Walmart “Working Man” ad: Rush sold out their fans. Big time. #WTF
Rush’s decision to license “Working Man” to a company that has declared war on American workers is one of the biggest betrayals of trust in Rock history.
Yesterday I offered up a brief post wondering what the folks at Walmart were thinking when they chose to use Rush’s iconic “Working Man” as the soundtrack for their ad on investing more money in American manufacturers. Rush, in case you don’t know them, is Canadian, and that struck me as a tad … ironic. Maybe for a follow-up they can do something with Alanis Morissette. Or a Chinese band, if they want to be especially heavy-handed.
Today it’s time to ask WTF Rush was thinking when it decided to sell out to one of the most egregiously anti-working man corporations on the planet.
First off, let’s get some perspective on the claim. The ad says that in the next 10 years they’re “pledging $250 billion to products purchased from American factories.” That’s a lot of money. However, this is a company with 2013 revenues of nearly $470 billion, so the ad shouldn’t be construed as a commitment to go all-in on the American worker.
Further, that $250B isn’t going to be about elevating workers to a higher standard of living. The company is relentless, ruthless, in how it beats its suppliers up on price. American factories will see more business, but their margins are going to be paper thin and employees expecting huge raises are likely going to be disappointed. Walmart has a reputation for being painful to work with and nothing in this ad suggests that this is going to change.
They also have a well-earned rep for being about as anti-working man as you can legally be – and they’ve been known to push that line, too. They keep as many employees as possible part-time so they don’t have to pay benefits. Their full-timers averaged, as of 2006, just over $10 an hour and many of their workers qualify for welfare.
It gets worse.
Walmart has also faced accusations involving poor working conditions for its employees. For example, a 2005 class action lawsuit in Missouri asserted approximately 160,000 to 200,000 people who were forced to work off-the-clock, were denied overtime pay, or were not allowed to take rest and lunch breaks. In 2000, Walmart paid $50 million to settle a class-action suit that asserted that 69,000 current and former Walmart employees in Colorado had been forced to work off-the-clock. The company has also faced similar lawsuits in other states, including Pennsylvania, Oregon, and  Minnesota. Class-action suits were also filed in 1995 on behalf of full-time Walmart pharmacists whose base salaries and working hours were reduced as sales declined, resulting in the pharmacists being treated like hourly employees.
Walmart has also been accused of ethical problems. It is said that the Walmart employees are gender discriminated during the hiring process and discriminated against in the work area. Wal-Mart v. Dukes was a discrimination case on behalf of more than 1.5 million current and former female employees of Walmart’s 3,400 stores across the United States. (9th circuit 2007) Dr. William Bliebly who evaluated Walmart’s employment policies “against what social science research shows to be factors that create and sustain bias and those that minimize bias” (Bliebly) and he finished by saying, the men and women not being created equal in the workforce is what Walmart is doing and what they should essentially not be doing.
And for fun, Google [walmart unions].
If I try to catalog the full extent of Walmart’s war on the working man I’ll be here all week. I do encourage you to review the Criticism of Walmart page at Wikipedia. If you, like me, are careful about citing Wikipedia, ignore the write-up and just click through to the original sources. That will get you a far deeper understanding of the corrosive impact that Sam Walton’s hellish vision has exerted on the American worker, on our working families and on our communities.
It’s not like Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson are short on cash. (Since the song was recorded before Neil Peart joined the band, I’m assuming he has no financial stake in the licensing decision, although you have to think his opinion was solicited. If I’m wrong on this, somebody let me know.) From their Wikipedia entry:
Over the course of their career, Rush has released 24 gold records and 14 platinum records (3 of which have gone multi-platinum) placing them third behind The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for the most consecutive gold or platinum studio albums by a rock band. Rush ranks 79th in U.S. album sales according to the RIAA with sales of 25 million units. Total worldwide sales approximate 40 million units. Moving Pictures is currently the band’s highest-selling album (4.4 million units).
That’s hardly all. Read the rest of that section to get an idea for their marketability and staying power.
I’m appalled at Rush’s decision to lend their brand credibility to a company that has arguably done more to destroy the “Working Man” than any other in the world. Make no mistake, folks – Rush’s success has been built on the backs – and wallets – of the working class. Hang out at the arena next time they’re in town and see who’s attending. Pay attention when you see a kid (or, given the band’s ridiculous longevity, a balding guy in his 50s) wearing a Rush t-shirt at the mall.
