At last! A way to calculate ("The Shilling Effect") just how badly a given band has sold out, named after the bald vegan and knob-twiddler who once famously bragged he had pre-sold every song on a forthcoming cd.

October 15, 2007

The Moby Quotient: The Vegan Who Sold the World

Blogger, itinerant rock critic, and former NPR Arts Editor Bill Wyman had a fine piece in yesterday’s Washington Post introducing the Moby Quotient, the formula he and, uh, “hyperbolic geometry” expert Jim Anderson have devised for quantifying exactly how egregiously a given artist has sold out when they license one of their songs to an advertiser. (Moby, in case you don’t know, won the dubious honor of having this formula named after him for his innovative marketing scheme of licensing all of the 18 tracks on his gazillion-selling 1999 Play album to advertisers.)

Wyman explains his formula here; and it seems pretty solid, though it’s unclear as yet exactly what figure denotes complete whoredom. The six sample songs Wyman uses seem to suggest that a Moby Quotient of 100 is roughly equal to a case of 100% sellout, as demonstrated here by the use of The Clash’s “London Calling” in a Jaguar ad — a grave crime against taste by any measure, a judgment seemingly borne out by its Moby Quotient of 100.22. (I don’t know whether the Jaguar ad in question came before or after the tune’s inclusion in a James Bond movie released a month before Joe Strummer’s death in 2002, which must have rubbed at least a few Clash fans the wrong way given that 007 is pretty much the ultimate establishment figure — it ain’t like he’s an agent of The People’s Secret Service — but which I readily excused on the grounds of sheer badassitude.)

Anyway, lots of people have been using the calculator to assess the severity of the particular licensing violation that has most aggrieved them. One guy actually got the calculator to spit out a Moby Quotient of 998.30 for the appearance of “Hey Jude” in a clip for Fidelity Investments, suggesting the max is closer to 1,000. And indeed, one enterprising mathematician has already identified a flaw in Wyman and Anderson’s formula that apparently penalizes Scrooge McDuck-rich stars like Paul McCartney less for taking a sponsor’s money that it does an outfit like, say, OK Go — a hard-working, endlessly-touring band that can actually use the exposure and the cash that come from national TV-ad campaign. (Or so D.C. native and OK Go frontman Damien Kulash told me last year.)
I tested the calculator with U2’s “Vertigo,” which you will recall was used in a fairly ubiquitous for iPods (and U2’s then-new album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb) at the end of 2004. I thought “Vertigo” would make an interesting test case for a number of reasons:

1) It was the first and thus far only time in their 30-year career U2 had allowed an advertiser to use one of their songs. The band was previously known for lending its muscle to decidedly less mercenary outfits like Amnesty International and Greenpeace, and for staging two of the most ambitious and costly rock tours ever, for which they refused corporate sponsorship.

2) The ad was for a product that 99% of the music-loving world probably owned already, or soon would, and more importantly, one that in no way clashes with the values the band had previously espoused.

3) The ad used a brand-new song, instead of an already-beloved classic to which fans had already formed their own associations, which after all, are what advertiser is really buying when they pay big bucks in licensing fees.

This is arguably worse, because introducing a new song in the context of an advertisement pretty much kills any chance your fans will think of it of anything other than a jingle. The Moby Quotient calculator addresses this by including in its formula a rating for the “sacredness” of the song in question; since “Vertigo” is as lyrically vapid as anything U2 ever recorded, I gave it a “1” in this category.

The calculator gave “Vertigo” a Moby quotient of 15.44; deeming it roughly one-fourth as offensive as when Bob Dylan allowed Victoria’s Secret to use “Love Sick” in one of the most puzzling pairings of spokesman and product ever. How many of you have ever associated Bob Dylan with boot-knocking?

Anyway, you can calculate just how little integrity your favorite band has left here. Who knows; if things go well for them, maybe Le Loup or Georgie James will be helping phone companies or cruise lines peddle their wares someday.

Let's hope not.

DCist: The Moby Quotient: The Vegan Who Sold the World