Deconstructing: How Can Indie Musicians Break Even?

David Thomas, the singer of Pere Ubu, once said that “Rock music is mostly about moving big black boxes from one side of town to the other in the back of your car.”
I love this line because it perfectly captures the hours of unglamorous toil that stand behind every minute of recorded rock music. As a style, it’s both time-intensive and capital-intensive. Writing, arranging, and developing songs can eat up hours of your day and years of your life. Buying gear, renting practice space, booking studio time, and schlepping equipment to and fro can run up nasty bills.
For the past decade and change, the tactics that bands traditionally use to pay these costs — quitting day jobs, touring incessantly, recouping costs with CD/T-shirt sales, etcetera — have grown less effective to the point of futility. That rock’s financial model is broken has become received wisdom. Even big, popular bands are feeling the pressure (see the now-infamous New York Magazine article on Grizzly Bear’s struggles, or refer to the recent story regarding Cat Power’s money problems).

The big boys are suffering, but niche rock bands are in danger of being squeezed out of existence. Even before the rise of digital music, many a legendary group lived in squalor; check out the Wikipedia entry on Captain Beefheart’s legendary Trout Mask Replica if you ever want to feel wealthy. Today, with gas prices up and merch revenues down — while venue payouts to performers haven’t changed with inflation — even the slim costs of a modern recording session can overwhelm smaller bands.
For me, this is a serious problem because my tastes tend toward the obscure. But it’s also a serious problem if you care about the future of the genre. Rock has been experiencing a decline in popularity since the ’90s; The New York Times ran a soul-crushing piece about Fender’s declining sales back in September (sample quote: “Teenagers who once might have hankered after guitars now get by making music on laptops. It’s worth remembering that the accordion was once the most popular instrument in America”). Small- to mid-sized bands can inspire bigger acts that revitalize the style. We wouldn’t have the Ramones without the New York Dolls; we wouldn’t have Nirvana without Pixies.
The conversation around this issue has tended toward the negative. It’s easy to bemoan the current state of affairs or play the blame game. Various technological and music industry forces are the most popular culprits. (The argument that rock just isn’t as good as it used to be holds a distant third place. I submit that those who feel this way should revisit Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina’s ’70s work.)
But while it’s emotionally satisfying to curse digital piracy and predatory record labels, it’s not terribly useful. Diagnosing the malaise won’t cure it. It’s time to talk about treatments, even if they’re palliative.
Easier said than done, of course. I don’t know enough about the fiscal nuts and bolts of Grizzly Bear’s situation to tell them how to improve it. I do, however, know this: It is extremely frustrating to write and record music at a monetary loss. Lots of bands do it for a time, and lots of bands have broken up because they can’t afford to keep paying out of pocket to record. If such bands could find a way to at least break even on their recording costs, considerably fewer of them will prematurely throw in the towel. We’re not talking about tons of money here; my band recorded our (reasonably pro-sounding) first album for less than $5,000, all expenses included. That’s not a huge sum by traditional rock standards, but it’s a shitload of dough for twentysomethings who have to scrape just to pay the rent.
So here’s what I propose: let’s talk about ways for smaller rock bands to alleviate the financial pressures they face. I’ve written up some ideas and resources that bands have at their disposal for monetizing their music or decreasing the costs they get saddled with. I don’t think any of these ideas will do the trick on its own, but several of them in concert could help a lot of struggling bands get by. This list isn’t at all exhaustive — the question of how best to utilize social media to enhance an artist’s visibility isn’t even addressed; that’s a whole ’nother Deconstruction. The technologies and strategies covered here have been discussed more and more, especially over the past year, so consider this an accessible compilation, sketching out the positives and negatives of each, and ideally, a conversation-starter, a jumping-off point for more.
That’s where you come in. I’d like you folks to post all of the (hopefully countless) money-making/cost-avoiding tactics I’ve missed here. It’d be great to hear about people’s experiences with the resources and ideas I describe below, too. How else can non-massive bands generate extra revenue, cut costs, and otherwise ease the crushing financial pressure that they face? (Think carefully; the future of rock music may depend on it.) Hopefully, we can turn this post into a repository of resources that small bands can use to firm up their finances, break even on their recording costs, and turn their focus away from the big black boxes and back towards making music.

I thought of Bandcamp first because I’ve had many positive experiences with it. It’s a popular service, and for good reason. If you’re not familiar with it, Bandcamp provides an expanded version of the pay-what-you-wish download model that Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails used to such great effect five years ago. For bands that aren’t dealing with recording contracts, it’s the best way to distribute your music digitally. You can sell your album for whatever price you like (or whatever price the customer wants to pay) in a variety of file formats, while simultaneously streaming it and giving listeners access to high-def art and lyrics. You can even sell physical merch through the site now.
Of course, Bandcamp takes a cut of your sales, and since the site pays you through Paypal, you end up taking a second small hit from them, too. But the deductions aren’t exorbitant, and you can still end up with a big chunk of change afterward. The experimental cellist Zoë Keating’s 2010 album Into the Trees debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard classical charts, based solely on its Bandcamp sales. Bandcamp’s primary drawback — and it’s a big one — is that it provides only a platform for artists to distribute their music, not opportunities for them to gain exposure. Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead benefited from years of work done by their respective major label’s publicity machines before succeeding in the Bandcamp format. Without those machines in place, how will new bands bring eyes and ears (and dollars) to their own Bandcamp pages?
The most challenging fiscal task that most bands face is rustling up the cash to record in a competent studio. It’s the rare independent musician who has several thousand dollars lying around. Kickstarter provides a platform for pre-studio (or pre-touring, or pre-building a pyrotechnics rig) fundraising, directly from your fans.
Most of us have been solicited for money via Kickstarter before, and some of us have done the soliciting, too. In case you haven’t done either? It works like this: You (the artist hoping to fund a project) make a video in which you pitch your idea to your fans. Your fans then donate a sum of their choosing towards your album/tour/Zodiac-themed stage costumes. If your funding reaches its pre-set goal by the project’s deadline, Kickstarter charges your donors’ credit cards and give you the money. (If your project doesn’t receive enough donations, your donors don’t get charged.) The site gives you the option of incentivizing donations by offering prizes in return—copies of your album, signed pieces of memorabilia, free concert tickets, a night of passion with your bassist, and so forth.
Lots of bands and other folks have had great experiences with Kickstarter, but it has its fair share of disadvantages. The site takes 10 percent off the top of every project; between their cut and the cost of following through with all of your incentive gifts, you can lose a sizeable percentage of your funds. (That’s if you follow through with your incentives at all. More than one musician has flaked out, as Animal Collective’s Josh Dibb did when he raised money via Kickstarter for an activist trip to Mali. Runaway success can cause problems, too. Amanda Palmer blew her own public-relations foot off when she mismanaged her record-high $1.2 million Kickstarter haul and then asked her fans to act as unpaid backing instrumentalists. Non-musicians have run into the same problem; Wired ran a great piece this past summer about five Kickstarter projects that collapsed when they found themselves glutted with too much funding.
In short, Kickstarter can be a great resource, but only if you’re well-organized enough to handle its demands on your time and attention. If you’re methodical enough, you can circumvent Kickstarter’s drawbacks by running your own donation drive using Paypal’s Donate function.
Described in brief, these services sound great. Each one gives its users access to a massive library streaming music for free (or for cheap, in return for a small subscription fee) in any country willing to allow it.  They pay artists a small royalty every time their music is played. Users get access to oodles of streaming music, and artists get paid instead of ripped off. Everybody wins, right?
Yes, technically. Musicians don’t win much, though. Streaming service royalty models vary considerably, depending on the service and the artist’s legal relationship with his work. Few non-huge artists end up making much of anything from streaming services. Zoë Keating, the cellist who hit the Billboard charts with her Bandcamp debut, revealed in June that she earned less than $300 from almost 73,000 Spotify plays. Damon Krukowski of Galaxie 500 piled on in a widely circulated Pitchfork article this November; he claims that his band earned just $0.21 for almost 8,000 Spotify plays. David Macias, the president of the label services company 30 Tigers, contradicted Krukowski’s math in a Hypebot editorial a few weeks later. Still, it remains clear that only artists popular enough to score hundreds of thousands of plays will ever make any money from such services. (Macias’s Matisyahu example is not likely to comfort many underground bands.) Streaming may even about to become even less profitable, thanks to the Internet Radio Fairness Act.
But even if streaming services pay out very little, they offer artists the same bonus that traditional radio stations do: exposure, for whatever it’s worth. There’s also apparently weak (but still extant!) evidence suggesting that the presence of streaming services in a given country will suppress music piracy.
It seems clear at this juncture that CD sales won’t rebound any time soon. Vinyl sales, on the other hand, have been climbing for five years; they’re projected to grow by 16 percent this year alone. People aren’t keen to buy plastic, but other formats are doing OK.
Independent bands stand to do better sales-wise by coming up with novel ways to package their music. Sometimes it’s enough to press your tunes to a nicely turned slab of wax, or onto a cassette tape. At other times, sticking a CD in a novel container will do the trick. Such creative packaging can pose daunting logistical challenges for DIY bands, as designing and manufacturing clever containers ain’t cheap. But those challenges aren’t insurmountable. Philadelphia’s the Extraordinaires, for instance, tuck their discs inside of little hardback books, complete with faux library cards and handwritten lyrics. Fiona Apple did something similar with her most recent album. The legendary proto-industrial group COIL mastered this tactic, pressing limited-run vinyl with such accoutrements as drops of the band members’ blood. Collectors still pursue them.
There are more novel ways to escape the confines of traditional CDs-and-shirts merchandise. Jack White has turned unusual merch into a cottage industry; at this point, he could probably make a living just selling White Stripes Triple Inchophones on eBay.

