Grizzly Bear - New York Magazine

As you may have heard, Grizzly Bear was featured on the cover of this week’s New York Magazine, alongside the headline, “Is Rock Stardom Any Way To Make A Living?” The feature itself, written by Nitsuh Abebe, came in at more than 5,000 words, and among other things, tried to illuminate the difficult economic realities of being a musician, even a relatively popular musician. We did a post on that story here yesterday, and the discussion it ignited in our comments section spread like wildfire. And rightly so: No serious music fan can claim to be indifferent to such a question; we all have a stake. It’s a dialogue that has been going on for ages, recently sparked anew by the actions and arguments of such artists as David Lowery and Amanda Palmer. And now this.

Stereogum contributors Doug Moore and James Jackson Toth have unique and nuanced perspectives on this subject. Both are working musicians whose music has received critical acclaim. James records under the alias Wooden Wand, whose last album was released on Michael Gira’s Young God label, and “is an intersection of outlaw country’s toughness, Dylan-inspired pith, and Waits-like attentiveness and wit,” wrote Pitchfork in 2011. Doug is the frontman of Brooklyn-based experimental metal band Pyrrhon, about whom Decibel Magazine said, “Outré as they get, everything Pyrrhon do emanates from an obsidian death metal core — just that this music is that much more expressive, its impact that much more disquieting than almost anything else in the genre.”

Despite their accomplishments, neither James nor Doug is currently making a living solely via music. In this way, they have much in common. However, in the debate that follows, they express certain fundamental disagreements regarding the subject at hand. Because this is a conversation with no logical conclusion — and because this is such a hugely multifaceted issue — I’ve asked Doug and James to keep an eye on the comments section here, and respond when it’s possible/appropriate to do so. I hope this dialogue helps to advance our collective understanding of the plight of the modern musician, and I hope too that you’ll listen to (and support!) both Wooden Wand and Pyrrhon.

Take it away, boys!


Doug Moore: The New York Mag piece on Grizzly Bear makes me feel lucky to be a member of a generation of musicians who never expected to be able to quit their day jobs.
I’m 25 and I’m in a metal band. For us, success as a professional band would look something like this: release an album that does incredibly well in the metal world and achieves some crossover recognition; drop out of the normal workforce and spend the ensuing year or two touring mid-sized venues and playing European festivals; repeat as many times as possible.
Since even touring isn’t very lucrative these days, we wouldn’t accrue much in the way of savings during this period. After five or six of these cycles, we’d likely wane in popularity or break up. By then, we’d be in our late thirties or early forties, with no career, no money, and no marketable work experience. Remember, this is what ’success’ would look like.
To me, bailing on normal work and dedicating myself to this career arc sounds insanely ill-advised. The better, more sustainable bet seems to be treating music as an avocation, not as a vocation.

James Jackson Toth: I’m 34 and am a member of the generation that came before yours, Doug — the one that has this crazy idea that we should be paid for our work. Under the current model, Patti Smith would have never left the Piss Factory. On the other hand, we’d still have Nancy Sinatra. You see why this is such serious business.

Doug, you say — quite reasonably — that the idea of dedicating yourself to music as a career sounds insanely ill-advised, and you’re right. And my advice to younger musicians has always been that if you CAN do something else and be fulfilled, do it. For some of us, though, that choice doesn’t really exist.

Since 1996, I’ve occasionally had to supplement my income as a full-time musician with temporary, freelance and “quit-able” jobs — contracted construction and carpentry work (mostly flooring, house painting, and hanging drywall), writing and copy editing, truck driving, and the like. I’ve rarely held any job for longer than three months and have never worked for more than a third of any given year doing anything besides music. Wooden Wand is not what you’d call a household name. I make it work because the idea of doing anything else, for me, is death. I do without health insurance, cable TV, “date nights,” and other perks others may take for granted. I don’t mind. Neither does my wife, a PhD candidate in English whose long-term job prospects are ultimately as grim as my own. We’re in this together because we agree that even being destitute is preferable to not doing what we we feel we were put on Earth to do. In short, we’ll always choose a cot at the YMCA over a 40-hour work week doing something we hate.

Because of this, I expect to be paid for my work, because, like anyone, I must survive. I do not play free shows, I do not allow my music to be used in films (even student films) without a fee, and I do not give away music for free on the Internet. If that makes me a capitalist swine, then so is your plumber, your dentist, the dude who sells you kale at the farmer’s market, and the girl who serves you your mocha latte, none of whom are expected to work for free. Bands who give music away for free essentially reinforce the idea that music is valueless. It also sets a dangerous precedent, and is not altogether different from crossing a picket line.

Moore: I feel your pain, James. I’m currently in the same situation that you are; I work three part-time jobs to support myself and to foot the bill for my music. (Like most metal bands, Pyrrhon perpetually loses money.) I like my jobs, but it’s still a pain. Somewhere along the line, I chose to sacrifice some material comforts for the emotional satisfaction of playing music. I don’t resent the world for failing to reward me more richly for doing so; I knew what I was getting into.
You’re presenting a false dilemma here. I don’t propose that all music should be free or that bands should give up on asking people to pay for shows or albums. When Pyrrhon plays a show, we expect to make at least a little bit of money. We don’t give away shirts or CDs for free. (Not to strangers, anyway.) But we also don’t realistically expect the band to support us, now or ever. In that sense, it’s a hobby, albeit a partially remunerative one.
You’re right that musicians who give away music for free are reducing the market value of that music, in some sense. At the same time, they’re also recognizing that the market value of music is already very low and that there isn’t much they can do about it. I suspect that most musicians who give away free music would rather charge for it, but can’t. Few consumers will pay for something they can illegally download for free. So, musicians give away their work in the hope of getting more popular and eventually finding ways to monetize it. This sucks too, but it’s the reality we’re living in. The Internet and file-sharing aren’t going away any time soon.
If we wanna play music, we have to come to grips with this reality. We have a number of options for how to do so. One option is to forgo most stable forms of employment and shoot for broad-based success. If it works, you’ll likely end up in Grizzly Bear’s position, which I personally don’t envy. Another option is to find a job (or jobs) you like, hold onto it, and play music with whatever time you have left over. I don’t think it’s reasonable to compare those who opt for the latter with scabs in a labor dispute. Would-be professional musicians don’t have a moral monopoly on the art form, regardless of whether the amateurs are bad for business.

Toth: All well and good, but do you feel that prosperity is an unreasonable goal for a band like Grizzly Bear? Do you feel that financial independence as a result of years of toiling is something a band shouldn’t take for granted if that band seemingly has all the necessary elements, as Grizzly Bear seem to, to achieve the kind of success that allowed bands like Nirvana to rake in millions of dollars less than two decades ago? That seems unfair at best, tragic at worst. Your attitude is a common but unsettling one — bands seem to be throwing up their hands and reluctantly agreeing to ’play ball’ despite the consequences. Why shouldn’t Grizzly Bear be making millions of dollars? It seems to me that as many people I know worship Grizzly Bear as worship professional athletes, reality television stars and celebrity chefs. I guess I didn’t think the band came off particularly grumpy in the article — maybe they didn’t come off grumpy enough.

I don’t know about you, but when I had to work those jobs I referred to earlier, I found I had very little time to actually do something creative. If I come home after a nine hour day with drywall dust in my hair and arms that feel like two slabs of dead salmon, I’m not thinking about writing a song. I’m thinking about taking a shower, eating something that can’t be acquired through a drive-through window, and squeezing in as much time with my family as I can before I have to wake up to the alarm clock and do it all over again the next day. I feel that, merely by circumstance, this lifestyle forces me to forfeit my identity as an artist. This schedule also, of course, prevents me from accepting regional tours, non-local gigs, and out-of-town collaborations, to say nothing of the occasional video shoot or interview request. These things are necessary to my spiritual, financial and creative survival. Without them, I may as well be another dude playing Thin Lizzy covers with my bros on the weekend. And there isn’t a thing wrong with that. But that’s not what I have chosen to do with my life. 

I guess my question is, with three jobs, where do you find the time? How do you make it work? What happens tomorrow if Neurosis asks you to join them on a three-week tour? You’d only be getting $200 a night. Do you turn it down because you’re afraid of losing one of your jobs and would very likely come home broke? Do you use up all your vacation time and hope no more opportunities come up for the year? I’m genuinely curious, because any time I’ve been in that situation, I’ve just up and quit whatever shitty dishwashing job I had and went ahead on tour. Because I’m a musician, not a dishwasher. And I’m assuming you, too, are a musician, and not something else. So how do you reconcile this?

It’s true that the Internet and file-sharing aren’t going away any time soon, but I think we need to examine ways in which we can make it work for us as artists rather than allow ourselves to be exploited by the new boss. Pragmatism should not be mistaken for defeatism. Those evil major labels of yore are beginning to look downright cuddly.

Moore: Who is the new boss that’s exploiting musicians? It seems to me that our answer is the audience. People are downloading music for free instead of paying. Watermarking files won’t stop it. Prosecuting them won’t stop it. Appealing to their moral sensibilities won’t stop it. The numbers have shifted.
Commodities are only worth what people are willing to pay for them. People will pay a shitload for sports tickets and paraphernalia, and advertisers will pay a shitload to run ads during televised games, so sports are lucrative. But few people will pay much for Grizzly Bear songs or shirts, and the band probably won’t sell ad space in their music or at their concerts, so there isn’t nearly as much money to be made. (That being said: If any corporations out there are interested in commissioning a Pyrrhon-composed jingle or theme song, we are currently accepting bids.)
It may be unfair and tragic that Grizzly Bear will never make the same millions that Nirvana did, and it may be a huge pain for you and me to structure our creative time around day jobs, but that’s the new normal. It is an old normal in many ways. Historically, most musicians are amateurs. Music is not traditionally a profitable profession — the millionaire pop star is a recent development. Even some of history’s most celebrated musicians never achieved financial stability; Mozart was famously buried in a common grave.
We can rend our clothes and gnash our teeth before this callous fact, or we can adapt. This is what I meant when I said that I feel lucky to be a member of my generation of musicians. To you, it’s unfair that rock music doesn’t pay, because you came of age while it still did. To me, it’s just a hard fact of life — a product of uncontrollable natural forces, like aging or hurricane season. (My fatalism here is aided by the fact that I play a style of music that was never commercially successful.) If you have any ideas for how to re-monetize this stuff, I’d love to hear them. Seriously. I certainly haven’t heard many viable ones yet.
Regarding your Neurosis hypothetical: the first thing I would do is cry tears of joy. Then I would try to arrange for the absence with my employers. Failing that, I’d quit, because I’m young and I’d value the opportunity over a patchwork of part-time employment. (Incidentally, the way I make it all work involves lots of coffee and very little sleep.) But if I was older and was forced to choose between a career I enjoy and a three-week tour with Neurosis, I’d take the career and live to rock another day. One of my favorite metal bands, Pig Destroyer, has predicated its existence on this model — the members have professional jobs, and they make time for the band around those jobs. They’re critical and popular darlings; they aren’t just “playing Thin Lizzy covers with their bros.” As I understand it, Neurosis is doing something similar these days. Steve Von Till is a teacher.
It’s a tradeoff, to be sure, and it’s your prerogative to find it distasteful. But for me, it’s preferable to a lifetime of poverty and tedious day labor.

Toth: You raise some great points here, and I’d like to focus on your Pig Destroyer argument in particular. I, too, am a big Pig Destroyer fan, and I know that the way those guys augment their income as rockers is by tattooing, writing, producing and mastering albums, and creating album art. Kind of an ideal situation, right? Seems to me that Scott Hull, JR Hayes, and the gang have found that elusive loophole that allows them to supplement whatever they make with their bands with other artistic endeavors they enjoy.

Southern Lord is another great example of a ’shouldn’t work but does’ business model. Can you imagine the conversations around the Anderson household when this whole Sunn0))) business began all began? “So, baby, we’re going to start this heavy, totally inaccessible, totally artsy drone band band, see, and we’re going to headline festivals and sell tons and tons of merch — it’s going go be the biggest metal band since Slayer. And the good news is if it doesn’t work out, we can always fall back on the label — you know, the one that releases impenetrable crust punk, guitar drone, and black metal that sounds like it was recorded in a storage locker.” As an artist and a fan, I salute the sheer audacity, the courage, and the spirit of adventure inherent in that sort of leap of faith. Maybe I’m just poorly organized (I’m not), but I couldn’t see such an empire being built on weekends between telemarketing shifts. Without complete dedication and sacrifice above all, I’d reckon that Southern Lord (and Pig Destroyer) would have been a logistic impossibility. 

I’d argue that the ’new boss’ isn’t fickle audiences, or Spotify, or illegal downloaders, but the artists themselves. Every time an artist takes less than he or she deserves, it makes it that much harder on the rest of us. The myth that bands should do things for ’exposure’ is what’s resulted in what you correctly identify as the decreased worth of our art as commodity. This creates conundrums like our Neurosis one: Now, taking into account that the touring budget allocated for support slots has nothing to do with the band itself (as Neurosis have always been one of the more straight-up bands in the world and in hindsight is probably a bad example, but let’s stay consistent), if you were to try to negotiate a little more money for this theoretical tour, what would happen? You might say, “Gee whiz, I really, really love Neurosis, and this is a great opportunity, but $200 won’t even cover our expenses — can you do $300 a night instead?” Chances are, there are about 10,000 bands who not only would do it for $200 a night, but might even do the tour for free. And so your request for more money would be denied. So even though all of your friends are jealous that you got asked to open for Neurosis and everyone in your scene thinks you’re suddenly famous, you find you have no bargaining power, and are about to pay to play and go into debt to play these shows, something even the local cover bands wouldn’t stoop to.

