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How Much do Music Artists Earn?


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Well, I have to first say something along the lines of, "F1r$t p0st3r!"

I went to SOTW today to see if there was any info on a random topic I was interested in and I found a thread that linked to this infographic. It's a chart of what you have to do to make $1160 per month, i.e. minimum wage in the US.


Sell ...

* 143 self-pressed CDs
* 1161 retail CDs, high-end royalty deal
* 1229 album downloads through a name-brand MP3 service (e.g. iTunes)
* 3871 retail CDs, low-end royalty deal
* 12399 track downloads through a name-brand MP3 service (e.g. iTunes)

Streamed (i.e. "have your song listened to") ....

* 849,817 times on Rhapsody
* 1,546,667 times on Last.fm
* 4,549,020 times on Spotify

Erm. That's a few.

Now, I have gone to more than one of the streaming services and have seen things that say something like, "1353 people are listening to this song right now!" or similar, so I think that it's possible that the numbers above for streaming aren't as bad as they appear: say that a song averages 500 hits every 5 minutes. That's 144,000 hits per day and equals about 4.4 million per month (which leads me to believe that this is how the infographic's author came up with those numbers).

It's also obvious that you could be listed on a bunch of streaming websites and you could combine that with any or all of the other things listed above to make a decent amount of $ per month.

There are a couple things not listed:

* Radio play
* Concerts (live or streamed)
* Endorsement deals
* Sale of swag (e.g. t-shirts)

I've mentioned on another thread that I don't particularly like going to concerts because they cost too much for what I feel is an inferior product. However, I can understand that this is how an artist makes most of his money. That's unfortunate for me, because I really can't justify paying more than about $15 to go to a concert.


Kudos to guido at SOTW for pointing out this infographic.


Staff member
Ah, but you are forgetting about all that good non-monetary compensation. Stale sandwiches, cold ziti and the ever present warm foamy beer. Free admission to the event you just played for (just played at a minor league ballgame last night). And don't forget about the always important "exposure".

Seriously, I'm not sure how the under the radar (not national act) full time musicians do it. I can count on four fingers musicians I have known that make enough to support a family and live comfortably in the business. Two of them are prolific songwriters who have written many songs for well known country artists. The third is a bandleader / composer who focuses on the corporate / convention business here in the Chicago area. He will book anything from a solo pianist to a 150 piece orchestra for your event, and if you want to commission a piece for your event, he will write it. The fourth is a Broadway show drummer.

I suppose I could also count some repair guys I know that are outstanding players, but I suspect that their performance income pales in comparison to their repair / store income.


Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
So the bottom line would be "if you really love music, make it your big-time hobby, not your job". Which also translates to "do it when you feel like it, not because you must".

Ideally you have a 60% job as an investment banker, and fill the rest with gigs to restore your karma. ;-)
I don't know that this will apply to you youngsters, but I found survival 'till sixty-five allowed me to live as an artist (well, maybe without much talent but at least doing nothing other than music). Between my teachers' pension and Social Security I am able to eat, play and stay out of inclement weather - most of the time anyway.

I've found a number of fellow musicians - now full time - who, having reached "the golden years," are enjoying the same life style. [No CDs, yet, but keep an ear peeled for Old Dick and the Geezers]


Old King Log
Staff member
I've always agreed with the philosophy of having a money-making job for subsistence, and playing on the side for fun. I've watched too many of the friends from my youth try to make ends meet as poorly paid teachers of music (or music teachers), eking out a living and scraping around to put kids through college.

I was a nine-day wonder on the clarinet when I was a youngster, and I considered going into one of three fields: the military, astronomy, and music. I ended up in the military anyway, but quickly learned that I would fare poorly in a peace-time army, so strike one. I considered astronomy until I met a guy with a doctorate in the field who spent his days staring at photographs, looking for movement of celestial bodies, and had absolutely no chance of advancement, even with his advanced degree. My eyes were already bad enough, thank you - strike two.