Touring has been a cornerstone of the rock business model for so long that it’s become a commandment: If thou art in a band, thou shalt tour. It routinely gets trotted out as the way for independent bands to make money, especially now that physical product has become obsolete.
Touring can be a useful tool, but like a clawhammer or circular saw, it can also maul the hand of an inexperienced or inept user. Vehicle rentals, gas, food, lodging, equipment repair, and other road expenses add up, and it’s pretty hard to hold a paying day job when you spend most of your time zipping around the country in a cargo van. If your tour doesn’t perform well, you can find yourself maxing out your credit card to get the band from Boise to Twin Falls. Countless small bands — and quite a few big ones — have gone into debt because of poorly attended, poorly promoted, poorly routed tours. Some of those bands have broken up in the aftermath of their shitty road experiences.
The best way for a small band to avoid getting wiped out by a disastrous tour is to exercise some common sense. If you have never toured before, do not try to book a month-long nationwide jaunt by yourself. Do a few weekend mini-tours first. Try to hop on a tour with a more popular and experienced band. Don’t plan on staying in hotels every night. Don’t agree to play shows on consecutive nights in cities that are 500 miles apart. Most importantly, don’t rush into a situation where you don’t know what you’re doing.
David Thomas, the Pere Ubu singer, once expressed his band’s unwillingness to “sleep on floors or tour endlessly.” He was joking about Pere Ubu’s perpetual commercial failure, but they’ve nonetheless survived as an underground band for almost 40 years. That’s longevity that any artist can aspire to.


Again, this is an incomplete list. Various other strategies have been proposed and used, some with considerable success. Outside of the United States, many governments offer arts grants; some rock bands, like Denmark’s the Figurines, have benefited from their home nations’ largesse. Others have done well for themselves by licensing their music for use in movies, TV shows, and commercials. (Of course, success in this vein requires both commercially viable music and advanced networking skills.)

Some proposals are more extreme. Some analysts have proposed the idea of a musicians’ strike designed to force reform on the current payment model. Musicians’ strikes are common in the heavily unionized world of classical performance — just this year, symphony orchestra unions have walked out in Atlanta, Chicago, and Spokane. I’m not sure what a musicians’ strike would look like in the decentralized rock landscape, but if anyone has ideas, I’d love to hear them.

The search for a single, comprehensive replacement for the old model is stifling the conversation right now. Everyone’s looking for a magic bullet, and understandably so — rock music earned its keep via the comparatively simple physical-sales-plus-touring model for five decades. But those days are gone, and no amount of sentimentalizing them (or bemoaning the current technology, however myopically) is going to bring them back. No single service or tactic is likely to turn around a given band’s finances. However, a combination of services and tactics can make a huge difference. The new financial model for independent rock bands, to the extent that one exists, is a modular one. Different approaches will suit different bands. (The more we can compile here, the better.) Combine enough of the right ingredients with common sense and elbow grease, and you no longer have to sell your kidney to pay the mastering engineer. Maybe. It’s a marginal existence, but it’s a lot better than nothing.

The days of professional rock bands that make their livings off music may be coming to an end. That’s OK with me. As I’ve said here before, music has historically been an avocation more often than it’s been a vocation, and we’re moving back in the avocation direction now. For the foreseeable future, it will be challenging and complicated for independent rock bands to do their thing without committing financial suicide. That’s a bitter pill, but even the angriest discontents of the current state of affairs would likely agree that it’s worth swallowing. Rock music has always involved its share of moving big black boxes across town in the back of your car. With the right set of tools, independent musicians can continue to do what they must to survive.

[Along with being a Stereogum contributor, Doug Moore is in the NYC metal band Pyrrhon. You can check them out -- and buy their music! -- here.]

Comments (103)
  1. Money money money money money….

  2. Indie musicians are the equivalent of young professionals whose careers were birthed during the economic downfall, in that both are underpaid and struggling to get by. The only difference is that the latter are still living at home with their parents while the others are living inside tour vans.

  3. I think artists need to have more sex if they want to make more money. Sex sells, everybody knows that.

  4. Maybe it goes without saying, but one thing you’re leaving out here is artist collaboration. My band Manbourine (shameless plug: recently recorded a professional-sounding album for a fairly manageable price because we worked with friends who were starting up a recording studio business. They got the experience of working with a band to record a full LP for the first time, and enough money to make some serious improvements to their own set up. My band got to record an album with friends in a comfortable, open environment for as cheap a price as we’d be able to find.

    Some friends of mine in another band are poised to blow up in a big way, because they’re part of a community of talented, aspiring filmmakers, photographers, promoters, painters, graphic designers, musicians, etc… artist friends of theirs believe in their music, and collaborate for free or cheap, and now they have the “look” of a successful band down – from their website, to their merch, to their music videos, to their social media presence, etc. Musicians aren’t the only struggling artists trying to find a way to achieve relevance and financial success in the 21st century. We need to be propping each other up. You sort of hint at this in your article, but the future model of indie success is going to rely on multimedia, which (usually) necessitates collaboration. This has always been an available avenue for getting noticed, but I’d say these days it’s mandatory.