I think this is what Grizzly Bear are reacting to. The only thing worse than having people resent you for being rich is having people resent you for being rich when you’re anything but. Not to get all name-droppy, but I stayed at Grizzly Bear’s house once in Boston while on tour. It was nice, but not, like, Cribs nice. It should have been, because they deserve it. I certainly wouldn’t deny Grizzly Bear their yacht and their Zero Gravity Room, if that’s what they wanted, but I suspect all they really want is autonomy, and maybe some rad gear.

Comments (193)
  1. This conversation so achingly highlights the difference between being 25 and being 34.

    • In what ways? This comment is kind of ambiguous. I’m not sure if you’re telling me to get off your lawn or whether you have some larger salient point.

      • I don’t know, to me the difference in their overall view of the value of music is pretty apparent. Doug clearly grew up during a time where MP3s plastered across the internet was commonplace, where James has seen the transition from “non-digital to digital” happen over time.

      • Hi Caroline — Thanks for responding.”Fromerragequitter”, “Whee” and “Ben” all did great jobs of elaborating on my initial point. I’m 29, so I feel somewhat trapped between the generation that grew up with downloading/free-music and the one that grew up under the shadow of the mega-millionaire musician. Two competing, generational ideas about how music should be distributed and how artists are compensated.

        But on a different, more personal level, I can say that when you’re 25 it’s easier to conceive of yourself as an artist — most of your friends are right out of college, few have their lives or careers figured out, no one or nothing has seriously challenged your decision to be an artist, and you can make it sleeping on couches if you choose. Where people tend to be at in their 30s — living in a cramped one-bedroom apartment with your wife, thinking about starting a family, wanting a greater sense of stability — the whole notion of “sacrificing for art” just doesn’t sound that romantic anymore. Your parents helping you out, paying your car insurance or phone bill feels humiliating. As Toth says, “merely by circumstance the lifestyle forces me to forfeit my identity as an artist.”

        Anyhow, you’re welcome to picnic on my lawn.

        • can we bring beer?

        • Thanks!! I’ll leave a longer response when I’m not trying to finish my day’s work, and GTFO, but I’m glad you elaborated. I was genuinely interested in learning more about the motivations behind what you said because I couldn’t tell if it was meant to be incendiary or, as I hoped and as you proved, indicative of a developed, interesting position.

          • Eugh, pardon the accidental extra commas. Yeeeesh.

          • I agree with a lot of the stuff that has been said here, but I think for me the crux of the whole issue is that we all agree the system is broken, but no one sees a viable solution. Toth says it should be one way, and while I agree with him, I also can sympathize with Moore. Because of any number of factors, the system has changed and we need to adapt and figure out a way to make it work for us.

            I don’t mean this in the sense that people need to shut up and accept that musicians aren’t getting properly compensated and have to work eight jobs to support their “lifestyle.” Like many people here who have obligations that prevent them from treating music as anything more than an avocation, I chose a career because I need health insurance and a regular paycheck. I may not be in my 30s or interested in starting a family, but my health requires that I have health insurance and an income to pay for medicine and specialist visits. I tried the part-time jobs/internship route (internships are a whooooole other shitty discussion, but suffice to say, I 100% agree with the “entry level opportunities are terrible” sentiments that have been expressed). But for me, staying on my parents’ health insurance was vastly impractical. They’re several states away and I had to bend over backwards to get referrals for in-network doctors where I live.

            The reason I am more inclined to agree with Moore is that I don’t see things like streaming or downloading changing any time soon. I would love for there to be a solution that manages to fairly compensate artists for their work and time, and maybe to afford them the security the folks in Grizzly Bear point out they’re lacking. However, much like the unpaid internship or the shitty entry level job market, I don’t see these things changing unless people propose valid solutions and really try and get them.

            Discussions like this one give me hope. A bunch of smart, invested individuals clearly agree that the existing and evolving models are both deeply flawed. Maybe people will start to do something about it.

    • I agree, and think Doug pointed out something very vital here: ” I’m 34 and am a member of the generation that came before yours, Doug — the one that has this crazy idea that we should be paid for our work”. If people would get properly paid for their work, they’d have money to spend it on things like CDs and going to concerts. But with the economy being as it is, who can blame people for not spending money on something that they can find for free on the internet. This is a vicious circle. To blame music listeners doesn’t call out those who cause the problem.

      I frequently buy music and go to concerts – But certainly didn’t pay for every track on my computer. I would have to stop eating if I’d want to continue consuming music the way I’ve gotten used to. Do I wish that was different? Sure. But well, with the money being as unevenly distributed as it is, I don’t see that happening.

      • well said, and i think that toth is on to something larger, too. today’s young workers, musicians and otherwise, are being brought up to believe that it’s normal – or, worse, that it’s a good thing, often worth competing for – to offer their value for nothing. and it’s bullshit. seriously, how fucked are unpaid internships? when has it ever been acceptable before for so many (indebted) twentysomethings to work for free, while employers enjoy the benefit but openly state there’s little to no hope of being hired on? and before anyone says “apprenticeship,” keep in mind that with those, the idea is that you’re working into a trade.

        • It’s certainly true that the work market for young, entry level people is pretty shit. But Toth seems to think that anyone, himself especially, that really wants to make a living playing music deserves to be independently supported by only playing music. This has never been the case in music, even back in the bad old days of the big labels. I played in a great band in early 90s Athens, GA but guess what? LIfe happened and we all moved on. I went off and played in other bands in DC and NYC but got nowhere but nobody owes me anything just because I was willing to forgo “real” jobs while pursuing it.

          Toth’s examples are interesting as well. Southern Lord especially illustrates what I think is the key. They started their own label to put out their own music and that of bands they really dig. I wonder, Mac McGaughan from Superchunk is probably doing fine but not “anti-gravity room” rich. He started a label. Fugazi, started a label. Thievery Corp. started their own label. Many or even most of the other bands on those labels probably didn’t make money for the label but the bigger bands act as tent-poles to keep smaller acts on the road. There’s not tons o’ money from ridiculous marketing budgets in big corporate labels anymore.That’s a good thing. Fuck the big labels. There are more quality bands out there today, I’d be willing to wager, than there were back in the day. Hell, we’re in a veritable golden age of metal right now!

          My point is, you gotta hustle if you want to play music for a living. That has always been the case. For 1 in maybe 10,000 bands back in the day the dream of mega money happened. Most bands that got a deal at all got an advance that made them feel rich, not realizing the label would never pay them until the “album” sold enough to recoup the cost. Likely as not, the album never came out and the band gets dropped. Now they’ve got no deal, maybe no band, and they’ve squandered a year they could have been building their own path.

          Those days are gone. There are plenty of jobs that aren’t soul killing (even, and especially in restaurants) that musicians work in all the time. I get the impression that any job that isn’t writing, recording and playing music qualifies as soul-killing for Toth. I feel for him but we have to do what we gotta do. I’m in grad school now to be a teacher. The big cop out. At the same time I will have a chance to play and record with my old bandmates without the pressure of trying to make money at it. Plus I’ll get to be a teacher.

          • I agree with you completely. Toth seems to think that, by withholding music and sticking to old models, we can preserve its value. False, in my opinion. At the current rate of music consumption most of my generation shares, I’d sooner lose interest and follow someone else. Bands should be thankful for EACH AND EVERY person that wants to download their music FOR FREE. With hundreds of thousands of quality bands working today, why should your little project be the sole absorber of several peoples’ hard earned money?

            It sucks. I wish my band could achieve big money, and I could drop out of school and not have to work a real job anymore. But, I also decided a long time ago that I was gonna play the music I liked. I could strike it (reasonably) big with some shitty pop-punk or generic folk-rock, but that’s not the kind of music I like.

            Instead, I’m finishing my BA in speech pathology, hopefully heading to grad school soon after. Will I continue to write, record, and play music live? Absolutely. Depending on it as a career, however, is downright old-fashioned. Music’s inherent value has diminished in the sheer embarrassment of quality music currently present. I’d rather enjoy being a musician at my leisure than desperately depend on the fickle will of youngsters…

          • Annoyingly, though, only some labels can make it work, no matter how hard they try. I worked at Touch And Go and now hardly anyone does. And Hydra Head, a label pretty similar to Southern Lord, just shut down, whereas Southern Lord remains. Sometimes it’s kind of a crap shoot.

        • The Department of Labor requires that internships be educational opportunities. They are given special status for this reason. The unscrupulous have turned it into free labor. There were rumblings about DOL taking action on this, but I haven’t heard anything in awhile. Mind you, I don’t follow these sorts of things. So, technically, you are supposed to be paid in education and experience. Does that happen? I have no idea, honestly.

    • who was the last great pop star? lennon?

    • i’m 40 and i agree with the younger dude. nobody is entitled to get paid for music or art or any creative outlet. if you got a dime from your work, consider yourself one of the lucky ones. especially those who made out during the unsustainable industry days. music was never supposed to be about a mountain of cocaine in the scarface mansion. if you want money, get an education.

      • Riiiiiight…because as any 25 year old with a BA in philosophy or journalism knows, the surefire way to be successful and debt-free in America in 2012 is to go to college and get a degree. My kingdom for an eyeroll emoticon.

        • i certainly don’t advocate getting a toilet paper degree. i forgot there were people out there that considered philosophy and journalism as realistic avenues for employment.

          • You seem to be mixing up trade school with college, g zuss. Also this has been an enjoyable, polite conversation for me to read until you showed up. Maybe stop before you type something like ‘toilet paper degree’ and think, “do I sound like an asshole?” Because.. you sound like an asshole.

          • news flash: universities offer degrees that can open the doors to high paying jobs. you might want to look past the basket weaving 101 course that serves as a capstone to the journalism degree to find one. hint: if the degree has an “a” instead of an “s” after the “b” there’s a good chance you just wasted your time and money. don’t believe me because i’m an “asshole”? mr. toth is the one that pointed out a few examples of worthless degrees. so take his word for it if you won’t take mine.

      • you are part of the problem

      • But can’t there be a middle groung between mountains of cocaine, and getting paid a reasonable amount for something that actually does have demand?
        I think there’s an important distinction to be made between garage band that nobody cares about and band that’s popular and has created a demand for what it does.
        It may be the case that recordings are free from this point on- but i think toth brings up a valid point about bands competing each other out of money.
        I personally think headlining bands need to pay opening bands more, and opening bands need to stop playing for free or dirt cheap

  2. Grizzly Bear is NOT Nirvana. If anything, in a 90′s alt-rock context they are the Afghan Whigs, maybe. And I’m a big Grizzly Bear fan, but let’s be honest. I think if this was an article about Dan Auerbach living in a 450 square foot apartment it would be more compelling.

    • Right on. Even Bleach sold almost 2 million copies. You’d have to multiply Veckatimest by 10 to get there. I doubt before Nevermind Kurt and the guys were rolling in the dough.

      • I agree with both of these responses in terms of popularity differences, bands of old and new being successful and ‘rich’, etc. BUT, they key difference in these arguments will continue to be the difference in The Times. The ‘Bleach’ of 2012 would not sell 2M copies, obviously, because the model has changed so drastically since 1989.

        • nope, the times have nothing to do with it. Actually, Grizzly Bear would have made less money 20 years ago due to difficulty getting exposure without the internet. Bleach didn’t sell jack-shit until after Nevermind so that has nothing to do with anything.

          • Yeah, I think this is a really important point – for an indie band, your odds of becoming Nirvana are much lower than they were twenty years ago but on the other hand, the odds of making it as far as Grizzly Bear might be much greater.

        • Bleach’s sales skyrocketed after Nevermind became big. It still wouldn’t have sold close to that high without that record.

          • Maybe a more apt comparison would be sales of From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah which were still over a million. People from 14-50 know who Nirvana is and can hum at least one of their songs.

          • I think it is telling that most of the longer posts on this thread apologize for the post’s content bec it was typed while at their day job. It seems pretty clear to me GB isn’t a pop band, so expecting the fruits of pop to flow from their jazzy pop songs doesn’t follow. I mean, I like GB and went to a school whose mascot was a Ute and it still took me four to five listens before I got Sleeping Ute. It isn’t a paradox to me that they aren’t rolling in the dough. Also, Brooklyn is expensive.

  3. Good points all around, but it seems to be about the weaknesses of today’s download culture and not its strengths. Because while I agree it sucks, and that it is just one of the shitty realities of the modern day that we all have to adapt to, it’s not without its benefits. There’s a trade off, and I think today artists of all mediums have to work with its strengths instead of trying to put the genie back in the bottle.

    Would either of you be better off in the “cuddly” major label days? The days before blogs? It’s hard to say, but there was far less space at the top because it was all maintained by gatekeepers like labels, radio DJs and what have you. I don’t know if Grizzly Bear would have even gotten big enough to be a cover story on New York Magazine were it not for the internet build. I don’t know if they’d even have the chance to be not-rich were it not for the ubiquity of downloading.

    • Also I feel like in all of these debates I have to put the disclaimer that I buy art all the time and I bought the new Grizzly on release please dont hunt me down oh god

    • This is completely true. Although there is no question that illegal downloading does affect small time artist like Grizzly Bear, they really are nowhere near as big as the people think they are. As I mentioned yesterday, Veckamist’s first week sales were 33k, versus Mumford and Sons first week sales for their current album being 600k. Although 33k is very respectable, especially since they placed 6th on the Billboard this week (meaning sales might be close), it is still not a top seller. This however is only one small figure to consider, considering albums like Nevermind debuted at 144 (selling 23k in their first week).

