Cat Power Gets Sick, Atlantic Wire Declares Indie Music Dead

from the misdiagnosis dept

A story from Atlantic Wire has been making the rounds recently, with a headline forcefully declaring that There's No Money in Indie Music. Why? Because one particular indie sensation is broke:

You know times are tough for indie musicians when even Chan Marshall—who released a Top 10 Billboard album and played sold-out concerts this year—is bankrupt. The singer known as Cat Power has announced a likely cancellation of her upcoming European tour because of financial and health problems.

Now, there are a lot of things I could say about this. I could point out that the financial troubles of one musician, no matter how popular she is, are not a barometer for the entire industry. I could point out that "bankruptcy" says nothing about revenue or earning potential, and is almost always caused by bad money management—or that plenty of highly successful people have gone bankrupt one or more times throughout their careers. But those points would just lend credence to an idea that is fanciful speculation at best, and total bunk at worst. Why? Because the source of this sad news about Cat Power's bankruptcy is nothing more than a single message posted to Instagram (which appears to have been since removed from the photo it was attached to, but Pitchfork has the full text):

I MAY HAVE TO CANCEL MY EUROPEAN TOUR DUE TO BANKRUPTCY & MY HEALTH STRUGGLE WITH ANGIOEDEMA. I HAVE NOT THROWN IN ANY TOWEL, I AM TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT BEST I CAN DO. HEART BROKEN. WORKED SO HARD. GOT SICK DAY AFTER "SUN" CAME OUT & BEEN STRUGGLING TO KEEP ALL POINTS OF ME IN EQUILIBRIUM : MIND, SPIRIT, BODY HEALTHY CENTERED & GROUNDED. I AM DOING THE BEST I CAN. I FUCKING LOVE THIS PLANET. I REFUSE TO GIVE UP. THOUGH I MAY NEED TO RESTRATAGIZE FOR MY SECURITY & HEALTH.

Marshall is obviously struggling with her health problems, and her fans reacted by offering lots of support—but what does this message really tell us about her finances? She used the word "bankruptcy" once, off-hand, and it doesn't even look like she meant it literally. Even if she did, it takes a huge leap to get from there to "there's no money in indie music"—statistically about as sensible as concluding that indie music causes angioedema. But, it's almost certain now that she didn't mean literal bankruptcy, just unforeseen expenses. A more recent Instagram post announced:

EUROPEAN TOUR IS ON. WITHOUT STAGE PRESENTATION. HARD MONEY WASTED.

Then, a few days later, another post announced that the European tour would be postponed until early next year—primarily for health reasons, and to get some more time to potentially find a way to bring the full production to Europe.

The stage presentation in question is a huge gorilla-themed light show that, one imagines, would be quite expensive to ship overseas. Whether the "money wasted" refers to the sunk costs on the display that now may be staying behind, or to her new medical expenses, is not clear, and neither her nor her label offered any additional information. But what is clear is that this is a pretty unsensational story that says nothing about the indie music world as a whole: international tours are big, complicated operations, and sometimes money runs low and plans have to change; our bodily health is a ticking time-bomb that can derail anyone's career in any walk of life. It's sad to see the naysayers brigade exploiting her personal struggle to spread doom and gloom about the modern music industry and the huge variety of opportunities that exist for the independent artist.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 2:09pm

    I love it. Example after example of artists succeeding at different business models means nothing, "it only worked for them."

    One artist makes an offhand remark and "ZOMG! The Indie Musics is DYYYYYYIIIINNNNNNNNGGGGGG!!!!"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Glen, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 2:15pm

    our bodily health is a ticking time-bomb that can derail anyone's career in any walk of life

    A-freakin'-men.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 2:44pm

    Indie Music is Dead

    Long live Indie Music.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 2:54pm

    Now, there are a lot of things I could say about this. I could point out that the financial troubles of one musician, no matter how popular she is, are not a barometer for the entire industry.

