CMW: On The Money: Examining Musicians’ Income

Posted on April 5th, 2012 by Kristin Thomson in What We're Learning. 5 Comments

On Saturday, March 25, 2012, Artist Revenue Streams co-director Kristin Thomson took part in the 30th annual Canadian Music Week in Toronto. Drawing upon Money from Music survey findings and artist interviews, she presented some top level data about musicians’ careers and their earning capacity.

She started the presentation by describing the project’s methodology. The research involves three data collection methods: in person interviews with about 80 different US-based musicians and composers, financial case studies based on verifiable bookkeeping data, and a widely distributed online survey.

She also underscored that this study is not about label market share, or consumer spending, or measuring an artists’ social graph. It’s about individual musicians’ earning capacity. It’s about what they end up putting in their pocket, and how it’s changing over time.

Then she did a quick overview of the range of revenue streams that we are studying, and presented some topline survey respondent demographics.

Then she focused on three key findings related to musicians and the roles they play. Note that this is just a tiny sliver of the information that we’ve been collecting through this benchmarking effort. Additional presentations and research memos are published here, and five financial case studies can be viewed here.


1. Most musicians are earning money from multiple “roles”

When looking about the activities that generated income, more than half of the musicians surveyed earned their income from activity in three roles or more in the past 12 months. Some are composers+performers+teachers. Others are performers+recording artists, but also making a bit of money off their brand. We will detail the most common role pairings and triads in an upcoming data memo. For the CMW presentation, we simply focused on the big picture.

The chart below shows the number of roles – or income buckets – into which survey respondents allocated their music-related income. 2,794 respondents – or more than half of survey respondents – allocated their income into three or more buckets.


But let’s look at the flip side. See that first orange bar? There are 983 survey respondents (18% of survey respondents) who told us they made 100% of their income last year from one role. For those 983 solo role earners, here is the source of their income in the past 12 months:




Live performance was the most likely source of income, followed by being a salaried player.

The estimated music income of $34,455, and role data above suggest two findings.

  • First, the majority of music creators are wearing many hats. Many are earning money from three distinct roles, or more.
  • Second, the majority of music creators are part of the working middle class. Of course, there are some musicians who make much, much more than the survey’s aggregate earned music income of $34,455, and congratulations to them. But we should remind ourselves that there are very few musicians who break through to those upper echelons.  Instead, we should be thinking about the music creator landscape as large, diverse, and specialized. And we should remember that there’s an army of working class musicians and composers out there who are knitting together multiple roles to create a career as a musician.

5 responses to “CMW: On The Money: Examining Musicians’ Income”

  1. […] music. As the Future of Music Coalition found in its recent survey of musicians’ income, many musicians earn a living from multiple roles, including session work, teaching, and other pursuits. Again, it’s a tradeoff of stability […]

  2. […] in 2013, few musicians make enough to live on. Even “indie-rock royalty” Grizzly Bear can’t afford health […]

  3. […] Thomson, K. (2012, April 5). CMW: On The Money: Examining Musicians’ Income. Retrieved November 28, 2013, from […]

  4. […] A 2012 survey of professional musicians conducted by the Future of Music Coalition found that over half of the survey respondents derived revenues from 3 or more roles . Many musicians work as self-employed freelancers in a variety of jobs. In fact, according to a […]