      The real problem in my mind (which happens with a number of small time BNMed music) is that a month after the album is released, nobody talks about it. People who listen to Grizzly Bear are more likely (in my mind) to be constantly venturing out, looking for new music. The main demographic for Grizzly Bear knows of the album immediately after being released, having people come to it 1 year, or even 3 years later saying “Holy shit, have you listened to Yellow House”. Some do, but sadly, I think that bands like Grizzly Bear, Deer Hunter, etc. don’t have enough mainstream appeal to have people discovering those albums later.

      The best case I can make for this thought is the following: The National’s Boxer was not an instant hit (68 its first week on the Billboard charts), however between 2007 and 2010, their songs were played on 10 different TV shows (3 finales), and they started gaining a certain mainstream appeal. That mainstream appeal is not the same group of people who purely listen to da Beibs, but rather 20 -30 somethings who are looking for music to express their generation, while not reading Pitchfork or music blogs everyday. They want something accessible while not overly poppy. Think about Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois. The album’s 1st weeks sales were not exceptionally better than Michigan, however as more people heard the album, and it started being played on television, it exploded. No longer was Sufjan Stevens for just the indie crowd, it also went for people who were in their 20s and looking for something accessible that is not on pop radio every day.

      • Correction: The following line
        “he main demographic for Grizzly Bear knows of the album immediately after being released, having people come to it 1 year, or even 3 years later saying “Holy shit, have you listened to Yellow House”. ”

        should read:
        The main demographic for Grizzly Bear knows about the album immediately after being released. Although they may listen to it for months or even years, few people come to the album years later saying “Holy shit, have you listened to Yellow House”, as they would for bands such as The Flaming Lips (I first heard The Soft Bulletin 5 years after it was released).

        To add on to my previous point: If you look at a lot of Pitchfork’s top albums from 2003 – 2006, very few of them are mentioned today, especially those in the top 10. Being popular on Pitchfork may help place you in the short term, but that does not mean that you will have the lasting effect that keeps people coming to you, not like Wilco’s Yankee Foxtrot Hotel, Flaming Lips Yoshimi, etc. This does not mean that Yellow House, Veckamist, or Shields are not as good of albums, but rather they don’t have that semi mainstream appeal that Sufjan Stevens, The National, Bon Iver, or Arcade Fire.

        • You struck a nerve for me here – especially with the line “People who listen to Grizzly Bear are more likely…to be constantly venturing out, looking for new music.” Obviously this isn’t news to anyone, but it’s symptomatic of indie music on the internet and I kind of can’t stand it.

          I know a lot of indie-inclined folks who listen to whatever the new thing is for 10 seconds then move on to the next link/article/stream in the name of being a self-proclaimed “music nerd.” Ask them their opinions on this music and they will probably say “dude, it’s so good!” (and it all usually sounds like Two Door Cinema Club). They have a new band every day and it’s all posturing – they want to be THAT guy. I feel like the music and artists get taken advantage of in an effort to be the guy who is up on everything new. Sort of like that Portlandia sketch where Fred and Carrie compete about having read the latest everything.

          I personally consume music much differently – I’m very guarded when it comes to the artists and music I associate with, and in that way I’m a skeptic whenever I hear something new, regardless of hype. I don’t put a value on the number of bands I listen to, I put a value on who those bands are and what they have to say. I do listen to a lot of stuff that is new (to me), but I often to backwards to find it.

          I’m not saying everyone should be like me, I just don’t like how people put so much value on quantity. The ceaseless online media churn and sweeping us into it and it works to the detriment of the artists (enjoying their 10 seconds of fame, then pushed aside) and the enrichment that music can bring to your life when it’s given a chance to really mean something.

          Sorry if I sound all judgmental. I think I’m mostly just railing against one or two people I know who exemplify what I’m talking about. They’re all like, “Look at me, I listen to so much stuff and I’m always finding new stuff!” but they have no substance. They listen to so many bands and put a premium on things that are new just because they’re new. There’s definitely a problem with the incredible lack of diversity on the radio but I do feel like lots of indie-minded people take it too far in the opposite direction. Obviously the accessibility of new music online has some fantastic benefits, but this sort of music consumer is not one.

          The internet is training people to try to listen to everything. But you can’t get to it all, so don’t try. That’s my viewpoint, at least.

          • What you see as a ceaseless hunt focused on quantity, I see, at least in my case, as a burning desire to uncover a new love. What you see as a guarded love for your bands and reluctance to appreciate new ones, I see as stagnation and close-mindedness. We all appreciate music differently. The internet era may have sped up turnaround time, but that’s just reality. You can either accept it or not, but it’s not changing anytime soon.

            It almost sounds as if you’re suggesting that people should be more close-minded when it comes to the music they encounter….

          • ***Dan, this is in reply to you; I’m not sure why but there doesn’t appear to be a reply button for me next to your comment.***

            Totally get what you’re saying and didn’t mean to sound as if I think people should be close-minded. I can see how I sounded that way, though. I appreciate your thoughts and know that there are pros and cons and that everyone does things in their own way. You don’t sound like one of the people I’m talking about.

            I’m talking about people who use the nonstop music news cycle to posture – to derive their identity as a tastemaker in their social circle by telling people they are. I like knowing about the latest stuff too but my feeling is that these people are not about the music. They’re trying to win the cool kid contest. This mentality, partially born and largely fostered of the internet, misses the point.

            It’s narcissistic behavior. To back up my point I offer the at first incredibly idiotic but upon later reflection brilliant T-Mobile commercial with Oberhofer, the one where the girl sends a video to her friend of the show that they’re both at and then the friend STOPS WATCHING THE SHOW to look at it. T-Mobile has recognized that their young target market doesn’t care about experiencing art. They care about the identity they can derive from being the person who finds it and says it’s cool.

            The first girl is the aspirational figure; she knows what’s cool and has deemed Oberhofer as such. The second girl knows this and her desire to be part of this exchange and gain the social currency that comes with it leads her to literally ignore the band itself. They care more about Oberhofer being a new cool-kid-approved act than they actually do about Oberhofer. And heck, the second girl already knew about Oberhofer, she was at the show. But the actual art has become secondary.

            T-Mobile spent millions producing this seemingly stupid commercial because it taps into a cultural insight. Their target market are the people I’m talking about. I don’t mean to indict all internet loving music fans or say that you should cancel your internet, just that the media cycle and constant focus on what’s new causes us to miss the forest for the trees.

            (On a personal level, I can indeed be very close-minded and hesitant to listen to new stuff, even that which my friends recommend. It’s kind of weird and I recognize that. The best way to describe it is that for some reason listening to music is a very intimate thing for me, and I don’t get intimate with just anyone. I used to be more of the person I’m lashing out against but then I stopped caring about whether my friends think I’m the indie music guru. Rather I do it for my own personal satisfaction now, not a need to self-identify.)

          • from what you both said, what resonates most with me was daniel’s statement that the “internet may have sped up turnaround time, but that’s just reality.” this is pretty spot-on with how i listen to music nowadays. pre-internet, i’d buy a CD and listen to it for months on end… replay value was high, since the expense of owning music limited my collection to a fraction of what it is now. today, it’s totally different. at the risk of sounding like a “bad” music fan, i’ll go on record admitting that i generally have one, maybe two “new” albums (either actually new, or just new to me) that i listen to per week. by the next week, i’m listening to something else, and a lot of the albums from the past week get buried in the ole’ iTunes library. of course, there are favorites that stay in my rotation for much longer.

            this seems to be the middle ground between what you two are talking about – while i’m always seeking out music that appeals to me, i can’t deny that i’m amassing quantity at the same time. and although i don’t see myself as trying to win a cool kid contest (not cool enough to know who Oberhofer is, anyway), i can see how my listening habits might be concerning to many… when people start to see music with an eye toward disposability, they’re not going to place as much monetary value on it. i’m sure i’m not the only person who does this, and i guess this is where the spotify busines model comes into play. but i see it as somewhat problematic for the future.

      • This is an excellent point. Funeral, Oracular Spectacular, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and even Hurry Up We’re Dreaming continue to convert fans constantly. A lot of it goes with what kind of music you’re making.

      • You could also mention that this type of person – the one who is constantly on the search for new music on a weekly basis – is probably exponentially less likely to pay for the majority of what they listen to, as they’re most likely in their twenties, underemployed/in college, and lack the funds to do so.

    • Agreed wordcore — and SO few people, raise the point that you did — “would we prefer the major label days”…which were of course RIFE with stories of ripoffs..and bands in the SAME position as Grizzly Bear (who, as far as I have heard so far, aren’t doing ANYTHING musically I didn’t hear by the 80s from Creme & Godley or a bunch of indie bands).

      But –the question people in their mid 30s and up need to ask themselves is — when you were buying LPs, cassettes, CDs back in the “Awesome for Artists 80s/90s !!”…you knew VERY WELL that the record companies were RIPPING OFF the artists, why did you BUY the albums, then? By the 80s the BoardRoom Ripoff was enshrined in rock lore – EVERYONE had seen cover stories on Rolling Stone, Creem, Circus, Musician mag, whatever, that talked about the lame-ass $1.59 or whatever the artist got — from the $15.99 retail price. The question is, WHY did you support this raping of the artist?? BECAUSE YOU WANTED TO HEAR THE MUSIC!! You knew that $14.00 was going to the scumbag lawyers, bean counters, managers etc…yet you supported them!! Suddenly we are at a far more transparent moment, and NOW you have all these morally superior fans, refusing to participate in legal streaming “because I’m, standing up for the ARTIST, man!”

      Well- your massive LP/Cassette/CD collection says you DIDN’T stand up for the artist — you bought a lot of that music FULLY KNOWLEDGEABLE of the fact that most artists were getting REAMED, and only made their living on tour revenues and merch (which is generally still the case).

      I find that interesting.

  4. Really great debate. I think this whole debate is a part of a larger/national conversation about class inequality in this country.

    Example, I can think of at least a dozen popular/ well-known indie bands/artists who regularly pop up on Stereogum who are rumored to come from extreme monetary privilege.

    If everyone had a billionaire investment banker father who invested in professional music lessons when they were 5, or who could bank-roll rent in NY so that their band could focus on music, I imagine there would be a lot more bands out there.

    The problem at this point, is that the climate being what it is, the very ability to BE an artist is overwhelmingly skewed in favor of people with means/money. Maybe it was always skewed that way? (wouldn’t be altogether surprising).

    I have to wonder: does all that lessen the meaning of words like “Independent” or “DIY” or “Rock N’ Roll” if the only reason an artist IS able to do it themselves is because they are supported financially by a beneficiary?

  5. In other, more important news:

    New Godspeed album.

    Seriously. Priorities Ladies & Gentlemen.

  6. Michael_  |   Posted on Oct 2nd, 2012 +13

    Breaking office law here to chime in…

    I can’t really relate because I’m not a musician and I wouldn’t dare put myself in any of these people’s shoes, yet I attempted in the past few years to at least do one of the next best things for a diehard music fan: Write about it. Doug’s line, “The better, more sustainable bet seems to be treating music as an avocation, not as a vocation” probably hits a cord (no pun intended) with anyone in the industry. The past two – three years of being a wannabe music writer have made me appreciate having a non-music-related full-time job with insurance, benefits and a gainful salary, because it makes being able to write freely about music whenever I’d like so much more freely and with a sense of unexpected fulfillment if it ever amounts to as much as a retweet from the band I’ve written about. I would probably be beyond discouraged at this point however if music writing was my career, my source of income and success, and I saw none or little of that come way. That in turns makes me feel guilty and kind of like a jackass for even trying to break into the same world as anyone out there who does rely on their writing to support themselves and their families, because where as I have nothing to lose really if an album review I write is read by 12 people, careerists do.

    This too: “The only thing worse than having people resent you for being rich is having people resent you for being rich when you’re anything but.” I perceive myself to be unknown with my writing, yet I’ve dealt with one too many real PR debalces or people who will go out of their way to tear you apart with private e-mails, comments or what have you because their perception is that your only goal in what you do is to make money off of it and gain some stake in fame. That’s pretty frustrating when you’re doing something out of the love of it at the expense of your own free time (Note: I’ve yet to write for pay and my site has no banner ads or means to drive traffic revenue. It’s the definition of DIY with no monetary gain if there ever was one.)

    My thoughts are mixed. I get that it would be awesome to be able to say you make a respectable living doing only what you want to do — whether make music, write about, film it, whatever – but the precautionary in me who hates setting anyone up for disappointment wants to say that there’s probably more to be gained in the long term having a “real” job / career to rely on (and it’s important that you also enjoy it) while devoting your spare time to your music endeavors with the acceptance in the back of your head that you might not ever get that “cool” dream job. I don’t mean to sound cynical, and maybe this has something to do with me being 30 and not being as adventurous as the risk-taking, naive 22 year old recent college grad I once was, but it’s an approach that I think will keep a well-balanced diet of sustainable living and creative fulfillment in my life at this stage in my life.

    • Michael_  |   Posted on Oct 2nd, 2012 +3

      Please don’t judge my writing based on all the typos and redundant words in the above as I sit here — I’m aware I rushed those thoughts in, because big brother is currently watching over my desk.

    • Perfectly put. Relying (rather unrealistically, I might add) on music to provide a stable career would put an insane amount of strain on my art. Some might theorize that such pressure and struggle breeds art, but try making something natural, unique, and organic when your desperately trying to please some invisible audience because your next bill depends on it in order to get paid.

      Music is different things to different people. For highly-trained session musicians, it’s a job. It might be fulfilling and entertaining, but you’re playing someone else’s music for money. For others, myself included, it’s a burning passion. It would be a tragedy to have to come to hate it because it couldn’t be what I needed it to. For me at least, and I suspect many other musicians, desperation to please is not a good look on your music; I write my best stuff when I just don’t give a fuck if anyone but me will like it.