    That's funny, you regularly feature an artist who succeeds using a system you approve of as evidence that the whole industry should follow suit.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), Nov 7th, 2012 @ 3:12pm

      Re:

      That's funny, you regularly feature an artist who succeeds using a system you approve of as evidence that the whole industry should follow suit.

      No, actually, that's simply not true. We show success stories to show that there are *opportunities* and *different ways* that artists can succeed. But we've never said that everyone should follow any particular artist, because, of course, that's silly.

      However, you have to understand the arguments being made. You and your friends run around insisting to Congress that no one can succeed without things like SOPA or strong copyright laws. The stories of people succeeding outside of that show you are wrong -- there are lots of ways to succeed.

      But each of those examples are simply that: examples.

      None of them are used to extrapolate that "this is the only way."

      But taking a single unclear tweet from an artist and using that to extrapolate out that there's no money in indie music? That is bogus.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      ltlw0lf (profile), Nov 7th, 2012 @ 3:12pm

      Re:

      That's funny, you regularly feature an artist who succeeds using a system you approve of as evidence that the whole industry should follow suit.

      That's funny, you regularly come in here and complain about things Mike says (and yes, Mike didn't write this article,) that he doesn't really say, as evidence that we are all pirates and pirate apologists, and when someone calls you on it you run away.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Beech, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 4:05pm

      Re:

      IIRC, Mike generally points to a barometer of the industry as his barometer of the industry, see the whole "Sky is Rising" report that I am much to lazy to link to.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      John Fenderson (profile), Nov 7th, 2012 @ 4:18pm

      Re:

      Mainstream label-based rock has failed. I can tell because of the following list of people who went bankrupt:

      Billy Joel
      Chaka Khan
      Cyndi Lauper
      Dee Snyder
      George Clinton
      Goo Goo Dolls
      Isaac Hayes
      Jerry Lee Lewis
      Marvin Gaye
      MC Hammer
      Michael Jackson
      Mick Fleetwood
      Run DMC
      Ted Nugent
      Tom Petty
      Wayne newton
      Willie Nelson
      ... and many, many more

      Wolfgang Mozart went bankrupt as well, but he predates the music system by a couple of years.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 6:49pm

        Re: Re:

        Don't forget Toni Braxton who recently filed for bankruptcy for the second time, also having health problems, but clearly unable to prioritize properly and live within her means.

        http://minorityfortune.com/grade-f-model/why-toni-braxton-went-bankrupt-again/

        "With a range of creditors from staple services to luxury retailers, it’s evident Toni gave no thought to keeping a budget. Opting to buy jewelry over keeping your phone, hospital, and power bills paid shows that your money problems have nothing to do with others and more to do with yourself."

        As for Cat Power...

        "but the thought of an artist as big as Cat Power going broke is particularly disheartening."

        Never heard of her before this story, so how big can she actually be?

        "played sold-out concerts this year"

        A statement like this is very misleading as venues come in all shapes and sizes. There's a huge difference between selling out 1500 cap Webster Hall (where she's recently played) and 20,000 cap Madison Square Garden.

        I'm not trying to undermine any success she's had, but rather the choice of words of the original article's writer. True as they may be, they can create a distorted perception.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          icon
          Tim Griffiths (profile), Nov 12th, 2012 @ 3:19am

          Re: Re: Re:

          step 1) Put on concert in my living room

          step 2) Set a ticket limit of one to to health and safety issues with the venue

          step 3) Sell the price at 1 pence and sell it to a friend with a promise of a cup of tea

          step 4) play song

          step 5) State that I've played sold out concerts this year

          step 6) ???

          step 7) PROFIT!

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      PaulT (profile), Nov 8th, 2012 @ 12:49am

      Re:

      "That's funny, you regularly feature an artist who succeeds using a system you approve of as evidence that the whole industry should follow suit."

