Case Study: Jazz Bandleader-Composer

Posted on March 15th, 2012 by Jean Cook in Financial Case Studies, Participant Data. 6 Comments

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Reflections on Building a Career in Jazz
Jazz operates on a ‘prestige’ model, where elder jazz greats are continually celebrated and younger bandleaders compete fiercely for a few opportunities to shine.
The jazz field differs from the classical or indie rock worlds in a few substantive ways. While many classically trained musicians may aspire to be section or ensemble players, jazz players learn to solo and are encouraged to lead their own bands. Much of the classical music world operates largely on a non-profit patron model, whereas jazz has its roots in commercial music played in night clubs. But the commercial crossover viability of jazz is limited. Rather than emerging bands going in and out of fashion as routinely happens in the rock and pop scenes, jazz operates on a ‘prestige’ model, where elder jazz greats are continually celebrated and younger bandleaders compete fiercely for a few opportunities to shine. This is the environment in which this Jazz Bandleader-Composer is building his career.

While every artist’s financial picture is unique and personal, there are a few themes that emerge from this case study about jazz musicians in general.

Early investments pay off in the future.
Emerging jazz artists spend years practicing their craft, picking up freelance gigs, and joining sessions with elder players. This not only hones their skills, but also forges the necessary connections and credentials in the field to move from being a session player to a bandleader. This was the path that our Jazz Bandleader forged for himself. And, those early investments doing session and sideman work are paying off now, both financially and creatively.

Similar to our indie rock composer-sideman, this Jazz Bandleader benefits financially from playing multiple roles; he consistently earns money from live performances, while also seeing the long-term benefits of his compositions, which generate mechanical royalties, PRO royalties and sheet music sales year after year.

During periods with fewer shows, income from compositions and sound recordings makes up a greater percentage of his gross income.

Live performance is essential, and worth the investment. As with a number of our case studies, live performance fees are the primary – even the dominant source – of income in many years. Because it is the linchpin of his career, this Jazz Bandleader has made significant investments in maximizing it. He has a manager, a booking agent and a publicist. This allows him to both tour frequently and collaborate with others. Having a team in place has also allowed him to leverage his skill and connections to do much more; composing and recording his own work, contributing to various ensembles, working on commissioned pieces and serving as a sideman.

Having a manager, booking agent and publicist allows him to leverage his skill and connections to do more.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to look at these numbers and think that the Jazz Bandleader’s careful choices over the years led automatically to this career outcome. But this is an incredibly competitive field, and one where luck and timing can play as big a role as skill and planning. While the jazz field has some unique traits, this case study underscores the importance of building and maintaining relationships, and investing wisely in one’s career.

Back to Key Findings

A First Look at Jazz Musicians
Jazz Sideman-Bandleader

Other Case Studies:
Contemporary Chamber Group
Indie Composer-Sideman
Symphony Musician

About the Case Studies

Graphs do not have a Y-axis dollar value in order to observe the conditions of our privacy policy. In addition, graphs and visuals in case studies are not comparable within or between case studies. For more details about this, read about our financial case study protocol.

Information detailed in case studies is based on data received directly from the artist or their authorized representative. The data analysis and lessons learned here are based on individual experience, and do not necessarily reflect the experiences of all musicians in genre or roles.

Case studies are one of three ways this project is looking at music creator income.

6 responses to “Case Study: Jazz Bandleader-Composer”

  1. […] Jazz Bandleader-Composer 2) Indie Rock Composer-Performer 3) Jazz Sideman-Bandleader 4) Professional Orchestra Player 5) […]