I’m disgusted, and I bet I’m not the only one. Rush owes its fans a huge apology, and this goes double for the ones trying to eke out a living and feed their families working at Walmart (and they have to work there, because Walmart has driven everyone else out of business).
Clearly someone has lost touch with their audience. The sad part is that of all the big, iconic Rock bands out there, Rush is maybe the last one you’d have expected this from.
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Every time I get disappointed with one of these bands (which used to be quite often) my wife says, “How can you get all up in arms about it? They aren’t doing it for art, they’re in it for the money!”
That’s the perplexing thing. Rush is a band that always refused to sell out and do what the record companies wanted them to do. They really were in it for the art. That’s why this is so weird.
their Former label is in it for the money, not them..They haven’t been with that label since ’88 I think and the Label can pretty much license the song rights anyway they please..The ironic thing is the songs Namesake is complaining of how he doesn’t have a life except for Work and that’s why they call him ‘The Working Man’..Sounds like the marketing folk at Walmart shot themselves in the foot by using a song that actually Protest their Poor working conditions for the ‘Working Man..Just Sayin’)
I couldn’t agree more with this article. I have been a Rush fan since 1976, purchased various vinyl, cassette, CD and DVD copies of their music, seen them live on 4 occasions and read every book Neil peart ever wrote, but that ends today. I don’t normally have a problem with older rock groups lending their songs for commercials (though things like stairway to heaven should never be used to sell anything), but Rush has done something here that goes beyond reason. They chose to use their art in a way that devalues that art and insults those who enjoy it.
I need to ask: did Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson have a say in the licensing? Or is it possible this is one of those heavy-handed record label deals where they’ll do anything damned thing they please, band sentiment be damned? I’ve been looking, but can’t find anything on that one way or the other.
It’s conceivable that somewhere along the line the band members lost or surrendered control of licensing. Actually, I HOPE that’s what happened.
So far I haven’t heard from them on the subject. If they’re upset, they need to say so.
Conceivable but doubtful. This band is savvy and always refused to sell out to the record companies (how ironic). I highly doubt they gave up the rights to their first hit.
Rush’s debut album falls under the auspices of Mercury Records, who controls a sizeable portion of Rush’s catalog (74-88; 12 studio albums and 3 live albums worth of material). Mercury has released a few live albums against the wishes of Rush, such as “The Spirit of Radio” and “Gold” in ’06, which was a reissuing of “Retrospectives I and II,” which the former added Working Man to it. It seems as if Rush does not have a lot of say in every case when it comes to licensing and releasing songs from this era of their catalogue.
YOU TOTALLY NAILED IT!
Once a contract is signed (however it’s negotiated), distribution rights usually go to the label -generally speaking. The material becomes property of the label to do with as seems best to them to promote sales -for the most part.
Rush doesn’t need the money;
The Clockwork Angels Tour alone grossed over 48m.
This may well be what happened. But if Rush remains quiet about it, we’re more than justified in taking their silence as an endorsement.
but to be honest.,, why bother griping about it??? it wont do any good.. and Im sure they have better things to do with their time..
The band Rush has always impressed me as a group of guys with a social conscience and with deep ties to their fans. That’s why this news seems so out of place to me. I’m going to wait to hear what the band has to say on this matter.
If the composer retains the copyright (which is likely the case here – Rush is too smart to have given it up) the record company cannot sell the material to a third party. Do Zeppelin or Dylan or the Stones need they money? Yet they’ve sold songs for commercials.
I was stunned. They don’t need the money. Maybe Walmart strong-armed them with a threat to quit selling Rush CDs. Do people still buy CDs. Regardless, can’t see a good reason. Painful…
Well documented and right on the mark.
This decision broke my heart. I, too, am hoping that neither Geddy, Alex or Neil had anything to do with this decision….
Lighten up Francis. (and I mean that in the nicest way possible) Its a commercial. its akin to entertainment (I mean really when was the last time a commercial actually compelled you to buy something)…its a music video. Any assumption about motives behind licensing or anything like that are simply that, an assumption. Let’s just enjoy hearing a Rush song on TV.
