Off the Charts: Examining Musicians’ Income from Sound Recordings
Perceived changes in income from sound recordings
We also asked survey respondents if their income from sound recordings – what ends up in their pocket – has changed over the past five years. The chart below shows these perceived changes:
Of 4,447 respondents, 16% said their income from sound recordings had increased, 18% said it had stayed the same, and 22% reported that it had decreased over the past five years, which is 6% more than those respondents who said it had increased. This suggests that, in aggregate, survey respondents’ income from sound recordings has been declining.
But this chart also indicates that, for 41% of survey respondents, the question about trends in sound recordings income was not applicable. This is an important reminder that the US music population is large, diverse and specialized, and that the survey respondents include many musicians for whom sound recordings sales are simply not part of their financial picture.
The survey pool includes salaried orchestra players, session players, and freelancers who are paid for their time in the studio or on the road. In those instances, they may not be earning any direct income from the sale of sound recordings. The survey also includes songwriters and composers. While they may benefit financially from sound recordings sales that generate mechanical royalties payable to composers and publishers, they may not have considered a question about sound recording income as applicable to them since, technically, their income is based on the license of their compositions, which was asked about separately on the survey.
Perceived changes in income from sound recordings by genre
Let’s look at the same revenue trend data by genre. The top bar on the chart below shows perceived changes in revenue for all respondents, with additional bars for the five most common primary genres.
Rock and hip hop musicians – the genres most likely to be engaging in the commercial marketplace – report similar amounts of participation with lower numbers of “not applicables”, but 5% more rock musicians are reporting a decrease in income from sound recordings, while 8% more hip hop artists report an increase (note that the sample size of hip hop artists is small). Country shows an even split in all categories. The genre with the greatest number reporting a decrease is jazz. Meanwhile, 61% of classical musicians said this question was “not applicable”, but for those who are selling sound recordings, 10% more are reporting a decrease.
Though differences exist by role or genre, the survey data generally suggests that, for many musicians, the income derived from sound recordings is a small part of their overall revenue pie, and that it is decreasing over time.