justin foley op-ed

I looked at BBG this morning and saw that they had some free music available by Magrudergrind. I’m not too familiar with the band, but was a bit surprised to see that they have released the record through Scion, the car company. And when I say “a bit surprised,” I mean the kind of surprised that reminds you of what you had for breakfast because it’s figuring on making a repeat appearance.

Before I begin, please let me note a few things. First, these are people with whom I am generally simpatico – they play abrasive, heavy music, they take the time to think about what they’re doing, and they’re not doing stuff that, on the face of it, is simply wrong (like lobbying for the weapons industry or hiring scabs or kicking puppies). They seem like nice guys. And really: this is small, small potatoes in a world that includes starvation, disease and the cultural cancer of Dancing with the Stars. I also recognize that this stuff is interesting to talk about because it cannot be reasonably argued by appealing to absolutes; this topic is a world of various shades of gray (which, by the way, doesn’t mean that things can’t be right or wrong). So let’s all take this with a grain of salt, right? Perfect.

That said, this Scion record stuff is gross and I think Magrudergrind is dead wrong for doing it.

It’s up to the band to figure out who they associate with and how they present themselves. I’d find their statement more compelling if they just said that. “Scion offered us money to put out a record and we thought about it and then said, ‘Sure.’” But what they released comes across as a rationalization, not an explanation.

So here’s what they said, then what I say:

“- We decided to take up this offer in order to give out a 100% FREE, high quality record to everyone, at the expense of a Scion. Scion have covered all the costs for studio, manufacturing, etc.”

In other words, you got someone willing to pay for it. That’s a statement of fact, not an argument.

“Over the years, Scion has dished out tons of money to support this scene. They have made it possible, so that we can all attend and play shows, for FREE, that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend and play.”

That we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to attend and play? Did such shows never happen prior to Scion’s involvement? Do they not still happen, even though they’re not being done by Scion? Of course not. Things happen all the time and having someone around willing to foot the bill can make it easier to happen. Don’t confuse “making it easier” with “possible.”

“- What have we got out of this deal that we would have otherwise have worked with a standard label and the standard record label business model? Scion covers all recording and record manufacturing expenses. They have provided YOU with the platform to have a high quality Magrudergrind record for FREE.”

The argument here is that this is worthwhile because something that would have cost money for some people is now free. But these days, lots of people get music for free whether or not Scion pays for it. Others make a decision to buy something that they feel is worth the cost. Still others won’t bother either way, because they won’t download something for free and don’t feel like it’s worth buying. Your point is directed at this third group of people. “Not willing to buy our record or hunt around on Mediafire? Scion’s got you covered!”

“- We did not receive any free car, any fat paycheck, but the ability to give every a free record at the expense solely on a big company that may not see any return on their investment. Who really wins here?”

Scion is doing this as an advertising strategy. Someone over in Toyota’s vast, vast marketing empire (let’s call him “Shawn Shraper”) has made the business decision that their youth-oriented budget brand can be allowed to have the dollars to foot the bill for some metal band’s CD. And Shawn figures he wins, because that’s his job. You can make your record available to people who aren’t interested enough to buy it or get it for free anyway. So I guess you figure you win. If people get the record and like it, they figure they win. Whatever winning is.

“- If Scion covers the expenses of this record and say no one buys their product, who really gains? Us and every single person who got a Magrudergrind record for free.”

This — second guessing Shawn Shraper’s wisdom — is where things get screwy. Is the justification here that Toyota could be wrong? That this is somehow totally independent from whether or not the largest car company on planet Earth sells more cars? Bullshit. The band has decided to participate in an advertising campaign.

” – In the United States, we do not have wide scaled financial support from the government and industry players as they do elsewhere, for music and arts. We rather a company support music and arts, rather then spend their marketing campaign money on a stupid illuminated eyesore billboard. Everyone, especially in the hc/punk scene has a mind of their own and the agency to make their own consumption decisions. We are not going to, nor do we have the ability to force some kid to decide their purchase decisions. We all are exposed to advertisements and purchase decisions everyday. Even when we decide to buy some band t-shirt or a vinyl record (which has used energy and resources in the manufacturing process), it is up to the individual to make that choice.”

