Musicians Singing Tune of Corporate Sponsors

The days when musicians made headlines by wrecking hotel rooms, raging against the establishment and disparaging corporate America seem long gone.

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Instead, many once-raucous "bad boys" are practically chomping at the bit for a bite of the corporate pie: Sting hawks Jaguars. Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and practically everyone else sings for The Gap. Even David "Rebel, Rebel" Bowie stars in an XM Satellite Radio commercial.

What makes these once badly behaved rock stars stump for The Man? In short, it's all about the Benjamins.

"The rock movement has become so big, its first generation of fans have grown up and became well-heeled Lexus drivers," said Geoff Boucher, a music writer for the Los Angeles Times. "I spoke to Lars, the drummer for Metallica, and he said they used to make fun of people who did that," Boucher added. "But now he said it depends on the size of the check."

But while that new car commercial may be good for an artist's bank account, some fans are disappointed to see their former musical idols "selling out."

"I think it is definitely damaging to people's careers. It takes away from a respect that they have," said David Shebiro, 40, who owns Rebel, Rebel, an underground record store in Manhattan's West Village.

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But some see the ads as an opportunity for musicians to turn their corporate deals into more exposure for their music.

"The best example is Sting. He made that Jaguar commercial and it basically saved his record," said Alex Pappademas, associate editor at Spin magazine. "It was like a video for that 'Desert Rose' song."

Album sales aside, however, some were quite upset the former Police frontman associated himself with the British luxury car.

"You know the guy's got money. Does he need more money?" Shebiro asked. "How much more does this person need?"

Still, other fans don't begrudge musicians for signing corporate deals.

"I think it's good for the artists. It gives them exposure to people who would otherwise not find them," said Paul Howell, of Pompano Beach, Fla. "My parents, they are retired schoolteachers and they like the Bare Naked Ladies. They heard them on TV, and my sister got them the CD."

The current trend of ads featuring big-name songs and stars started in 1985, when Michael Jackson, who owns the Beatles' song catalog rights, sold "Revolution" to Nike.

"When 'Revolution' was rented out to Nike there was a huge uproar, but now when people hear 'Start Me Up,' by the Rolling Stones for Microsoft, no one seems to blink," said Boucher.

And as the elder statesmen of rock let their anti-establishment façade crumble, the next generation followed suit. Young musicians today don't hesitate to sell themselves or their songs to companies representing everything from soda to makeup to cars and movies.

"For people like Britney Spears, their goal is multi-media ubiquity," explained Pappademas. "People want to have a clothing line, and make movies and make videos."

And appearing across many venues no longer affects a star's credibility as it once did, he said.

"It doesn't enter into people's image of the artist anymore. It might cause kids to get tired of them faster. But I don't think the 'sellout' thing means what it used to," said Pappademas. "Maybe to older people it does."

Among the younger stars maximizing their publicity through corporate deals are Spears, who appears in Pepsi ads and is starting her film career; Moby, who licensed every song from his album Play to films or products; and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, the one-time rapper who has remade himself as a fashion designer and minor movie player.

Of course, there's always the danger these types of deals can backfire, Boucher said.

"Now, it's gone from, 'is this right or wrong?' to, 'was this well done?' If it's a well-done commercial, people don't mind. If it's cheesy, people do mind. The Who gave their song to the [Nissan] commercial, and the commercial's really bad."

Navigating the minefield of corporate sponsorship is tougher for artists who are concerned about maintaining a legacy, he said.

"I still think there's some risk involved in doing it, especially for some of the really big, established stars."