Off the Charts: Examining Musicians’ Income from Sound Recordings

Posted on June 12th, 2012 by Kristin Thomson in What We're Learning. 5 Comments

On Tuesday, May 9, 2012, Artist Revenue Streams co-director Kristin Thomson took part in the NARM’s Music Biz 2012 Conference in Los Angeles, CA.  Drawing upon Money from Music survey findings and artist interviews, she presented some findings about musicians’ income from the sale, license or performance of sound recordings.

She started the presentation by describing the project’s methodology. The research involves three data collection methods: in person interviews with about 80 different US-based musicians and composers, financial case studies based on verifiable bookkeeping data, and a widely distributed online survey.

She also underscored that this study is not about label market share, or consumer spending, or measuring an artists’ social graph. It’s about individual musicians’ earning capacity. It’s about what they end up putting in their pocket, and how it’s changing over time.


Whether on vinyl, cassette, CD or via digital download, income from the sale, license or performance of sound recordings has been a core part of many musicians’ income streams for decades. But there’s no doubt that income from sound recordings – perhaps more than any other – has experienced significant challenges and undergone serious changes in the past 10 to 15 years. While the existing music marketplace was fundamentally disrupted by peer-to-peer filesharing, we simultaneously saw the decline of brick and mortar stores, and the development of legitimate download stores like iTunes and Amazon, and licensed subscription services like Rhapsody and Spotify.  We also saw rapid growth in a new revenue stream for sound recordings – the digital performance royalties that are generated when sound recordings are streamed on any webcast station like Pandora or played by a digital service like Sirius XM.  Given the rapid changes in the sound recording landscape, we wanted to ask musicians – how has your income from sound recordings changed? This report includes data collected through the 2011 Money from Music survey,  interviewee quotes, and the financial case studies.

It’s important to remember that a recorded piece of music embodies two copyrights: there’s the copyright for the composition (the lyrics and notes), and a separate copyright for the sound recording (what gets captured in the studio). There are separate revenue streams earned by these two copyrights; the composition earns mechanical royalties when it is licensed for reproduction. The composition also earns public performance royalties when it’s performed publicly or played on the radio. You can see all 42 Streams, organized into categories, here.

Knowing that US copyright law and business practice treats compositions and sound recordings differently, we were careful to structure the survey to recognize that distinction.  We have data about income earned by compositions (mechanicals, PRO royalties, sheet music licensing, and so on), but that’s not what’s included in this report.

Now, let’s look at the data about income from sound recordings.

Next: income from sound recordings

5 responses to “Off the Charts: Examining Musicians’ Income from Sound Recordings”

  1. […] Artist Revenue Streams has posted the latest study from their musician survey and it seems to confirm other hypotheses and trends regarding the […]

  2. […] The resulting income from sound recordings report includes dozens of charts and interviewee quotes that focus specifically on musicians’ income from sound recordings. In summary, the data suggests: […]

  3. […] The uptick in digital sales is credited primarily to the increase in streaming music services from companies like Spotify LTD and Pandora Media Inc., coupled with downloads from services like iTunes. Digital music sales now account for 41 percent of all music sales in the U.S. (Image via […]

  4. […] size allows a good insight into the revenue situation of the survey participants. In the blog post “Off the Charts: Examining Musicians’ Income from Sound Recordings”, project manager Kristin Thomas presents survey data on revenues from music streaming and […]

  5. […] “Off the Charts: Examining Musician’s Income from Sound Recordings” (via ARTIST REVENUE STREAMS) […]