The band’s hesitant to talk about money at all. And after I talk to solo artist and former Hold Steady sideman Franz Nicolay about the rigors of his job—constant low-level panic over never having more than a couple of months’ worth of cash, rarely having health insurance, having to tour so often that you can’t take a break to write and record another album to tour for—he sends a quick explanatory e-mail: “I want to make clear,” he says, “because a lot of the response musicians get when they talk about the difficulty of the lifestyle, especially touring lifestyle, is of the ‘oh, boo-hoo’ variety, that I’m not complaining about any of it in any way that anyone wouldn’t grouse about their job. The smart lifer musician goes into it with eyes wide open, assuming it’s going to be a rewarding but difficult way to make a living.” When I go to a Williamsburg bar to meet Frankie Rose, veteran of a string of much-discussed rock bands, she’s just back from touring a solo album—her first stint without a day job—and already talking to the bartender about finding work. “I feel like if you’re in this at all to make money,” she says, “then you’re crazy. Unless you’re Lana Del Rey or something, it’s a moot point. You’d better be doing it for the love of it, because nobody’s making real money.”
This isn’t exactly news. But these days, instead of describing a visibly low-rent netherland of mimeographed fanzines, it describes a world where the songs might wind up in movie trailers or national car commercials. Musicians often find themselves in the position they occupied before the rise of the LP, working as accessories to other, more profitable industries: nightlife, advertising, film and television, “music discovery” engines, streaming services, press, social networks, branding. (Grizzly Bear once licensed an unreleased track to the Washington State lottery.) But these industries also require musicians to approach what they’re doing as an art—something with authentic, organic connections to style, aesthetics, and youth culture—not a craft to be dutifully plied for a living. And in a trend-driven art, success has a tendency to end.
It's similar, in many ways, to what is said about making money out of writing, which has been on my mind of late. I suspect the truth of it is that I'd like to find a new way to pay my rent, and maybe I will, but it won't be today.
Onwards, onwards, etc, etc.