    • Definitely a useful angle—it cuts a lot of costs (especially for recording/manufacturing) and it can help you build a strong network of allies, which has been a necessity for smaller bands since forever.

      Thanks for this! MORE IDEAS PLZ PEOPLE.

  5. I love Bandcamp too, but I also love Tunecore. I highly recommend for indie DIY’ers who want worldwide digital distro.

    • There are a couple of other services in this vein (CD Baby comes to mind). I’ve never used one myself, but people seem to have good things to say about most of them when it comes to getting your music on iTunes, etc.

      As far as iTunes goes: ideally, you want to get your own label account with them, rather than using a digital distributor/label. The barriers to entry are higher (does anyone out there know exactly how the process works?), but you keep more of your money and you get way more information about who’s buying your music, which can be useful for tour routing and such.

      • The barriers to becoming a content provider on iTunes aren’t that high. At the bottom of this post are the financial and content requirements for iTunes Music. Probably the hardest one is coming up with 20 albums that you have the rights to distribute.

        That said, the advantages of becoming a content provider directly over using an aggregator aren’t necessarily worth it. It’s true that you’ll keep more of your money, but if you pick the right aggregator, the extra amount you spend can be very small. And most aggregators will make it really simple for you to get up on many services (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, etc.) without the paperwork headache that signing up with each individual service directly can be.

        A couple of months ago, I looked at a few aggregators to compare pricing, and the following four all looked like good options.

        Catapult charges $9 to upload a single/ringtone and $25 to upload an album. This is a one-time fee. Then they take 9% of royalties. Very simple.

        TuneCore charges $15 per single/ringtone and $50 per album, per year. They take 0% of royalties but for all we know may also change this in the future. They managed to get a whole bunch of big-name users, including Jay Z, Aretha Franklin, Jason Mraz, Nine Inch Nails, the list goes on, but a couple of months ago two of the founders got pushed out, so who knows what’ll happen to them next.

        ADED ( charges $5/month to be a member, then $3 per single/ringtone/album, with every fifth submission free. They take 0% of royalties. But they look less professional, and who knows if they’ll be around forever.

        CD Baby also takes 9% but is more expensive than Catapult.

        (I ended up going with TuneCore, which has worked well so far, but all four seem like reasonable options depending on expected sales and risk appetite.)

        Requirements for becoming an iTunes Music Store content provider:

        Content Requirements:
        At least 20 albums in your catalog
        UPCs/EANs/JANs for all products you intend to distribute
        ISRCs for all tracks you intend to distribute

        Financial Requirements:
        A U.S. Tax ID
        A valid iTunes Store account, with a credit card on file
        Apple does not pay partners until they meet payment requirements and earning thresholds in each territory. You should consider this before applying to work directly with Apple as you may receive payments faster by working with an Apple-approved aggregator.

        • Thanks, man—great summary.

          I feel like the 20-albums thing is plenty feasible for a small independent label, but for a band on its own, it’s probably well out of reach. The thought actually occurred to me because I saw on Zoe Keating’s blog that she has an iTunes content provider account, though she obviously doesn’t have 20 albums under her belt. I wonder how she got it.

  6. From my experience as blog writer, I would say that fostering a relationship from the ground up with even smaller web sites goes a long way with at least the publicity aspect of making music. I do get a lot of shameless plug submissions from random labels and bands I’ve never heard of and admittedly, I don’t listen to everything that comes in because of how shameless their approaches are. The people who make an impression for me are the ones I’ve already written about, acknowledge what I’ve written (whether it be via social media or what have you) and in some cases, will contact me to let me know they’ll keep me up to date on anything new. Likewise, it does ruffle my feathers when artists will only aknowledge established publications and ignore smaller voices. It’s free press at the very least, and personally, I like to read smaller niche sites to see who is making noise before it makes its way to Pitchfork, SPIN or here.

    It’s also very give and take: You get free press — Writer gets a pseudo-endorsement from band that will likely give them a much needed boost of confidence to keep doing what they’re doing to ensure an artist’s music is heard.

  7. I think another thing to do is demand artists get fair contracts. Demand that they get to own their masters. Make sure the contract they sign is in their favor. Make sure the label supports them and respects them. The problems we are in, in 2012, have alot to do with all this. Record labels dont look out for their artists, and seek to exploit the artist. Until that changes, you will continue to see financial ruin.

    Touring and merch are the biggest answers currently. Buying a bands cd never would line the bands pocket anyway. They create 12 songs and painstakingly create an entire album over 4 years and the cd costs what 18 bucks, and the band gets a measly 1 dollar out of the transaction when you buy it at the local cd store? Buying a shirt and poster of the band at the merch table, and buying a couple tickets to their next live show, nearly all that money goes into the hands of the actual artist.

    Bands should focus on perfecting their live shows, tour nonstop, play anywhere and everywhere, and create some awesome merch thats visually appealing and interesting.

    • Actually, a lot of bands pocket most or all of their in-person merch sales, regardless of whether it’s a record or a t-shirt. (It depends on their label contract, if they have one, and on the venue they’re playing.) If you see a band live and don’t like their non-music merch, you can still give them money by purchasing an LP or CD.

      I alluded to this in the piece, but the problem with touring nonstop and playing live as much as possible is that it can actually cost you quite a lot. Vans and gas aren’t cheap, and if your shows/tour are poorly attended, they can be both expensive and incredibly demoralizing. I’ve watched a lot of bands run themselves into the ground by playing too many shitty shows. Quality will serve you better than quantity.

      • I hear you. And yeah, thats what i was generally getting at. Merch in general, any merch and ticket sales in general goes overwhelmingly into the bands pocket. Cd sales, itunes sales, etc… go overwhelmingly to the label. That was my main point. Until we either come up with a new contract thing, like a union where a label is forced to give the band a good contract and allow them to own their masters, then nothing is going to change. Ive always felt like the discussion about file sharing was silly, because in reality, the band was only going to get a dollar out of the deal anyways, when you buy it physically at a store. You bring more revenue and income to the band when you buy any merch or buy a ticket for a show.

        Touring live can indeed run bands ragged. As a volunteer at a music venue, Ive seen bands play to sold out crowds, and other times ive seen shows where only 5 people showed up, and the band essentially made no money. The worst was when I saw a band play, and only a few people showed up, and they were donating all sales of their merch to charity, so no matter what they did, they were walking out of there with no money.

        That said, I think the live show is important. Any band we’ve cared about has risen that way. They start out playing some tiny venue and only the bands friends show up. Then 10 people show up. The maybe months later, 100 people and so on. It spreads on the quality of the live show, word of mouth and a grassroots campaign. Its been like that, as I say, for all bands. u2, bruce springsteen, dylan etc… They all started like that.

        Plus its not like trying to sell your cd to people is that easy either. The idea that playing a live show can wear you down. and that selling a record, trying to get it noticed, get it in stores, the idea that THAT is easy or a little easier than playing a live show, I think thats a lie. Both are taxing, and hard. A band could run themselves ragged pitching their record to labels, to stores, to media outlets, to MTV etc…

        I think audiences sense passion. Ive seen maybe 300 shows in the last couple years. And you get that goosebumps on your body when you see a band playing solely on passion and energy. it stands out.