      You know how I know you're still so blinded by your own lies and strawmen that you haven't understood even the most basic point of the articles you attack here? If only you'd read the damn articles before launching your impotent attacks.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Evan Thomas, Nov 14th, 2012 @ 8:58am

      Re:

      Any Cow,
      Never mind the cheap ad hominem attack, there is a a basic logic flaw going on here. Using many examples to smash the argument that NO ONE at all can succeed in the new markets is legit. One example suffices, though you have pointed out that the author has in fact used many. But using one data point to flesh out a trend is plain wrong. Which is exactly the point of the article. Also, going bankrupt is not a sign of failure in the music markets. There are tons of other reasons to go broke like, heroin, gambling, bum investments, living beyond means, crooked management, etc...

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    oh dear, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 3:00pm

    health problems, yeah

    She's had alcohol and cocaine problems for years. Her label nearly dropped her after she went into rehab mid-tour during her last album.

    She spent huge amounts of money building a studio in her Malibu home, then took forever to record an album. Presumably her label was going a bit bonkers.

    Earlier this year she was slamming tequila with a journalist for the multi-day duration of a key UK interview.


    This is a "troubled" woman. Blaming it on the music industry, or indie music, is dumb.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Zakida Paul (profile), Nov 7th, 2012 @ 3:01pm

    I will tell you what IS in independent music - creativity and variety. These things are seriously lacking in the rubbish coming out of the major labels.

    If there is no money in independent (and I seriously doubt that is true) musicians need to keep being creative, keep creating great music, and above all keep treating fans as fans and not as wallets with arms and legs. If they do that, their fortune will come.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    gorehound (profile), Nov 7th, 2012 @ 3:03pm

    Indie and Local Music equals Cool
    MAFIAA Music equals FOOL

    Quite Simple and to the point.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    bob, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 3:13pm

    Yes, but where are the success stories?

    Okay, her failure doesn't prove that indie music can't work, but does anyone prove that it can?

    We've been listening to the promises for years now. Don't worry. Share your creation. Let Big Search get rich. Don't get in their way. And wealth will somehow find you.

    By now we should have at least a dozen good examples of people who made a good sized chunk of change with the model here. All we hear about are people like Louis CK who just emulate the old model of putting up a paywall.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 3:17pm

      Re: Yes, but where are the success stories?

      At first I was like...

      Is your argument really that there is not ONE example of a successful indie musician?

      And then I read "who just emulate the old model of putting up a paywall" and remembered that any success doesn't count because in your mind it reducts to a paywall (which, apparently, involves anyone paying).

      And then I was all like... *frowny face*

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Beech, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 3:29pm

      Re: Yes, but where are the success stories?

      This is what bob thinks we're saying about CwF + RtB:

      "Give stuff away for free and money will magically be created in the atmosphere and rained down upon ye without anyone having to pay anything ever."

      That is not the point. I would like to explain it to you better, but I really need to hear his definition of "paywall" because from what it sounds like, he think that everytime money changes hands there is a paywall involved.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        TroutFishingUSA, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 3:34pm

        Re: Re: Yes, but where are the success stories?

        Well, how does one define a paywall?

        Not sarcasm, I'm serious. It seems to me the difference between "money changing hands" for a product/service, and a "paywall" is just a matter of semantics.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          identicon
          Beech, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 4:03pm

          Re: Re: Re: Yes, but where are the success stories?

          Well, yes, you are correct. I think I usually have problems with the connotation of the word. When an internet company charges for content, that's what is normally referred to as a paywall. But, if I go to a convenience store and buy a pack of gum, thats the same thing but I have never once heard it called a paywall, even though in that instance there usually is a literal wall over which I tender currency.

          But if I stop at a traffic light and a bum washes my windshield with no reason to expect money in return, is that a paywall? Does it become a paywall if I end up giving him a dollar? If I buy a game at gamestop, is that a paywall? What if I get it digitally on Steam? What if I pirate it? What if i donate a penny on humble bundle?