I considered music as well until the music director for our school district explained why going into instrumental music was a bad idea. Too many "good" people in the field who loved doing musical things, not enough jobs in the field (with the teaching profession still clogged with the GI Bill folks from World War II), and a shrinking number of jobs in the future due to magnetic tape (just then making its impact in the world) and other technology.

I took his advice and moved on, spending thirty years looking at dead bodies (and looking over others who looked at dead bodies), playing about all that I wanted (and making some good money in the process) on the side. In effect, I've managed to have my musical cake and eat it too, never having to sweat the house payment or how I was going to come up with medical insurance for my kith and kin.

I'm not saying that a musical career is a bad way to go. It's just that you have to be willing to scrape a lot more to get by in a field that people are clamoring to get into. A very self examined life will help, but you can easily total up the number of performance majors coming out of colleges and gin up an approximate number of places into which they all have to fit. Unless you are the best of the best of the best, it's unlikely that you're going to be "the one" that gets the brass ring.

Put another way, I'd have loved to do what I really wanted to do for a living in this world. But, there aren't very many duty slots for Hugh Hefners - a tight field indeed. So I grabbed the best job I could find and did that on the side. Well, sort of...


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
I lucked out in my musical life. I did go to college for music education, but I learned two things really quick: one, I was far from the best player and that's what the college emphasized and two, I had plateaued in my musicianship, as far as playing sax/clarinet are concerned. I had little desire to practice 6 hours a day for the rest of my life and maybe a tad bit better.

I have had two full-ish time music jobs and a couple part-time music jobs. Even adjusting for inflation, I make about three-four times as much as a computer tech. And I know I'm underpaid.

As far as this factoid is concerned, we're just talking about people who make their living as a performer. I wasn't: I worked as the head of a music department, conductor, and as an assistant to a director -- at different times. Arguably, that combination or a different job in music education is as rewarding or more so than a performance job, the pay is a bit more stable and you could still try to self-publish an album.


Artist in residence
Distinguished Member
I've worked as a full time player for about 40 years now, and I can't ever remember having a significant problem with money. I've had times when the calls have slowed down, and I've had times when there were no calls at all for a while. But I've always had the money available to get my bills paid and keep the wolf from getting in the door.

I worked lots of good paying gigs, as many as I could schedule into a day, or a week, or a month, and I listened to my Pops when he told me to learn how to live off of half my income and save the rest. So when the lean time came, I drew from my savings to pay my bills. Things always pick up, the phone always rings again, I have faith in myself, so I try not to panic if work slows down. But I plan ahead when the money is coming in.

I worked 9 to 5 long enough to know that my love of being a musician was much greater than doing that grind till I died. So I was determined to be a success as a musician. Nothing was going to stop me from musical success. I believe that if you have the determination and the motivation, you will be a success.

Lifestyle enters into the equation. I learned how to live on busses, in airports and on airplanes, on trains, in hotels, hotel lobbys, and in dressing rooms. In theaters and concert halls, in night clubs, and on stages and on bandstands. But the money always came in. I sent American dollars home to my wife from all parts of the world. I just kept working. The money never mattered to me, I was playing the music, living my dream.

I liked cars, so if there was enough extra, I'd buy us some cool car that I was eyeballing at the time. Or I'd indulge my weakness for some old Selmer that I was fixating on. My wife likes houses, so she would spring for a better pad for us when the money looked good to her. She's retired from her career in social work administration, and we always pooled our bread, our saleries.

But my point is that I always had plenty of work, and work that paid well. I was determined to be a success and to not be a failure. I had nothing to fall back on. Having something to fall back on is a plan for failure, in my view. I was motivated. Fear motivated me. Not fear of being broke, but the fear of not living up to the musical expectations of whoever hired me that night. And I've been lucky over all these years. I had good luck back in the money years when gigs were plentiful, lucky that doors opened for me back then. And I'm lucky today to still be alive and still working after the rigors of the road and living a very fast lifestyle in those younger years. Most of the players I started with back then are just cherished memories at this point in my career.

