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 Surviving day to day in the music business?

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bazza Posted - 09/13/2010 : 08:53:12 AM
This is an area I never seem to get to read about for most bands or singers/artists etc.
There are so many bands out doing the rounds these days, touring overseas, or touring in their own countries. Most of these bands, the wider mass will not have heard about. For example, I could walk up to lots of people in my home town in Ireland and say "Adam Franklin", and they'll say "who???".

However, from what I read here, and the albums I have bought, Adam is tipping away nicely making records and touring stateside.
But I always wonder about the nitty gritty things. Adam won't be on MTV anytime soon, or be playing at Euro festivals, so what does he do from day to day to pay the rent, put food on the table? Or not just necessarily Adam, but other bands at a similar level?
Do they work day jobs? If so, how do they get time off to tour? If they don't work day jobs, what do they do?

Who pays for the tours? Tours ain't cheap, so not sure how this works.
Even things like getting a visa to tour (essentially work in another country). From my perspective, being Irish, I am thinking it would be difficult to organize visas for tours to the US, or Canada, or Aus/NZ etc. I don't know how this works.

Even a simple thing like: Adam is English? Is he a naturalised American citizen? I was reading an interview with Kevin Drew this morning, and he was saying how they recorded in Chicago, and he just kicked back there for longer than they had planned? I'm thinking "how did you do this?" Were there not visas to sort etc etc. What did you survive on in Chicago? Personal savings or did a label foot the bill?
All this type of stuff I like to read about that nobody else does lol..

I ask this as I am a musician who may/may not go down this road next year, but I still have to pay the bills, and at the moment for me, original music doesn't pay any bills!! If I got to the level of Adam Franklin, I would consider that success. To be able to make a living out of original music would be a success to me, in this day and age.
So, do you think Adam (and those at a similar level), make a living out of their original music, or do they/we always have to have irons in many fires...
23   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
frans Posted - 10/14/2010 : 02:48:11 AM
I few of my friends are/were in bands that play/played 200+ shows a year and they still barely make ends meet, NO dayjob. I can attest to the fact that there is a network of people who make it possible, working in clubs, promoters, the lot who decided NOT to work in, say, a bank and instead do what their heart told them. Mostly music related, often former musicians themselve. I, for my part have a recording studio that's affordable that hasn't to earn any money, that's what my dayjob (cartoonist) is for. Bands can get a decent 10 or so songs finished in four days, play a few gigs and have the studio and 500 CDs paid. Then again the building is a club that has frequent shows, packs 600 and is owned by a landscape architect that spends his spare money there as a tax shelter. He doesn't care if the club makes money, it only has to cover it's expenses and my rent is dirt cheap. The whole "family" there is there because they want to live their life outside of corporate BS and rather support what they love.
Eugene Posted - 10/13/2010 : 11:01:36 AM
Depends on what you define as making a living. I think "doing music" full time is insane, unless you like a lot of PB and J sandwiches as sustenance and sleeping on somebody's couch all the time. Well, that's a bit extreme, but it's tough, to put it mildly. I know some very accomplished musicians, for example a lady I know who sings with Springsteen and who still needs other work; it is simply not enough. The people who really survive well do it by keeping several things going. For example, take ANY gig, and I mean ANY gig..weddings, Bar-Mitzvahs, Church, art shows, hotel lobbies..busking..Also work "in" music ,which could include recording, production, arranging, writing charts, you name it. And another big help..marry somebody who actually has a good job! A perfect example is the guy I'm working with on my recording..he is a well regarded session bass player and works with many "big name" people. He gigs at any opportunity, records and arranges, and yep, his wife also has a great job. He told me that basically the label thing is OVER for the forseeable future and that the secret to survival is having a CD you can sell at gigs and playing out as much as possible. Personally, I am very thankful not to have to do music full-time. I have a great job and it allows me to create the type of music I wanna do, and not worry about having to have the art compromised by "making a living" at it. I feel the same way about the artwork I do in ceramics.

BTW...Mittens, I think the coporate gig thing is really drying up of late. That used to be true, but with the poor economy these companies aren't throwing the big parties they used to.
Mittens the cat Posted - 09/30/2010 : 7:56:42 PM
There's a really well known call centre here in Sydney that is staffed almost entirely by musicians. It's quite flexible in terms of working hours etc, but they can be quite draconian, for example, they decided to ban "non-work related use of pens" a while ago, which led to a massive surge in origami production. Everyone knows someone who has worked there. It's closing down at the beginning of next year, which could spell the catastrophic end of the music scene!

