Money from Music: Where We Live

Posted on September 11th, 2013 by Jean Cook in What We're Learning. 1 Comment

B. The full time musician
I think being in a major market like L.A. makes it much easier for me to make a living full-time for what I do than in other cities.
– Session Musician

Many interviewees discussed location as a factor that makes full-time musician work possible. While generally, interviewees thought it was difficult to make a full time living as a musician, many thought there were some locations where it was a little easier to make it work.

Honestly there aren’t a lot of places left in the U.S. that are going to allow you to be a musician and make a living, there really isn’t. It’s not something that people value [in the US] so they don’t give money for it. In New York, just because of what it is, you have some chance.
–Independent Composer-Performer

When examining income of survey respondents by location, we found that musicians in Los Angeles, Nashville, and New York earned much more than musicians in other places. Los Angeles-based artists grossed an average of $78,545 from music, more than twice the estimated amount from all survey respondents. For New York City musicians, the average gross music income was $47,567, for Chicago musicians it was $31,755, and in other locations, the average gross music income was $30,559. [Note 4]

Note, however, that Los Angeles and New York are expensive cities in which to live. The table below multiplies the gross estimated music income of survey respondents by the Cost of Living Index, thus showing how far a resident’s dollars will go. Los Angeles and Nashville residents seem to have the best outcomes, while musicians in New York City, even when earning a decent gross income, are faced with high living costs. As we will see later in this memo, many interviewees balance opportunities against these cost of living and quality of life factors.


Musicians in music cities were also more likely to be earning all of their personal income from music. While 42% of all survey respondent reported making all of their money from music, 66% of Nashville musicians and more than half of musicians in New York and Los Angeles reported earning 100% of their income from music.


Hourly wage and Los Angeles Musicians

Because about half of the musicians surveyed were working part-time, it is useful to compare an estimated hourly wage rather than an annual income. After adjusting for the number of hours worked in a week, we are able to see that the estimated hourly wage for Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York is higher than in other locations. Since we have found so far that younger musicians earn less than older musicians, we also find it useful to plot out income by age group, so we can see how different cities compare. Note: size of bubble indicates number of respondents. Smaller bubbles indicate fewer respondents; larger bubbles indicate more respondents.


In this chart we find that the wage curve increases with age and generally peaks when artists are in their 50s, consistent with the general survey population. The exception is Los Angeles musicians and composers, who appear to earn dramatically more income for the number of hours worked than musicians in other cities starting in their forties.

Why are the 40 musicians in their 60s from Los Angeles earning almost $90/hour? One possibility is that rich musicians simply choose to live in Los Angeles. Also, this may be related to the fact that Los Angeles musicians are more likely to be earning residual and recording income. As mentioned above, musicians in Los Angeles are three to five times more likely than other musicians to be receiving AFM Sound Recording Special Payments Fund, AFM Secondary Markets Fund, and AFM/AFTRA Fund income. These are also examples of income that are not dependent on active and current participation by the musician (unlike touring, for example), so the revenue continues to flow despite the artist’s age or level of activity.

When examining how survey respondents actually earned their income, we found that the revenue mix varied by location, with musicians from Los Angeles, Nashville, and New York allocating a greater share of their music-related income to session work and compositions/songwriting than respondents from Chicago, San Francisco, or Austin.


This makes sense, as industry cities are more likely to have a critical mass of ‘behind the scenes’ work for musicians and composers (see sidebars above).

When asked about perceived changes in revenue over the previous five years, survey respondents from Los Angeles – the most affluent group – interestingly indicated that all income streams seemed to be shrinking, with the exception of songwriting and teaching.


Los Angeles, Nashville and musicians in ‘Other Locations’ were more likely to report their composition revenue increased in the last five years.


Los Angeles, Nashville and Austin musicians were less likely to be reporting teaching income than other locations, but teachers in all locations were more likely to be reporting an increase in that income stream in the last five years.

Especially decreasing (with 12% more people saying it was decreasing than increasing) was session work and sound recordings – income streams relevant to over 74% of Los Angeles respondents. We saw a similar picture in New York, with 17% more people saying it was decreasing than increasing.


Los Angeles, Nashville and New York musicians were more likely to be reporting session income than other locations, but session players in all locations were more likely to be reporting a decrease in that income stream in the last five years.


Though all locations had more musicians reporting a decrease over an increase in recording revenue, New York, Los Angeles, and Austin were the locations where artists were most likely to say their recording revenue decreased in the last five years.

[Note 4]: It’s important to note here that all of the estimated music related income reported by survey respondents is gross income. That is, all of their music income before expenses. For some kinds of musicians, such as bandleaders or touring bands, expenses can be significant and include items such as fees paid to band members, travel expenses, and recording expenses. While the Money from Music Survey does not ask questions about expenses, the Individual Artist Case Studies do examine this critical area in great detail for a handful of artists. The Jazz Bandleader Case Study, for example, illustrates that approximately 80% of the musician’s income goes straight out the door to pay expenses.

Next: immersion into a music ecosystem

One response to “Money from Music: Where We Live”

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