Dave Grohl vs. Nirvana
April 8, 2007 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Has Dave Grohl made more money from the Foo Fighters or Nirvana?

I think in the long run he will make more money from Nirvana because Nevermind will always sell a lot of copies, for decades. But at least now, I feel like between record sales, song writing, touring, etc... that he has made way more money as a Foo Fighter. How would I figure this out?
posted by bob bisquick to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

You should also factor in his deal. Nirvana was young, so their record deal probably wasn't that favorable to them. He probably got a better deal with the Foo Fighters because of his Nirvana success.
posted by sharkfu at 11:56 AM on April 8, 2007

I'd bet Foo Fighters, even in the long run.

Musicians who aren't already proven sellers usually get screwed on their contracts, and Grohl wasn't really a big star before Nevermind. So I bet he didn't get a big piece of the royalties on it.

You'd need to find out how many "points" (what percentage of the royalties) he got on each album, then multiply that times the # of albums sold. Similarly for related merch like t-shirts, etc. Whatever money he makes touring is probably going to be dwarfed by those numbers.

PS - I used to know Grohl when he was in Scream, way before he joined Nirvana. I used to drag my four track cassette recorder to their practices; I still have some of the recordings from these sessions.
posted by mikeand1 at 12:01 PM on April 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Nirvana may at the end sell more records but because he's the principal song writer in Foo Fighters he's should make a lot more money long term off of licensing those songs. I'm not sure if you're counting concert sales as well but this can be another great stream of income for a performer and obviously he's going to make more touring with Foo Fighters
posted by bitdamaged at 12:06 PM on April 8, 2007

I think Grohl writes most of the songs for Foo Fighters. but not Nirvana. That makes a HUGE difference.

Also, this is a matter of opinion, but I suspect Nirvana albums will stop selling almost completely in the next decade or two. Once the Cobain cult-of-personality dies down, I don't think they will be all that interesting to people musically.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:07 PM on April 8, 2007

I'd say it's clearly Foo Fighters, and if not now then soon- they're still an extant band, recording and touring.

We can state confidently that Grohl has made far less than Cobain/Cobain's estate did for the Nirvana albums. Nirvana has sold 60 million albums worldwide, acc. to Wikipedia. Tellingly, however, is this snippet:
In April 2006, Love announced that she had arranged to sell twenty-five percent of her stake in the Nirvana song catalog in a deal estimated at $50 million. The share was purchased by Primary Wave Music, which was founded by Larry Mestel, a former CEO of Virgin Records. As Love controlled ninety-seven percent of Nirvana's catalog, the deal meant that Mestel had a significantly larger stake than Novoselic and Grohl combined.
Emphasis my own. What this implies is that as principal songwriter, the bulk of the album sales royalties likely went to Cobain and by extension Courtney Love, while Grohl and Novoselic probably didn't make a huge amount from the album sales (but even at pennies per album that could still be a few million). Add in touring revenues etc., and it's safe to say Grohl is overall probably a millionaire from his work with Nirvana.

However, that will likely pale in comparison to his time with Foo Fighters. First, he's been active in Foo Fighters for about 11 years- versus Nirvana's prime years being about 3 from recording Nevermind until Kurt's death- and is their principal song writer. It's said that he held back songs he'd written while with Nirvana simply because it was Cobain's band. The FF albums have sold several million of copies, I think all of them going at least gold and multi-platinum in some cases. Grohl would get a Cobain-like cut of those royalties, which while the sales might be an order of magnitude smaller than the total Nirvana sales (say 6 million versus 60 million) would probably get him at least an order of magnitude more profits per album.

Foo Fighters have also toured extensively, surely selling far more tickets in the last 12 years than Nirvana ever did, and perhaps most importantly the Foo Fighters deals for both albums and concert tours would be much more favorable to Grohl than those signed by Nirvana. Post-Nirvana, he had more pull and clout and likely got a better deal in royalties, as well as a bigger share of the points and profits due to being the frontman and key songwriter.

So pulling this completely out of my ass, I'd say between touring revenues and a healthy cut of those album sales, Dave Grohl has made into the 8 figures from Foo Fighters, compared to likely at best in the 7 figures for Nirvana. The disparity will likely only grow, barring something unusual such as Courtney Love naming Dave Grohl the principal heir in her will.
posted by hincandenza at 12:34 PM on April 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

this is an interesting question. i'd put it this way. in my opinion, nirvana's "pool of revenue" may still be the largest, but of which grohl probably gets the smallest slice. as a writer for the foo-fighters, and the fact that he probably has a co-pub arrangement with the label that distributes his records, i'd say he's making a lot more money through that.

but, as been hinted above, i had a friend open up on some of his tour dates, and let me put it this way - the revenue from merch alone for the foo fighters is astronomical. something to the order of over $100,000 a night.
posted by phaedon at 12:51 PM on April 8, 2007

Given the highly speculative nature of the responses, I'll throw in another factor that no one seems to have considered yet: while Grohl and Novoselic may be entitled to a way smaller percentage, they were still part of the band, (as opposed to mere 'session musicians') and so, they have veto power over what gets reissued and/or issued for the first time.

What does this mean? This means that the two of them could block the release of any of Nirvana's music unless their cut was renegotiated, and this probably meant they took a larger portion of the revenue.
posted by micayetoca at 1:12 PM on April 8, 2007

I know many artists make more off touring than album sales and so my guess would be off Foo Fighters.
posted by sophist at 4:05 PM on April 8, 2007

phaedon, that's probably gross for the merch sales, but the point stands: tour revenues are HUGE compared to album revenues, and the Foo Fighters have been touring far longer than Nirvana did. Even for the U2s, Princes, and Madonnas and the like, who get probably the highest per-album royalty in the ~$2 range I believe, still make far more on their tours. Hell, I think on his last tour Prince simply gave his album away with ticket sales, because he was making far more by having seats filled than he would getting his small cut of the album. That tour grossed something like $90 million; while the Foo Fighters are not grossing those kind of revenues, they are getting venues like Dodger Stadium, so the gross nightly revenue for a stop on a tour of theirs could be around a $750K- $1 mil (~20,000 tickets * $40-50 ticket + merch sales around $10/head).