Corporate gigs, publishing, can also nab quite decent money. Some of those corporate fees are just insane. Five figures for an hour's work. I used to dream of playing your standard iconic rock venues, now I'd give a kidney to play at a bank's xmas party!
bazza Posted - 09/29/2010 : 08:21:45 AM
cool, I can see what he means about being involved in lots of projects, which is no bad thing really...
bradsears Posted - 09/28/2010 : 09:10:33 AM
I mustered the courage to ask Adam one day if he had a day job and the answer was no. I was glad to hear that. Surviving doing something you love is arguably reward enough. He's prolific and busy. He once told me that musicians he knows say that these days you have to be involved in many projects to get by.
chris Posted - 09/22/2010 : 05:12:36 AM
Not a lot to add, I guess a lot of us had aspirations to play music for a living. If the music industry continues do evolve (or die depending on how you look at it) our chances get slimmer. Although on the flipside its a lot easier to expose yourself on your own terms. Great thread.
Snail Posted - 09/21/2010 : 6:42:07 PM
Another point of view is that with all this exposure going on via the net, is that those artist that were exposed to individuals calling the shots (ie clicky record company execs)and therefore got a rough run (ie swervedriver), well these days, their music can talk for their own credentials, especially now where individuals call the shots. Too true Bazza, it's a time where, even-more-so, people can find out for themselves what rocks their socks as opposed to what they are presented by a controlling few. A good time to 'kill your superheros' I suppose, eventhough the controlling few are still out there.

In other words, if the music is "the shit" like we know many an underrated band's to be, then that is likely to be liked (and bought) by a larger audience. It helps if your rep has been established somewhat where the individual has a place to start the discovery. Having said that, I still think there is a mass media obstacle/challenge to deal with though. (ie radio / tv / newspaper) I notice Big B collecting as many of Adz's press exposure during tours and post here.

How do these daring muso's get by? Well by a little help of their friend of course. It's been said and sung!
kingtubby Posted - 09/21/2010 : 07:39:26 AM
Originally posted by zed

"If I got to the level of Adam", Bazza no offense whatsoever, but Adam is a living legend. That's like saying, if I become Bob Mold, J Mascis, etc. Those guys can live a little off their great past achievements and doors open for them. For example, Magnetic Morning. So it's way different than a new musician, new bands starting out. All I mean, is it took Adam 25+ years to be at this level, historical Swervedriver records, etc. Not saying it can't be done again, it has to happen !!! We need more great music.

Adam's in a different category than Mould or Mascis, though, in terms of money being made. Those guys made a bunch of money in the late-'80s through the mid-'90s, far more than I imagine Adam did with SWD. And both of them were very smart with the money they made, investing it in houses (no more rent to pay, ever) and, in Mascis's case early on, good recording equipment (no more studio bills). Having the opportunity to do that allowed them to survive during the lean times in their careers, and both of them (especially Mascis) play to crowds exponentially bigger than the ones Adam draws. Some of the SWD reunion shows drew comparable crowds, but that was a one-off thing, and hiring a crew and a bus must've drained a lot of money.

Which does leave me wondering about how he manages financially on a day to day basis.
bazza Posted - 09/20/2010 : 09:34:53 AM
too true, but it's never been a better time to be exposed to SO MUCH cool music. It's a double edged sword...
interloper Posted - 09/18/2010 : 06:49:12 AM
I think the majors all stopped caring about small profit margins and at the same time, the internet kind decentralized everything.

It's a large, saturated, fragmented mess. There's a lot to be said for the days of records and radio.
bazza Posted - 09/17/2010 : 07:00:24 AM
interloper. Cool music. I really like that! I'll make a purchase...
Yeah, I agree, lots of bands out there making a good living, and I have never heard them. I suppose it could even be a case where a band makes a living out of it for 4 or 5 years, then finds their popularity waning, and have to go back to the day job. How do you explain the "5 year gap" to some potential boss who knows nothing about creating music.....
interloper Posted - 09/16/2010 : 4:49:29 PM
Great thread.

I personally have no answers. All I know is it's all a huge pain in the ass, even if you ARE a big name. I personally think the music industry is completely over with and all the indie stuff is so completely splintered that it could never turn into a viable industry like record labels were to begin with. That said, I know for a fact the world is crawling with people making a LOT of money and none of us have ever heard of any of them. Basically, baby boomers ruined everything.

Almost forgot, check out my band.
bazza Posted - 09/16/2010 : 3:20:16 PM
I'm not going to post up the link just yet, just to say, it's not the link I posted up here before, it's a different band..
I'll wait until there are mastered tracks, there are some really good quality tracks mastered for now, but we are going to get some new mixes done. I won't tempt fate and I'll post it up in a few months time...