  7. Interesting debate on both ends. While I skew towards Toth on this one, I enjoyed reading both perspectives. Also interesting comments vs the ridiculousness on the other thread. Thumbs up

  8. Great debate, but Yet Again, it seems that everybody’s just Speaking in Rounds. There’s certainly no Simple Answer to this question, but I feel that spending so much time on The Hunt for What’s Wrong is only a Half Gate to what should be the focus — not being Gun-Shy about improving the industry model of profit-sharing so that the Sun in the Eyes of musicians like Grizzly Bear is less blinding. They deserve much more of the pie than they currently receive, and that needs to change… now.

    Oh shit… umm… Sleeping Ute. Yeah.

  9. The most distressing part of this debate is Moore’s statement that “Appealing to their moral sensibilities won’t stop [piracy].” Maybe I’m an optimist but if the message came from the musicians themselves rather than groups like the RIAA, maybe it would actually resonate? On the flip side, if people think Grizzly Bear and other bands of their stature are raking in the dough when they’re actually not, then it won’t have much of an effect.

    I realize I’m arguing both sides, but it’s such a polarizing and seemingly unanswerable issue. I’m 36 and remember using Napster and Limewire, but I always bought anything that I tried and liked. If I were 26 and this free stuff was always available and easier to get, I’d like to think I’d still buy music because I’d want to support the artists…but maybe not.

    As Ed intimates, when you think about how easily we’ll drop 10 bucks to see a movie once, or buy a few cups of coffee, you’d think it would be easy to spend 10 bucks for an album you’re going to listen to a shitload. Why people would have a harder time sneaking into a theater or running out on a restaurant bill than they do downloading an album for free is beyond me. I guess it’s easier knowing you won’t get caught.

    • Musicians routinely exhort their fans to actually pay for music—I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a touring band beg an audience to forgo the next beer or two and buy a CD, just so that the band can afford food and gas. I’m sure such tactics work on some percentage of the audience, but not a large enough percentage to turn the tide, I fear.

    • yes dreaming of monday “clap emoticon”

  10. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • LOL NOW who’s highlighting the generation gap! :)

    • The whole “music isn’t as good as it used to be” argument is just fucking dumb. The “hipster”-esque class of society has always existed in different forms, as has the mainstream. The popular music that wasn’t always artistically fulfilling as well as the lesser known, more “art-y” music has existed as well (those are two very broad categories so obviously there’s crossovers). It’s a dumb argument that everyone seems to bring up simply because people are naturally inclined to refer to the music they like as the “best”. Music is subjective, there’s another hole in that argument.

      As for the making money aspect, if you REALLY think that the invention of the internet as both a selling platform and a distributing platform for free stuff hasn’t affected profitability, you’re flat-out insane. In their day, Nirvana had to deal with one person buying a CD and then giving it to a few of their friends so they could make a copy, and that was an extreme case. Today, one person can buy Grizzly Bear’s latest and put it on piratebay where hundreds, if not thousands of people can download it. That’s simply not a sustainable market for a smaller band.

      • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

        • By looking for modern “equivalents” you’re already looking for the wrong thing.

          • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

          • I agree, there will NEVER be another “broadly accessible yet artistically credible” band like Nirvana, but not because music in general has gotten worse, rather because the ideas of broad popularity and artistic credibility are mutually exclusive in today’s record industry. Major labels have seen their bottom line get chewed to pieces by piracy, so they can no longer afford to take chances on creative, artistically credible bands, and must stick to generic sure-bets. However, widespread popularity on the scale of Nirvana or Radiohead still depends on major label support. Because there is dissonance between creativity and major label support, there are very few credible artists with widespread popularity, and instead the bands that saturate our culture all sound like a copy of a copy. Still, make no mistake about it, this is a golden age of music. Bands that would never have had a shot 15 years ago can rise to some level of popularity, if not Nirvana level popularity, based not on whether they get signed to a major label, but based solely on whether or not their music *sounds good*. That is an amazing innovation in modern music, and it is something to celebrate, though, as this debate points out, it has its own consequences.

          • Then name the bands like Nirvana or Radiohead that have the goods – accesibility plus credibility – but are toiling in the minor leagues because a major label hasn’t signed them. They don’t exist. It’s the bands’ fault, not the industry’s.

          • Grizzly Bear.

        • Hindsight is 20/20, we’re never going to know who the modern equivalents are until years have passed and we can see what stands out.

          • that’s such a simple point but one that is so easy to forget charles. everything feels like it’s speeding up, “borrowed nostalgia” to borrow, and as great as we think anything is now (channel orange is a classic for me, for example), we’ll never be able to talk like we do now about bands from 30 or 40 years ago, until 30 or 40 years from now.

        • Really, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. As I said before, music is a subjective thing, same as art in all its forms. Are we gonna say Joyce was a more brilliant writer than Whitman? Or that Picasso is more beautiful than Van Gogh?

          You simply can’t quantify those things. You can have preference but not authority to deem one more important/better than another. I’m not saying that any era of music is equally as good as another; that’s you making up an argument and telling me that I said it.

          99% of musicians never made anything off record sales? Please, tell me where you’re getting your info from. I never argued that musicians have, with only some exceptions, been shafted by record companies. That still pretty much exists today. But the fact remains that more people bought music then (especially physical copies) than they do now. More revenue=more money for the band, no matter how small the cut is. And the argument, again, wasn’t that bands today can more easily spread their music. Obviously that’s the case. But the same tool allows people to download their stuff for free. You didn’t have that back in the 90s.

          Please, write a book on what music you think is the best, just so I know exactly what to think when someone asks me.

    • Uncle Mike? Is that you?

    • Hmmm let’s see… yeah… I’m gonna say BULLSHIT to all that.


  11. I think what all of this comes down to is that making a good living as a musician (especially in the broadly defined “indie” world) is incredibly hard and unlikely – but it would be nice if it wasn’t. While this seems obvious, I’d just like to reorient the discussion away from the accusatory “it’s because of the internet and the fans that don’t pay for albums anymore” thing. Focusing too much on condemning the actions of a portion of the audience deflects attention away from the deeper problems with the music industry in America.

    This is, at its heart, about class, wealth, and the role of government. (I don’t really want to be that “it’s capitalism’s fault!” guy, but in this case it’s kind of tough to deny.) Small record labels and independent artists just simply are doomed to get swallowed up by the economic system, as they are self-consciously positioning themselves against demand. American record buyers, in other words, are not clamoring for more Grizzly Bear; they’re far too busy soaking in the new Jason Aldean single. In a profit-driven society, there’s an incredibly limited role for music that isn’t geared toward mass consumption. Further, in countries where there is universal health care (I mean the real kind not our new kinda half-assed health care), artists don’t have that to worry about whether or not they can pay their bills. And hell, in Canada and elsewhere the government actually helps artists fund their albums. We don’t have this luxury, and as a result, the blame comes back to the average people who are supposedly failing artists by not paying for their albums, and not the system that is constraining all involved.

    Basically, we’re all getting fucked here, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to insist that we recognize this and work to remedy it (we being fans of art and artists themselves – and art in this case being… well, indie music). When we blame other people who are ostensibly supporting the music –– despite not buying everything, more artists can gain long term fans this way, let’s face it –– for forcing indie artists into potential destitution and away from music we’re just obscuring what’s really going on.

    • So although I do agree to a point, I think independent bands have a much greater chance to surviving today than even 10 years ago. No longer do they have to worry about distribution of their album with Spotify and iTunes ($300 something per year if I am correct), and there are many more outlets to be heard on including Pandora and Last.FM radio. Furthermore, it is much easier for smaller bands to have their music played in commercials and television shows than in the past. Think about it, even shows like How I Met Your Mother plays songs by bands like Real Estate (after their first record).

      I think the issue is this: There is a lot less money in album sales. Forget pirating, the other issue is that people just don’t buy albums as much anymore, they buy singles. Beyond that, in a society where we consume art, music, and movies at an unprecedented rate, smaller bands that don’t have any mainstream appeal are sadly forgotten instantly. A few weeks from now, no one will be talking about Shields, until it goes in P4k’s top 100 albums of the year, in which it will be forgotten again by most of these outlets. It is not because Shields is bad, far from it, the album is amazing, but rather the people who listen to Grizzly Bear are more likely to be looking for the next big thing.

      Where these indie bands get a break is appealing to a slightly more mainstream audience: people who don’t want pop, but also aren’t always looking for the next big thing. This is how bands like The National and Sufjan Stevens exploded (the latter more obviously): They had their songs played on television, and got fans that did not care that the album came out a year or two ago. This is not meant to be an insult towards people who read Stereogum or P4k, since I am one of you, but rather stating the obvious: There is a much higher chance that I will listen to a newer album that everyone is raving about, than one that came out 3 – 5 years ago that my friends (who don’t read Stereogum) talk about all of the time. The truth is, that mentality has been around for a while. Jeph Jaques, when asked why he never writes comics about classic rock bands, or 90s indie bands, said that “With all of the music out there, I just don’t have time to listen to albums that are 5 – 10 years old”.

      • Just to add on a little to what youre saying. Its become so ridiculously easy to get your music on iTunes and Spotify (its actually a one time $40 fee to get it on just about every music site/store you can think of) that there is only time to listen to ‘the good stuff’. Whether that’s defined by this site, pitchfork, rolling stone, or your friends doesn’t matter- but you’re probably not gonna listen to the album that gets a 6 from pitchfork and spin unless friends are raving about it or you happen to come across it on Pandora. Of course there are plenty of albums that get bad reviews/non coverage but are still great listens, they’re just much much harder to track down.

      • People have often asked me why my entire music “collection” is stuff from mostly the 90s and later (with some 80s thrown in). Simply put, there’s only so much time. I tend to stick to the “after I was born” as a cutoff. Yes, that means I miss out on “classic” stuff and spend time listening to “inferior copies” of those bands. I’m trying to explore the music and art of my times, and that’s how I see it.

    • What action would you recommend that we take? Not being snide; I’m genuinely curious. This conversation tends to get as far as “let’s taken action!” and then screeches to a halt. Should we lobby the federal government to start providing NEA grants for rock bands? It’d be nice if we had those, but they’re a band-aid (har) fix, and a scarcely attainable one at that. The NEA is hanging on by a thread as is.

      You might like this interview with Joe Cardamone of The Icarus Line, whose thinking seems to come from a similar place to yours:

  12. After carefully reading the whole article I’m left with more questions than answers (no disrespect to Doug or James, who were very thoughtful in their case-making). For what it’s worth I’m 28, so I kind of see both sides of this generation-wise.

    So nuanced, (and necesarilly so) this debate:

    STREAMING is the big question for me and I’ll put it to the writers and commenters here:

    -Are there degrees of moral turpitude involved with listening to (recorded) music without paying?

    -It would be easy to argue that downloading music for free to listen to ad infinitum is a bigger transgression than streaming it, but is there really even a difference? (I think yes, but I’m interested to hear others’ take)

    -People have tossed around the idea of a “pay per play” directly to artists on sites like Spotify, Rdio, and Grooveshark. None of the arguments against this have made any sense to me, so I’d invite someone who disagrees with that strategy to argue what’s wrong with it.

    Incomparably thought provoking stuff here though….

    • Personally, I have no issues whatsoever with Youtube and things like that – in my mind, they operate the way MTV and radio used to. As a way to audition music before buying it, I don’t see a thing wrong with streaming. Good question.

      There are some very well written and very well researched articles out there about how Spotify rips off artists, I encourage you to check them out. I can tell you as an artist who does regularly receive quarterly BMI payments that Spotify pays literally pennies on the dollar. If you really want to support an indie band, the best thing you can do is go to their show when they come to your town and buy a t-shirt, especially if you’ve already illegally downloaded their record. Vans don’t run on demo tapes and high fives.

      • I think artists dislike Spotify because the idea that it’s taking away paying customers, that no one’s buying albums because they can just listen to it on Spotify, and then they get mere pennies. But people are stealing music anyway. So if we approach it the way some artists approach illegal downloads — that is, using free music as a marketing tool to grow an audience that will hopefully become concert goers, t-shirt buyers and loyal fans — then Spotify is better than putting an EP on Megaupload. A curious potential fan who heard about your band on a blog isn’t downloading your EP on The Pirate Bay anymore, they’re checking it out on Spotify, and in that instance pennies > nothing.

        It feels like Spotify wasn’t designed not to be your income, but a compromise between the free-for-all-eat-everything download culture and the labels that wish radio still made them bank. It feels like they want this to become the 21st century radio, except instead of 50 different songs being played every day, it’s now an infinite number of songs, and so they hope to aggregate the pennies from those plays into a decent payoff.

      • I’ll try to do a bit more research to codify my “pay-per-play” leanings.

        Thanks for the response James, appreciate you taking the time.

    • I’m interested in how streaming on Spotify (listening to music that is legally there, without an upfront payment) is different from the DECADES of radio?? Like radio — if you don’t have the Spotify sub, you simply have to hear an ad every 6-8 songs (far less than on terrestrial radio)

      IMHO, “pay per play” directly to artists would fail massively. Do I get to sample the band a little bit before paying?? because if not, people would never hear as much new stuff. We would likely only pay for that which we already knew we liked. The way it is now — I hear tons of NEW music on Spotify, youTube, Pandora, SoundCloud, and then I’M MORE LIKELY TO BUY A TICKET TO THE BAND’S SHOW, and get a t-shirt or CD there. I’ve done this several times.