Then again, from this story on Sep. 2005, there is this blurb:
Trade paper Pollstar's list last week of the highest earning live bands reports the Stones at No.2 in the US, behind Foo Fighters and Weezer, but ahead of U2 in third and way ahead of Coldplay (7), Beck (10), The Eagles (14) and Bob Dylan (28).
So... while the double-bill with Weezer may not have made their per-band gross as high as U2/Rolling Stones territory, they like were making boatloads of cash. Here are the top 20 acts of 2005, which doesn't include the FF/Weezer tour for some reason, although that may be due to not having enough dates or because they were a dual act. As you can see, comparable to other bands, a FF tour probably grosses in the several tens of millions of dollars.
Gross in millions/per ticket average
1. The Rolling Stones $162.0 / $133.98
2. U2 $138.9 / $96.92
3. Celine Dion $81.3 / $136.04
4. Paul McCartney $77.3 / $135.46
5. Eagles $76.8 / $104.17
6. Elton John $65.8 / $102.46
7. Kenny Chesney $61.8 / $54.63
8. Dave Matthews Band $57.0 / $47.09
9. Neil Diamond $47.3 / $63.02
10. Jimmy Buffett $41.0 / $76.49
11. Mötley Crüe $39.9 / $46.48
12. Green Day $34.8 / $38.07
13. Toby Keith $31.6 / $46.11
14. Rascal Flatts $28.2 / $34.92
15. Bruce Springsteen $26.3 / $81.00
16. Gwen Stefani $24.2 / $54.46
17. Coldplay $24.1 / $40.80
18. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers $23.6 / $38.05
19. Barry Manilow $22.7 / $153.93
20. "Anger Management Tour" $21.6 / $64.03
I've anecdotally heard that a ballpark rule is that the band(s) will profit ~35% of the total gross at a venue when you add in all the merch sales and ticket sales. Even if Grohl were to split the profits equally between himself and the other 3 core band members, he'd be easily netting a couple of hundred thousand every night in his personal earnings. I think it's safe to say that with the venues they get, Grohl can personally earn many millions for every tour- and they've done several tours.

So even if Grohl & Novoselic managed to get a larger slice of the Nirvana album sales pie- which based on that 97% line I quoted earlier from the actual 2006 sale of the 25% stake by Courtney Love suggests that they didn't do so- I think there's still no way he hasn't made far more from FF than he ever did or will from Nirvana.
posted by hincandenza at 4:40 PM on April 8, 2007

Also, this is a matter of opinion, but I suspect Nirvana albums will stop selling almost completely in the next decade or two. Once the Cobain cult-of-personality dies down, I don't think they will be all that interesting to people musically.

Yeah, just like Bob Marley, Jim Morrison, and John Lennon.
posted by afx114 at 6:31 PM on April 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Bob Marley and John Lennon have enormous catalogs, and were much more relevant than Kurt Cobain. The Jim Morrison comparison is apt, though- and who buys The Doors albums nowadays?
posted by mkultra at 7:48 PM on April 8, 2007

who buys The Doors albums nowadays

Stoner college kids, the same crew that buys Marley and Lennon. The same crew who will someday be the ones buying all the blacklight Cobain posters for their dorms.
posted by afx114 at 7:54 PM on April 8, 2007

on the question at hand, without even looking up the numbers, I'd've said Grohl made more off of Foo Fighters because he's the principal songwriter, and the real (non-tour) money for a band is in publishing. Unless Grohl is sharing the publishing equally with the other members of the band, he's taking the lion's share.
Bands like R.E.M. and U2 were founded on idealistic, democratic principals, and have always credited all the music to "(Berry), Buck, Mills & Stipe" or "U2" -- this is why Adam Clayton is probably the only bass player in the world who lives in a castle...he's in for an equal cut of a very, very big pie.

As for the question of who's going to be buying Nirvana albums in 10 years...well, that's hard to predict, innit?
The comparison to The Doors is apt...sadly.
Too bad it'll likely fade away, because much of "Nevermind" are great, noisy pop songs. Well-written and catchy as hell. (even given their current success, Green Day's "Dookie" still piles up in used CD stores at an alarming rate, and it, too, is a great pop record.)
The Bob Marley catalogue still gets a spin with the college crowd because much of it has a party vibe to it.
I think the majority of John Lennon sales are, at present, to 35+ years olds who really wish they'd been cognizant of his music while Lennon was still alive...this is an observation born out of 5+ years working in used Record/CD stores.
posted by I, Credulous at 8:11 PM on April 8, 2007

You people are hilarious. What imaginary secret band is going to sweep into the cultural consciousness to save you from the terrible pain of having Kurt Cobain as the Voice of Your Generation? How will the great meritocracy that we all know is commercial media find and shine your one true musical love from the early 1990s? Forget whether Nirvana really deserves it – they've got the mass & the cultural inertia to keep Come As You Are on the radio or whatever until the day we die and there isn't anything else to it.
posted by furiousthought at 2:16 AM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

No love for SCREAM? I'd say he's got to be making, what, 10 or 15 bucks a year from the Scream albums he played on.
posted by OmieWise at 8:06 AM on April 9, 2007

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