I know that starting a musical career in 1973 is a lot different than starting one today. But I would say this to someone comtemplating being a player today; if you have that burning desire to play the music, and if you truely love your instrument, then go for it. There ain't no book on life, no instruction manual that says that life is determined by how much money you make. Passion is worth ten times more than money. So if you're passionate about music, take your horn out there and play! If you're lucky, you too will find out about hotel lobbies, busses, airplanes and airports, dressing rooms and stages.

And you just might get to have lunch with Ed while you're travelling!

Very eye-opening to read all the posts in this thread. I wonder though if marriage and having kids is a significant obstacle for a musical career. It's been true before and even more so today that a financially rewarding career in music takes an unusually intense uncompensated dedication in the beginning and may, with luck, pay off in the end. With this in mind, I suspect that marriage (and especially having kids) would and the priorities it brings to one's life would have a disastrous affect on all possible chances in this delicate career choice.

I do understand that a lot of married people would have a hard time admitting that it's been a major drawback, because they wouldn't see themselves without their family and kids... But if care enough to find out the truth, maybe an honest look upon our past will reveal a few things. As for myself, I've avoided marriage and procreation. Not sure how long I'll go like this (I'm in my late thirties), but so far I feel that I couldn't have had some of the success (in music and otherwise) with the elevated responsibility to work hard and provide for a family.

I'd love to hear what you guys think of this.


Old King Log
Staff member
Push comes to shove, even the elite of the musical world (think country stars riding around the country in a tour bus) have many conflicts between their well compensated career and their standing as a "family" person. They only survive musically by living out of a suitcase for most of the year, putting on their show every second or third night. Once a family comes into the picture, you have the opposing forces of a life of stability vying with the demands of a careers - performers make the most money by "entertaining" in a live (if supported by backing tracks) performance.

Sure, some pull down recording deals that boost them into a higher plane of income, but rock and country groups don't maintain grueling schedules on the road just for fun - they're doing it for the money.

Symphonic folks move in a different world, but even there they need to commit a lot of their time awake to their career. Evenings are often sacrificed to the career (not all symphonic work is during the day), and travel intrudes here as well.

And, symphonic folks (overall) just don't make that much money. A random survey that I do of the orchestral positions in the International Musician, the union's monthly paper, reveals that the average symphonic position pulls down something like $40,000 a year. Twenty years ago, that was great money - today, it's a lower middle class wage. (Bricklayers make more - far more - in Saint Louis MO.)

I'm not saying you can't get by on forty grand a year - I'm just saying that it's hard to make ends meet in a middle class lifestyle with a family pulling in that kind of money. With two such incomes a year, you will get by, but that's dependent on having the two incomes - not always easy to do these days.

I've known symphonic musicians (in Saint Louis) who had a spouse in a drudge job, piles of student loans, a mountain of bills, and the spectre of college tuition for a brood of children staring them in the face. Despite their "elite" status (and Saint Louis once had a highly rated symphonic operation), they were still hustling to get by, using their free time to teach students to rake in some (tax free - tax cheats all) income. It's not a life that I'd care to live, but if they were happy, so be it. Unfortunately, most (three of them) were not.

I also know a woman who was a virtual wizard on the 'cello, went to the right school (Curtis in Philadelphia), got her doctorate and ended up working at the Automobile Club as a receptionist while her viola playing husband sat at one of the back desks in the symphony. When last I saw her, she still had her beautiful long hair, she too had a mountain of student debt, and she was seated in the cheap seats at a performance of Porgy and Bess, still waiting for that break. They were putting off having children until they could afford the expense. And, as of two years ago, her husband was still at a back desk in the string section and her name did not appear on the chart.

So, those are two different "elite" profiles - touring rock/country folks, and symphonic musicians. Dropping down to the world of jazz performers, you move to a much lower plateau. How do they hold up?

I've no doubt that there are jazz musicians who make a decent living. It's just that I don't know any of them. I do know local folks here in Houston who are respected jazz folks, and their performance schedule is just as hectic as those in the top tier. To make a decent living (middle class standards) in pop music or jazz, you have to be "up" constantly. Playing evenings six nights a week, plus rehearsal, all at odd hours. Little time for family or relaxation when your family is awake.