Mike, there’s a lot more to this than just entertainment. As the post notes, Walmart does real damage to real Americans. And while the relationship between advertising and buying behavior is complex, ads like this drive awareness of the brand and the message here is one that, in the absence of critical analysis, might strike people as a good thing. Add Rush’s credibility to the mix and people might be more favorably disposed toward the brand. I assure you, Walmart has data – mounds of it – that they believe justifies their massive ad expenditures.
Beyond that, there’s the principle of the matter. Would you want your name and your art associated with a cause that was antithetical to your views?
Have you noticed all the repackaging of their greatest hits over the years? That is the label doing that, not the band. I’d suspect its the same for the add.
You gotta be kidding! Rush owes their fans an apology? For what? You can’t know much about how the music business works to come up with this crap.They didn’t make this deal. the lable that owns the rights to the song did. I bet Geddy & Alex had no say or control on the matter. So all you people who agree with this owes Rush an apology for accusing them.
As I said earlier, we’re more than justified in interpreting Alex and Geddy’s silence as approval. If you can’t be bothered to step up and say something when it has your name on it, then we were giving you too much credit all along. Maybe that’s our fault, but regardless, the fact of the matter is that right now Rush’s music is promoting Walmart. Period. And the people behind the song haven’t uttered a word that I have seen.
We’ll revisit the question if and when they do speak up.
First, thanks to everyone for the useful remarks here. Second, I agree with the article, though I’d not request / demand any type of apology as its uncertain whose responsible. I’d just like some clarification on who made the decision and how. Also, if the funds are going to do something to actually help workers, then this could be a positive campaign. Third, for me, WM’s pledge seems more like a PR campaign as the $25 billion per year is a pittance amount compared to the value of their total global supply chain. Thus, given the band’s past loyalty to working-man fans in places like Cleveland (and really, most everywhere), its surprising that Rush would want to be associated with a brand that’s been the champion of outsourcing efforts and pressures. Last, some lyrics I associate most closely with Rush come from “Closer to the Heart”. Now, and particular if there’s no clarification from the band, I’ll think of them more closely associated with “The Big Money”, whose second last verse remarks “It’s that old-time religion, It’s the kingdom they would rule, It’s the fool on television, Getting paid to play the fool.” Rush still has a soul, a huge one, but its rather ponderous that they’d endorse this campaign. Maybe they’re hoping that some Asian deity will start workin’ them angels overtime to champion or protect workers’ rights in Asian factories, as these folks will certainly need the support. Meantime, I’ll await some comment by the band, as their silence suggests endorsement, and many fans would appreciate clarification.
As a lifelong Rush enthusiast, I am disappointed to see they are supporting Walmart. I do not shop at Walmart based on their heavy-handed purchasing practices and their mush-maligned HR systemt. Walmart is bad for business.period. Don’t think for a minute that the band was no involved in this decision (Nance), they had to sign off on the deal. I think they misread the climate and made a mistake….or, I would like to believe they did.
Still loved the “Fly By Night” VW spot!
From my point of view, as a lifelong Rush fan and Wal-Mart anti-fan, I don’t see where the band owes fans an apology here. Even if they had a hand in the licensing deal (which is doubtful, I believe the rights belong to UMG), It would be a bit much to expect Lee and Peart to personally review every use of their music in popular culture and publicly comment, and it’s a bit much to interpret a lack of comment as an endorsement of the licensee. I would imagine that slamming a licensee after they’ve paid good money for the rights is generally frowned upon in the industry.
There is a legitimate controversy here, but outrage should be directed at Wal-Mart, they’re the ones who made the decision to use the song for this message.
Of course the band themselves don’t personally review every use of a Rush song; that is what their personal song publishing company is paid to do. A big national TV ad campaign is different, however, and the songwriters (Lee & Lifeson) were absolutely allowed the option to veto the song’s usage if they so chose. They didn’t, and here we are scratching our heads wondering why.
Wow. Walmart creates nearly 1 million jobs in this country once you count all the connected companies of their vendors (including mine) and you get pissed because Rush allows them to promote that?
Wow… just… Wow dude. You know, not everything has to hurt your feelings.