        I dont think bands have any other options beyond touring and selling merch at this point. That presents problems, as you point out, but I’d rather it be like this, than based on looks, or payola, or radio plays.

        I think the falsehood thats been presented by other people is that record sales are the ONLY way to financially support a band. And anyone who has looked at the breadown of where physical cd sales go, can see there are many ways to support a band and help them out. Probably buying a Grizzly Bear cd at the local cd store is the least helpful thing a person can do, in this paradigm.

        The emphasis now is on live shows, and I think thats a very positive thing.

        • the idea of a band playing a first live show, or a fairly beginning live show, has always been based around a slow climb upward. Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective and Arcade Fire, didnt start out playing to 10′s of thousands of people. They started out playing in front of 5 people at a bar, or at an open mike night where 10 people showed up. Then gradually, through word of mouth, promotion, hype, buzz, and the strength of people saying “youve got to hear this one band, they were great live”, the bands fanbase increases. Touring all the time, no doubt has got to be hard, and rough and devastating at points, but its the main way a band rises in stature and gets their music out there. I remember reading about Snow Patrol and how a few years prior to Chasing Cars appearing on Greys Anatomy, and the band breaking, they were playing at a strip club for 10 people. Now they can sell out arenas. Its always been this ways, just more so recently. U2 didnt start out playing in front of stadiums of 60,000. It was years and years of constant touring, touring at places where they made little to no money, and played in front of a few people.

  8. if you like a band, buy their record, go to shows, get some merch.

  9. All my family members are getting records for Christmas, thanks to this article.

  10. As an extension of weird merch and artist collaborations–the more people you know who screenprint, record video, play tambourine on stage with ‘soy bomb’ written in ketchup their chests, the better. Fleshing out your band identity visually is just as important as the auditory component, and if you can pull resources together, you’re not only networking, but you’re also helping out other indie folk with their own business ventures. Short of being an advocate for merchandising, it can’t hurt to band together in the name of creativity.

  11. The old model is dead or dying, yet all of these ideas are somewhat based on the old model–your music is your product and somehow it is still about how to get people to buy your music so you can support yourself. I think for any musician who is doing it because it is what they love the goal is how to pay the bills and still have time and money to make music. (Let alone the approximately 3-4 hours of time spent on promotion for every hour you actually spend making music). Day jobs don’t really afford you the time. In the Luna breakup movie, they talk about being in a band is essentially being in business with your bandmates and I think the solution for some may lay in that concept. At a bookstore this summer a book caught my eye called the 4 hour workweek. I picked it up from my local library and in essence it proposes starting an online business that enables you to work 4 hours a week from anywhere you choose to live and free up the rest of your time to do what you want to do. As a musician who has made $4 in the past 3 years, I thought, this would be perfect for a band. On the show No Reservations (Austin) there was a band who had their own hot sauce. My thought is perhaps a band should take the fact that they are in business together and come up with something to sell that actually can make money. Even if each band member put in 8 hours a week to the business, you’d have 6 days left over to make music. If you are selling physical product, have a friend ship stuff while you are on the road, or use a fulfillment service. If you can supplement or even support yourselves with a business, any business, and still keep it going while you are on the road, you can free up your time to do what you love. We have to think outside the box here, the goal is to perpetuate great music still being made!

    • My goal was to put together a compendium of ideas for how musicians can avoid LOSING money on their music, not for how they can support themselves through their music. If you’re in a band in 2012 and you’re remotely realistic, you aren’t banking on making a livable wage from your tunes. Still, there are ways to make the music itself more remunerative than it is for most folks.

      The idea of starting little businesses among the members of the band that bankroll the music is a really interesting one, though. Can you think of any other examples besides the hot sauce thing (which is great, by the way)?

      • Solving Mysteries?

      • Agreed, the $4 I have made doesn’t factor in the hundreds I have spent so yes, not losing money is the first step. Since the problem is that people aren’t buying music anymore, the solution is either 1. Convince people to buy music, or 2. Recoup your costs some other way. My idea falls into the latter category and is an extension of the “other types of merch” line of thinking. There are numerous books with ideas on how to start online businesses, many with suggestions for businesses. Probably for any product you can think of, there is a company that will private label it for you, the singer of the Lonely Forest recently offered songwriting lessons, dropship items, think of something you wish you had as a musician and make it (one example in that 4 hour book was a guy who came up with earplugs that don’t muddy up the music), what talents do the band members have that can be turned into something? The possibilities are endless really, limited only to your imagination and a little research.

      • I think Fang Island own a food truck.

    • Bands starting their own buisness, I dont know about that. That could be disasterous. Would put more pressure on the band. Selling merch, or liscencing a song on Parenthood takes little effort on the bands part. But creating a second buisness, creating a product, seems like alot of unneccesary work. Meaning, the band would spend alot of time making hot sauce and overseeing that than doing what really matters which is to create music. Even 8 hours a week I feel is a hell of a lot, added on to all the other stuff bands have to do. That would be confusing, stressful, and a huge headache.

      I also think some bands are more able to do that, create a buisness than other bands. A no name band who is trying to break big at South By, the last thing they need to be doing is coming up with a product they can sell, other than their music. On the other hand, a band like Radiohead, or Pearl Jam, or Trent Reznor, I could definitely see creating some sort of buisness, and they’d have the power, time, and money to pull it off too.

      • plus i think it would put an extra amount of pressure on the band. What if one member of the group spent more time making the product rather than working on music.

        I also think there is a difference between liscencing music and then conversely selling your image and really just in a way prostituting yourself. Grizzly bear got some money for that Super Bowl ad, but it was less about “look at me and my great band”, than about getting a paycheck and maybe exposing some new people to the band. The Modest Mouse beer commercial was for the same reason, about the paycheck. The band isnt asked to do anything. They are just liscencing their song.

        Essentially with a second buisness or a side buisness the band is required to focus on a product thats only real goal is to market/promote and hype the band.

  12. Great article and applaud the effort to reach out try invoke change.

    The music business is inundated with bands that want to ‘break in and ultimately get rich. It’s the nature of the beast, but the reality is most of these indie acts did not start out with any money, so why should it be surprising that they should end with little or no money. They are also entrenched in a career that has a very small percentage rate of success from the beginning. Think of professional sports as a weird (and silly) example…you work hard all your life at your sport, but so do a lot of others, and catching that break can be very difficult, and maybe out of a 100 athletes in one particular sport, only 5% truly succeed.

    But, define success?

    Some of the most influential, and historic acts also cared very little about success or monetary gain. The fact that their talent, and that one catchy hook, gets them recognized was merely a by-product and a positive result of their career choice. It’s no different than a insurance salesmen who plods along and then gets that one big account, and from there the recognition follows, the salary increases, and so on. The problem with the music industry is that you need to also have the tremendous talent to sustain success when, or even if, you finally get there.

    You have to choose to take the risk if you choose to be in the business. Unfortunately, for us as listeners of great indie music, we suffer from bands falling victim to a over saturated field and that’s the ripple effect that makes us feel helpless when wanting to contribute to keeping them relevant. The music industry is changing in such volatile ways and have such a small benefit to the struggling artist in this day and age.
    I hate to also mention it this way, but you don’t go to the local record store anymore. You can’t turn your favorite local radio station (which had tremendous marketing strength for up and coming bands when it was popular) You click ‘BUY’ on your Amazon or iTunes account. There’s no personality to it anymore. The fun has been sucked out of the joy of buying music. If we could somehow make buying music fun again, I bet the little guys would get a fightin chance.