The guys and gals that are in this loop are great people, but they tend to be young. Family life does not fit a professional musician or vocalist well. It can be done, but you'd not want to do it for long.

I know a session guy who plays for the folks that own Muzak. His is a life of rehearsing a chart three or four times, then recording it for the finished copy. Not a typical musician, but he has a stable, 8:00 to 4:30 job that provides him an upper middle class income (when combined with that of his teacher wife's). He lives a normal life in suburbia. And, there are perhaps five hundred others like him in the nation. A great "job" if you can land it (and put up with playing pablum for the masses).

Dropping down another level, this to the part-time folks that I employ. They are paid quite well at a first class job, more per hour than I was paid with my high level management job with the government. (I know this for a fact because I have the earnings statements from my job, and I do the payroll for my sidemen and women as well.)

In fact, it would be a great job, except for one thing - we don't play every night of the week and we don't play for an eight hour day. Twice a month is pretty good for a group of our type, with no more than four hours each time. Some play with other groups as well, but most have day jobs.

And, having done two four-hour jobs in a day one time, I'm not so sure that it would be worth it. Aside from the fact that I'm involved in the planning, erection and teardown of the group each time, getting it all to work right in such a case is a monumental effort. So, no eight hour days in the life of this musician, not when each eight hours comes with the freight of seven hours of planning, setup and teardown.

We have groups (maybe ten people) here in Houston that perform three or four times a week, 'bands' like Klockwork. They do a lot of weddings, and play the occasional benefit or club date as well. But, they too are "out of phase" with the rest of the world, much like emergency room nurses and fire and police personnel. It may be a living, but it's one in a maladjusted world of inconsistency - firemen have a constant job, but entertainers are dependent upon a fluctuating demand.

What it all comes down to is this: the recording industry destroyed the concept of the yeoman/journeyman musician. They made some individuals into "stars", able to pull down income from both recording and performing, but the days of the "go to work each day" musician are almost gone. And, with them went the "well paying" job for most in the field. The superstars make a lot at the price of a disrupted life, the symphonic folks make some but not all that much, some people scrape by with club jobs and the like, and the rest get a nice payday for the occasional band jobs, but the jobs are few and far between.

And, always lurking around the corner is the "threat" of someone realizing that they can get a perfect performance (maybe not legal, but otherwise pristine) by playing CDs or MPEGs produced in a recording studio. Sure, a "live" performance adds to the value of the entertainment. But, I've not listened to a symphonic group live in a long, long time - I take the price of one ticket and buy the same performance to add to my collection to hear whenever I want to.

Hotel orchestras are dead. My grandfather made a decent living when he emigrated here after World War I, by playing for hotel orchestras and movie theaters. Then came talkies, and half of his playing gigs disappeared almost overnight. How did he survive and raise a family of eleven children? He became a fireman, relegating music to a part-time status.

Pit orchestra are dying. Shows like West Side Story are often put on with reductions in strings, or even in the "band" desks. Some are put on with a synth, others with pre-recorded tracks.

