Off the Charts: Examining Musicians’ Income from Sound Recordings

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

Interviewees’ thoughts on sound recording income sources

What did the interviewees say about the changing landscape for sound recording income?  What many of them told us was that this transformation to a digital sales landscape has drastically shifted the source of income earned from sound recordings.

Digital sales

A surprising number of them – from all sorts of genres – mentioned the iTunes Music Store as a game changer. A jazz manager said it’s been a driver for revenue:

“iTunes is a specific technological development that’s been helpful to revenue…”
– Jazz Manager

A Nashville songwriter said the same thing, noting it made music purchasing easy and fun:

“There’s no doubt that iTunes – by making the purchase of music easy and convenient and actually fun –  has done more for the recorded side than anything…”
– Nashville Songwriter

The guitarist in a platinum selling rock band told us that digital sales were a significant source of income for them:

“Digital sales have boosted and that’s one thing instance where we’ve been lucky. Whoever those people are who buy iTunes singles seem to like us. So we have that going for us in that we sell a shit ton of those.”
– Platinum Rock Band Guitarist

Clearly, iTunes isn’t the only digital store out there, but it is the biggest player in the marketplace, and the store most recognized by both musicians and music purchasers.

Sales at shows

Another thing that interviewees said, especially those working in classical, jazz and indie rock, was that sales at shows were important.

This was especially clear with the classical folks, for which there is an incredibly small market for t-shirts and other ancillary products. Many of them told us that they see the most money from physical sales not from Amazon or retailers, but from their own merchandise table after the show.

A chamber music player not only told us that they were their own biggest vendor of CD sales:

“What puts the money in our pockets from record sales is concerts.”
– Contemporary Chamber Music Player

A classical music manager expressed something similar:

“But as far as CDs go, I think that most artists are finding that they sell more records at their individual concerts than are sold any other way. At least in the classical music world.”
– Rob Robbins, Alliance Artist Management

We can also look at income from sound recordings in the financial case studies. Here’s the income from an indie rock composer/performer, who sells CDs and vinyl on tour.  Over the past five years, CD sales on the road has accounted for 12% of his income, and royalties from record sales another 3.5%. Note that the 9.4% publishing royalties slice includes income from mechanicals based on sales of the songs he co-wrote.


Meanwhile, a jazz bandleader has seen 5% of his income in record label advances, but negligible amounts in sound recording income.

So, it’s pretty clear that the sources of income for sound recordings are shifting – away from brick and mortar and towards digital sales and, for some genres, sales at shows. Income from new sources is reported by a minority of survey respondents, but for those who have earned something, they say that it has grown over the past five years.

Next: Technology’s impact on 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 […]

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