      Botton line is that – even if bands decided, at their peril, to somehow charge for streaming their tracks — countless OTHER bands would be wise enough to provide free listening…and the (literally) free market would prevail.. those bands would have a better shot at gathering new listeners, and in turn, AUDIENCE MEMBERS BUYING TICKETS AND MERCH.

      • Andre I think you may misunderstand me, I was more referring to a structured pay for play coming directly from spotify to the artist, covered on spotify’s end by ad revenue and the people who pay a monthly subscription fee…

        You could still listen to whatever you want, whenever you want, as much as you want, but my hope would be that the artists would see a larger cut, since, as James said, clearly they’re not getting much…

  13. As a college student pursuing a degree in computer engineering/minor in music, I feel this pain all too well. Music is my passion and I would love to dedicate a whole career to it. But unless a)you become a huge band a la Radiohead/Coldplay/Green Day/etc, there’s really no way to make a living solely off that (and don’t give me any crap about the band choices; like them or not, those bands are ‘big’ enough where they can afford to pursue any artistic/monetary endeavor without having to worry about the heat going off).

    I’m in a band right now, mainly doing our own recording to a four-track while playing in local clubs around the NYC/Hoboken area. Maybe one day we’ll take them into a studio and do a “real” recorded version or I’ll wind up buying and setting up my own recording studio. Maybe someday we’ll hit it big enough to support month-long tours around the states at bigger venues/festivals. But I’m securing a degree because I know that, more likely than not, we won’t be able to hit a popularity even remotely close to the one Grizzly Bear has, and they already have money troubles (I believe what they say).

    I love my degree and can envision myself in a career in it just as easily as a career in music; I’m passionate about both. Maybe I’m one of the lucky ones who has found that compromise.

  14. I’m more of James’s generation than Doug’s, but I think Doug gets the better of the discussion here because, ultimately, James’s argument boils down to, “I know it’s THIS way, but it should be THAT way!” Doug follows up with, “Great, if you have any ideas how to make it THAT way, let’s hear them!” To which James replies, “No, but I’m saying, things should be THAT way.”

    As a musician, I hate that the industry is in the toilet and it’s daunting to me that bands whose career progression I’d give valuable parts of my anatomy to emulate aren’t doing well enough to afford health insurance. At the same time, the genie is out of the bottle, y’all, and it’s not going back in. What I haven’t heard, what the magic bullet really would be, is someone coming up with a way to monetize music in a world in which people aren’t willing to pay for it and can easily acquire it without doing so. Any discussion of it usually ends up with someone saying, “Well, people *should* pay for it.” Yes, I agree. But they’re not, and they won’t. They just won’t. It’s not going to happen, no matter how much we tell people it’s wrong.

    I mean, put it this way: This world in which free is normal didn’t happen overnight. When the whole thing started, everyone from Metallica on down was making the argument that music shouldn’t be stolen, and the generally accepted way to purchase music was on disc. But it still happened, and to the degree at which it became the norm. So, now what?

  15. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • I would argue that having easy access to technology does not make you a craftsman. Just because you have access to an easy-to-use “dictaphone device” doesn’t mean that you should use it; not everybody who CAN make a record SHOULD.

      Not sure I want an amateur plumber fixing my drain.

    • although this guy sounds like hes telling kids should get off his front lawn, Im not sure he deserved all these down votes, he’s got a few good points. Sometimes kids shouldnt be on that lawn.

    • perfectly said. Love it or leave, do not expect anything

  16. this is simply the evolution of the industry. lets be honest…everyone wants to be a musician or an actor or an artist, and still have stability and a house and kids and a family and healthcare…but its just not in the cards. you either move to LA or pursue your dreams or you don’t. its the way of the world that not everyone gets what they want. if you choose the route of risk, then you may end up poor and disappointed (hopefully the art fulfills you). If you choose the less riskier route, the art becomes a passion that is similar to a second job, not something you count on to live by but something that fulfills your life.

    the music industry and technology are the way they are…things have changed, and you have to adapt or die, there’s no point in fighting it. the amount of music being made and released is growing exponentially every year, not everyone is going to pay for it or listen to all of it. but if you can get it for free you’re going to listen to alot more of it, and i think thats a trend everyone is seeing.

    seriously though, you gotta get real, not everyone is kurt cobain, not everyone is in grizzly bear…if you’re talented, dedicated, lucky and are in the right place at the right time, maybe the stars will shine on you, but not everyone deserves to be able to live the dream life off of selective occupations that many people would like to do. people have to be realistic

  17. Here’s a recent interview where Ed talks about his relationship with the Ed Droste of Hooters fame, and whether he’s seeing any of that money:

  18. I think the Billy Corgan interview is relevant to this. Say what you will about him, but maybe the uncomfortable truth is that the “indie scene” isn’t producing as many acts with crossover potential even comparable to bands about ten years ago like The Strokes, The White Stripes, Arcade Fire, and Modest Mouse. That seemed to stop in the late 2000s for whatever reason.

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

      • That is completely untrue. There is a number of excellent bands that have emerged in the last two to three years alone. And great music is still being released.

        • I agree there’s lots of great bands that people like you and me will like, but none of them really have the goods to start turning on lots of mainstreamers, so they won’t make much money.

        • Great music isn’t necessarily pop music though. If you want to make money you need to write music that is accessible to lots of people. I can’t think of a single crossover album this year

          • I agree with this a lot. But thinking about it further, shouldn’t “two weeks” count as a crossover hit? Or Cheerleader. Shouldnt those singles have generated a lot more sales? Is the problem that the minor labels just cant advertise their material anymore? And whats the point of even getting a hit on the radio? Who listens to the radio, soccer moms in their 40s? Is it possible to get a crossover hit in this fragmented media era? My best hypothesis is that in this fragmented era, there haven’t been any crossover his like the white stripes etc because….. where is the mainstream anyway?

            So I guess I agree with miguelito1 a lot. The music being made lately is great to me, in a some ways I think its the best ever. But its seriously weird. Its like bebop Jazz weird. And even when one of the bands writes the song that could bring new people in…….. how in the world could you ever get it in front of them? And then would they even spend money on it?

            Sorry that was so long guys. I hope it made sense.

          • There’s a LOT of truth to what you say, sadly. The avenues are kind of disappearing. But still, the songs/acts that could potentially break out of the underground aren’t really materializing much.

            I think a good test case for this discussion should be Wild Belle and their song Keep You. That song should at least catapult them to a Santigold level of crossover. It started a major label bidding war at SXSW. Their debut album will come out in the spring. A charismatic super-hot young white chick fronts the band. Nothing from what I’ve heard of theirs so far has TRUE crossover potential, but they should at least make something of a Santigold-level splash. If they fail to do that, that’s a sign that the current crossover avenues really are fading.

            P.S. speaking of loss leader – records have ALWAYS been loss leaders unless you were Phil Collins. whether it was record companies stealing the money back in the day or kids “stealing” the music today. all the money has ALWAYS been in touring and merch. so the internet has only been a big help. bands blaming “the times” are just looking for excuses.

        • I don’t think many would say that there is no good music being released, but an albums like Shields and Centipede Hz (whatever their merits) are never going to have the potential to reach more people like say Elephant or Good News for People Who Like Bad News have. You can see the crossover in other genres from vaguely “alternative”/left of center artists (see Frank Ocean with 300k sales this year), but just not in “indie rock.”

          • Very true. I think one factor here is the level of self-segregation going on today both in life and neighborhoods and on the internet. Everyone in Williamsburg or Silver Lake likes these albums so it seems pretty mainstream to us, while in the rest of the world, they’re not even on the radar. Also I think there’s a dynamic where bands choose to live in those neighborhoods or Portland or Austin and they find great communities of other musicians, which is awesome…but then people get satisfied in that and are embarrassed to write really good songs that everyone can like because if they fail, that good community can turn on you. Whereas I don’t think REM or the Replacements ever worried about that kind of crap.

  19. I’d like to see more debates like this on here.

  20. This ironic part of this discussion for musicians and songwriters is that if your music strays too far to the wrong side of the ‘commercially appealing’ line in an attempt to make a living, you will be eviscerated by the indie gatekeepers.
    “Mumford & Sons are in the costume business. They’re playing dress-up in threadbare clothes.”
    “…this is ‘corporate indie.’ You almost hope Young the Giant acquiesced to some music executives’ request to compromise their style, because nothing else sufficiently explains a debut so devoid of personality.”

  21. Alternative artists rarely rake it in for the very fact that they are alternative/indie. Fans then cry foul when their beloved artists sell out. Support your artists if you wish to keep them from losing their magic.

  22. Anyone else think it’s ironic that while this article really focuses on alt rock/indie groups can’t make money because the record companies are pushing the likes of One Direction, Katy Perry, etc., the banner ad blasts Bruno Mars right as you open the page?

  23. Yeah I like the comments about this also being about the genre of music. We seem to be in the tail end of rock. I imagine this is what it was like for Jazz guys in the 80s/90s. Imagine if there was an article about a current Jazz band that was complaining about not making a living. People would be like….. duh….

    So I guess my question is, how are minor/alt/up and coming rap bands fairing? Are these genres making money?

    • ridiculous. do you know how many times that’s been said about rock? early 60′s, late 70′s, late 80′s, late 90′s. rock has been dead and back countless times. but yeah, it’s definitely about as dead now as ever.

      p.s. disposable genres like rap have been hit way harder by downloading, plus those guys don’t really tour…so the only money is in Kesha, etc.

      • I don’t think it’s fair at all to call rap a “disposable genre.” See Illmatic, The Blueprint, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, etc.

        • oh, totally. i meant like the mainstream of rap, which has been notoriously flavor-of-the-minute and difficult for people to sustain careers in. even Nas can’t exactly count on each album to reach a lot of people. Although that’s starting to change now that great artists like the ones you mentioned have been around long enough and proved their staying power.

          but it’s a more disposable genre than rock in the sense that the rap audience is mostly composed of teens and tweens (as far as who buys most of the records) so like, say, disney-pop or emo-pop it’s a more disposable genre than something like rock or country where people get more attached to artists’ careers.

          • yeahhh i dunno. Teens and tweens drive sales. They sustained The Beatles/most rock. The artists quoted above ( The Blueprint, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) are the mainstream of rap. You might be making the opposite cliche mistake of me, by dismissing rap like older people dismissed rock in the 50s and 60s.

            I dont think rock is dead. jazz isnt really dead either. Its just very very niche now. I see the same thing happening to rock. Unless Rap artists are dead in the water too, in which case everyone is screwed. :)

          • I haven’t commented on here and forever, but I can’t resist when someone makes a comment like “disposable genres like rap have been hit way harder by downloading, plus those guys don’t really tour…so the only money is in Kesha, etc.” That is ignorant as ****. Have you ever heard of a mixtape? I would argue with the history of the mixtape that there is a (proven) much stronger bond between countless rap artists and their respective audience members but you would probably ignore whatever I said as you think it is a disposable genre…

  24. This might be a dumb idea, but why don’t more bands use KickStarter as a means of receiving money for their music? Couldn’t they just set a donation minimum (say $1m, which, given the size of the fan base for a band like Grizzly Bear wouldn’t be completely out of the question) to pay for their living expenses, recording costs, etc. and live off that until they make their next record? They wouldn’t distribute the music until they received the money. Yes, royalties are taken out of the equation, but if they’re worried about album sales and such, as the current situation stands, why not just say fuck it to that and just make as much money as they think they can up front? I’m not at all savvy to the benefits of a record labels, so I don’t know what the effects of taking out the middle man here would be, but I’m interested to know why more bands don’t try this.

    • first of all, amanda palmer and deaken. Second, why would people donate money when they weren’t willing to support by just buying the album? Third: it’s kind of tacky to beg for money via kickstarter

    • Whatever the merits of this model, it would be difficult to put it into effect unless a huge chunk of current artists adopted it at the same time. So one band might not make another album if I don’t donate to this Kickstarter campaign? Hmm, what’s new on Spotify this week?

  25. Is rock dead as a genre that will continue to evolve, shape the musical landscape, and remain vital? Serious question. Why or why not?

    • Of course not. It just needs a major kick in the ass, now more than ever.

    • its changed a lot. Its definitely becoming more niche. It doesn’t seem to be drawing in as many young people. I don’t think its going away tomorrow, for instance. But then, look at history. Look at jazz, crooners, ragtime, classical, musicals. These are all genres that are still influences on people today. There are still great musicians contributing to these musical genres. But are they a part of the popular music landscape? Not really.

      If I really had to guess toward the future, I will say that rock will continue to become more niche and rap music will expand more and become more mannerist and personal. I think rap will eventually shed its gangster image, people like The Streets and Kitty Pryde have already made breakthroughs in that. And it will take a lot more Rock influence. (which I think Twisted Fantasy and Kid Cudi have started to, for instance.)

      I cant see rock remaining a genuinely popular music genre forever, is all. There will be pop and there will be rap. And then Rap will eventually fade as it becomes too weird and niche, and then there will be pop and “that other uppity music genre…probably something with computers….”

      But it will continue to evolve and be loved and remain somewhat popular. For instance, I dont think Grizzley Bear would have been defined as rock in the 70s. Animal Collective sort of get pushed into the indie rock genre and I don’t know what the heck they really are. If theres guitars with them they sure dont sound like them. So there will be more progressive bands in the future. But I cant see it lasting as popular music forever. Although I can hope….

      sorry that was so long..

      • As much as I don’t like them, Mumford and Sons are very very popular. I think “rock” in the (near) future will be more acoustic/folk driven. Bon Iver has also made inroads into the mainstream.

        • Yes. Also, sorry, I completely forgot country. Thats a huge industry. But the “weird” bands aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they seem to be getting better. They just aren’t going to be making a living at it, apparently.

