriate and what isn’t. I do like that we have a community of people here at linescratchers and other places, who are pursuing similar dreams and passions, and share another common bond in our belief system – it makes for a great support network…sometimes a motivating boost, sometimes calling us out when getting off track, but always sharing similar goals, desires, and beliefs.

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  3. A lot of music marketing, at least celebrity culture, must be based on the tendency to project traits on someone we don’t know. But when I know that a musician shares something so important as faith, then I feel like they’re long-lost cousins or friends that I just haven’t met yet, even though there are people in my ward who I wouldn’t choose to socialize with.

    If I were performing regularly and a lot of people were coming to my shows regularly, I would have a lot of sympathy with the people in the audience who felt a desire to connect with me personally because they liked my music. I think not being part of a mass celebrity culture would help keep that within appropriate limits, so maybe some LDS musicians make much of their Church affiliation publicly to “avoid the appearance of evil”?

    When I was in high school I had a friend who listened to Christian heavy metal. And most of it was obviously fabricated to give a “safe” alternative to worldly metal, mimicking other bands’ logos and so on (Syphax, you’ve probably read some of Doug Pinnick’s opinions against such stuff).

    There’s a fear that unless you choose musicians who personally share your values (as opposed to their music being good) you’ll be led astray, and when people let that fear govern, then you get the kind of marketing that puts music secondary to the image of being clean or safe. It might not even necessarily be for gain, but I think that’s when the music starts to die.

    The joy I find in hearing good music from people I know share my faith is sweeter when it’s not motivated by such fear.

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  4. YEAH STRYPER WOOOOOO

    I have indeed read some of Dug’s views on Christian heavy metal. And I know exactly what you mean about values. Unfortunately, I think that might be an inextricable part of our psychology. We seek to take in media that reinforces our already-held views and minimizes cognitive dissonance as much as possible. It doesn’t take a research study to show that more conservatives watch Fox and more liberals watch CNN.

    We build a hedge about this fact by merely selecting musicians that fall in the same category that we do (Mormons, liberals, Christians, vegetarians, whatever). Therefore, I’ve found that the “best” artists are the ones that subvert their own views now and then to challenge their listeners in a way that is less threatening. Low is very good at this.

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