Calculating the Moby Quotient
If you spent your musically developmental and formative years in the basement of a college radio station, you know the satisfaction that comes from championing some unknown alterna-electro funk band from Portland. With this satisfaction comes the devastating emptiness when they inevitably sell their catchy debut single to Mitsubishi for use in a commercial for a sedan with above average gas mileage. The rise of illegal downloading, the shrinking of radio playlists, and the decline in CD sales have forced many artists to "sell out," often in television commercial form, to make ends meet.
The Washington Post recently enlisted an expert in hyperbolic geometry (!?!) to devise a formula that equates the precise degree of sell-out your favorite garage band has committed, bringing new meaning to the subgenre specific term math-rock. The mathematical result is represented by the Greek letter mu, here as "The Moby Quotient," named for the electronic artist that (in)famously sold every single last song on his 1999 album, Play, to varying commercial interests.
Being an expert in both barely relevant indie-rock minutiae and crippling sell-out related heartbreak, I've compiled a list of the most egregious offenders and punched their stats into the sell-out calculator.
Of Montreal for Outback Steakhouse
Song: "Wraith Pinned to the Mist (And Other Games)"
Not only did Of Montreal allow the steakhouse to use the song, they also changed the words from "Let's pretend we don't exist/Let's pretend we're in Antartica" to "Let's go Outback tonight/Life will still be there tomorrow." Nothing says 18 oz. rib eye medium-rare like Indie-pop!!
Devo for Dell Computers
Song: "Watch Us Work It"
Certainly tired of being portrayed as a chubby guy in a suit in Apple commercials, PC company Dell has turned to the next logical place "“ satirical social commentary disguised as angular new wave punk. The Devo track "Watch Us Work It" appears here hawking laptops.
Mu = 39.51
Nick Drake for Volkswagen
Song: "Pink Moon"
This Cabrio commercial not only sold lots and lots of cars. In a perfect stroke of synergy, it also sold lots and lots of Nick Drake albums. The relatively obscure English folk songwriter developed an American cult following based on the success of this advertisement featuring his song "Pink Moon". This commercial was also directed by Little Miss Sunshine duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris.
Mu = 29.46
(let's not be so hard on him, he'd been dead for over 25 years when the commercial aired)
Sting for Jaguar
Song: "Desert Rose"
Frustrated with regularly selling mere millions of albums, former Police frontman Sting granted British luxury carmakers Jaguar the rights to not only his track "Desert Rose" but also himself. Team Sting shot the video for the single with the intent of pitching it to Jaguar as a commercial. It worked, and Sting gave his song and his likeness to Jaguar for free, figuring it to be worth the asking price in free advertising. Ultimately, Brand New Day became Sting's best selling solo record to date.
Mu = 32.48 (plus an additional one million sell-out points for living in a castle"¦literally)
Band of Horses for Ford Edge
Northwestern indie-rock group Band of Horses appears in this commercial despite the obviously questionable choice of having a song titled "Funeral" to promote your recall-prone Ford brand. The alternative label Sub-Pop, once famous for anti-commercialism, has seen a handful of their roster promoting such products as M&Ms, McDonalds and Walmart recently. Movin' on up!
Mu = 145.61
Mangesh, Jason and Matthew for Enron
Say an editor or two from mental_floss joined an upstart writer like me (I'd play bass) and formed a dance-punk band, promptly selling our first song to Enron. We'd be so indie that nobody would have ever heard of us. Plus, we could quit these boring day jobs and focus on what really matters "“ the music, man.Mu = 170.44
Plug in your own bands and post your Moby Quotients!
Matthew Smith is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com