          • Niche bands will always have their small-ish fans. But spot on about not being able to make a decent living out of it on its own. They NEED to supplement that with another (maybe) music related job.

          • Hey Andri. Thats a good point about supplemental income. Jim Eno, the drummer from Spoon, is apparently doing well for himself recording and producing other bands. Steve Albini is doing ok. Once you get that brand people will pay to collaborate with you. This is especially true in bands where the main songwriter is one or two guys. Its a little different for Grizzly Bear, but especially in bands like Spoon Jim Eno really has the right idea. Its not like he’s going to be writing a spoon song or something when the band has downtime.

          • Britt actually did ask the others to write ideas for Spoon stuff during the downtime so let’s hope Jim does.

          • @miguelito1 yeah i read that…. I have a bad feeling about that… hope im wrong tho.

    • Rock will never die; genres shall always shift and permutate – Just as punk “replaced” prog and grunge ushered out hair metal. When a group manages to capture and articulate the mass’ frustration and imagination, factoring in timing and socio-political relevance, proper management, promotion, luck and a healthy dose of sheer talent & determination, we have our next seismic shift.

  26. A good discussion about what is, and what isn’t. However, it contains only a sprinkling of discussion about what will be. And the reality is that music is in a transitional period, and no one is really sure what it is going to be – though quite a few people are trying to figure it out.

    The devolution of the music ‘industry’ is good for artists in some ways – the minimization of the importance of the major label gatekeepers can only be a blessing, but there are other gatekeepers emerging in the new model, whether they be tastemakers, film/television music directors, festival bookers etc. The technological advances make it possible for damn near anyone to create a record and at least put it in a place where it can be heard by literally millions of people, if those millions cared or were capable of finding it. However, one result is that finding great music is no longer finding a needle in a haystack. It is finding a needle in a stack of needles.

    A part of the change in economics is driven by the cost side of the equation, and in this respect the skew in the new, internet-driven music ‘industry’ was created in the transition. A set of 1s and 0s is infinitely scalable at no cost, so why were we introduced to the digital era by being asked to pay $10 for a record on iTunes? Is is surprising that, given the choice between paying $10 for a fileset or obtaining the same thing for free, a large segment chose free? If an artist is going to make $2 or 3 or 4 off of a CD, where the price includes the cost of physical production and distribution and artwork, etc., and, to some degree, supports THOSE segments of the business, why should the artist get any more than that for a digital download that includes none of those costs? Shouldn’t we view the cost of a download as simply that portion that would otherwise have gone to the artists, plus some fairly negligible overhead costs? If we had been conditioned to the idea that while a physical record costs $12, a virtual one might cost $4, would we see the same impulse towards ‘free’? I don’t know, but it does seem that the assumptions built into ‘what things used to cost’ need to be jettisoned if a sustainable model can be fashioned.

    With regard to streaming, paid or otherwise, if it isn’t embraced it will also gut the old model. The other major change, in addition to the cost side, is the change in the way people consume music., And one thing that is happening with a large segment is that the concept of “owning” music, i.e actually buying and storing copies of records, whether physically or digitally, is giving way to the concept of “listening” to music that is widely available for that purpose. And while Spotify payouts remain paltry, the model is that artists aren’t getting paid for records that people may buy, but not listen to very often, but rather will be paid more if people listen to the record more. We aren’t comfortable with it, and we may not like it very much, but the shift in Europe to this mode of consumption is very apparent, and the trick is to figure out how to make this work, in a long-term sustainable way, for artists.

    The discussion of what was, and what is, and what is wrong with each of those, is interesting, but it is merely wankery if it isn’t used to inform and shape what will be. We aren’t going back to what was. Hell, the way things are now isn’t even going to last that long.

    With regard to the argument that there just isn’t any great music these days – well, I feel sorry for those who feel that way. They are missing out on a lot of tremendous music, much of it being played by people who are barely being heard. And much of it is accessible enough – hell, even ‘classic’ enough in its forms or its sounds – to have broad appeal, if only it were heard by a broad audience. Oddly, no one seems to be asking what the plight of GBear would be if they hadn’t been played on TV…

    • you’re right – there seems to be no real solution in sight for the time being.

      I can count my blessings that I have a stable job with a nice income AND still play music with a few bands and put out some decent releases. But ive settled to the fact that I am not gonna make money out of it at all.

    • Good call on the digital downloads initially and still costing too much. There are studies that when Ebooks are priced at a dollar, they sell order of magnitudes more.

  27. I, probably like many others, am torn on this issue. On one side, I think the internet/downloading not only exposed more artists to the public (think Azealia Banks, Weeknd, Lana Del Rey (ew), Iceage, Radiohead (“Kid A” blew up after it was leaked on the internet), etc) but also makes listening and exploring music easier for those who don’t have a the income to buy random albums just to see if they are good or not. However, I do fee the need to support those artists who I want to hear more, lots more from.

    I’m not going to pretend to be morally superior but I think there are ways to download free music AND support great artists. For my part, I do the following:

    1. If I like the album, I post reviews/YouTube videos on social websites to get more people interested who wouldn’t normally listen to said artists
    2. I see LOTS of concerts
    3. I encourage my friends to go to concerts with me and sometimes buy tickets for them

    I guess in my way I feel I am supporting my favorite artists. I feel a $50 concerts ticket supports them more than a $9.99 download on iTunes or a $15.99 physical album purchase.

    For example:
    I downloaded two tUnE-yArDs albums which in total would have costed ~$20 on iTunes. However, I have seen her 3 times in concert totally close ~$60.
    I downloaded three Dirty Projectors albums (~$30) and saw them for about $40.
    And yes, I am seeing Grizzly Bear next week for ~$50 and the albums would’ve cost ~$30 to buy.

    I’m not actually sure if the artists get a bigger cut but I like to believe I’m doing my part to support them. I also know not many people are able to make it to concerts as much as I might be able to.

    So, I guess all I can see is. See LOTS of live music. Go to as many concerts as you can. Take friends too. You probably saving enough to buy them a ticket once and a while too. Plus, you get the added bonus of having people think you’re really cool for seeing a lot of live music. If you can’t afford or go to concerts, do something to expose these artists to people who can.

    Just my two cents.

    • Forgive the typos. It’s late and I’m tired. :)

    • It’s great to attend concerts, but the most helpful thing you can do is to go to a concert AND buy a record (or t-shirt, tape, 7″, whatever) from the artist/band).

      The money you spend on a concert goes into an overall total, a pre-guaranteed amount of which goes to the band. By attending a show, you help the promoter make enough money to pay the band what they have already been promised; if the promoter doesn’t make enough money, he/she has to pay out of pocket to the band regardless. Out of that pool of money, the venue, sound engineer, promoter, lighting person, artist, and their food/drinks have to be paid; so yeah, if enough people don’t show up to support the artist (read: cover all these costs), it’s unlikely that a promoter will take that chance again.

      But when you buy a record (or something else) from a merch table you are directly helping the band/artist pay the bills. Pretty cool.

      • Similar thing happens when you buy directly from an artist’s website (at least some of the time). Also a great strategy if for some reason you can’t make it out to shows.

  28. The one thing that I see as missing from this discussion is context.

    Maybe you should try and look up how many people in the US are on foodstamps or trying to survice in other ways in this day and age. Even today Nirvana would never have made the money they did at the time, because the economic and social context has changed dramatically. The comparison with Nirvana is pretty unrealistic. And we all know how happy all those millions did make Kurt Cobain. So better be careful with what you wish for.

    Add to that all the gizmos that are now commonplace, from the internet to gaming consoles, to ipods, iphones and ipads… and don’t forget the simple fact that you can only spend your dollar once. There is simply not as much money available for music now as there was in the 80s or even the 90s, because a lot of the “available money” – I hate the term disposable income – is already spent elsewhere. Only my internet connection is costing the music industry 3 to 4 CDs per month so to speak.

    When I grew up, music was the only thing I cared about and pretty much the only thing of interest available to me and even most of my generation. I pretty much spent all my money on buying music in those days. That has definitely changed. The consumer society has exploded over the last couple of decades and there are so many “need to have” options available, that as a logical consequence music no longer has the perceived value that it once had.

    And let’s not forget that for every Nirvana there’s a couple of thousand bands we probably never even heard of.

    As for the “I deserve to be paid for my work” point of view. I’m running a couple of music related sites, a blog and a music video site. Although I’m running ads on them I have untill now not made a single cent on them. I even end up paying for hosting out of my own pockets every month. I spend on average 4-5 hours per day every day of the week on updating them… don’t I deserve to get paid for my work too then? I hardly ever even get as much as a thank you, not from artists I help promote, not from labels and not even from most of our visitors. (Commenting every now and then is too much work I guess). So should I get grumpy and start complaining about this situation as well then? I learned to just live with it and accept it as it is. I can pull the plug on all of it on any given day if it really should become too much. But still… where’s my right to be paid for my work?

    There are millions of volunteers out there working for charities and whatnot else, they have the right to be paid for their work as well. Still… they do what they do without ever getting any financial reward from it or even expecting any.

    I have no problem with some people getting rich from what they’re doing. I don’t envy millionaires or even billiionaires. Whether they are Simon Cowell who got ridiculously rich with what is probably the worst TV show ever, or some big investing hot shot. But getting rich is not some sort of entitlement. It is not because you’re a musician, and even a succesful musician that you have the “right” to, or are entitled to become a millionaire. That’s taking the exception for the rule. Music should first and foremost be a hobby, and if you’re lucky – and maybe even you’re good enough – you might get the opportunity to make a career out of your hobby one day. To start out trying to make a career out of it is unrealistic and misguided. Disappointment and frustration are already preprogrammed in any such case.

    If I had ever started my sites thinking they were gonna make me loads of money I would have been an idiot. I probably am anyway ;)

    And in closing, a word about value: if nobody is willing to pay for a product, for whatever reason, and for any product, then the REAL value of that product is ZERO. Even Gold, Ferraris, Porsches and BMWs would be worthless if nobody would be willing to pay for them. It is NOT what you invested in your music that determines its REAL value. It is what people are willing to pay for it that does. Like it or not. All the rest are just intellectual abstractions and ultimately distractons.

    • All these posts about how music should be considered a “hobby” from the get-go are making me sick to my stomach. Musicians have always struggled to make a living from what they do, and it’s hard to imagine anyone telling Schoenberg or Berg or Partch to consider what they see as a burning passion–their life’s work–a hobby. “Go push some grocery carts, Harry!” “Get a degree in accounting!”

      The only reason people get music for free is because they can; it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t pay for it if it weren’t available for free. When it stops being available for the taking, it will suddenly reclaim what you call its “value.”

      To Moore’s point about sporting events being more valuable to people: I bet we would see a change in sporting events, too, if droves were suddenly able to get into sports games or get sports gear for free.

      • The discussion here is about pop/riock music, at least that’s how I understood it. Comparing it with classical composers isn’t very helpful. Most people that are classically trained have several ‘career’ options available that the average pop/rock artist will never have. Your point is taken as far as those musicians are concerned.

        I don’t think that the number of people being able to get their music for free is as important as the increasing lack of interest in popular music in general.

        I’ve been watching some festival streams on youtube a couple of weeks ago, and during the performances of some of todays top acts I clicked through to see how many people were actually watching that stream at that moment. Some of the biggest top acts had less than 6.000 people watching at the time. I reloaded the page several times during the live performance (in another browser tab) and 6.000 was about the absolute maximum. That surely was a reality check for me. Less than 6000 viewers worldwide! Most of the acts actually were hovering around 1500 to 2000 viewers for their live performance. That’s on youtube with millions of visitors every day and those festival streams were advertised on every single youtube page in the header and they had been announced on just about every music blog or music site that I know of.

        I was shocked to see how few people are really interested in music nowadays. The discussion about free music or piracy is obfuscating a truth that some people simply don’t want to own, and rather prefer to deny: the interest of the general population in music is far less than it has been in the past. Maybe some of us are simply too involved to be able to see it, leave alone be willing to accept it.

        I won’t be drawn into to a piracy discussion anymore. I’ve said it before on numerous occasions: piracy is not the problem. It’s a symptom, yes, but not more than that. The real issues are much more profound and complicated. There has been a cultural shift in that music is a lot less important to a large majority of people. And that will logically also translate into lower sales overall. People have many more choices and obviously other priorities than they had 20 years ago. And that’s where their money goes.

        • true, but depressing.

        • I don’t think this is accurate. People are recording and releasing more music today than they ever have; this suggests that they’re so interested in music that they’re willing to sacrifice time and money to create it. The trend you’re noticing, I think, is audience atomization, not audience reduction. Because there’s such a broad variety of easily-available music these days, our tastes grow increasingly specific and granular. It’s harder to draw fifty thousand people to a concert when there are nine other concerts going on in town on the same night; instead, every concert draws five thousand.

          Chris Anderson’s excellent book The Long Tail has a lot more to say about this idea, if you’re interested:

          • Come on Doug, the longtail theory/philosphy has been debunked so often I can hardly believe you’d be willing to still refer to it. You’re living in denial, even if it is pseudo-scientifically justfied denial. The numbers are out they’re plain to see for everybody that is willing to look.

            If only 6.000 people out of a global audience of millions are interested in watching a live performance on a youtube live stream by a contemporay top act – and a mainstream one, not even some marginal indie act – then your longtail will end up between somebody’s legs. Pardon the pun.

            Trying to reason it away is not gonna be of any use if you really want to get down to the bottom of what is really going on here… and obviously… it’s a worldwide phenomenon. Despite all the promotion and all the free advertising only 6000 people can be bothered to watch it. Even in the comfort of their own home.

