CMW: On The Money: Examining Musicians’ Income
2. Income from performances is critical
The survey data also indicates that, for musicians who are performers, income from performances is likely to be their most prominent revenue stream. Indeed, 58% of survey respondents told us they had made SOME money from shows in the past 12 months.
To give audience members a sense of scale, we started by displaying data about how many shows they played last year. Forty percent of survey respondents who answered this question told us that they played more than 50 shows last year.
Then we presented data about income from live performance. The survey data shows that, in aggregate, 28% of survey respondents’ income in the past 12 months was derived from live performances. This is the biggest pie slice on the aggregated revenue pie for all respondents.
But, we also asked about income from being a salaried player separately, which accounted for 14% of income…
It’s fair to assume that the majority of salaried players answering our survey are orchestral performers. So, taken together, 46% of survey respondents’ music related income in the past 12 months was derived from live performance.
We certainly heard this from our interviewees as well. A chamber music group member told us how critical this revenue stream was to their livelihood.
The importance of income from live performances is also clear in our financial case studies.
As important as live performance revenue is to our survey respondents’ livelihoods, there are four caveats associated with this source of income that have to be kept in mind.
Caveat 1: Touring costs money
Below are the income and expenses from one of our case studies. The blue bar shows the gross income they’ve made from touring, which is the vast majority of their income. The light blue bar shows the related touring expenses.
It’s a similar pattern in another case study of a jazz bandleader. His gross income from live performances continues to rise, but so do his expenses.
Caveat 2: Touring costs are not scalable.
The charts above underscore another caveat: unlike some other revenue streams, like those derived from making recordings or compositions, touring costs aren’t very scalable. The more shows you play, the more money you spend (unless you set up a residency somewhere).
This was also articulated by our interviewees. A hip hop business manager told us that there’s an expectation that the show production has to be good, and those production expenses just keep going up:
Caveat 3: Touring requires constant output
This ties to a third caveat. Unlike the money you can make off of sound recordings or compositions for which money can flow back to music creators years after the initial license or use, to make money as a performer, you need to perform.
A rock band member summed it up well. Touring has given him a middle class living, but if he stops tomorrow, the cash stops flowing as well:
Caveat 4: Not all musicians are performers
Finally, we reminded audience members that not all musicians are performers. The next section looks at data from songwriters and composers.