    • I agree with everything you’ve said except for that last paragraph. The fun and personality is still there. I’ve never bought music off of iTunes purely because I don’t see the point in buying an mp3 that has no tangible properties. There are some great record stores close to where I live (and there are probably some close to where you live too) that I buy my records from that always have friday night shows by local bands who have just released a 7″/EP/LP. I would prefer to support small businesses over Apple or Amazon any day.

      Additionally community radio is still quite popular in my area and maintains its relevance and status by offering one of the only alternatives to crap top40 music.

      All these things exist, it’s just up to the customer to make the choice.

      • My sister gave me an ITunes gift card a few weeks back, I was happy (I guess) to use it on an album however the process just didn’t feel right to me. What do you do with that bullshit $3.16 left anyways?

        I’m all for building up the record collection and checking out gigs, whether that be at the pub or large venue however for some reason promoters feel the need to charge a fortune and sadly I doubt much money is seen by the actual artists themselves. Free gigs are non-existent down here, it must be time to start packing.

        I used to believe the “Australian’ radio really did thrive to put local artists in the spotlight but that notion seems to be nothing but crap PR. Triple J does nothing but “claim” artists for a year or two and then it’s goodbye. Long live FBI, if only the broadcast could drive down the highway!

        • Yeah, bands typically see only a small percentage of the door money. Their revenue at live shows comes mostly from merch sales. At a lot of larger, more ‘pro’ venues, the venue will take a cut of those merch sales as well.

    • Just because iTunes/Amazon aren’t “Real, man” doesn’t mean that your purchase is in vain. The artist still gets income from it, and it’s a hell of a lot more convenient than burning CDs. Look, I love record store culture and vinyl as much as anyone, but if I’m gonna be walking around with the iTunes store in my pocket all day anyway, I’m gonna use it to give artists money!

  13. Solution: Just ask this guy

  14. record your own music. spent about $3,000 on the first album I ever recorded to get it professionally mixed. After that, I bought Pro Tools and spent absolutely nothing making albums 2, 3, 4, and now five. no money at all! (sidebar: a pleasant surprise, people liked the ones I paid no money for a lot more than the one I maxed my credit card out on). Admittedly, I started recording in my bedroom on 4-track when I was 14 and it’s taken me til now to really know what I’m doing. Even so, get a free subscription to tape op, spend $400 for recording software/interface and get going (or use garage band/audacity for free)

    Still, you might want to record vocals / drums at a real studio

    • I will also add that you should take advantage of student discounts on software while you have them.

    • You can do good vocals at home if you have a style of music/vocalist that works well with a $400 shure sm-7. Yeasayer and many others have done that. A lot of bands will camp out in a country house or warehouse like Tame Impala or Women which gives you that big-room studio drum sound without paying exorbitant rates. Women/Chad Van Gaalen and a lot of the Bay Area garage bands record with a Tascam 388 (8-track 1/4 tape machine/mixer) too which you can get for $500 off of craigslist and it gives you a cool mid-fi tape sound. If you want a drum sound you can’t get with the Oktava Mk012 or similar of course your costs will go up.

    • Home recording does work great for many kinds of music, but it’s not feasible for some. Anything that demands high volumes, expensive microphones, or several musicians improvising together is a lot harder to pull off in your bedroom with a laptop and a SM-57. Even in styles that demand studio time, there are plenty of ways to cut down on studio costs. The biggest one, in my view, is to go into the studio with a detailed gameplan and a well-rehearsed set. A tight band will save on an engineer’s hourly rate by knocking out their tracks in just a couple of takes.

      • I dunno, as long are you aren’t living in ny/sf/chicago, having a large enough space shouldn’t be a problem. If you want to do it, you can figure out a way to record yourself or a your band anywhere. Even drums and vocals (recording really good sounding drums seems to be an art unto itself tho. And sometimes I’ve wondered how vocals would sound through a really nice pre-amp and tube mic). I just didn’t want to say there’s no reason for paying for studio time.

  15. you left off an important aspect of how bands make money in the last 5 or so years. And thats liscencing to tv, commercials and movies. I grew up in the 90′s. And the bands I loved made it clear to sell your music for commercial gain, or to a corporations was a sin. Nowadays everyone does it. In the 60′s or 70′s, youd be shunned or blacklisted for doing a commercial for Budweiser or OnStar. Nowadays bands can do that, and still be critically and commercially sucessful. it doesnt taint their art either.

    Beyond, p4k and Stereogum and the like, most people find out about new bands via it appearing on some tv show or movie. I would assume the label gets little out of this, the band gets the majority of the profit if their music appears in Mad Men or Parenthood for example. Ive done it a thousand times. I hear a song on a show, and go to youtube to find it. The comments section of songs after an appearance on a show attest to this.

    Tv and movies are the new radio.

    And I think times have changed. Bands can do a commercial for the super bowl like Grizzly Bear did, and still retain integrity and artistic control. And the bands get paid.

    The importance of shows like the OC, and people like Alex Patsavas to the popularity and commercial success of indie music in the last 8 years, can not be discounted.

    • Actually, I did note that licensing can make you some money; see the paragraph immediately below the “What else?” header.

      • I dont think success in liscencing for tv, film or commercials requires networking skills nor does it require commercially viable music. I think for some reason, the mainstream moved to indie rock, as opposed to indie rock moving mainstream. Sufjan, Modest Mouse, Damien Rice, Death Cab during Transatlanticism, Iron and Wine. All owe some of their success to being included in tv shows. And I dont think of any as particularly mainstream. None really were prior to their liscencing music. Its not like Death Cab was some huge commercial band when Seth Cohen raved about them in The OC. That came as a result of it. They seem commercial now because all the bands are mainstream bands currently. That wasnt always the case, and certainly wasnt the case early in the decade. Plus the non commercial more avantegarde stuff would never make it on tv or in commercials anyways. Same as its always been. I dont expect to hear Death Grips or Animal Collectives early stuff in an episode of some teen tv soap opera. Nor would I expect the band to want that either.

        And also, from what I understand Alex Patsavas, in my view the single most important music supervisor working in the industry, recieves submissions from hundreds of bands each week. Thats how she and her crew decides what to include in the next episode of Suburgatory, or Gossip Girl. I dont think networking has much to do with it. Sure like anything its more likely if you know Patsavas then you;d be included. But tv and film and commercial liscencing seems to have changed during the rise of indie music. It seems as much about breaking bands as including well known bands. Sure there are exceptions. Josh Radin knew Zach Braff, and Zach got Scrubs to include his song Winter on an episode, prior to Josh even recording an album, and the interest in the song crashed the Scrubs website. But for every band like that, theres 5 unknown, indie bands who view it like I said, they view it as a way of getting exposure, and so they take a chance and send in a submission.

        • from what i’ve read on other similar blog posts and in this thread it seems like getting your music in movies or tv is somewhat easy. is this true? who do i hit up to get my bands music considered for something like this?