One million jobs, most of which, as the article explains, pay terribly enough that you may well qualify for welfare. And I’m happy that some vendors are doing well, but I also know a company that resigned an account because of the stress of dealing with Walmart. And they weren’t even dealing with them directly – Walmart’s sphere of pain was affecting as a second-degree connection.
If you’re doing well, good for you. But in the aggregate few companies, if any, have been worse for the US than Walmart.
I too am a lifelong Rush fan. I never have liked them, or ANY of my other favorite bands selling their songs to people for commercials. I do, however, think they HAD to have had a hand in the decision. On the Rush Is a Band website, there is an article about Rand Paul playing a Rush song at his campaign rallies (might even have been Working Man, I forget). They found out and immediately had their lawyers send a cease and desist letter saying they couldn’t play it anymore. The lawyers were sure to include the statement of ‘This has nothing to do with politics. We would do this for ANYONE’. So if they got so up in arms about their music being used to support one man at his campaign rallies, you can be DAMN SURE they knew their music was going to be used in a Wal-Mart ad.
That being said, maybe they thought it was a step in the right direction for Wal-Mart. And maybe they got a crap=load of money. Who knows why? But I do wonder about some of the claims against Wal-Mart. Yes, many of their employees make only $10 an hour…but how much are you supposed to pay someone for pushing buttons on a cash register? They have many employees who don’t make much, but are you supposed to pay unskilled laborers 50 g’s a year? Not to mention how much the average person can save on groceries and other items there. Not trying to defend them too much; but you do have to look at both sides of it.
Does anyone here understand the word “individualism” or “Choice”??? You are imposing your political views (That I mostly disagree with) on a band that I agree with politically for the most part. You all disgust me with your intolerance of people with different views than you own. You are eating up the propaganda that a successful company is evil for being successful. Shame on you all.
killmarley: Did you not read the post or did you simply not understand it?
It’s entirely possible that Rush took the money from Wal-Mart and DONATED it. Let’s wait this one out a bit.
How long should we wait? If a corporation had hijacked your work and put it to work promoting something that is antithetical to what you stand for, how long would it take you to speak up?
Sad day for Rush fans. I pay $125 to see them, own all their albums and they need to make even more money selling out to biggest pigs in American business?
Also, heads up, Walmart has HUGE buying power. They will do to manufacturing workers as they’ve done to everyone else that works for them. Drive good paying jobs down to minimum wage with no benefits. Job creators my butt.
Yes, me again. For me, it comes down to about four questions, and depending on the sequence and the responses, you’ll reach different conclusions. … But I’d say the questions are whether the band  knew,  controlled,  supported, and  is concerned about fans’ opinions. My answers to these would be  yes,  yes or at least they influenced the process,  highly likely, especially given their silence, and  hopefully they will respond.
Since their earliest days, I’ve associated them with being creative, conscientious, having integrity and respecting their fans. Thus, if we assume they knew about or controlled the situation, the choice to allow their work to be featured comes down to them supporting WM or at least comes down to a “Why not?” As in why not pocket some cash for lending an old tune to a MNC? or “Why not feature the song, as it may even stimulate song sales in some locations?”
I suspect that the decision(s) involved many players and factors, but given that WM has earned a reputation for shrewd capitalism and for demanding the lowest prices from all suppliers, maybe the band commends WM’s pledge to try to repatriate some supply contracts. Maybe they sense that if one of the biggest MNC’s moves in this direction, that others may be pressured to follow? Who knows. As others have noted, we all have choices where we shop and we don’t have to purchase at WM. Still, it would be nice to receive some clarification or explanation from the band or their reps, as at least in the past, they’ve been conscientious and concerned about respecting their audience. After all “One likes to believe in the freedom of music, But glittering prizes and endless compromises Shatter the illusion of integrity.” Perhaps so too does failing to respond or clarify the situation.
So you think Rush is opposed to making money, or people who do? Better listen to “the Trees” again.
“So the maples formed a union…”
Don’t you see the irony here? Rush, a Canadian band, licensed a song to Wal Mart to promote goods produced in the USA. It’s Wal Mart who looks stupid. Rush is having a good laugh as they take the cash to the bank from the foolish Americans.
