July 24, 2008 1:00 AM

I don't think there is so much a thing as 'selling out' as there is the acceptance of certain socio-economic behaviors and practices as natural. That is to say: there are many bands that are all and forever presenting themselves as themselves; they look the way they do not because they necessarily made great efforts to look that graceful and pretty, but because it was how they believed they should appear and accomplish it thoroughly and effortlessly; they look just like their promotional material, they sound like their CD, and there is no confusion between the two, but rather, integration. Their sense of accomplishment is also integrated -- artistic success leads to monetary gains, and commercial success stimulates creativity. When this is the case, commercial viability is not reduceable to a single choice. It is the net effect of small choices, which means there is no specific act of selling one's self: instead, everything you do becomes a matter of selling.

I think to be a productive, ethical musician (which I do believe to be a real thing, and those two qualities deeply related) is to be self-aware of the nature and form of your work. It would be conventional to play your songs out; release a debut album of them, as polished perfect performances; and then, another, in a slightly modified style; and then, another, year after year. This can be fine. It would less conventional to perform your songs one way, record them in another, frustratingly brief form; leave in your experiments and goof-offs; change your aesthetic entirely; take an unannounced haitus. This can be fine, too. What it should be, in any case, is accomplished in the way you see best fit, and not simply left inexplicable.