CMW: On The Money: Examining Musicians’ Income

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

3. How are songwriters and composers different?

As part of this research, we actively sought out songwriters who write for other artists, composers who create works for orchestras and ensembles, and folks who compose for film and TV because their stories about how their revenue streams are changing are so critical, and so different. Unlike the performers we just talked about, they cannot just jump in the van and make a few hundred bucks a night.  Their livelihood is much more dependent on the contours of copyright law and business practice, on public performances, licenses, commissions, grants, and mechanical royalties.

The survey included lots of questions about income generated from compositions or composing, and how it’s changing over time.  For CMW, we highlighted just three things in the interest of time, but we have a  specific paper about composers slated for release in May 2012.

Aggregating data from all the survey respondents, 6% of their income came from licensing or performances of compositions in the past 12 months.













But we can also look at this revenue pie for a very specific type of survey respondent.  For those who said they were a member of composer groups ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), Songwriters Guild of America (SGA), American Composers Forum (ACF) or associated with Meet the Composer (MTC), the percentage of income from compositions increased to 14%.













And further, we created a filter called “composer specialist”. Those were survey respondents who self-defined as a composer, and said they were a member of a composer group, and had more than 20 composer credits over their career, and made more than 90% of their income from music. 155 survey respondents matched these very specific criteria, which is a small number but still of sufficient size to examine. For them, income from composing made up 27% of their income last year.













For a sub-population that is so specifically aligned with composing, it’s interesting to see that only 27% of their income is derived from compositions. What makes up the other 73%? How else do they earn money? What other roles do they play? How is this ratio changing over time? We will examine these questions in our May 2012 paper on composers.

This underscores the difference between income from compositions and live performance. After an initial investment in composing or recording, compositions can generate revenue for musicians for years.  Just to illustrate this, check out the data from one of our case studies.

Below is a chart of indie rock composer/performer who received publishing advances, and then publishing income for a number of years after the releases of the works.















We saw the same thing with the jazz sideman, who composed a soundtrack for a film in 2001, but was still receiving royalties for it eight years later.

Again, this is just a peek at the songwriter/composer data. We are working on a more specific analysis of this for release in May 2012.


The power in replication

Finally, Kristin Thomson reminded the CMW audience that this is a benchmarking study.  We are taking a snapshot now of how musicians’ revenue streams are changing, and why.  The real power in understanding the change is repeating this project in a few years.  Also, this was a study that was limited to US-based musicians and composers, but this is also a research model that could be replicated by other artforms, or in other territories. There’s certainly some value in seeing how things vary from country to country.



The CMW presentation packed a lot into 15 minutes, yet barely scratched the surface of the data we have available. At the end of the presentation, Kristin Thomson urged audience members to review the financial case studies based on verifiable accounting statements and bank records from five US-based musicians, or access a number of papers looking at the data through specific lenses, all of which are available on this site.

Future releases and presentations will continue the conversation about how musicians and composers’ revenue streams are changing in the 21st century.


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 […]