You misstate what Wal-Mart pledged. As the article quoted, Wal-Mart is “pledging $250 billion to products purchased from American factories.” They did not say, as you suggest, “the USA.” Our country is not “America”, the continent is America. Out of hubris we often refer to the US as America, but the truth is Canada is part of America, too. While Rush may be Canadian, it is inaccurate to infer that they are not also an American band. The fact that the author of the article also found it ironic that the ad featured Rush seems to suggest that he has some confusion regarding the meaning of the word America.
That’s one theory. Another is that you’re a tedious chore who failed to read the author’s first piece on the subject, which was conveniently linked in the first sentence of this post.
Rush’s former record label is not involved in this. Mercury Records would only become involved if someone wanted to re-release the song on a distributable format (i.e. a film soundtrack, a sample of the song on a hip hop track, etc).
The Walmart ad is an example of mechanical licensing. I did a quick look on the Harry Fox agency’s website. The composition is credited to Lee and Lifeson and the publisher is Anthem Entertainment, which Rush fans will recognize as the band’s independent label/publishing company. They still own the rights to the song. The end.
For small deals, like a band covering the song, a licensee can pay Harry Fox for the license, and Rush probably doesn’t even find out about it. Small potatoes. But in this case, yeah, Rush was made aware of it and they signed off on it. Walmart would have demanded it.
I don’t think I care if they donated their proceeds. They’re well-off enough that if there was a cause they supported, I’m pretty sure they could have scared up the money by other means. They just sold out.
Thanks for the go-to, fikshun. I think we now have our answer.
That I can’t help being a bit surprised, as jaded as I have become, is a testament to the kind of respect I have for Rush. Had, I mean.
I’m really upset about the news and SO EXTREMELY disappointed in my favorite band of all time.
“…but glittering prizes and endless compromises tarnish the illusion of integrity..” So true.
Thanks Fikshun for the details. It is nice to gain insight on the decision process, though the results seem disappointing. Disappointing, but perhaps not completely surprising. Why not? Because as we know, Neil is an avid reader … and one artist he follows is Bob Dylan, whom he cited in the RNRHOF induction speech.
Personally, I like Bob’s remark “A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.” Its for this theme or reason that I’ve previously admired and respected Rush, because I thought they sought to be contrarian, or blue-collar paladins, or because they seemed to genuinely care about the plight of underdogs. Indeed, Neil often mentions how he seeks to support smaller, independent operators in his meal and lodging choices while he’s out on a motorcycle trek on or between tours. He admires their grit or spirit or tenacity. He expresses affection for the moth-balled main street, perhaps even more than for the destination retail complexes perniciously located on the edges of town.
But returning to the RNRHOF ceremony, the actual remark he paraphrased goes “Art is the perpetual motion of illusion. The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do? What else can you do for anyone but to inspire them?”
I guess that I bought into the illusion of the first sentence, as Bob also notes that “People today are still living off the table scraps of the sixties. They are still being passed around – the music and the ideas.” … I guess I got caught up in the illusion – specifically – the potential illusion about reciprocated respect for the working man, who’ve been supportive of Rush since their earliest days on Cleveland radio. I bought in so much that I’ve purchased concert tickets and many albums, CDs, DVDs each of which may sound more like a corporate jingle. Instead, I perhaps should have paid more attention to Bob’s message that “All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie” or “What good are fans? You can’t eat applause for breakfast. You can’t sleep with it.” or “Just because you like my stuff doesn’t mean I owe you anything.”
And perhaps its been edited but I can’t help wonder whether Neil’s remarks should have been “All the previous inductees into this human pantheon are like a constellation of stars in the night sky. Among them, we are one tiny point of light—shaped like a maple leaf!” … with the proviso, “Shaped like a maple leaf and soon to be embedded in a corporate banner”.
Welcome to the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame Rush. You’ve gone from an artistic underdog contrarian musical voice to also become yet another corporate supplier, yet perhaps it was always been an artful illusion anyway. After all, even radio stations have to sell advertisements and Sam’s gang can be persuasive. I’ll still support the band, but with a diminished level of respect, or a more qualified assessment of their values.
i reckon it is like the sports professionals; it’s all business.
Maybe Walmart is trying to change it’s image?
Will be a hard road to hoe.