        • …. In what world are Sufjan, Damien Rice, Death Cab, or Iron and Wine not mainstream? They may have started out indie, but they got INCREDIBLY mainstream, and maybe it was because of their inclusion on TV soundtracks, but you have to wonder how they got included on things like the OC soundtrack in the first place. For Modest Mouse, at least, it was not that they created music that HAPPENED to get included on the OC. Their music became increasingly commercial (PLEASE contrast songs on This Is a Long Drive… and The Lonesome Crowded West with the songs on Good News.) to the point where the hook from Float On got used in a hip-hop song.

          I think, for bands that don’t have this broad commercial appeal, that starting the discussion to get music licensed for TV and commercials is incredibly difficult. This sort of discussion isn’t impossible, but it does become a lot more difficult. If you don’t have the kind of commercial appeal that Iron and Wine or Death Cab had, you HAVE to figure out a different strategy.

  16. but that said, it is surprising big tent indie bands like grizzly bear and cat power have trouble paying the bills. they arent small bands. And they can tour anywhere and sell out the venue. They are in demand, and create critically loved music. All these bands have sold music to commercials and movies and tv shows, theyve got to be making alot on merch sales, and their shows are selling out. So why arent they getting the money, or who is getting the money? In some ways it doesnt make any sense. A no name band having trouble paying the bills is one thing, but major name acts having trouble, i think thats about something deeper. Something deeper than filesharing or bandcamp, or live shows.

    • Couldn’t a band like Grizzly Bear get 50 grand or so to play a wedding?? I know they probably consider something like that hacky, but if they need the money that bad…

      • That is a very interesting idea. I don’t think people quite realize that the quote from some of their favorite bands is comparable to a the quote of your above-average wedding band.

        • I bet a band like Grizzly Bear could get a lot more than even a pricier wedding band. People pay 3-4k for their wedding cake all the time, don’t you think some rich dude who loves Grizzly Bear would shell out 50k for them to play at an event?

          I was listening to Tiki Barber on Howard Stern the other day and he was talking about how he started a website where anybody could log on and conveniently book an athlete for an event. Different athletes had different prices for different things. For example Emmitt Smith would show up at your fantasy football draft and hang out for an hour for $1500 or he would play in a flag football game for $5000. Maybe bands can get in on something like this. It would only work for bands that already have a fanbase, but say for $50 the lead singer of a band could make a minute long video of playing gutair and working your name into lyrics and text it to you or you could book a band to play at a party or Bar Mitzvah and they could name their price. I’m sure the website would take a cut of the $$, but maybe bands could set up their own sites to cut out the middle man.

      • Yo La Tengo, arguably the most respected band in indie music just played David Cross’ wedding a couple months ago.

    • Grizzly Bear and Cat Power make millions of dollars, literally. They just spend a lot too, that’s their choice. And Grizzly Bear wouldn’t have been able to make these millions in the past, before the internet.

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

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

      • Well since you last checked, record labels have become irrelevant and a band’s fate lies in their own hands. If their fate is to make less money than the 47,000 bands that are better than them, and they can’t accept their fate, they’re over-entitled, or in rare cases just unlucky/unaware of the modern tools for spreading music…which this article is trying to help out with, and that is cool.

    • I very much disagree with the idea that modern indie musicians are egotistical and feel entitled. Thats the interesting thing about all these bands that are familiar to any reader of p4k or stereogum. justin vernon, james mercer, conor oberst, ben gibbard, isaac brock. These couldnt be bigger names in the genre, but at the same time, I dont sense that any of them are living in mansions with butlers and a chauefer and are the type that act snooty to others. Quite the opposite, if any one of them was to walk down any street in america 99 percent of the people wouldnt even know who they were. Indie rock in the 2000′s to my view, wasnt excess and rock star debauchery ala Led Zeppelin. Bon Iver and Arcade Fire winning grammy’s should have made them the biggest bands in the world. Again, few if any people even know who those bands are. We know who they are because we visit sites that fell in love with them prior to them breaking. The average fan most likely has no idea about the meaning behind Funeral, or about the cabin retreat to make For Emma. I dont think Justin, or Chan, or Ben or James or anyone of them think they are a rock star. Thats whats always felt unique about the indie scene of the 2000′s. Not alot of rock star ego.

      I agree though about oversaturation. Way back when i’d listen to a few albums a year. Nowadays to keep up with stereogum or p4k, youve got to essentially listen to an album a week. Every week theres a new mixtape, or 50 new bands of 2012 we need to hear, or the top 50 albums of the year etc…

      I think that actually might have something to do with it. A new Nirvana or U2 will never happen again, because music is too fragmented and niche oriented. Arcade Fire is big to us, but they probably sold few copies of The Suburbs compared to Gaga or Kesha. And that fragmentation leads to people spreading the love, their money and attention to 50 or 100 bands that they love, as opposed to only exclusively being into that ONE band that you truely cant live without. I know for me thats true.

      I dont think its a case of bands acting entitled or an inflated sense of ego. I think p4k and stereogum like all music blogs, promote an essential and important band every single week. With p4k, we might get a BNM band on monday, another on Thursday and another on Friday. Thats an insane schedule and pace to keep up with as a fan.

      Few people truely engage and immerse themselves in albums anymore. Because, while I listen to Lonerism for the 3rd time, Sufjan has a new 5 disc box set, and theres a new Big Boi album, and a new Godspeed, and … and… To keep up with all that is insane.

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

        • i dont think Justin muscled his way to the top of the indie world that way. People view Bon Iver as important, because of the emotional connection they have with the music. They identified with his story, or the lyrics, they see themselves in his music. For Emma was a slow climb even though people make it sound like it was immediate. P4k didnt give it a BNM, and for awhile there it was just going from person to person slowly. Then it caught fire.

          His music caught fire because like all great art, its honest, true and sincere. And Bon Iver is an example of a band I dont see as making a ton of money. He could have easily gone solo post For Emma and raked in the dough at sold out shows. Instead he brought out a what 7 or 8 piece band, trumpet player, sax player etc…

          And Grizzly bear is really the only band ive seen complain about not making enough money. Cat Power didnt. She was merely talking about how she couldnt pay her bills. Ive never heard Justin complain about not being a millionaire. For the most part, bands seem pretty unapologetic about the ways they have to pay the bills. See The Black Keys for example.

          I think alot of bands, like alot of us here, cant fathom that a band could be as critically successful and loved and not be swimming in money. Its hard to picture and fathom. The realization that grammy’s and p4k love dont necessarily translate into a ton of money I think would be surprising to alot of bands. And I think coming to that realization may be, unintentionally seen as entitlement or whining.

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

          • I dont think he’s poor, but i also dont think he’s rich either. My point about him was that with the success of For Emma, he could have played solo, and sold out venues. Instead he brought a huge band, which he shares the money. So 7 or 8 other people get a cut of the money as well. He;d make way more money if he was just doing a solo Ryan Adams type thing with an acoustic guitar. I also dont know if he makes 10 grand a night that sounds kind of excessive. I think the larger point though is that even with a grammy, and 2 albums that topped everyones Best Albums of the year list in 2008, and 2011, he isnt making millions of dollars. He just isnt. I think alot of it, as I said, has to do with our images of what rock stars used to live like. The fabulous wealth just doesnt exist like that anymore. We all know the bands that are making that type of money, Bruce, Dave matthews, u2, etc… But no one featured on this website makes anywhere near that amount per night or per year. And plus, all those guys Bruce and Dave are making WAY more money on everything else as well, merch sales for those guys must be an insane amount of money per gig. People equate critical acclaim with money and in 2012 that parallel doesnt exist. Ive seen pictures of where James Mercer and Isaac Brock live. These arent mansions. They are just regular people. The Shins and Modest Mouse couldnt be more successful or popular in indie music, but from my impressions both Isaac and James live in a typical middle class house in portland

        • Miguelito, I appreciate your contrarian stance and think you bring up some interesting ideas but if you could back up your statements with facts (like Bon Iver making $10k/night) and keep your personal tastes out of it you’d make a much more convincing argument. Bon Iver achieving some success despite being terrible in your opinion quite frankly means nothing. I wish that’s how it worked because if it did there wouldn’t be 4 radio stations for pop country in my hometown.

