R.E.M.'s New Business Plan: Cashing In on ’90s Nostalgia
From a renovated red-brick factory near the train tracks in Athens, Ga., Bertis Downs orchestrates the afterlife of R.E.M. At its peak, R.E.M. had seven full-time office workers; now they’re down to two, plus Downs. The three administer the fan club, sell T-shirts, deposit royalty checks, and otherwise ensure that the former band members are free to pursue their post-R.E.M. passions, which currently include teaching art at New York University (singer Michael Stipe), composing a rock concerto (bassist Mike Mills), and running a music festival in Mexico (guitarist Peter Buck).
R.E.M. officially ended 31 years together as a band in 2011. But they remain business partners by necessity, relying on Downs, a naturally caffeinated 58-year-old lawyer, to steer the ship. It’s not strenuous work. If you have a back catalog as packed with classic albums as R.E.M.’s, the checks will keep rolling in. You can throw a batch of dead-stock tour shirts up on the website and watch them fly out the door.