What is Selling Out in Music?

Selling Out involves putting integrity aside to gain monetary success. Selling out is when an artist chooses to change their musical style to please the audience rather than sticking with personal touches that made that person popular in the first place. If artists don’t stay true to themselves then their music is no longer “them”.

The term “Selling Out” is especially popular in Pop, Rock, and Rap genres because those styles of music are most likely to hit the top billboard charts.

“Selling out” means different things to different people, but the root of it all is that artists achieve commercial success at the expense of their musical authenticity.

Selling out is bad, but not always

Selling out is bad because it can mean the loss of artistic credibility. It can be detrimental to the band or artist themselves, especially if they change their style in an attempt to make more money and end up alienating their original fanbase. At its core, It’s bad because artists are effectively turning their back on why they started making music in the first place.

“Selling out” influences how music is viewed today. However, not all artists that change styles are necessarily selling out, the music industry is constantly evolving. Artists may just evolve and change their sound to stay relevant to current trends while still staying relatively true to their own artistic integrity.

The State of the Music Industry today

Let’s call a spade a spade. Commercial music genres today are all about selling out. Selling records is no longer the most important goal for musicians. Now they need their songs on popular radio stations and social networking sites to make it big. They need to be constantly releasing and engaging with fans (In fact, Spotify’s CEO quite recently pointed that constant engagement and far faster music release cycles are now vital in the music industry, which did not go down well with artists).

The changes in the modern music industry have led to changes across all spectrums of music, from how it’s created, how it’s distributed, to how much money is made from it.

Selling out used to be something reserved for those who refused to play what was popular at their time. Now there are those rare few at the top who will refuse nothing, who will change themselves and their music to fit the latest popular trends. It used to be something that musicians did, but now it’s something that is expected of them by fans and critics alike. Selling out has become the new normal in commercial music genres.

Why does every hit song sound the same?

Selling out seems to be the reason why almost every hit sounds the same. Artists are more concerned about getting their songs on top of the charts, rather than making good music for their fans. To make sure that their music is still marketable and competitive, record labels sometimes force producers (who lack originality) and the artist (whose sound has become generic) to stay within the same format of current hits. See our article on why pop music sucks to learn more about this.

This makes it so that when you listen to music on the radio, in an advertisement, or even in a club, there is often not much originality to it at all. In fact, as pointed out in Charles Duhigg’s “The Power Of Habit” book, psychologists revealed that more alternative music on the radio is more likely to be skipped simply due to the fact that it’s outside of what the listener is used to.

Why do so many artists sell out?

When an artist is making music and has been doing so for some time, doesn’t get the recognition or success they want, they are at greater risk of selling out. Mostly because they get tired of trying everything and not succeeding. We have to consider the fact that the music industry is really tough to break into, with that being said I can understand why most would crumble.

Money and fame are often the pursuits of many artists. Money is, of course, the biggest reason why people do most things – which becomes very evident when examining the lives of musicians and other artists. It plays a huge role in the current state of the world in general. So that’s why many artists pursue the path of making money rather than making good music or music that they’re passionate about.

Fame also plays a huge role here because most artists crave that as well. Because of the way they crave the celebrity status that was once dreamed about. So they can be in the public eye and boost their ego in the meantime. Selling out allows bands to achieve immediate fame, as well as the potential for more. Selling out is a way to be rewarded for all their hard work and effort, which they would not have been able to achieve otherwise.

See our related post: What Makes Music Authentic?

Selling out in different music genres

Nowadays, many musicians and bands try to break into the music industry by writing their own songs and doing it themselves. However, they do not always consider that, in order to be successful, originality is sometimes replaced with fitting into the current music trend.

Selling out is not always the same in every music genre. It essentially has the same goal, but it’s not done in the same manner depending on what music genre it is. I will name a few examples.


In hip-hop, selling out mainly entails making songs with lyrics that are not real, and rather than discussing social issues, they focus solely on materialistic items. Selling out in this area would involve either losing complete creative control or compromising one’s morals by rapping about things they do not believe in. It’s a notable accusation in hip hop because it typically involves vulgar, misogynistic lyrics that do not match the scene in which they are presented.


In Pop music, artists are being sold out by making the same song structures over and over again. Bland lyrics, boring melodies, and rehashed chord progressions all hint at a pop star that has “sold out”.


“Selling out” in rock music is usually when rock musicians stray from their original sound and gravitate towards overly produced music, bland meaningless lyrics, and generic-sounding songs.


Selling out has a negative impact on artists and possibly negatively affects their future success by not allowing them the opportunity to reach their full potential. However, it certainly may help them achieve greater commercial success, at least in the short term.

Being genuine in music is all about being original, creative, and truthful to oneself. However, it can be a difficult concept in the music industry. It’s critical to keep in mind that authenticity and the concept of “selling out” definitely varies from person to person.

Brian Clark

Brian Clark

I’ve been a writer with Musician Wave for six years, turning my 17-year journey as a multi-instrumentalist and music producer into insightful news, tutorials, reviews, and features.

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