Off the Charts: Examining Musicians’ Income from Sound Recordings

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

Income from sound recordings

Let’s start with a basic question: what percent of musicians’ income is derived from sound recordings? At question 12 in the Money from Music survey, we asked all respondents to allocate their music-related income in the past 12 months amongst 8 possible buckets – money from (1) composing, (2) being a salaried player, (3) live performance, (4) sound recordings, (5) session work, (6) teaching, (7) income from merchandise/branding and (8) other. See details about this process here.

For this top-level assessment of music-related income, we had musicians think of the sound recording bucket as including income from: physical sales, digital sales, music sales at shows, payments from interactive services, digital performance royalties, and master use licenses for synchs or ringtones. (Note that the survey was structured to treat income earned by compositions –  mechanicals, composition synchs and/or public performance royalties – as separate sources of income.)

For the 5,371 respondents, the aggregated amount of income derived from sound recordings in the past 12 months was 6%.

This is the same size as the aggregated income from compositions, which was also 6%.  The largest pie slice was income from live performance, which accounted for 28% of survey respondents’ music-related income.

While the pie chart above shows that the aggregated average of income derived from sound recordings for 5,371 respondents was 6%, the range of income derived from sound recordings ran from 0% of income to 100% of income, as indicated below.

Two-thirds – or 66% – of survey respondents reported that 0% of their income was derived from sound recordings in the past 12 months, and another 22% said it was less than 10% of their income. So, for 88% of our survey respondents, income from sound recordings accounted for 0% to 10% of their music-related income in the past 12 months.

The chart above should not be interpreted as a wholesale collapse in sound recording income. First, remember that the survey population includes a diverse range of musicians, some of whom may not be participating directly in the sound recording marketplace – composers, session players, salaried players, teachers.  For some survey respondents answering this question, the 0% is simply indicative of career structures that don’t involve making money directly from the sale or license of sound recordings (though they may be making money on sound recordings in other ways: mechanicals,  AFM Special Payments, etc.).

Second, this survey is a snapshot; it’s capturing data about musicians’ income streams in a particular twelve month period. The fact that they didn’t make any money on sound recording in the past 12 months may be an indication of the cyclical nature of sound recording income, which tends to ebb and flow with release schedules and royalty payments. Needless to say, we need to look deeper into this data to better understand what it says.

Income from sound recordings by role and genre

We are also able to examine this top level data through certain filters. When we look at the income from sound recording by role, shown below, we see that survey respondents who said they were recording artists (11%) and/or composers (10%) made a higher percentage of their income from sound recordings than musicians in other roles. (Note that survey respondents could check off multiple roles). This makes sense; respondents who identify as recording artists are getting more recording income than those who do not consider themselves recording artists.

We also see that those whose primary genre was rock (14%) or hip hop (12%) derived a greater percentage of their income from sound recordings in the past 12 months.

The genre data above appropriately reflects larger market conditions; the more commercial genres of rock and urban derive more money from sound recordings than the genres that are more focused on performance, such as jazz and classical.

Next: changes in income from sound recordings

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

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