A popular new sub-genre among indie musicians today isn’t “post-dubstep” or “trap” or “witch house”—it’s financial disclosure. Ben Berry recently divulged the royalties his band Moke Hill has earned from Spotify, and other artists as diverse as the rock band Galaxie 500 and the R&B singer Aloe Blacc have put out their own numbers as evidence of the streaming service’s dismal payouts.
Whether in favor of the new music economy or against it, any musician who writes about making money agrees to the hallmarks of the genre: frequent assertions that they aren't asking for pity; dutiful acknowledgements that making a living from music "has never been easy"; and, most important, the elimination of any whiff of having sold out. Even though repetition has beaten each of these traditions down into platitudes, musicians' discussions of money haven't become any less disconcerting to read. However, their tonal similarity is concealing the possibility that “making it” shouldn’t have a static definition that applies to every musician.
Indie artists' financial tell-alls owe their existence to two events in the past half-decade. One is the U.S. launch of Spotify in 2011, which mainstreamed the idea of subscription streaming and led many musicians to fear that their already-small earnings would only dissolve further. The other is the publication, in 2012, of a feature in New York magazine that detailed how members of the big-name indie band Grizzly Bear could on one hand sell out Radio City Music Hall, and, on the other, still not have health insurance. While not told in the first-person, it was the first widely-read digital-era testament to the hollowing-out of indie music's middle class.