Rock and roll is a hard business. You can be on top of the world, selling out venues, hearing your tracks on the radio every day, living the high life—and then, bam, the music stops. No one is buying your new record (or more likely, streaming it, and you have to go back to the real world to rejoin the nine-to-five grind. What happens then?
Making money in music has never been easy. For every mega-successful band, hundreds get a little bit of traction and airplay, and thousands that don’t even get that. And even with those mega-successful bands, very few of them manage to turn it into a viable, ongoing career. Streaming revenue has helped bands monetize their back catalogs, but it’s rarely enough to keep food on the table for four aging rockers.
The Pudding analyzed 75,000 shows in New York between 2013 and 2016. Seven thousand bands headlined a small venue with a capacity of less than 700. Of them, fewer than half played another show. Of those that did headline another appearance, only 400 of them moved up to a bigger venue with a capacity of more than 700. And of those, only 21 “made it” and headlined a venue with a 3,000+ capacity.
And even then, that’s not a massive level of success. You might have heard of A Great Big World and Chance the Rapper, but do you remember Houndmouth and Lucius? Over in the UK, most people in up-and-coming or indie bands have day jobs so they can pay rent. These are award-winning, “hottest band in the world right now,” acts.
So, most rock stars—even the ones who get a bit famous—never make it to the point where they can reliably give up their day job if they want to eat. At best, music is a diversion for a few years, and then they just pick up their career where they left off.
Take John Hampson, the lead singer of Nine Days, who topped Billboard’s Hot 100 with the single Absolutely (Story of a Girl) in 2000. The band kept releasing occasional albums right up until 2016, but they never had anything close to that level of success again. But it was okay for Hampson: he’s an English teacher who occasionally sings for his class.
And Hampson is far from alone; there are plenty of even more successful artists with regular jobs. Here are a few of my favorites.
- Billy Corgan, frontman of the Smashing Pumpkins, is also a wrestling promoter.
- Dave Rowntree, drummer in British rock band Blur, is a lawyer. And still drums with Blur.
- Terry Chimes, drummer in punk band The Clash, took a hard turn towards healthy living after leaving music. Now he’s a chiropractor.
- Al Green, the 70s soul singer, often known as The Reverend Al Green is, well, actually a reverend at the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Memphis, Tennessee.
- Mark Feehily, one of the members of the Irish boy band Westlife, still goes to concerts: just as a caterer instead of an act.
- Vanilla Ice AKA Robert Matthew Van Winkle is a construction contractor and real estate flipper. He even parlayed his fame into a real estate reality show, The Vanilla Ice Project, and wrote a book: Vanilla Ice Project — Real Estate Guide.
- Kevin Jonas, third Jonas of the Jonas Brothers, also went into home construction and has his own business.
Really, it’s a sign how common just fading back into normal life is that more isn’t made of the number of former-musicians who become real estate agents, teachers, and other regular professionals. Do you know of any fun examples? Let us know in the comments.