          The point I was initially trying to make was, people 'round these parts talk about being able to monetize digitally without forcing a dumb paywall on your fans. But if you define "paywall" loosely enough to include hosting an ad for which you are paid, then I guess we're wrong. But if you define it so that "pay what you want" or "take it for free, but hey, if you've got some money to spare that would be great" models are not included then the assertion seems much more plausible.

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          icon
          That One Guy (profile), Nov 7th, 2012 @ 4:04pm

          From dictionary.com:

          pay·wall[pey-wawl]

          noun
          1. a system in which access to all or part of a Web site is restricted to paid subscribers: Some newspapers have put their content behind a paywall.
          2. the part of a Web site that can be accessed only by paid subscribers.

          So for example:

          -Paying to purchase a game, or music album = Not a paywall, merely a purchase/sale.

          -Having to pay to even have the opportunity to be able to purchase a game or music album, by having those sections limited to '(paying) members only' = Paywall.

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          •  
            identicon
            Beech, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 4:06pm

            Re: From dictionary.com:

            Works for me.

            Hear that bob? Not everything is a paywall! Now you can go back to obsessing solely on "Big Search!"

             

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            •  
              identicon
              Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 5:32pm

              Re: Re: From dictionary.com:

              He used to be just bob. Then he became paywall bob. I think we need to start referring to him as Big bob.

               

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          •  
            icon
            ltlw0lf (profile), Nov 8th, 2012 @ 9:45am

            Re: From dictionary.com:

            2. the part of a Web site that can be accessed only by paid subscribers.

            Nevermind the fact that neither Mike nor the Techdirt community have any specific problem with "paywalls" in general, but just the particular implementation of paywalls that Murdoch and other Newspaper tycoons employ. After all, to somewhat of an extent, Techdirt has a paywall, where features like the crystal ball or the chat capability are only available to subscribers. The difference being that anyone, anywhere, can read the entirety of the content here, but special features like the ability to read the content before everyone else and the ability to contribute to the chat (though anyone can read it) are given to those who pay. For most newspapers who employ paywalls, the content itself is unavailable to anyone without paying (or after a mystical number of pageviews is hit.)

            Bob is the only one here who complains about those sites using his special definition of paywalls.

             

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          •  
            icon
            art guerrilla (profile), Nov 8th, 2012 @ 11:28am

            Re: From dictionary.com:

            "-Paying to purchase a game, or music album = Not a paywall, merely a purchase/sale."

            you mean 'license', don't you ?
            we can't 'buy' shit anymore, we only get to pretend we own it (much like this country)...

            art guerrilla
            aka ann archy
            eof

             

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        PaulT (profile), Nov 8th, 2012 @ 12:46am

        Re: Re: Yes, but where are the success stories?

        "I would like to explain it to you better"

        Many have tried, but all have failed to get through to a mind blinded by fantasy.

        "from what it sounds like, he think that everytime money changes hands there is a paywall involved."

        No, you're actually right - that's his definition, sadly. IIRC, he's even admitted that it doesn't matter if the online component is given away for free - if there's a physical item that can be purchased as part of that it's still a "paywall" in his mind because you can't get the physical item for free.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Zakida Paul (profile), Nov 7th, 2012 @ 3:52pm

      Re: Yes, but where are the success stories?

      You become a bigger idiot every day. Please die.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Trails (profile), Nov 7th, 2012 @ 4:14pm

      Re: Yes, but where are the success stories?

      I recently bought a new tablet via a paywall.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 10:53pm

      Re: Yes, but where are the success stories?

      Bob Indie labels account for more than 50% of music sales.

      So indie music can't work?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), Nov 8th, 2012 @ 7:08am

      Re: Yes, but where are the success stories?

      You leave so much bad thinking to unpack in just a few sentences, it is particularly amazing. There oughtta be an award for that.

      Okay, her failure doesn't prove that indie music can't work, but does anyone prove that it can?


      Ignoring the poor use of English, I do get the idea of what you are saying. The answer is: Indie music has been around forever. I don't know what sort of other evidence you need.

