Posted: February 27, 2013 at 11:32 pm
By: Brad Eichenseer, Kyleigh Razmic and Hunter Homistek
Most afternoons, Matt Marion, a recent graduate of West Virginia University, can be found taking orders and tossing dough at the Mountain State Brewing Company in Morgantown. A trained professional in the field of public relations, Marion could earn more money elsewhere, but he chooses to work at a pizza place so he can focus on music and help his band break out at the national level.
As vocalist and percussionist for the popular Morgantown-based progressive folk group Fletcher’s Grove, Marion understands all too well how difficult it is for talented musicians to make a living from their music. Shrinking sales due to vaulting piracy rates spells disaster for most bands today, and many musicians find that playing gigs and going on tour is the only way to make a living. But even playing sold-out shows in Morgantown doesn’t pay the bills.
“From the outside looking in, you think, ‘Wow! These bands are really doing well,'” says Louis Giuliani, owner of 123 Pleasant Street in Morgantown. “Even the bands that pack the place are struggling to get by. You got your costs to your agent, gas money, you got all these other expenses.”
Fletcher’s Grove’s ability to pull in an audience is impressive, according to Giuliani, and the group has enjoyed growing success in Morgantown over the past five years, frequently packing the floor at 123 Pleasant Street.
“They’ve filled that niche of being a nice, solid local band that you know they’re going to be bringing the bodies in,” Giuliani says. “That’s great to have a presence like Fletcher’s. You want to nurture that.”
A sold-out crowd and widespread local recognition has done little to bolster the group financially, though.
Since 2008, Fletcher’s Grove has sold an estimated 2,000 albums for a total of $10,000 in revenue. But after splitting that amount between five band members, paying the studio for recording fees, filling the van with gas and spreading the payment over the course of five years, that sum quickly evaporated.
The current musical landscape is not promising either. According to GO-globe.com, a web design and data collection website, 95 percent of music downloaded on the Internet is illegal, and an average iPod contains $800 of pirated music. These numbers line up with a recent report from Forrester Research, which found a disturbing trend concerning music licensing and revenue. In 1999, revenue and licensing topped $14.6 billion, while in 2009 that number plummeted to $6.3 billion.
While the pop stars of today still live in luxury, grassroots bands like Fletcher’s Grove are the most hard-hit. As a result, most of its members are forced to work other jobs.
“Taylor [Fletcher’s Grove bassist] is waiting tables [at Red Lobster], our drummer Evan is going to school and playing in a band with his mom and dad,” Marion said. “They give him a place to stay and he makes some money playing with them.”
Another band member, Wes Hager, chose to attend WVU so he can stay with the band. “He is actually able to get scholarships and stuff,” Marion said.
Marion himself does not mind working in a pizza joint, largely because many of his friends work there with him. Still, he admits to feeling a tinge of embarrassment when people who have seen him onstage walk in and catch him in his alter-environment.
“I’m like, ‘awww man!’ I don’t want to ruin the mystery,” Marion said. “I want them to think I’m a musician in the band.”
Marion has chased this dream since grade school.
“I started music when I was very young. The first thing I did was sing in first grade in a talent show,” Marion said. “And then I kept singing through middle school, did chorus…[I’ve] just been singing really since first grade, since I was six years old.”
Marion, who is now 24, graduated from West Virginia University’s School of Journalism in 2011 with a focus in public relations. He said he would probably be working in PR if he wasn’t in Fletcher’s Grove, but neither he nor any of the band members are ready to give up the dream.
“The dream is just a few years from now. You have to look at it that way,” said Taylor Pratt, group bassist. “We’re all growing up, so it’s either going to be make it or break it. You can’t do it forever without some sort of security.”
For Marion and his bandmates, Fletcher’s Grove is their life and any sacrifice they make now for the band’s well-being is viewed as a worthwhile investment.
“The cheering of the crowd and pats on the back, that’s what keeps us going,” Marion said. “Hopefully we will be doing this the rest of our lives and this is just one big step in that process.”