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The Posies: How Do Bands Make Money Now?

The Posies' members were barely out of their teens when they got a major-label record deal and saw their power-pop records storm commercial radio. But that was 15 years ago, and they've been absent from the airwaves for a while now. Still, they've managed to continue making a living with music, even through fluctuations in the industry and in their own careers.

It might have been hard, a decade or so ago, to imagine The Posies' Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow hawking their own CDs behind a merch table before a show. They're mingling with devoted fans at Brooklyn's cavernous warehouse turned nightclub, The Bell House. Like Auer and Stringfellow themselves, the fans are approaching middle age.

"Do you sell T-shirts?" one fan asks dryly, before pulling out an incredibly ratty old Posies T-shirt for the musicians to sign.

That relic dates from an era defined by the music of Kurt Cobain, from the days when major labels raided Washington state's nightclubs in search of the next Nirvana. The Posies were snapped up by Geffen slightly before Nirvana's ascent, and they scored a few '90s hits: "Dream All Day" and "Golden Blunders." The Posies had songs in two definitive '90s movies: Reality Bites and The Basketball Diaries.

"We made a lot of money," Auer says. "I mean, I think we had a $250,000 publishing advance, and I think just off those two movies, we managed to recoup that entire advance and make money on top of that."

But the band still owes Geffen money. At the time, Auer says, he was having too much fun being a rock star to pay attention to all the expenses label reps charged to the band's account.

"If you look at what they send you — eventually — these amazing itemized statements, you're gonna find every hotel room they ever stayed at," Auer says. "I mean, if [an A&R guy] went and bought baseball cards, they probably put it on your account. It was amazing to sit down and look at and realize it was all on your dime, basically."

Back To The Beginning

The Posies left Geffen in the late 1990s — not over money, but a lack of promotion. They went back to PopLlama, the small independent label where they'd first recorded an album called Failure, and released one called Success. It was made very cheaply, and Auer estimates it sold about 25,000 copies.

"I actually saw a check for that record that went in my pocket," Auer says. "I never saw a check from the sales of any of the records I've made on the major labels."

The band drifted apart and soon officially broke up. Income from the sale of Posies albums was not enough to live on. To this day, the money from sales from those Geffen recordings goes right back to the label. The band does get some performance royalties — when the two movies with their songs play on TV.

Better Living Through Diversification

Auer and Stringfellow began to support themselves by diversifying. They became producers, recording engineers and backup musicians for other bands — in Stringfellow's case with R.E.M. and Snow Patrol, among many others.

Stringfellow says he makes a little more than $100,000 a year, although he's paid mostly in euros. He lives in Paris and works with bands in Belgium, Holland and Norway, when he's not with The Posies, who reunited four years ago.

"I'm the tour accountant and tour manager and travel agent and all that stuff, all the time, for all of these bands," Stringfellow says. "It's so insane."

A Blur Of Work

The Posies never produced the kind of tune that gets played on classic rock or used in commercials — the kind of song that sends a stream of songwriting royalties back their way. So their lives are a blur of work: producing, managing and, of course, performing. Auer estimates that this three-stop tour will net each musician about $500 a day.

"We don't tour with a bus these days," he says. "We don't have four-star hotel rooms. We're not above rooming with each other if we have to."

And they're not above exploiting social media. Stringfellow basically runs a cottage industry for Posies fans from his laptop.

"I log in to Facebook, and in like 30 seconds, I have like 50 people in my chat windows," he says. "And I answer their questions: 'Oh, yeah, you wanna get that record? I've got a couple of those in stock.' That kind of stuff."

The Posies are signed now to a midsize label owned by Warner Music. But to a large degree, they've cut out the middleman. They sell their own recordings, manage their own tours. They have more control. This may be about money, Auer says, but what's most important to him is making music.

"I love what I do and I get to do what I love," he says. "That's amazing currency in my estimation."

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Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.