      We've been listening to the promises for years now.""


      What promises?

      Don't worry. Share your creation. Let Big Search get rich.


      Lolwut? What do any of these things have to do with each other or indie music? Or anything else for that matter? Where is the problem with people sharing the music they create? WTF is with the "Big Search getting rich" comment? Big search is already rich. (Style comment: I think you meant to use all caps instead of initial caps there. This would better fit your idiom.)

      Don't get in their way.


      Again, what does this even mean?

      And wealth will somehow find you.


      Yes, that has always been the prescription for indie music, right? Like especially in 1979. Everyone was saying that. Oh, wait, you aren't talking about independent labels at all. You're also not even talking about CwF/RtB, but about your flaming strawman of things written at Techdirt.

      By now we should have at least a dozen good examples of people who made a good sized chunk of change with the model here.


      Because Techdirt must track them all! Every single one! If you mean the rare super-famous and wealthy group, well, those circumstances will be just as rare as for those using the legacy system. And quite frankly, the systems that support a few making ridiculous amounts of money are bad systems, whether in sports, music, corporate C-level types, etc.

      All we hear about are people like Louis CK who just emulate the old model of putting up a paywall.


      Firstly, bullshit. All sorts of successful business models have been examined. Second, the old method is not "putting up a paywall". That is an indiscriminate use of terminology. If you buy a grapefruit, do you describe that as "getting a grapefruit through a paywall"?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        PaulT (profile), Nov 8th, 2012 @ 7:40am

        Re: Re: Yes, but where are the success stories?

        "You leave so much bad thinking to unpack in just a few sentences, it is particularly amazing."

        Word to the wise: that's what he does. He's using his own unique version of the word "paywall" which doesn't mean anything like the actual definition of the word. "Big Search" is his term for Google, who he's convinced is behind every alternate model and has Mike and others on their payroll. He knows for a fact that dozens and dozens of examples of successful independent artists have been posted here, yet he constantly claim they aren't.

        In other words, he's either delusional or a troll, and neither are really worth the time to correct him any more.

        "If you buy a grapefruit, do you describe that as "getting a grapefruit through a paywall"?"

        According the the definitions he's used before, if you were to have a free recipe involving grapefruit on your website then charge for the actual grapefruit, that's exactly what he'd call it.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2012 @ 9:33am

          Re: Re: Re: Yes, but where are the success stories?

          "According the the definitions he's used before, if you were to have a free recipe involving grapefruit on your website then charge for the actual grapefruit, that's exactly what he'd call it."

          Mostly right, PaulT. But to further clarify, bob's definition of a "paywall" is essentially "anything that requires a person part with money to enjoy/purchase/use/etc".

          If it cost money. It's behind a "paywall". Per his definition of the term, as incorrect and not even close to being right as it is.

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 3:24pm

    Aren't professional football players the profession with the highest bankrupcy rate?


    Yea there's no money in professional football and the NFL is dying too...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Milton Freewater, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 4:09pm

    Note that Cat Power sells lots of recorded music

    According to the article:

    "The album Marshall released last month was as successful as any indie product could hope to be in 2012. Sun broke the Billboard Top 10 and made a splash in Europe, peaking at No. 6 in France. "

    So this is not a story about someone not being able to sell recorded music files and therefore having money problems. She sold a lot of recorded music files and still had money problems.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 5:05pm

    I'm Indie and have been living of my public appearences for about 7 years. What does that show.

    There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
    Mark Twain

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2012 @ 5:34pm

    When you look at it this way, most of the signed artists aren't successful either.

    Oh Nooooooooooo....Major label music is dead!

    ...and has more than one example.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    no, Nov 8th, 2012 @ 4:26am

    Who the hell is "Cat Power"?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Shon Gale (profile), Nov 8th, 2012 @ 5:42am

    As an indie, she probably had no or very inadequate health insurance. So when she got sick the health industry got her money. When you get sick, it is bankruptcy time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This