– from balding guy in his late 50’s
Its distressing because it WALMART! I had/have no issue with the “Fly by Night” VW campaign, we know artists sell out, they have a right to make a living, and be paid when there music is used. But WAMART? The very last company I’d expect RUSH to sell a song to. I’m still I semi-denial, looking allover the web (I just saw this commercial today and immediately hopped online, paying I was wrong and that somehow this wasn’t what I thought it was) for some sort of a “say it ain’t so”, some sort o explanation. To throw a U2 quite in “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.
ok, walmart gets 50 comments and nuclear missles get a handful? hmmmm.
at any rate, i don’t shop at walmart, but i find the middle class condescending snarkiness over walmart just as distateful as the republican “war on the poor.”
have you shopped there? I did a comparison shopping for a client. For the same exact things, they’re 18-20% cheaper than a regular store. they’re doing as much to help the poor as all of these feckless not-for-profits.
i think people don’t like them because (1) they’re helping the white poor, who are culturally obnoxious and (2) they sell stuff to the poor that we dont think the poor should have (like big screen tv’s) and (3) their stuff is garish and we’re snobs. we dress it up by talking about outsourcing to china and destroying neighborhood stores, but the truth is we liberals dont shop at neighborhood stores either–we shop online.
You seem to be misunderstanding the complaint about Walmart. Nobody is arguing that they don’t provide low prices, and I don’t think anybody is complaining that low prices are bad for poor people, white or otherwise. The issue is that their business model and their operating policies CREATE poor people. They drive out competitors that pay better – that provide fulltime jobs with living wages and benefits – and when they’re through the community has lower prices, yes, but a lot more people who desperately need low prices to survive.
Click on those links. It’s all there, including the oppressive (and illegal) employment practices, the lawsuits, the economic outcomes for communities. The lower end of America’s economic food chain is being squeezed harder every day, and there are fewer more powerful engines driving marginal, subsistence lifestyles for them than Walmart.
no, i’m not misunderstanding.
again, you’re comparing apples and oranges. your assertion is that if they weren’t working at walmart they’d be working at high paying manufacturing jobs. i doubt it. those jobs were going to go overseas no matter what because of GATT and Clinton’s trade initiatives. if walmart didn’t exist, they’d still be gone. go to the local hardware store and turn everything over and read the origin–it’s china. the big box stores are a result, not a cause. so if these people weren’t working at walmart, where would they be working? another local retailer? dairy queen? the local poultry plant? you think any of those jobs are better?
i think walmart should be unionized. i think all service industry jobs should be unionized, because it’s a reasonably efficient way to redistribute wealth and I’m for that. however, i dont think walmart is the cause of loss of manufacturing jobs, etc.
and i stick to my original point. one of the reasons we liberals are so quick to criticze walmart is snobbery, pure and simple.
I have to think that someone within the record company betrayed the band without their permission,,,since I love RUSH I will assume they are innocent until proven guilty!!!
Please read the above comment from fikshun.
Been a huge fan for about 26 years since the age of 16. Except for the last one, Seen every tour(some twice) since Presto. My only regret was not being old enough at the time to to know their music or see tour that followed Hemispheres (I was 7). All I could think to myself was… Why in the world would they do that?? I strenuously doubt that they need the money so, ummm ….yea just drew a blank after that. Dumbfounded. Never would have expected anything like this from Rush, certainly not them.
So I guess Rush sold out when Fly By night was used in a Volkswagen add??? I didn’t read all the replies but for the most part is sounds like people as disappointed with Rush -everyone needs to lighten up. Rush has never sold out and never will. At this point in their careers they don’t have to. Maybe someone after 1 or 2 records, but not them. If you haven’t heard yet, listen to Dave Grohl giving last years RRHOF induction? Rush built their following from the ground up!!, no bull#$%^! Honestly people when you hear Rush getting any sense of notoriety, that they deserve, you thing they sold out!!! So people if this is what you truly think, become Justin Bieber or Myley Cirus fans!!! Enough said!!!
Wait, I do have another thing to say. Do you really think that Rush sat at a conference table with the big wigs from WalMart and said, yes use our song because we are selling out!! I’ll say it again, any sense of notoriety and they sold out. Oh no, Working Man on American Idol – they sold out again!!!! I have seen them at least once for every tour since 1979 and selling out is the furthest thing from my mind. Maybe they should stop allowing their music from being SOLD at WalMart