Off the Charts: Examining Musicians’ Income from Sound Recordings
Trends in sound recording income by category
Survey takers who chose the medium or long path were also asked about trends in these specific sources of sound recording income over the past five years. The chart below summarizes the perceived changes in sound recording income by category. Note that survey respondents were simply asked if this income source was increasing, staying the same, or decreasing – NOT about the changes in the dollar value of these specific income categories.
The perceived trends are what you’d expect, given market conditions. More report a decrease in physical sales, while 41% more report an increase in digital sales over the past five years. For sales at shows, there seems to be an even split on the trend data. For synchs, a slightly greater percentage are seeing an increase rather than a decrease. Though fewer musicians reported seeing any income from on-demand streaming services or digital performance royalties, each of these has also seen an increase. (Caution: the increases in these two categories may be almost entirely attributable to instances where musicians were making $0 from these services five years ago, thus any income from them – even fractions of pennies – would be perceived as an increase.)
We also asked survey respondents who took the medium and long paths to give us the reasons why they think each of these revenue streams are changing. Below are two of these charts. The drop in physical sales income was attributed to:
All of these “reasons why” questions also gave respondents an opportunity to type in their own explanation. Of the 34 open ended answers to the decrease in physical sales question, a few mentioned the downturn in the economy, while other musicians said they had simply stopped making physical CDs. In other words, they had exited the marketplace in the past five years.
The increase in digital sales was attributed to:
One survey respondent made an interesting point in the open-ended box on this question: “though the revenue has increased, it has not increased proportionately compared to the ‘traditional’ or, what used to be, ‘conventional’ outlets where product could be sold. So this is not an accurate reflection of the total of ‘real sales’, comparatively speaking.”
This comment underscores something important. As mentioned previously, the Money from Music survey was designed to measure musicians’ income streams in 2010-2011. These questions about changes in revenue streams are simply meant to measure the perceived direction of change, not the amplitude of change.
Survey takers who chose the short path did not see these detailed questions about income by category, but we did have two open ended questions where they could tell us about the trajectory of revenue streams in general. The most frequently used words referenced changes in freelancing opportunities and income from live performances, but there were also some references to sound recording-related money. One survey respondent said this, which encapsulates a lot:
Q 194: Are there any music-related income streams that have increased?
“Digital sales from streams / legal settlements / digital rights (SoundEx) – We couldn’t sell singles easily before 2005 – now we sell many singles… but the volume of sales of recorded music is far lower than pre-Internet.”
Q 195: Are there any music-related income streams that have decreased?
“All physical sales have dropped off a cliff. Synch licensing is much more competitive and lower fees. The “profit” from making music has dropped to a dangerous level – artists cannot “make a record” and expect that alone will earn them money -“