CMW: On The Money: Examining Musicians’ Income

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

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.

“Definitely our touring, flat out. The amount of money that we make on the road, that’s what has allowed for us to remain full-time professional musicians.”
– chamber music group member

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

We can talk all we want about tour grosses, but even the most successful big ticket tours can lose money if they aren’t watching their expenses (see Lady Gaga, U2).

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:

“Do I think that touring has become significantly more expensive? Yes. I think the bar has been raised for production…I think it’s required now and because of that it costs more to do that.”
– hip hop business manager

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:

“I have a big house and a nice car and I’m proud of that because we are a band that really cares about staying true to our vision and not just doing things for money. Of course, I have no pension, and if I stop touring tomorrow, I’ll probably lose all of that.”
– rock band member

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.

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 […]