Recently, indie band Pomplamoose released their financial records of their latest tour. They revealed that while they were making money, they’re not in the same tax bracket as Mitt Romney—not by a large margin.
They spent $148,000 and earned back $136,000, meaning they actually lost about $12,000 on their tour—somewhat odd, considering most bands make most of their income off their touring rather than off CDs and digital sales. Jack Conte, one half of Pomplamoose and author of the tell all article, wrote it off saying their tour was an investment for the band, making more fans and spending money to make sure they put on a good show and got booked for the future.
Their tour may have not been profitable; however, Conte assured his readers that he and his band mate Nataly Dawn are comfortable due to digital sales and payment for their music videos.
On the other hand, many famous musicians complain about unfair compensation for their mega-hits; specifically, on digital formats. Taylor Swift and her label recently pulled her entire catalog of music from Spotify. While they claimed it was “for the fans who bought Taylor’s CDs,” one can’t help but notice there was an unsaid profit motive affecting the decision. Aloe Blacc, a popular indie singer/songwriter, co-wrote a song with Avicii that is the most streamed song on Spotify and the 13th most played song on Pandora, yet he has received less than $4,000 from the streaming services.
The gap between huge mega pop stars and indie bands seems to be shrinking. Conte writes in his article that “We’re entering a new era in history: the space between ‘starving artist’ and ‘rich and famous’ is beginning to collapse.… The “creative class” is no longer emerging: it’s here, now.” If the space between “starving artist” and “rich and famous” is shrinking, what does that mean for those young artists looking to break into the industry? When writing about his tour, Conte writes, “Being in an indie band is running a never-ending, rewarding, scary, low-margin small business.” What does it mean when an independent band runs itself like a business? Can we replace “artists” with the “creative class?” And does that mean that only a certain class of people get to express themselves creatively?
To put this idea of the “creative class” into perspective, let’s take a look at another big indie band. Grizzly Bear, one of the biggest indie bands around, has had a lot of critical and mainstream success. In his profile on the band, Nitsuh Abebe writes, “The band’s had a song on a Twilight soundtrack, been repeatedly praised by Jay-Z, appeared on The Colbert Report, and opened for Radiohead. Veckatimest [their third album] has now sold around 220,000 copies in the U.S., which is remarkable.” However, their success doesn’t parlay into riches and fame. Abebe continues in his piece, writing, “Grizzly Bear tours for the bulk of its income, like most bands; licensing a song might provide each member with ‘a nice little ‘‘Yay, I don’t have to pay rent for two months.’’ They don’t all have health insurance.” One might look at Grizzly Bear’s success and assume they’ve made it big, but the harsh truth is some of them might not be able to afford a trip to the doctor’s office.
One could look at the declining music industry and say that musicians should make music for the sake of music, not for the money. It certainly sounds like a noble intention. However, what that implies is that bands like Pomplamoose and Grizzly Bear need to have business sense in order to simply make art for art’s sake. Pomplamoose lost money on their tour, seeing it as an investment for the sake of future tours, while the members of Grizzly Bear run the risk of picking up a day job in order to finance their music. Yes, art should be appreciated for its own sake, but the musician is able to make a lot more music and art that everyone can appreciate if they are financially stable and can put food on the table.
It’s easy to look at the musicians on the A-list worth hundreds of millions of dollars like Kanye West and Jay-Z and think that all the other successful musicians have to be doing well too. What’s easy to forget is that Kanye has a chain of burger joints in Chicago and a line of fashionable sneakers with Nike and Louis Vuitton. Jay-Z also makes money in a lot of business deals, most notably owning part of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team. Most musicians don’t have the same level of business activity as those at the top. Ed Droste, one of the singers of Grizzly Bear said, “People probably have an inflated idea of what we make. Bands appear so much bigger than they really are now, because no one’s buying records.”
Maybe Spotify will have a change of heart and change how they pay their artists. Maybe some new music distribution system will come along and fix all the problems in the industry. Until then, it looks like making music professionally will be limited to the new creative class.
Abebe, Nitsuh. “Grizzly Bear Members Are Indie-Rock Royalty, But What Does That Buy Them in 2012?” Vulture 30 Sept. 2012. Print.
Blacc, Aloe. “Aloe Blacc: Streaming Services Need to Pay Songwriters Fairly.” Wired 5 Nov. 2014. Print.
Conte, Jack. “Pomplamoose 2014 Tour Profits (or Lack Thereof).” Https://medium.com/@jackconte/pomplamoose-2014-tour-profits-67435851ba37. 24 Nov. 2014. Web. <https://medium.com/@jackconte/pomplamoose-2014-tour-profits-67435851ba37>.