            And I’m talking about the audience at large, not the number of people who still choose to make music for whatever reason or with whatever ambition they may have.

      • Yes, if people could get into sporting events for free, athlete pay would likely fall as a result. If there were dozens of comparable leagues competing for the same group of fans, athlete pay would likely fall as well. If home viewers found a way to block out the advertising that flocks every broadcast, advertisers would pull their support, and athlete pay would ultimately fall. Fortunately for LeBron James and Tom Brady, none of these things have come to pass. But maybe they will.

        This stuff is basic economics. Music is incredibly abundant and accessible to consumers, so they aren’t willing to pay much for it, no matter how costly it is to produce.

  29. longtime reader, but never bothered to sign up for the comments section… until now.

    i find the basis for the argument (regarding grizzly bear’s financial status) null and void until we actually know the average yearly income of the band members.

    there are so many variables that are at play, that i think it is an unfair assumption to state that the band is not (or cannot be) financial stable without actually STATING THEIR AVG YEARLY INCOME.

    obviously, off-years during the tail end of a touring cycle will be a lean year. new record cycles would theoretically account for the median; while full-blown touring years would attribute for the majority of their income.

    i believe some of the facts the ny mag stated can be skewed in favor of the reporter’s argument because they are colored by the thesis of the article. for example, it states that ed droste lives in a 450sq ft apt. This implies that he is living in squalor or below middle class standards. However, it does not state HOW MUCH he pays for the apartment. He lives in NY. I don’t know if it’s the city or a borough, but if he is living on the upper east side or tribeca, then shit-ass small apartments can go for $2k a month easily. Even if he was paying much less than that, maybe he chose a small apartment BECAUSE HE IS GONE FOR MOST OF THE YEAR TOURING.

    it also stated chris bear or taylor did not have health insurance. this is quite ambiguous. generally speaking, for a man his age, without PRE EXISTING CONDITIONS, he can apply for the lowest tier personal health insurance for around $60 a month. who knows if he has a ridiculous medical history and they would only approve him for a ludicrous premium. moreover, the band should be able to have a joint health insurance by creating an llc, which would lower their premiums significantly.

    dan rossen stated that he wishes he would be able to support a wife and children but the income he receives does not lend well to that lifestyle. we do not know his current spending habits and we do not know what kind of debt he is in. he could, theoretically, be living paycheck to paycheck due to debt and/or frivolous spending…. which means he has saved nary a dime.

    i would like to state that this does not mean that i think musicians do not have it rough. i think it is a grueling profession that only a small, small few can live comfortably from. i just believe that it is unfair to assume that grizzly bear in particular are living in destitute without us seeing a balance sheet.

    ps. my apologies for misspellings or poor grammar… it is very late and i do not wish to proof read

    • sorry.. i meant to say “…living in destitution…”

      moreover, i would like to point out that we have no idea how their royalty splits are divided up. we do not know their publishing and licensing fees. we have no idea if they are in debt to warp and how they split physical release revenue. we have no idea what kind of deals they have with management, publicity and booking. for all we know, they may be locked into some raw deals. who knows.

      i think its also fair to say that there are many strata of professional musicians. i would place grizzly bear in the lower-mid level of the spectrum. just because they are critical darlings and have a song on a vw commercial does not necessarily place them in a position to be generating large sums of income.

    • yeah. This is true, we dont know how they are managing their money. Or what their perspective on money is. People are down voting these sorts of comments but if it is true some of the members are from great wealth, then their perspectives might be different. Peoples ideas on money vary wildly and its impossible to take anyone at their word. Or otherwise normal people I know and respect sometimes make outlandish expenditures to my eyes.

      Also. This third album could be the one that “makes” them. Spoon took forever to get financially solvent. I think untill GaGaGaGaGa Jim Eno still had a full time job. And then after they found reasonable financial success they went on hiatus.. Or the Walkmen. They almost broke up after 100 Miles Off. They still arent making millions. So. The idea that Grizzly Bear should be totally raking it in after two albums is a little off. It seems you at least three solid album to build the sort of base that most career rock bands have earned. Its not a question of “making it” anymore so much as it is building a slow foundation.

      Lastly…. im pretty sure even the Kinks drummer had a part or full time job throughout the sixties…

  30. I’m half-way reading the article and one word came to mind: STRATEGY

  31. It’s not just about money. The respect gained from your peers and your audience that comes from having produced something great is a reward that it’s impossible to put a price on, and I have always found it to be one of the key motivating factors in producing any kind of art, but especially performative art such as music. Music is a cultural good, not a product. It has a more complex relationship with value than bread or television sets, although those items do carry certain cultural weight too (in status terms).

  32. I think one major point people are forgetting is the perceived “value” of a record sale in the INDUSTRY as mentioned in the article. The more albums you sell, (yes the band gets their cut sometimes good, sometimes bad depending on the deal), the more the big wigs take notice ie: grammy voters, radio stations, festival promoters etc…..There’s a lot weight you can throw around within the industry with record sale numbers, and so thusly this is why I think in all honesty it’s still probably the best way to support an artist. An itunes sale or a vinyl, it all adds up and while Grizzly Bear will never sell 600K in their first week, or probably cumulatively like Mumford and Sons did this past week thanks major label money, endless radio and a weird zeitgeist desire for british sing a long bar anthems, them (GB) making inroads with record sales can only help their position to grow.

    So yes, it’s a dying industry, but the industry still cares about sales.

  33. The reason Grizzly Bear isn’t making money is cause they aren’t taking advantage of many of the smart moves bands do to make money today. There is so merch, upselling or pre-orders for their music. We also have no idea how much they are giving to management, booking, label, lawyer, etc. I wrote a longer piece about this below. But is you have numerous people taking 10-15% of your profits there isn’t much left for you.

  34. The path to the key… is that musicians, and really, artists of all mediums, have not lately been able to keep hold of a clear understanding of their group existence.

    Think of the visual arts in the 20th century up until a certain point … Those were human beings who at least in hindsight appear to have appreciated that as a large group they were accomplishing a beautiful and multifaceted amount of cultural innovation and a fairly constant and meaningful celebration of the art forms that they loved.

    The sum of their parts appears to have been felt as a presence. Both Doug and James totally seem to say that they understand this about music, and it makes me very happy.
    Yet there are enough musicians who, as Doug suggests, are content to live in an identity bubble and not think about how music as a coherent whole, as its own cultural creature of dynamic proportions and identities.
    As long as that true form of music is obscured, a great deal of strength and energy is left untouched. Music as a unified and essential culture among humans suffers when it is merely implied, and would flourish when newly explored and newly celebrated.

  35. The majority of today’s moderately successful bands would simply be yesterday’s ‘king of the scene’, local bands. Without internet exposure and file sharing, most would be lucky to get regional College radio airplay and an opening slot for the national act that came through town.
    So, increased exposure does not equal a right to Nirvana-type money.
    1,000,000 yt views does not equal $1,000,000.
    And most of the popular bands from the past, didn’t make nearly as much money as was propagandized.

  36. There’s so much going on in the NYMag piece its helpful to separate some points out:

    #1 Being a musician is a shaky economic decision – this has always been the case. Even when people bought albums there were way more losers than winners. Plenty of seemingly successful acts back in the day were in debt up to their ears to their labels, lawyers etc… and most never even made it that far.

    #2 The Internet/Piracy has turned the industry upside down – notice I didn’t say its made things worse because that’s not always the case. Sure, a lot of artists are losing out on a revenue stream, but would a band like Grizzly Bear be as popular as they are without a lot of people sampling them for free? I think even they would admit that’s doubtful.

    #3 Succeeding in the indie rock world is incredibly tough – this is the first major genre of music that has come of age in the free all-you-can-eat-digital-buffet age. Audiences and the music “media” (thanks to blogs/comment boards there is now a huge overlap between the two) are fickle and have extremely short attention spans, therefore career cycles are incredibly compressed . There are lots of bands from other eras and genres that never got “huge” yet still tour and manage to eke out okay livings meanwhile half the acts on Pitchfork’s top 100 from just a few years ago are long forgotten. If Grizzy Bear played country, metal, reggae or something like that perhaps they could look forward to building a modest but loyal fan base that would stick with them for the long run and maybe even pay for their music even though its not really necessary anymore. In the indie world, its all they can do to hold on to the spotlight long enough to make the year-end lists.

    • And most importantly,
      #4 There is a misconception regarding the amount of money successful indie bands make. To me, that is the most salient point of the NY Mag article. It is not about whether Grizzly Bear is rich or not rich, or why they are rich or not rich, it is that the fans and general public don’t have an accurate read on how much money these bands make.

      The truth of the matter is this. Top-tier indie bands, or bands whose records are consistently debuting on the top 50 Billboard chart, have members that make between $5,000 and $30,000 per year. These are bands that perform regularly on Letterman, etc, who consistently sell out 500-1000+ seat venues in the US, Europe, and Australia, and who tour for 6-9 months per year.

  37. A few opinions I have about the state of things:

    -The amount of money made by major rock bands pre-internet was probably artificially inflated due to the major-business strategies of record labels, and artifically high $20+ prices for CDs.

    -Pre-internet there may have been more wealth, but it was probably concentrated in fewer bands, in less diverse bands, and bands probably had less control over their own music and image.

    -While it may still be difficult for a band like Grizzly Bear to receive major radio play, it is probably mostly due to the increased accessibility of music today that bands as interesting as them are able to consistenly play large festival sets, sell their music for major advertisements, and consistantly sell out mid-range venues (another example, Crystal Castles started out as a posting of somewhat unfinished tracks on myspace; fans now have a bigger part in dictating who is big and it is largely due to a raw appreciation of the music, which I think is nice). mainstream new music largely used to be disseminated based on what record executives predicted might have been a radio hit and what might be worth marketing (there has obviously always been an “indy” scene, but I don’t think it was the same as today, with hallmark “indy” bands sometimes drawing crowds of 40k+ at festivals etc)

    -While a band like Grizzly Bear probably never would’ve seen the success they are seeing now in a pre-internet, major-record-label era, their success is now less financially meaningful due to the double edged sword of the level of free music accessibility. The overall collective of fans pays much less for music, and pays much less often. without that initially free exposure, the band might never have gotten so big (people aren’t realistically going to buy all 15,000 songs in their iTunes libraries, but as an up and coming band its probably a better marketing tool, and more artistically satisfying, to have people hear your music for free than not at all), but now that they are big the free exposure limits their monetary success, and they have all the financial burdens of a major touring act.

    I guess the question as fans is what we can do about this? The internet has unquestionably resulted in a proliferation of genres and a mainstreaming of artistic creativity, and the fact that bands like grizzly bear, dirty projectors, tune-yards, etc now sell out large venues, when in a pre-internet environment they probably would not have ever even made it to the 930 club. I saw grizzly bear just a few weeks ago, and bought one of their shirts, but I have also never paid a dime for a grizzly bear song, and it definitely disappoints me to hear that they have such a financially slim margin. Honestly, I sort of hope that concert ticket prices go up a bit. I personally value live shows a huge amount, and would be completely willing to pay $30-$40 to see an awesome grizzly bear show rather than the $15-$25 that I tend to be charged for shows right now.

  38. If music is becoming less important to people, first of all, that’s a symptom of a dehumanized culture, as music is considered our first and most primal form of communication, but second, it could be THE RESULT of file sharing in a culture obsessed with financial value over personal worth. Functional truth is incredibly flexible, which creates the need for a society to articulate its boundaries of truth, the pursuit of virtually every artist in every field. If this need is dead, so is the society.

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  40. Any band in Grizzly Bear’s position is in a position to have health insurance. These guys aren’t doing badly. Are they Donald Trump? No. But they need to seek new management if they can’t squeeze some money out of their well-deserved hype.

    On to the conversation. Yes, it’s a silly one, and does indeed show the differences in experience and thus mindset (or vice versa) between a 25-year-old and a 30-something.

    I’m friends with a musician who played with Bowie and other well-known artists in the 80′s and 90′s (and who continues to be successful today). According to him and other musicians on that level, in the 80′s a person could live in NYC, have a PART TIME job at a pizzeria, and make rent. Try that now! Try it with a full-time job at a pizzeria! My point? There was a TON of time to dedicate to honing one’s craft — practicing an instrument, writing, rehearsing, etc. Does Moore not believe in dedicating a significant amount of time to his craft? If not, I can’t take him seriously when he talks about playing music, and IF SO, his argument holds no water. Many of the musicians I know practice hours a day when they’re not working (yes, hours plural — often practicing all day, and sometimes going to practice after a long day’s work). The fact is this: likely ALL (if not almost all) of the bands that have been considered the greatest, most influential in their genre, from Al Green to the Beatles to Talk Talk to Nirvana to Pantera to ___(fill in great/influential band here)___ have been PAID FOR MAKING MUSIC, AND MADE A LIVING, IF NOT A LIFETIME SAVINGS, from it. They were paid to have enough time to create something that transcended what they could have done with a half an hour a day to dedicate to their art.

    Perhaps “would-be” professionals don’t have a moral monopoly on the art form, but they’re in agreement with ACTUAL professionals, whose opinions definitely matter more than someone who just picked up her/his instrument a year ago. Moore is making a flimsy excuse for the state of music and for the corporate hijacking of our economy. I’m pissed that people have to work harder to pay higher rents, and that musicians are having a harder and harder time making ends meet. And I’m not going to pretend that because it’s a reality that makes it ok, or that working several jobs to make ends meet is somehow helping musicians (as Moore seems to imply) by keeping their art “pure” (for God’s sake man, he IS 25). And I’m not saying it isn’t possible to make great music, or an amazing first record, while in this predicament, but a great first record should be the start of a way out of that, which is less the case today than it’s been in recent decades (though not impossible). I can appreciate that Moore is sticking with it and working hard, and I respect both of these musicians as they’re creating music through adverse conditions beyond anyone’s control, but Toth’s perspective is more in line with reality I think — his has more respect for art and music because it asks for a way for artists/musicians to have the space to grow through having ENOUGH time to hone their craft.