KM Atlanta, the only way I'l get to see Adam anytime soon, is to get a flight to the US... :)

Yeah, I've been reading lots of articles on music business models, and it's all up for grabs, from what I can gather...
KM Atlanta Posted - 09/15/2010 : 10:11:52 AM
Buy T-Shirts (I love the Liverpool red 'Peacock' AF shirt and the Swerve 'Pedals' shirt) because of great margins and the money goes more directly to the artist, buy two full copies of "Sleep" and give the extra vinyl and CD away to friends who should be fans, but aren't yet, and travel to see Adam live in concert whenever you can... and support deserving local musicians. No more preaching for today, I promise...
crozarey Posted - 09/15/2010 : 02:40:51 AM
The Postal Service got a pretty good ride from what I hear (not much) - sending music files to each other and collabing etc. I guess someone liked their story and backed them. I wonder if they have to tour or still use their namesake to keep it rolling along?

Baz, can we listen to your music somewhere?

Just a thought but I always though Cake's The Distance was going to be plastered over every car racing commercial ever. I reckon that if you could write a quirky hit with a real direction at some niche market - eg NASCAR - Let them play it for free but charge people to download it or whatever... Note that I have no musical background and this is prolly way naive. I guess what Im trying to say is that if you have some music that could be really useable for some market or brand - then you might have a foot in the door. Snail and I have heard a bunch of ads over here that use "simple" quiet guitar tracks that are catchy after a while. Maybe you have something like that? Eugene would be able to knock out some little tracks like we experience on adds from banks and shit, no problem.

Who is rambling now!
Snail Posted - 09/14/2010 : 8:25:46 PM
You see a lot of indie bands relatively prominant in the nineties making a come back. (few eg's: MBV, Tumbleweed, The Meanies,even Neds on occasion) On their break I guess these guys got jobs. Good to see they can come back for the pure enjoyment of being true to what they can do.
bazza Posted - 09/14/2010 : 2:40:59 PM
No worries, Zed, I didn't take your post the wrong way at all.
Yeah, I reckon Adam was the wrong example to use here...
The National are a pretty cool band, I'm liking their latest album a lot.
I have factored in I'm going to have to make some sacrifices work wise, in order to tour/play gigs (a good complaint to make if it comes to pass...). No reason in this day and age why one has to "jack in the day job..."
zed Posted - 09/14/2010 : 1:45:39 PM
Cool Bazza, I know you didn't mean it in an arrogant way, and I hope you didn't take what I said in an arrogant way either. Just wanted to drive home the point that Adam and guys like him, are probably not good guys to compare to until you have that sort of back catalogue etc. But, go for it man, good bands do break through from time to time, look at Tame Impala this year. In the end though, raw talent doesn't seem to be the determining factor for wether or not you can put food on the table. And most can't put food on the table.

Funny you should mention "The National" as I just saw them the other night for the first time, and was pretty blown away by how good they sounded, and how "pro" the whole set up was. I can see that at that level, money might start to come in a little. Big sold out shows, happy audience, etc. But, they've been at it hard for some 12 years already.
bazza Posted - 09/14/2010 : 09:00:36 AM
Cool. I didn't mean it in an arrogant way when I said "if I get to the level of Adam...". I suppose what I meant was taking a guy like him, who writes amazing songs, irrespective of his past, is still able to do it and do it well, but I have never read about him, at least in magazines on my side of the pond. I never hear a thing about him here. Not in the last few years anyhow...I never hear his stuff on the radio, and probably never will, even on the "indie" shows here. God knows, I've requested him a lot, but the stylers on the radio don't grant me my wishes. So, I'm thinking, how is this guy making a living, or countless other bands.....
I suppose, yeah, I should have taken into account that Adam has a past reputation that works well for him too.
I would imagine the majority of original bands have to try and hold down jobs outside of the band. What do you do if your job goes well, and someone wants to promote you, or you're handed more responsibility at work.
I was reading about the guys in The National holding down pretty decent jobs up until a few years ago...
I'm always curious as to how bands/musos pay the rent, feed the kids... It's as much an important part of their life, as making albums
zed Posted - 09/13/2010 : 7:22:32 PM
All the folk I know or know of still hold some kind of flexible day job that allows them to leave for tours. It's a rough go. I remember reading SWD basically made no money, Sunny Day Real Estate made no money (4th best selling SubPop record of all time) etc. I know of a guy that was on majors, insane talent, now on probably the best indie label, and he makes nothing. Even freaking Mark Arm works in a warehouse. Making music for films and commercials seems to pay a little.

