Grizzly Bear Are Not Rich

By Tom Breihan / October 1, 2012

Nobody in music is making much money these days. We know that. Everybody knows that. Nobody buys music, and the very idea that we shouldn’t download the stuff for free is sort of a generational non-starter. But you’d think that Grizzly Bear, one of the biggest bands in indie-dom, would be doing fine for themselves. Their music shows up in commercials, they reliably sell in the hundreds of thousands, they play big venues like Radio City. But as it turns out, that may not be the case.

In a fully absorbing new story in New York magazine, Nitsuh Abebe, a great writer and a friend of mine, follows the Grizz during their pre-release rounds, taping a music video in upstate New York and playing at Radio City. And though there’s plenty of stuff about the band’s history, its internal dynamics, and the new album Shields, the real takeaway is that even a big indie band like Grizzly Bear can’t count on steady paychecks, and they don’t sound too happy about it.

Here’s Ed Droste: “People probably have an inflated idea of what we make,” says Droste. “Bands appear so much bigger than they really are now, because no one’s buying records. But they’ll go to giant shows… Obviously we’re surviving. Some of us have health insurance, some of us don’t, we basically all live in the same places, no one’s renting private jets. Come to your own conclusions.”

And here’s Chris Bear: “There’s people that know they make X dollars a year, and that’s not going to change. Or if anything, they’ll get a raise. That seems like a pretty reasonable setup, compared to maybe having one really good year, and then who knows what the future is.”

Members of the band also point out that, even though they make their money touring, various different expenses take big chunks out of that, and that ad licensing doesn’t pay as much as you might expect. The most poignant part might come when Droste talks about how people won’t drop $9 on a digital copy of an album, even though that amount is just “a fucking appetizer, a large popcorn at the movie theater, and you’ll have it forever, and they took two years to make it.”

Droste again: “I’d like to someday own a house, and be able to have children, and be able to put them through school, in an urban environment that one enjoys living in. A lot of people do it. And doing it through music is harder than doing it as a lawyer.”

Abebe goes in deep on indie rock economics in the piece, also talking to people like Travis Morrison, Frankie Rose, and Franz Nicolay. And though your reaction to the band’s money comments may vary, the whole piece is certainly worth a read; it’s here.