And, sitting in the background, unnoticed but still functioning at full blast, is an education system that is turning out thousands of potential musicians each and every year - in effect, creating a product for which there is ever-decreasing demand. Not a pretty picture.
im married w 2 kids, pushing 50, wife works in a university music library, have worked full time in music (arts AND entertainment) since 1992. and as "aprentice" well before that. used to focus on different stuff prior to kids, so the primary activitys have shifted somewhat in order to accomodate everything. So its not as much a DRAWBACK as it is an ADJUSTMENT...this week I played for all the USA surgeon Generals, have a video shoot, recording session for 2 new pieces , 4 funerals [so far], & far too much paperwork and driving time. Unmarried w/ no kids, I'd conjecture ONE or TWO larger paying gigs farther afield, perhaps reaching a larger audience, instead of the "pull-pull-pull, drip drip drip, never rains but it pours" of freelancing.... Like sideC said, one has to be careful, work hard constantly seek out new revenue streams, & all that BS. ByeBye long summer vacations in Provence.... :( Hello 3 days in a motel in Lewes Delaware. :/ ....funny this thread should come up on a rather dissapointing ASCAP quarterly domestic writer distribution day hmmmm...
Thank you, SODSTO for that wide and rich perspective. It's good to be aware that some of those habitual assumptions about making money in the "music business" are not relevant today. It's a sad commentary about our consumerism culture that we think a 40 grand a year should barely have us survive... and a 80 grand a year narrowly letting us get by. With today's economy, it might be wise for us to reconsider some of the lifestyle choices we make.
Things seem to be not so different over here (Switzerland), even if, apparently "less worse" than on your side of the Pond. E.g., most cities, from ca 40'000 inhabitants up, have a chamber-to-symphonic orchestra, the smaller cities with a core of ca 20 "regulars", i.e. with a fixed contract for a minimum number of services and concerts in the chamber orchestra setting, plus a second tier of professionals for symphonic productions or special instruments. Bigger locations have permanent pro symph orchestra (like the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva, of world reputation). Most of their players, however, also teach privately or in conservatories.

Like in the US, "Jazz Schools", at least 6 of them at the pro level for our 7-million folks country, launch full carts of technically skilled youngsters every year, most of them then...teaching, privately or in the Jazz Schools...alongside their regular playing in bands. A portion of these find a way of surviving by touring in a decent network of clubs, small theaters, cultural centers, generally partly or entirely financed by municipalities, in Switzerland and the neighbouring countries (France, Germany).

The semi-pro and amateur scene is still vivid, even if, IMO, dwindling. The average level of the players is improving, however, thanks to the incoming of skilled new young players from the schools mentioned above, which have also non-pro sections. The average income per musician for most semi-pro or amateur paying gig is between $100 and $250; not bad will you say, yes, but rare (mostly Fri-Sat, maybe 10 times a year or less per band).

This anecdote to end: some years ago, we had a dinner with the board of the electricity company I used to work with and I was in front of an elderly laywer, who had helped found the company 1953. He was in his eighties and heard I was playing jazz sax. He said "Wow, what a coïncidence ! Do you know I too played in a jazz band, maybe the first which pretended to play jazz in town ? It must have been 1925-26, when I was studying law. I was playing ukulele (!) and we were paid ridiculously low: round 100 Swiss Francs per gig, you imagine ? " I said, "yes, I imagine, 'cause, now, 70 years later, we're still paid 100 Francs (ca $ 110) per gig...".

This anecdote
Jacques, what interests me is the current level of government involvement for the average European musician today. Do top tier ensembles still receive majority funding from Gov't? What about B list C list 'artistic' ventures?....Or, as here in the US, is funding mostly managed now by the foundation/ non-profit grant system ? (good anecdote, by the way!)

As for reconsidering lifestyle choices:

Kids need what they need. period. So do spouses. So do dwellings, landlords, various corporations, insurers, governmental entities, etc. I know of no fulltime musicians that are habitually self-victimized by their own rampant consumerism, even in fat times. That addiction is reserved for those higher up the food chain.

The triple threat of stagnant wages, increased cost of basic commodities, and agressive profit skimming for the benefit of shareholders& investment sector pose a far greater commentary of evil, than that new water heater, posh frock, or flashy toy.
As for reconsidering lifestyle choices:

Kids need what they need. period. So do spouses. So do dwellings, landlords, various corporations, insurers, governmental entities, etc. I know of no fulltime musicians that are habitually self-victimized by their own rampant consumerism, even in fat times. That addiction is reserved for those higher up the food chain.
Oh, yeah? 7$ for a cup of coffee at Starbucks? $80 to groom your pet? Nails... Hair trimming... You get the point. Some of these things seem so natural to us that we don't question the costs. I'm a well-traveled man and every time I go to a foreign country I am shocked to realize how unnecessary some of our own American indulgences are.
The triple threat of stagnant wages, increased cost of basic commodities, and agressive profit skimming for the benefit of shareholders& investment sector pose a far greater commentary of evil, than that new water heater, posh frock, or flashy toy.
I'd be happy to double-down on what you're saying here about the evils of big business. Unfortunately, we have more control over some of our own lifestyle choices, as stagnant income earners.

