Jazz Musicians and Money from Music

Posted on June 13th, 2012 by Jean Cook in What We're Learning. 4 Comments

Takeaway Points

This brief but detailed snapshot offers a rare data-driven picture of jazz musicians and income. While there are many interesting nuances in this snapshot of jazz artists that deserve further discussion, the bottom line is fairly straightforward.

1. Jazz musicians are earn less from music than musicians in other genres. In aggregate, jazz musicians earn less than their musical counterparts in other genres. The mean gross estimated music income (EMI) for all jazz musicians who took the Money from Music Survey was $30,519. This is lower than the gross EMI of all survey respondents (all genres), which was $34,445, and lower than the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s per capita personal income estimate in the US in 2010 ($39,945). This is despite the finding that the majority of the jazz musicians who took the survey are well educated, middle aged, and live in or near urban areas.

It is worth noting that the survey data references gross income, before music-related expenses. The case studies, which use detailed financial data from two real jazz musicians – a bandleader and a sideman – give us a sense of the relationship between income and expenses. For instance, the bandleader role can come with significant expenses – travel, sidemen, recording are typical – that, in these specific cases, eat up 5080% of their gross income.

2. Jazz musicians do more with less. The fact that the jazz survey respondents played more roles than musicians in other genres and simpler support teams tells us they have to be more flexible than musicians in other genres. Jazz musicians may take on more roles on the business side or rely more on pro-bono help. They often play the role of sideman and bandleader in different groups. The case studies offer compelling examples of how two musicians weave together the complex relationships between their various roles, and how creative and engaged jazz musicians have to be to maintain momentum in their fragile careers.

3. The power of replication. Comparable data in the field of individual musician income is extremely hard to come by. We are fortunate with this particular community to be able to refer to another data set from a decade ago – RCAC’s “Changing the Beat,” which asks some of the same questions we asked to a similar population.** While the comparisons are not perfect, a compelling picture is emerging of jazz musicians that suggests negative changes in income for AFM-affiliated jazz musicians and positive changes in income for non-AFM musicians in a musician marketplace filled with jazz artists who have more formal education and less tech savvy than artists in other genres. Comparative data also indicates that jazz’s profile is diminished on the radio, with fewer artists getting radio airplay than a decade ago.

Regular replication allows the RCAC study and Money from Music to become a more powerful advocacy tool for the jazz field. The picture that emerges becomes more complete each time these questions are asked over time, allowing our understanding of the health of the field to move from speculation to fact; from snapshots, observations and correlation to causation; and from anecdotes to conclusive evidence about the causes of systemic problems in the jazz community.

4. This is the beginning of a conversation. This memo outlining FMC’s 2011 survey data from jazz musicians offers an introduction to a complex and timely conversation about artist income. We have only begun to scrape the surface of the rich and overwhelming data source assembled with the Money from Music survey, especially when combined with the data from “Changing the Beat”.


Jazz musicians in America face a complex mix of challenges. Well trained and well educated, they are feeling the brunt of the economic conditions that have cut presenter budgets and grants that have supported the field, and ever-increasing competition for shows and guarantees, the lifeblood of many jazz musicians.

Are these problems unique to jazz artists? In some cases, no; the entire music community is dealing increased pressure as more bands and artists rely on performance income in the absence of money from music sales or compositions. In response, enterprising musicians in a variety of genres have experimented with new sources of income, from merchandising, to synch licensing, to novel touring schemes. Could the jazz field embrace any of these strategies?

We now turn to the jazz community for feedback on our findings, which will help us to identify the reasons why. Why has income dropped for some jazz artists, while it’s gone up for others? Why does jazz fall behind other genres when it comes to radio airplay and developing audiences via the internet? How does the picture for artists compare to how jazz organizations are doing – labels, venues, educational institutions? Are there other questions we can ask the data to better understand the conditions for jazz musicians and their income and how things have changed in the last decade? Are there areas for advocacy that can be supported with this work to improve conditions for jazz musicians?

We hope that the Money from Music data can be used as a starting point for deeper conversations with the jazz community about how jazz musicians are making a living, and how they are adapting to the changing music and performance landscape.

**The comparisons are not perfect – our sample, for example, skews more white and slightly more male than “Changing the Beat.” This could be due to the fact that our methodologies differed.  Changing the Beat asked the questions referred to in this memo in person, while Money from Music was administered online. It’s possible that the networks and memberships of the dozens of organizations that helped promote the survey to the music population skew more white and male. What is the real demographic profile of the jazz community? It’s very difficult to know. Some of the challenges of representation are articulated in this recent post by the ARS team on the struggle to answer the question: “how many musicians are there?

A First Look at Jazz Musicians
Jazz Sideman-Bandleader
Jazz Bandleader-Composer
Next: Addendum

4 responses to “Jazz Musicians and Money from Music”

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