A Conversation about Macklemore’s Letter “Wing$, The NBA All-Star Game, & Selling Out”

This is a real email conversation between Adam Sharp (Songsfortheday) and Matt Hart (MidbyNorthwest.com / The Local Strangers) that we later decided to publish on our blogs:

ADAM:  I love Macklemore…but this is a pretty bad response to a pretty obvious case of ‘selling out’: http://macklemore.com/post/43688861186/wings-the-nba-all-star-game-selling-out


MATT:
 disagree.

I find these statements to ring very true:

“The All Star game intro was seen by millions of people on Sunday who had no idea who we were.  My thinking was, if they liked the song they will go and listen to the full version.  Those who hear the original song in its entirety will get the core of what gives the song depth.  Some might even buy it and become real fans.  And guess what version they get?  Not the TNT chopped up edit, but the full one.”

“If you take away the consumerism cautionary core of Wings, a story still remains.  And that story is one that I’m still proud of, and it’s dope to me that it’s relatable enough for TNT to want to use it. “

“Does the NBA happen to fall under the capitalist umbrella?  Absolutely.  But it’s no different than the brands you’re currently wearing, the company that manufactured the couch that you’re sitting on or the computer/phone you’re staring into while reading this.”

I think he makes a solid argument.  Whether you or I or anyone agrees or disagrees with that argument is up to us, but I think he makes a solid ethical case.  Subversion around issues he cares about is one of his goals, but not the only goal, and I think he makes a good argument as to how this choice can serve that goal as well.

Furthermore, if subversion around the core message of the song (personal identity as related to consumerism – specifically around basketball shoes) is a primary goal, I think it’s safe to say that the NBA All-Star game is the #1 largest and most relevant audience to that potential subversion (besides maybe the Finals of both teams are major market).  It’s like the antithesis of preaching to the choir.  The audience is PERFECT, and the exact people you want to ask those questions.
How many will actually seek out the real song and be affected by it’s more-true core message?  Who knows.  But more than zero.  Which is the number it would be if the song wasn’t part of the TNT promo for the event.


ADAM
:  I suppose maybe my issue comes from the tone (which is stupid, because it is typed) of it- it sounds defensive, as though no one who could have taken exception or cringed at the edit in good faith. I have no problem with the man making money, but for some reason it rubbed me rather wrong when I heard that edit specifically. I get the exposure thing, but messing with the message bugged me (as it does any time an artist I like has the message behind their song hidden in an advertisement)


MATT:  
yeah, those are all valid points. Licensing is a weird thing.

I was turned way off when I first saw the promo, but TKJ and my friend Stephen brought up the subversion narrative, which combined with this statement make me feel good about it.

And I am trying to think of an analogous situation for my own music.  For the Macklemore case there are 3 factors:

-Core song message being a political statement.

-Company using it (NBA, an organization Macklemore loves and supports).

-The context it’s used (in this case being edited, glamorized, irony, etc).

Very few of my songs have a core political statement, so the 1st part of the equation is barely relevant.  So the grounds that I would NOT want someone to license my song would be if I didn’t approve of the company, or I didn’t approve of the context. But even that context wouldn’t be around the SONG content, it would be more passive.  Like, I wouldn’t want to be the soundtrack for a rape scene or something.

So in 2013 when the standards of “selling out” have shifted due to volume and necessity, it seems like the whole relevant debate around licensing and “selling out” only has any traction around bands or songs that overtly make a political statement of some kind.  In the Macklemore case, he’s arguing that even outside the money involved the issues around context were outweighed by the potential brand new audience that might seek out the correct, intended context (very easily thanks to the youtube video).  I think this is a just calculation in this case.


ADAM:  
And that calculation makes sense, especially for an independent artist who wants to continue the great streak he’s on and keep his name at the forefront.

When it comes down to it what matters to us as fans isn’t important. If Ben was all right with having it used in this way then that is all that matters. In this case I’m sure both he and the NBA had to talk through the risks/rewards of using this particular song in the way they did instead of taking the easy way out and using, say, ‘Can’t Hold Us’ or ‘Make the Money’ or any other song, really. I can’t imagine he was unaware of potential backlash, but I’m also guessing he didn’t care.

Here’s how I’ve come to think of the whole thing: It doesn’t matter if a song is used in an advertisement, or if it’s heavily edited to do so- once the song is released it’s up to others how it’s taken and used and what meanings are applied, and those meanings are typically far different than the intended one. The problem becomes when the art becomes compromised at the creation stage, when that commercial opportunity becomes the reason you make something and not just something that happens far after the fact. That’s probably the best way for me to think through this, no matter the sour taste the edit and tone of the response left in my mouth.

Also, it’s not my song. I have no reason to be mad at him for making money. He can do what he damn well pleases.


MATT:
 very well said.

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