The Members of Grizzly Bear Can’t Afford Health Insurance

There’s comfort in a day job, no matter how mind-numbingly boring it may be.

But it turns out that even the even the biggest indie artists could use the reliable paycheck: according to a surprising close-up of Grizzly Bear published this week, ‘success’ still means financial struggle, tremendous day-to-day uncertainty, and dramatically long hours.  And this is a band that recently sold out Radio City Music Hall, opened for Radiohead, and has been a Pitchfork and indie darling for years.

Vulture journalist Nitsuh Abebe wrote a highly-detailed piece on the band, and found a group absolutely dedicated to their music, but also struggling and surviving financially.  Consider these aspects:

(1) Not all of the members can afford basic health insurance.

“Obviously we’re surviving,” Grizzly Bear founder Ed Droste said.  “Some of us have health insurance, some of us don’t, we basically all live in the same places, no one’s renting private jets. Come to your own conclusions.”

(2) They live in the small, Williamsburg apartments they started out in.

(3) They make almost all of their money from the road, with occassional cash from licensing.  And, very little money from album sales and virtually nothing from Spotify.

(4) The band travels with a bus, an extra keyboard player, and sound and lighting engineers.

(5) They seem to break even — if that — after the completion of a tour and after expenses for crew, manager, Ticketmaster fees, etc.

(6) They have a lingering fear that this could all go poof, and disappear overnight.

“We live in a world of blogs that are super-judgmental, and we’re not in the clear yet—we don’t have a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card,” Droste conveys.

(7) The band feels that without major radio support, they are unlikely to reach a new tier of success.

But they also recognize that mainstream radio is largely controlled by major labels.

(8) They do not have expectations of earning a middle-class income.

“No,” Droste flatly stated. “I’d have to keep doing this forever. But the biggest thing you can’t do is focus on money.”

Outside of crossover indie smashes like Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, and Mumford & Sons, Grizzly Bear is the one of the most successful indie bands right now.

11 Responses

    • American

      Not really.

      Here’s a thought: Grizzly Bear gets a good amount of play on Pandora, enough so that users are tweeting about it at least once a day:

      https://twitter.com/i/#!/search/?q=grizzly+bear%2C+pandora&src=typd

      Now do a compare contrast with this article about Grizzly Bear against any of the pandora executives. SEC filings make their salaries and benefits public. Can they afford health insurance? Are they flying on private jets? (hint: yes, they even share photos from those private jet flights on twitter)

      Something doesn’t fit. What’s American is this: adapt or die. executives are behaving like it’s the 1990s. What’s American is to make their business work without evoking the politics of fear and paying off congressmen. Instead, what’s American is to stop paying themselves more than they can actually afford so that they are able to pay royalties and both sides of an industry can survive the flu, in harmony.

      • Visitor

        At least they are making money? How about 90%+ of musicians who can’t even make $100 of revenue from their music (and those are just counting the ones who try to make money in the first place, eg: via content aggerators)?

        Making money as a musician is like trying to make money playing video games. It’s possible… but for the vast majority music creation it is seen as entertainment, not a career or job for that matter.

  1. @mattadownes

    Thank you Radiohead and Kanine for 75% of our success.

  2. Visitor

    Any good management team would get them group insurance via the AFofM. You can get a quote online (varies from under 200/month (Empire/Blue Cross/Blue Shield) to over 1300/month depending on what kind of insurance you want). Granted, under 200/month does not allow for doctor visits, but has no deductible. 500/month gets you a 2000 deductible with another company. Surely their publishing income could start to cover health insurance..???

  3. Jeff Robinson

    Republican controlled corporate radio strikes again! Anyone still think that Telecom Act of 1996 was a good idea? The loss of ‘regional radio’ is the travesty here.

  4. CrabCake

    With situations like this becoming more and more common, why would anyone, save the independently wealthy or the masochistically inclined, choose to pursue a career as a musician?

    You could make twice as much money, with half the talent, half the work ethic, and orders of magnitude less risk, doing pretty much anything else.

    At this point, if the guys behind Grizzly Bear can’t even afford health insurance, then the world simply doesn’t deserve them.

  5. BooHoo

    I’m sorry, but I don’t feel for them. They’re doing what they love and getting paid for it. Now, is it as much as big named artists? Hell no. I know that. But coming from someone, who is also in an art field and making slim to nothing from it, and struggling to find work elsewhere, I really don’t care about them whining about not having health insurance.

    Do they know how lucky they are to be doing what they love and making some money from it? To be considered “successful” even though they can’t afford a private jet (my heart bleeds, by the way).

    I love music, and am in awe and admiration for the people who provide it. But I can’t stand that most (not all) musicians come across as so entitled. They don’t need a private jet. They don’t need half the crap rich people waste money on. Would it be nice for them to feel secure and comfortable financially? Yes. I agree, that would feel nice. But again, they are making money playing shows. How many people out there don’t get to do what they really love because they have families to support? Tons.

    Sorry, this is just another musician pity party I won’t attend.

  6. boa constrictor

    sorry kids, but a bunch of hipster blogs do not make you great.

    granted, grizzly bear has a few really nice songs, but so have many artists and bands over the years – unless you can more than competently exercise your craft 9-5, mon-fr (at the very least), in a variety of work related to your discipline – and treat it as a job, you’re being unrealistic – in many respects – and lacking perspective on the real business of being a musician / artist / bricklayer / teacher / engineer….whatever…..

    the best artists who ever lived – mozart, bach, beethoven, michelangelo etc – all worked very hard, never made much money, and were often treated like shit. (Handel was an exception in that era.)

    also, there’s no money in being cool – unless you wrote the book of cool (chanel, lagerfeld, mcqueen, etc…)