    • I think I made it pretty clear that I don’t particularly like the way things are. Believe it or not, I don’t enjoy having to bust my ass all day before going to band practice or woodshedding at home. I don’t do it because I think it keeps my art “pure” (not sure where you got that idea). I do it because I need to eat, and if I want to eat, I need to work. I care about the facts on the ground, not ideals. Screeching about how we need to respect the idea that music has value doesn’t put food on my table; it doesn’t pay rent on my apartment or my practice space; it doesn’t subsidize gear repairs. It’s just useless noise.

      So I ask you, as I’ve asked others here: what should we do to increase musicians’ financial return on their work? What, specifically, should we change? I don’t want more hand-waving about ‘corporate hijacking’ or about how things were better back in the day. I want a specific proposal that you think will give sub-superstar-level musicians the financial wherewithall to quit their day jobs and spend all day making music. Do you have one? Or do you think that us non-rockstars should just throw in the towel, since we can’t possibly be doing anything artistically worthwhile if we need to hold a job at the same time?

      • “The New York Mag piece on Grizzly Bear makes me feel lucky to be a member of a generation of musicians who never expected to be able to quit their day jobs.”

        This was the start of the opinion I formed when reading your thoughts on this issue. Grizzly Bear isn’t in a common situation — there are many bands on their level (and even “lower”) that enjoy monetary success. Again, perhaps they need to check out their management options. So it seemed the start of your argument was based on misinformation.

        That said, again I have respect for anyone who makes music, especially under the adverse conditions of today, so please don’t think I was trash-talking (though I admittedly did get a little intense — I apologize if it came off the wrong way).

        A proposal? In fairness, I don’t see a proposal from your end either, though you may not see the need for one, or the possibility. Your idea seems to be accepting the shitty current reality, but I’m not necessarily comfortable with that (though maybe it’s the only thing one CAN do). I don’t know, honestly. There would have to be huge changes in consciousness, and ideas about human and artistic worth, and there would have to maybe be more money available to artists in the form of grants/stipends/etc (like in Europe and Australia), which won’t happen any time soon. It’s true that people aren’t going to stop downloading free music, or stop making shitty music in their bedrooms and putting it out alongside great records made in great studios (not that the converse can’t happen in each situation). So, I guess a concrete proposal isn’t really possible, but a recognition of the fact that the current model is wrong/messed up definitely is. Anyway good luck with everything. Maybe I’ll try and catch a show sometime.

        • I admittedly don’t pay terribly close attention to bands’ relative sales figures. When you say: “Grizzly Bear isn’t in a common situation — there are many bands on their level (and even “lower”) that enjoy monetary success,” who do you have in mind? What makes these bands/groups different from Grizzly Bear? Do they have lower overhead? (For instance, if we’re talking about a DJ/producer, there’s one band member and almost no gear to deal with, which saves a lot of money.) Or is there something else that’s fundamentally different about their model? If so, that might be a good place to start, at least for the way that bands should handle what money they do acquire.

          If someone does come up with a way to monetize rock music more effectively that I consider feasible, I’ll get behind it. You’re right that I don’t have one, or I’d be trying to tell everyone about it. And even though nobody has, I’m still dead set on making music. That’s where my fatalism comes from—even though I wish things were different, I have to deal with them as they are.

  41. I’d pay 2$ for having read this post because it stimulated my brain nerves. Thank you to the participants and Stereogum.

    I’ll also try to go back and buy Yellow House, although it’s always going to be a balance for me between wanting to pay what I think is fair, wanting to pay for music I really like and wanting to hear music I like as early as I possibly can.

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  43. 1) They are in a line of work that, i would say, everyone desires to be and expression.
    2) All the money in this field of work, or whatever one desires to label it, is controlled by few, just like money distribution throughout the rest of existence.
    3) If an ‘artist’ wants the money, they need to conform to ‘regulations’ of what is considered popular, driven by mass media, as it always has been, and be told what to make by “corporation X” which is whatever record label. What Lady Gaga does. (Do not like her music but the lady is a business genius, find a growing niche, fill it, become an extreme, people buy it, she gets rich, same as it ever was)
    4) Entering the world as an artist comes with risks. There are hazards with any occupation. I am a psychology major, I am not expecting to make any money for a long time. I expect that, but I love what i do. You work with sharks, do not complain when you are bitten. You are a musician. You make music that is truly original and amazing, but you do not fit the majority of societies perception of popular music. Do not complain that you are poor, what else would you expect.
    5) Production of music is growing exponentially, More people making music, less money distributed.
    6) I am also broke. I will listen to albums via grooveshark, stereogum, youtube, etc. When I get money, i will not hesitate to buy the bands album.
    7) love grizzly bear, and many other financially unfortunate bands. But for gods sake, do not complain about being broke. Appreciate that you can actually make music that keeps reality in check. If everyone listened to the music that is labeled mainstream… I do not even want to imagine that. Fucking scary, like out of a sci fi horror movie. Everyone do the same thing at the same time. Only listen to Mumford and sons and Adele and etc etc (not bad musicians, but for the majority of people that is as off the path they get)
    8) You are privileged to make music, do not expect anything, if you do not like being poor, then you should have been a lawyer. Doing something few can do, but many dream of, realize your privilege and influence, and ability to leave a mark, greatest way of self expression.

  44. Pitchfork: What’s it like touring with Grizzly Bear?
    Ruban Nielson: … [At Radio City Music Hall], they had a masseuse backstage– I didn’t get one, I would have felt ridiculous. We had a whole floor of the building to ourselves. If we ever got to Grizzly Bear’s level of success, having lots of naked girls hanging around would be cool.

      • So there are poor poor Grizzly Bear, getting happy endings before and after every show. Bet Ed had a big burly man massaging him too while he wept about how little money he made. Poor Ed. Poor Grizzly Bear. Complaining isn’t gonna get you anywhere Eddie. Neither is jumping around like a flamboyant maniac every time there is a masseuse waving his dick around. Maybe if Grizzly Bear made music worth listening to I wouldn’t even write this, but their complaining and complaining over and over again about not making any money. They’d be rich if they would just start making their songs shorter. Nobody and I repeat NOBODY wants to listen to 5 minute songs. 3:30 is the radio industry standard. Believe me, my uncle knows a member of The Killers and he asked him what the radio standard was and he told him. Believe me, nobody knows the radio standard better than The Killers. Grizzly Bear make “edgy” music for people over 40 who probably hate their life. I’ll tell you one thing.. I’m NEVER gonna hate my life cause I’m gonna just live like Tyler… Not giving a fuck about anything and speaking my mind. You wouldn’t catch me dead behind a desk for work! I’m gonna be more famous than any of these people one day. Just wait till I release this rap album I’ve been working on…. You’re gonna shit yourselves when you hear it. I’ll let you all know when it comes out cause I know you’re gonna want to hear it.. Though it’ll probably get it’s own article on this site anyways so I won’t even have to tell you. Every blog is gonna want to be posting about it first and here is your chance Stereogum… You can be the first to hear about and post about my epic rap album coming out soon.

        Fuck the free world.


        RJ, bitches.

  45. I think one of the biggest factors here is that at least for me, a recent college graduate, the cost of a decent education astounding and the loans are absolutely crippling. I recently found a minimum-wage internship after a year and a half of job searching and rejections. The pay is terrible for the amount of work I do, and I can barely keep my head above the water. I’m paying for massive amounts of college loans, insanely high gas and commuting prices, and at the end of the day, I barely have enough money and time for myself.

    Music is all I have to keep me sane. Sports are cool and all, but your favorite teams can always be such a let down. Music will always be there. I play bass in a band, and it’s very fulfilling for me. I think playing music, whether it’s by yourself or with other people, is always a healthy thing to do to take your mind off of the monotony of the day. However, today’s reality forces us to keep our ambitions in check. My band wants to go tour the country this summer, play shows around the US out of our own pockets. While that’d be fun and all, I realistically cannot take the time off work and shell out that cash to tour like that, especially with a band that can barely get 30 people to a local show. It sucks, but that’s life I guess. It depresses me that, even at the age of 23, I have to give up my dreams at becoming a “rock star” or at the very least, a touring musician with fans who love your music and wait with baited breath for your next release (a la Grizzly Bear, or like 90% of the bands covered here). I’m envious of these bands backed by major labels (i.e. Joy Formidable, The Black Keys, Kings of Leon) who have worked so hard and are now having the time of their lives. They worked hard, and now they’re getting rewarded for it. Good on them, because I certainly wouldn’t take the risk. Does that make me a wimp? Probably, but the way I see it, I don’t have a choice.

    Seriously, say I devote just ONE year to my music. That alone is a huge risk. Unless you have a lot of money to fall back on, you’re not going anywhere, and when you get back a year later, where are you? Back at square one, fighting for shitty internships or entry-level jobs, only this time, you’re fighting against another year’s worth of college graduates around the world doing the same thing.

    Reality kills ambitions, and I’m beginning to learn that now. I will still play music for myself, but maybe I’m destined to sit in a cubicle the rest of my life, and this scares the living shit out of me.

  46. Yeah I’m not reading any of this but I’ll say I recently spoke with a guy in the music industry who is a member of several bands. He enlightened me to the reality of trying to make a living as a musician. Most of their money comes from licensing, i.e. selling your songs to companies for commercials, etc. I had to let go of my high school notions about what bands should and shouldn’t do.

    If you want to hold onto the 90′s dream of not “selling out” then be prepared to live a simpler life, be sustained by your love of music and don’t complain about it. I guess it all comes down to what you’re willing to give up.

  47. I’m from Brazil and I’m 39. I’ve been a musician ever since I was a teenager. I played in different bands, had some local and somewhat national recognition in my country at a time when there was no Internet (early 90s) and the indie scene here was so small that you knew pretty much everyone by name. Later on, I formed other bands. The latest, Cassim & Barbaria, toured Brazil, Argentina, US, Canada. Every time I recorded/released an album, shot a video and toured a lot of money was invested. I never got it back. Not even 1/3 of it. If It’s hard to you guys, imagine how It is in countries like Brazil, where there aren’t as many indie music fans, venues and media channels. It’s really a David X Goliath thing. And as far as I know I’m not the big guy.

    In spite of all that I never ever thought of giving up. I’ve had jobs most of the time. My music career would advance quicker and I would produce more as a musician when I wasn’t working as a full time writer or radio producer, but those spells wouldn’t last long. There would always be the due rent bill to pay in the end. I am currwently working as a radio producer and It’s not my dream job at all. But my music will survive it.

    I even found ways to earn money from my music, but they didn’t mean steady payments, just hope in the form of paychecks. I had some of my stuff licensed, wrote for theater, TV and specially, music for fashion shows. I also had some reasonable paychecks from copywrights. I’m sure I would be able to make a living off all that, but then, maybe I wouldn’t have the energy to write my own original stuff afterwards. So I keep on getting day jobs and using my music to earn money aside.

    I’m 39 and just can’t quit it. I’ll probably be recording and releasing my music when I’m 70. That’s what I do, and I’m not doing it to be famous or get a living from it, although that wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. I just happen to be in the wrong place and in the wrong time to be a hyped up artist or whatever. But maybe I’m in the right place/time for what I am doing.

    There’s always someone who says my music has inspired him/her, there’s always people saying your music is special to them and that happens everywhere I go They aren’t in the thousands or even in the hundreds, but you always meet someone who really understands and likes what you do. That’s more than enough to me. I love the music I make. And I love when people can relate to that. That’s pure bliss to me.

    I always try to remember that most of the best music of the last centuries was made by hardworking people who had tiresome day jobs and were never getting paid the money they deserved for their music. Take the original blues players. The idea of someone getting rich by going onstage and playing music is quite new to humankind and won’t last long. And you know what? Maybe That’s a good thing. It will make the wannabes go alway from it all. Or at least some of them.

    Having said all that, I still believe that If you’re an artist, you will take what you have and make art with it just because that. Be it with restrained time because of day jobs or with all the time and feeedom in the world and a pile of bills to pay. And you can always learn how to be an ascetic, for that matter.

  48. It seems reasonable to think musicians could write silly pop songs for commercials on the side to make extra cash. Or learn luthiery, or production, or something to pay the bills that doesn’t feel like a death sentance. Visual artists do it as illustrators and graphic designers. Anthropologists do it as advertising consultants.

    However, the rate for a supporting act hasn’t changed in like 20 years, the average music consumer has a memory span of about 2 years and degenerated taste thanks to bitchfork et al, the economy in general sucks, and for some reason we’re all still more willing to buy 5 $8 sandwiches/week than one $15 record a month.

    I don’t know what needs to happen specifically, but it almost doesn’t matter. I think we all need to just act more responsibly in general.

    For my part, I will continue to buy the records I actually like (after downloading them of course), go to the shows I like, remain as active as my time allows in the local scene, and maybe slightly less silently curse the headlining band every time they only pay my hubby’s band $300/night out of their $10,000.

  49. Also- I’m not convinced Grizzly Bear doesn’t make money. They’ve gotta be making at LEAST 10k/night (if not twice that), maybe three months of touring (if not more), 20 shows/tour — that’s $600,000! Maybe $10,000 for the bus, a few more thousand for food– ok, net $300,000. Between 4 dudes that’s still like 75k! Puh-lease. Pay your openers more, and shut up.

  50. Great interview!

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