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Thread: How much do 'successful' indie bands make?

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    mrx
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    How much do 'successful' indie bands make?

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    Many recent discussions have been thematically tied to the 'craft' of writing, and the differences between writing to a specifc market 'formula' (trying to get published) versus writing as an artist (writing in the context of a band and a record deal, etc.)

    Thinking about the latter, I keep coming back a question that the vast resources of the internet can't seem to answer: How much money (and where does it come from) is generated by bands like Wilco, Guided By Voices, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, etc., who don't sell enough CD's to recoup (Jeff Tweedy from Wilco has said he's never seen a royalty check), and even when touring appear in joints that hold 200 people?

    Robert Pollard (GBV) and Paul Westerberg (Replacements) don't seem to have day jobs - where does the money come from? Clearly there's a way to make a living as a writer, yet everyone I talk to that is a 'working musician' either gives lessons or traffics in dope.

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    Layla Nahar's Avatar
    Layla Nahar is offline Dedicated Member
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    from what I gather

    I'm guessing that some of them could by thier own house, a decent, but not extravagant place, some could pay the rent, & some even working pretty hard, might still be having a hard time making rent, maybe keeping some sort of ad hoc day job ... My conclusion - no riches, but perhaps a living

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    nickjc is offline Senior Member
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    hmmm . . .

    that's a good question really. how do icons like John Cale continue to live off piddly alnum sales and undersold tours?

    my guess is it's all to do with communities. Someone like Paul Westenberg or Jeff Tweedy may not have a lot of international celebrity, but they have a lot of cultural collateral in a certain community. This community wants the artist to continue making music for pure reasons, so they are supported by labels and the general community. What indie wouldn't sign Wilco to add cultural value to their company?

    also, the larger community wants to support these "pure" musical ventures as it adds cultural value to their larger community, from morale to national/regional pride to tourism - what would nashville be without country music? (although admittedly Country is a cash cow)

    this is especially true in New Zealand where I live. They are various government schemes to support NZ music and even an 'Artists allowance' that allows you to get paid for not working as long as you can prove you're pusuing an artistic dream - it's not much but it's enough to live off.

    having said all that, it's still a mystery how some artists can EAT, let alone make music
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    Layla Nahar's Avatar
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    I wonder about tours sometimes. Live performance is supposed to be where musicians make thier money, but what with paying for hotel rooms and plane tickets for the musicians, I just wonder how people break even.

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    Be Loveless's Avatar
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    A lot of Indie bands ,"Guided by Voices" for instance, don't get caught in the trap of owing thier record company tons of money for studio time, promotion, and other shit because they have done it themselves hence the Independent part. Therefore when some money does finally come in they are more likely to keep it than a teenage band signed to a Major for thier first Album and end up owing thier souls. There is this great article by steve albini on the subject but I don't know where to find it, Anyone know?
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    Oh yeah, and they did have day jobs they're first few albums in. I believe one of the Pollards was a High School English teacher.
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    gtar02 is offline Senior Member
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    A lot of them (especially members of wilco) run their own studios, have started their own labels, and work for record companies now. They spend their time finding new music and recording it.

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    david strait is offline Newbie
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    a good book on the subject: $30 MUSIC SCHOOL. It's not incredibly well-written from as literary perspective, but its got alot of good advice on the whole do-it-yourself indie style recording/promoting/touring. I've done the whole foot my own bill on the road thing for a few months back in 2001, and i really wish that i had read this book before i had tried that the first time.

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    mrx
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    I've read the Albini article, but he's a strange bird pretty convinced his vision of the world is correct. For those that haven't read it, he basically breaks down the finances of a band that sells 250,000 copies of a debut album for a major label and ends up (including advance, touring, merchandise, etc.) making less than if they worked at 7-11.

    The 'own studio'/'work for a record company' explanation given above has some merrit. I recall an article from the 80's where Stan Ridgway (former 'Wall of Vodoo') got a deal for a solo album and took the advance to build a studio, figuring he could make his record AND have something of value left over. The Tragically Hip did something similar, taking the cash from an unexpectedly successful first album to build a facility that would generate income. Maybe through producing, A&R work, sound tracks, etc. the guys in my original post make the whole thing work.

    There's still something else going on, though. Pollard was a school teacher, but I believe he was able to quit that gig well before GBV got anything resembling a 'major label' deal. I asked a similar question at an industry seminar - specifically how some bands could sell 400K copies and get dropped, yet Ministry could sell half that and do very well - Denis DeYoung from Styx was on the panel and made some smart ass remark - probably because he was one of the guys who would be dropped at 400K...

    I guess it's all the Dave Mathews DIY ethic - play what you feel is right, build it fan-by-fan, and when someone comes offering a contract, bend 'em over a barrel!

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    the edzell is offline Senior Member
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    Well there are many ďhiddenĒ fees with the big corporate labels. One of the guitar magazines did a great article 7 or more years ago about the pros and cons of being signed. They had a pie chart that showed all the people a band had to support: CEOís, Managers, A&R people, secretaries, talent scouts (no doubt looking to replace you), graphic artist, the studio and their costs, the costs to make the CDís, the Videos, tour support. Add to the fact that a lot of acts get their advance and go buy their dream equipment (Les Pauls, Marshall Amps, top shelf stuff) and you can see how many hands the buck passes through before the artist sees it. And I wonder why I see Method Man and Redmen on ďBest Sports ShowĒ complaining about not getting royalties.

    There was also another article about the contracts that the ďAmerican IdolísĒ have to sign. Not only do they have to sign any creative control they might have, but also they are even worse off financially than those artists who didnít have to go through the process of being insulted every week.

    Just looking at things if you never get signed. Letís say youíre a popular draw that can get $2000.00 a show. Lets take $300 out for travel, food and lodging (which any savvy band will find a accountant that will use that as a tax write off) and $250.00 for the sound guy. (which again, heís the bandís employee and can be written off.) And before you question if the right guy can get you all these tax breaks, before they were signed Hootie and the Blowfish had the band members and crew all on dental plans.

    So that leaves the actual 5-member band $1450 to split. $290.00 per guy. Playing 4 gigs a month thatís $1160.00. One year, $13,920 for 48 gigs. There are full time musicians who probably do 2 to 3 times that amount, even locally.

    Letís say band puts out a CD. After Studio cost, production fees (printing, graphic artist etcÖ) you clear $5.00 a pop. Letís just say the band is pretty popular and sells 10,000. $50,000, 5 man band, $10,000. (That is if there arenít any arguments over royalties or songwriting credits) So now the band members are up to $23,920. Depending on where you live that could be decent money or just a drop in the bucket. LA & NY probably nothing, but in smaller markets maybe not too bad. What some schoolteachers make. (Which explains why Gene Simmons and Sting got out of the profession.)

    Of course the real savvy bands find the best way to make money is on merchandising. T-shirts, Bumper Stickers, Key Chains, etc.. If itís cool enough people will buy it. And most of those products have a high return on investment depending on what the band wants to charge. Iíve heard of bands getting T-shirts as low as $2.00 and selling them for $10.00. $8.00 profit isnít bad.

    Of course I'm sure it varies from band to band, market to market. I met a guy last year who plays in a popular disco cover band. They play 250 shows a pop getting from 2000 - 4500 a show. He complained that it was more an job than adventure. Of course he complained in a new Esclade he paid cash for. So I guess there is proof that you don't have to be "signed" to make a living playing music. But I doubt you'll be on cribs.

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