"If I got to the level of Adam", Bazza no offense whatsoever, but Adam is a living legend. That's like saying, if I become Bob Mold, J Mascis, etc. Those guys can live a little off their great past achievements and doors open for them. For example, Magnetic Morning. So it's way different than a new musician, new bands starting out. All I mean, is it took Adam 25+ years to be at this level, historical Swervedriver records, etc. Not saying it can't be done again, it has to happen !!! We need more great music.

And like Vision said, the masses don't really go for quality. Let's face it, this is "shoulder of the road" musical territory. When I saw bands and artists that were way better than I'd ever be able to be, it took most of the wind out of my sails, and I decided to not pursue money from playing guitar. That way, I still play a lot, and have never had to be in any compromising situations. I wish all the best to you, it can be an amazing life for sure.
Snail Posted - 09/13/2010 : 6:45:02 PM
I think diversity and reputation is the approach for the musician of integrity in the info age. The internet has allowed previous (pre-internet) more popular bands to really cash in through the increased public awareness. At the same time, the idea that 'everyone can be a rockstar' means the industry has been saturated and overrun with a plethera of people producing tunes. The internet access to everyone's music creates a universe of choice.

Associations, co-operations,and being invited to play by another band really goes a long way in support of a 'not-so-popular' musician. Of course depending on how good your craft is, means you have a skill for barter as well. THOSE market forces are real.

I appreciate music, love it and even play it, but I ain't that good or have massive desire to entertain and share an expression in music, enough where it takes all my time and therefore need to be supported from it day to day...hence other trade.

AC/DC wouldn't have written 'Long Way to the Top' if they hadn't expereienced the hardships of making a living in the music biz. It's pretty un-rock'n roll to be intellectualising and understanding mechanisms of music industry or consequences of wanting to rock though, but as Jez notes in his book 'Rider', something along the lines that bills don't stop piling up under your door when you get back home from tour!

I like looking to the Rolling Stones who maintain their edge and identity with longevity. Yeah there's a commercial/mainstream side to them but there's also a classic, unique identity there and when asked "did they rock when I saw them a few years back", the answer comes..."Yes they did".

Sonic Youth are perhaps the best example of a more recently formed band operating with integrity and reputation. But Sonic youth's reputation was well in hand before the internet came along. It propably gets harder to operate like this the more recently the band has formed (with rapid increase in massive choice out there).

Silver Sun Pick-ups are a fairly recent example that I discovered through the internet that seem to go ok, maybe because they have a handle on musical influence and that they are skilled and have a distinct sound.
mpavlic08 Posted - 09/13/2010 : 2:17:24 PM
It's hard to say man. I used to play covers professionally for a few years and it's tough. The biggest issue I saw was the incosistency of the money. You could make $1500 one week and $200 the next. Also, if someone wants to leave a band, then what do you do? Adam does a lot of things, Sophia, SWD reunion, his own shows, and the costs are probably very low (at least by modern touring standards) for him to tour.
visionaryhead Posted - 09/13/2010 : 11:35:31 AM
This question still seems to be rarely asked by people... It still seems like the vast majority of the populace assumes any musician is driving round in an expensive sports car deciding which mansion to stay at.

It still seems nothing could be further from the truth. The internet seems to be liberating (some) musicians, but also, people still steal (download) music. Its a double edged sword. There are several good articles out there (unfortunately I no longer have them book marked...), from Steve Albini and whats-her-name from Hole, giving very good (but highly depressing) views on "the biz"

In 85-86 I was in a London based band. We were all signing on (receiving unemployment) and house benefit. Just about every other band in our "league" was as well. Looking back, was it any different than the government funding arts? Maybe... (maybe not). So thats how we survived (plus doing odd jobs like gardening). We gigged a lot... Any money received (and it was very little) was put to getting to the next gig, keep the van and car roadworthy. We had an album on a small indie label which sold around 2,250 copies - but again, no real money. Selling merchandise helped a lot. In some areas we actually had a bit of a following!

Having said all that, we (I) were still quite removed from the business. I still have no real idea of how musicians make any money. Its hard to ask, especially of your fav bands as it looks like prying, and I certainly wouldn't want to appear nosey, I guess its a small amount of "concern" for these people, who's work you admire, and brings you so much pleasure

To me, its even more important these days, to support the musicians you like. *Buying* their stuff, going to see them... Its hard in this economy, it seems just about everybody is struggling. But if we don't, we could lose them, they stop making music and get a day job

I haven't really answered any of your questions, I can tell I'm rambling. I suppose what I'm trying to say is, you have to have faith in yourself, work hard, and if your material is good enough, people will recognize that. Unfortunately, the masses seem to prefer Lady Gaga... But if respect from your peers is important to you as well, then who cares about crap music? Of course that doesn't always put food on the table...

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