Carl H.

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
Oh, yeah? 7$ for a cup of coffee at Starbucks? $80 to groom your pet? Nails... Hair trimming... You get the point. Some of these things seem so natural to us that we don't question the costs. I'm a well-traveled man and every time I go to a foreign country I am shocked to realize how unnecessary some of our own American indulgences are.
I live here in the states and those are NOT natural expenses associated with an economical life. Do not lump me in with YOUR indulgences.
I live here in the states and those are NOT natural expenses associated with an economical life.
Absolutely. That's a choice. I would never spend that on a cup of coffee, even if I won the lottery and even if I liked coffee :)
I comb my dog myself, never spend for her grooming, but I do buy her the best food since it's the healtheist for her.
I cut my nails myself.
I use a home hair cutting machine for haircuts (or just don't cut my hair for a long time).

My approach to making money from music is that you have a few choices. First you realize what you want to do in music. Then you realize what you need to do in order to profit from music. Consider how much overlap there is between the two and also how much you are willing to compromise.

You might be lucky and what you like to do just happens to be extremely popular and easy to earn money from. You might be very unlucky and what you want to do is extremely unpopular plus you are not willing to compromise at all. Then everything in between depeneding on what you want to do and what person you are. some people are a lot more specific about what they want to do and some don't really know and more or less happy to play almost anything.
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I live here in the states and those are NOT natural expenses associated with an economical life. Do not lump me in with YOUR indulgences.
I'm very conservative when it comes to spending. So, these aren't really my own indulgences. I've just had a few girlfriends and I can see how others in my neighborhood live... Usually quite lavishly, with very modest paychecks. We don't even have to talk about coffee and pet grooming. We can start with the big ones... The vast majority of the people in my area would never use public transportation, for example - no matter how easy and convenient it is. They prefer to spend $700 and more (for car payment, gas and insurance) just for the pleasure of riding in their own private space. I don't know why it's so hard for you to admit that as a culture we're a little too addicted to consumption of goods we really could do without.
Jacques, what interests me is the current level of government involvement for the average European musician today. Do top tier ensembles still receive majority funding from Gov't? What about B list C list 'artistic' ventures?....Or, as here in the US, is funding mostly managed now by the foundation/ non-profit grant system ? (...)
I'm not a specialist in this matter, but I can safely say that the current model for most classical ensembles, in Switzerland at least, is the foundation or association system, with public funding being a large part of the "income" side of the P&L.

For exemple, the "second tier" (i.e. regional level, 100% pro orchestra; we have a fantastic youg German Director) Ensemble Symphonique Neuchâtel has a budget of 1'100'000 Swiss Francs (CHF), ca $ 1'200'000.-.
About half of it goes to the musicians, CHF 45'500.- go to the Director, CHF 24'000.- to the soloists.
On the income side, we have CHF 150'000.- (14%) coming from the City of Neuchâtel (35'000 inhabitants), CHF 120'000.- (11%) from the State of Neuchâtel (170'000 inhabitants), CHF 350'000.- (32%) from the regional Lottery (in Switzerland, lotteries need concessions, are state-controlled and must distribute most of their profits to cultural and sport institutions). In our case, private sponsorship is very low, CHF 50'000.- (5%). Self financing is CHF 372'400.- (34%) : i.e. tickets sale CHF 212'500.- (19%), orchestral fees for the participating of the orchestra in third party concerts, mainly choirs CHF 159'800.- (15%).
We give 7 concerts this season.


The system is about the same in Germany, every mid and large city having at least one orchestra and often a ballet company.
In France, State ("National Orchestras") and Regions directly finance most of classical music.

Hope this gives you an very partial idea of the local situation.