Selling out, or a way to sell records?

Poptastic pop blog The Pop Cop wants to talk about Rachel Sermanni.

This week it emerged that Carrbridge singer-songwriter Rachel Sermanni was fronting a Royal Bank of Scotland advertising campaign on YouTube, which sees her talk about the services she uses as well as play a new tune called Everything Is Ok. As a business, RBS have committed some disreputable deeds in the recent past, but 25 million UK customers still bank with them and Rachel is one of them.

Thanks to the ad, Sermanni might finally make some money from her music. Cue outrage. I think this sums it up:

It’s unlikely anybody will chastise us for the products and business chains we endorse, yet musicians seem to be judged by a completely different code of conduct especially when it comes to potential income streams.

Fair enough if you’re explicitly political – if Crass were to voluntarily appear in an ad for Santander I think we’d be justified in getting out the flaming torches – but for most musicians, music doesn’t pay the bills. As The Pop Cop says:

For the sake of a 150-second advert, Rachel is looking at breaking even for the first time in her career and a debt-free existence in which she will attempt to make a genuine living from her merchandise and her concerts. When that RBS offer was put in front of her to consider, it didn’t come with alternate choices of, say, The Co-Operative or L’Oréal (they’re a very ethical company, look it up) campaigns.

I’d have jumped at it.

Update, 23 January

BBC Radio Scotland presenter Tom Morton has posted a long piece about this, essentially arguing that you shouldn’t sully your art with the dread hand of commerce. As my friend Pet Piranha pointed out on twitter earlier, that’s rather undermined by the Google AdSense adverts for Natwest. He’s misquoted Hunter S Thompson too: the quote he’s used was about the television business, not music. As regular readers will know, it’s a double misquote: the “there’s also a negative side” was invented by someone on the internet.

I don’t disagree with everything Morton says, but I do wonder how far you have to take the ethical argument here: if you do as he says and do music in your spare time, financed by a day job, presumably you have to ensure that that meets the same ethical standards? By that measure, the copywriting I did for Natwest in 2004 means any music I make is tainted.