      • arcade fire have butlers. for sure.

    • 99% of bands never made a dollar from selling records.

      Yes, but all that money went to the record company, who paid to have the album recorded, produced and marketed.

      I’m sick of people saying “Don’t buy the record, artists don’t get money out of it”. If the label isn’t making money, bands can’t get recorded and promoted.

  18. Fender’s real problem is that most of the guitars and basses they have made in the past 35 years are garbage. While vintage Strats, Jazzmasters and P-Basses are consistently outstanding, most newer Fender instruments are pretty weak. They have diluted their brand name as well as the name of other brands, like Jackson, that they have swallowed up over the years by peddling inferior products in inferior stores like Guitar Center.

    • My pretty-new Jazzmaster sounds pretty awesome. I’m sure you’re right about some newer Fenders, but I think if you buy their American-made stuff and not the Japanese/Mexican stuff, you’ll be fine. However when you”re hungry for lunch, Japanese and Mexican are very good options.

      • eh, makes me gassy

      • That is true to a point, but currently there is no overly apparent differentiation between the higher-quality American-made instruments (which are stilll a far cry from the pre-’74 stuff) and the lower quality imports. The Squier label used to be used for the cheaper guitars but now that label is only used for the really inferior department-store-quality starter instruments. This is in contrast to other American brands which clearly delineate the domestic and imports, like Gibson, which still uses the Epiphone label for, I believe, all of its imports and PRS, which are still all made domestically except for the imported E models. Also, there was a time (namely the 1980s) when American-made Fenders were actually inferior to the Japanese models which even further muddies the waters. The bottom line is Fender may be an iconic brand but the factors in its decline run deeper and date much farther back than any apparent decline in the popularity of rock music.

        • There are clearly different levels of Fender lines, though maybe some people aren’t so clear as to the country of manufacture. But you’ve got your American Vintage Re-Issues which are made in America and cost more than a grand, and you’ve got your Classic Players made in Mexico for less than a grand. It’s pretty clear that that’s a B-level product.

          Things go in cycles and rock is far from dead…there will be times ahead when kids are flocking to buy Fender guitars and button-pushing electronica is the lamest thing imaginable. As James Murphy said, “I heard your band traded in your guitars and got turntables…I heard your band traded in your turntables and got guitars.”

          • Fender bought Gretsch in the last decade and some of the guitars have never been better. Better shapes and electronics etc. For example, the double cutaway duojet which they brought back had a really bad tremolo arm in its original iteration, but its better than ever with a modern bigsby

  19. It’s kind of sad that so many bands need to resort to gimmickry in order to get someone to buy a physical copy of the music they poured all of their time and effort into. Although, I guess if there’s one positive aspect to living in the digital music age, it’s that the backlash has brought about a vinyl renaissance.

  20. why have so few bands followed the In Rainbows marketing thing. Right after that NIN released 2 albums for free, and i remember Bloc Party and The Raconteurs altered their album schedule as a result, reducing the lead in time, ie We are releasing an album thats coming out in a month or two. and of course this year Death Grips did it. But to me, i’d think something like that is a potent way to control your own artistic vision and music, as well as to get attention and get some money in the process.

    I dont think of that as gimmicks. Any more that liscencing to film or tv or commercials is. I dont groan when I heard Bon Iver in a film. ‘

    I think as a result of everything we’ve discussed and read, thats the way bands make money. Merch, ticket sales and liscencing. And also I think bands are more upfront about it nowadays. I remember Jeff Tweedy saying something like he liscenced Wilco for a commercial because he has kids that need to go to college. And that makes complete sense, and I support him in doing that.

    Thats what makes the Cat Power and Grizzly Bear examples so odd. Someone else commented they make millions but they also spend a ton of money too. Both have liscenced their music. One would think that would, apart from touring and merch revenue, be the single biggest money maker for the band all year. Plus all the benefits it has. Liscencing on a tv show exposes you to millions of new listeners, translating into more merch and ticket sales.

    I dont see it as gimmickry. Its just the reality of 2012 music industry buisness. The bands have to make money somewhere.

    If i was in an brand new indie rock band, seems to me the safest bet, would be to try and form a relationship with blogs, do a ton of tour dates, come up with damn good merch thats interesting and unique, have a great website, and send in submissions and demos of music to music supervisors on tv shows and movies. Getting your music heard in a Twilight film or on the soundtrack would be insane amount of exposure.

  21. Start charging for pictures and autographs after the show.

    David Liebe Hart charged me $5 for a picture earlier this year and I paid it.

    It could also possibly put an end to that group of 4 drunk concert attendees that want 8 pictures on 5 different phones of them with Jens Lekman (true story). It’s not a total solution, at all. But I remember Marnie Stern opening a kissing booth (that didn’t go well at all) and it got me thinking that band’s should try selling stuff that doesn’t cost anything to them at shows. Don’t throw those drumsticks into the crowd! take them to the merch table, sign em, sell ‘em for $100.

    My best idea I had a few days ago was if Chromatics released a super deluxe edition of their album in conjunction with some car manufacturer. Make a 1 of 1 specially designed Chromatics Car that costs at least $10,000. Let’s call it $30,000 and just capitalize on that one super rich super fan of Chromatics. I think deluxe editions of albums is a decent way to turn an extra buck. I paid $50 for the deluxe edition of Flying Lotus’ new album and it’s worthless. Same shit in the normal except it’s a whack ass case that is now the misfit of my record collection. But hey! I don’t care because it’s $50 to one of my favorite artists.

    Basically, find more ways for humans to blindly support you. Find ways for them to give you money. I remember when Les Savy Fav’s last album leaked, they made an announcement and opened a PayPal account for anybody who stole the album to pay for it. I stole it. I paid them $10 through Paypal. Then I paid $10 through iTunes to buy it for real. Seth sent me an e-mail thanking me. I felt good about myself. Plus LSF made double on their album from the same fan.

    I still feel like nothing here solves anything on a major scale, but hopefully these ideas could be incorporated in the current music environment to at least be able to make it through a tour with a little more money.

  22. I’ve written and recorded (on my laptop, with garageband) a song for my mom for Christmas for the last three years. That’s some seriously saved money right there.

  23. Throw a party at your rehearsal space and charge people a buck or two to get in. Buy a bunch of PBR and sell them for a buck each (they’re like $7 bucks for a 12 pack). If anything just have fun while you’re essentially practicing your set in front of a bunch of drunk people, and if those drunk people have a good time at your show they’re more likely to come to your next show.