Totally, totally off the rails here. First, Toyota is going to spend every last dollar that they think is worth it to sell more cars. So there will be plenty of illuminated eyesore billboards, company-sponsored CDs, Twitter feeds, and whatever crazy shit they’re pulling in Xinjiang to try to edge out GM for market share. And while the question of individual purchasing choice vs. being “forced” to buy something is as you say it is, that’s describing a different reality than the one we all live in. Advertising isn’t about coercion — it’s about influence. Magrudergrind has been deemed by Shawn Shraper to be an effective agent of influence to a targeted demographic to whom they would like to sell more cars.

” – Regarding DIY and our ethical standpoint. We have always been, always will be and currently are very deeply involved in the band processes and the scene we are involved with. This includes our hand-on approach to our music, records, artwork, booking, merchandise, mail-order, etc. We have booked countless tours ourselves with the band, since we we’re 17 years old, in the US, Europe and Asia. We have brought over and booked the tours, completely DIY, spending endless hours of work, to bring over many grindcore bands from Europe and Japan. We still take care of all the day-to-day tasks of this band and would not have it any other way. If anyone is questioning our involvement in the DIY scene, look at our hands on approach to everything involved with the band.”

This is a good approach to the world and it’s one we employ in my band as much as possible. I’d commend you for it, but we both know that the value of being DIY is for the people doing it, not about being congratulated for it. It’s also irrelevant to the subject at hand.

The biggest problem I have with this statement is that the band does not acknowledge that there are associations and actions they can take that are unnecessary. Really, given what’s laid out here, why not go for a car and a fat paycheck and free Scion tattoos and your own Scion branded sneakers that say Magrudergrind on the tongue-pump? Hell, they’re offering it. (Provided, of course, that Shawn’s money guys run the numbers and decide it’s worth it to make the offer.)

Magrudergrind have taken the time to put together an argument and I’ve responded to the pieces of it. So it’s only fair that I also respond with an affirmative idea, rather than just a reaction.

My primary motivation for playing and listening to music is for my own enjoyment. I also recognize that there is a community of people involved with this stuff. To the extent possible, I like my association with those other people to be respectful and enjoyable as well. I am also keenly aware that there’s an economic aspect to participating in this community (playing shows, releasing recordings, sharing merchandise). But this economic aspect is a means to an end, and so shouldn’t involve associations which are unnecessary. I‘m not interested in encouraging the participation of others who do not have the same primary motivation that I have – enjoyment of music and respect for the people involved in making and sharing it. It’s not always easy to nail down where motivations and intentions of others lie, so this isn’t absolute. But sometimes it is easy – really, really easy.  Acceptance of corporate sponsorship — be it selling laxatives on the radio in the 1930s, fucking over Touch and Go records to please your masters at Capital Records in the 1980s, or letting the fifth largest corporation in the world foot the bill for your recording in 2010 — is a good example of this.

(Also, fuck that guy from Of Montreal who writes jingles for Outback Steakhouse. Just wanted to say that.)

All the time, every day, bands, musicians and other artists make the decision to leave money on the table, forgo an opportunity, or say “no” to an offer because it would compromise something they hold dear. I recognize that this is a fragile concept to get behind, but I think that it’s truly important. The people who act with this as a core principle have remained durable inspirations for me, both in music and in my life outside of it.

The reality of economics doesn’t force our hand to accept any offer related to music and the community that fosters it. There are inappropriate/exploitative interests that we can choose not to involve ourselves with. It is right to say “no” to these associations.


Justin Foley plays guitar and sings for the Austerity Program.  Their record Backsliders and Apostates Will Burn is out now.  Visit them online at www.austerityprogram.com.  All messages about urban bike riding, vegetarian BBQ and monetary policy will be answered first.

Whether you agree or disagree with Justin, you can download Magrudergrind’s new EP, Crusher, at Brooklyn Vegan for free this weekend and this weekend only.

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