  24. It’s not supposed to be easy.

  25. While definitely unglamorous, and to some sacrilegious, I would suggest (granted they have the chops or choose modestly) forming a cover band on the side. If memory serves, I believe Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were a Gun’s n’ Roses cover band for quite a few years. There are many positives to consider:

    1)You’re making use of your investments in equipment, etc.
    2) You can improve your chops and gain experience (pretty much every band could benefit from this)
    3) You can book two shows in the same town while on tour (and probably do way better in shit towns)
    4) If you can make money doing it, you can finance the music you consider your art.
    5) It beats working at Starbucks.

    Just a suggestion. Not something I would necessarily do. But it definitely crossed my mind a few times while on tour.

  26. come on down to papa don’s studio, where the prices are cheap, the equipment is a white macbook (w/ garageband capabilities), and where the john door is always open so 1) i can keep an eye on ya, 2) i like list’nin to music while dumpin’.

    See you soon.


    And directions:,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&bvm=bv.1355325884,d.b2U&bpcl=39967673&biw=1050&bih=489&q=regina+saskatchewan&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x531c1e40fba53deb:0x354a3296b77b54b1,Regina,+SK&gl=ca&sa=X&ei=_L_KUI-TCYzuqQGo_4HwDQ&ved=0CKkBELYD

  27. This just seems like a list of justifications for consumers who don’t want to pay for music.

    If I like an artists work, I’ll buy it on iTunes. Is this really such a crazy concept?

  28. I think it is good to step back and compare rock music to other arts. I know plenty of actors, photographers, painters, writers, ceramicists, fashion designers, etc who can’t make the money you can make being a musician. There is plenty of money somewhere in music (umm, another trap DJ anyone?), but not every weird rock band can make a living off of it.

  29. a quote from Kenny Jones from The Who:

    “I mean, I didn’t actually go out and buy a set of drums to become rich and famous. But now you get kids who go out and buy a guitar or drums because they figure that’s the way to become rich and famous. In the sixties, we didn’t even make money when we became rich and famous. (Weinberg)”

  30. As a newly independent musician I really appreciate this discussion and sensitivity on hand regarding this modern conundrum. Here’s my two cents.

    Let’s say there was a band that was willing to shamelessly self promote and capitalize on the feelings of good will towards musicians in the hopes that it would make them a few bucks in exchange for some sense of self worth. i.e. they went on a popular music blog and created a discount code pandering to it’s sister site that would save readers 15% off the download of that band’s latest outstanding release. Sort of an in joke code to be entered at checkout valid through xmas, we’ll call the code “facetaco”. If, for example, the band’s bandcamp store was located at, do you think the other commenters would take advantage of the amazing deal and download the album?

    This hypothetical thought exercise is the kind of thing band’s do and/or need to think about a lot these days. Major labels used to sign a lot of bands in the hopes that one would get big. Indie musicians need to try a lot of different stuff in the hopes that they can buy lunch.

  31. With recording gear being cheaper than ever, sites like Bandcamp to sell your record without a label, and Facebook to network and facilitate DIY touring, it is easier than ever to get your music out to the masses, and harder than ever to get anyone to care. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of bands out there at the local level, and even those touring on a small scale, and shit, even a lot of those on larger independent labels, are creating music that is not particularly original and has little widespread appeal even in the context of “indie” music. Not to be a downer or anything, but the vast majority of bands are doomed regardless of how well-executed their marketing plan, image, etc., or how cheaply they sell their records, or whether they cop Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” pay-what-you-want model, or whether they sell toothbrushes or vodka or panties or flamethrowers with their name emblazoned on them. By the way, that really only works to make your band money to any significant degree if you already have a huge fan following.

    It’s curious that while the major label model is supposedly dead, the career course of independent bands like Death Cab For Cutie and Rilo Kiley is out of reach for nearly all independent bands as well. An “indie” culture that supported those sorts of bands through their awkward adolescent phases and allowed them to develop as artists has been replaced by a chew-em-up-and-spit-em-out blog culture bombarded by chillwave and ‘next big thing’ bands. This is what major labels do, and is the whole idea that, in my mind, to which independent music was supposed to be an alternative. Bands like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Tapes n Tapes will not have careers in any meaningful sense. A 10.0 on Pitchfork for your debut album, which I’m pretty sure is the target that most up-and-coming indie bands would love to hit, guarantees you buzz that fizzles after the debut album, when some other band with a better marketing plan and a more obscure subgenre tag will step up to take your place. Remember when ska was big in the summer of ’96? Yeah you do. Chillwave is the ska of independent music, and the independent music world is on the lookout for the analog of the next swing or techno fad, which will fizzle accordingly.

    Ultimately, your band’s fans are your biggest resource, if you have any. One fan to a non-fan saying “hey, check out this album” means a lot more than having wacky merchandise, so cultivating a fanbase and using it to help support your band is the way to go. Easier said than done. Kickstarter is the most obvious way to capitalize on the fanbase – it’s really strange to me that people will pay you before you make a record now, rather than the other way around. But I’m more interested in ways you can get support from your fanbase while touring. Here’s a few mostly related points:

    1. Ask your fans where you should play in their city and what bands to play with. The ‘coolest’ venue might set you up with a crap show with crap bands; you might be better off in a basement with bands who are more like-minded.

    2. When the show is done, don’t get a hotel, stay with family, fans, or someone you just met at the show. “Hey, we have been Goatwhore, thanks everyone, we need a place to stay tonight.” You save money and give yourself the opportunity to make a more genuine connection with the people who like your band. Occasionally with disastrous results, but that’s all part of the fun.

    3. Don’t get a booking agent who can’t do anything more for you than you can yourself – why pay 15% if someone’s going to just look up bands on Bandcamp, or put the least possible effort into booking you at crap clubs with random bands? The only reason to have a booking agent is if they have better connections than you and get you on better shows with bigger bands, but you may be friends with bands or club owners that can do the same.

    4. Free food: go to a pizza joint and say “hey, we’re broke musicians, we don’t have any money, and we just had the van fixed, all we have is our record to trade.” “How many you want?” That’s pretty much verbatim. People really get into the whole “we’re suffering for our art bla bla bla” concept, and you have to rely on that mentality for help sometimes. It’s less exploitative than charging your fans for pictures and autographs. Was that actually a serious suggestion? Imagine going to see a small-time touring band, you really like their record, and they set up a booth trying to charge $5 for autographs to the 100 or so people in the audience. Huge turn off, super-douchey.

    Think that’s all for me. It’s an uphill battle, even if your band is good and people like you.

  32. Uh, minor corrections:

    “The Radiohead ‘In Rainbows’ pay-what-you-want idea really only works to make your band money to any significant degree if you already have a huge fan following.” If you’re an independent band with a small fanbase, you’re likely to get close to $0 if that’s an option.

    And there’s an ugly sentence in there that should have read: Independent music was supposed to be an alternative to the major label ‘chew-em-up-and-spit-em-out’ concept, but that’s what independent music has become.

    Indie bands are trying to scare up attention and buzz in the same dumb ways that used to try and court major labels; manufactured images, gimmicky merchandise, gimmicky marketing plans – all to try and score their 15 minutes in the sun. That’s the same model 8 billions alternative rock bands in the mid-90s tried to get their piece of the post-Nirvana major label pie.

    OK, I’m done now.

  33. Because of poorly managed touring, I will never be able to see Kate Bush live -, _ -

  34. Any bands looking for help with all label side stuff (primarily promotion, design and etc.) contact me at

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