Do Musicians Make Less Money Now?

Posted by Ben Heckler

Who wouldn’t want a career in music? Music fills us with such joy but we also need to worry about paying the bills. Many of us look at the past with rose-colored glasses and think that everything was much better for musicians. But was it really? Were musicians really making more than they are today? Does becoming a musician/singer promise an established career?

Let’s go over these questions and try to find some realistic answers.

Music as a career

The musicians we know and hear about are usually the individuals on the radio or television. They sell out huge concert halls and thus have the ability to live luxurious lives, drive fancy cars and have money in abundance.

However, like any career, the stars at the top are not representative of musicians as a whole. How much does your neighbor who is a jazz keyboardist make a living? Has the average income of a musician declined?

How much do musicians earn?

The reality is that the earning in the music industry is on a declining trend. A report suggests that an average American musician earned $25,000 a year during 2012-16 but this number declined to $21,300 in 2017.

If the income generated from non-music sources is included, then it comes to a $31,000 in a year.

Why is income declining?

The decline of music income is associated with low profit on selling records. Although selling music on distributing platforms such as Bandcamp and CDBaby is still alive, people buy music much less than they used to due to the rise of streaming services like Spotify.

It is also very common for musicians to operate without a record label nowadays, and they must invest their revenue to other band members, recording studio, artwork, traveling, etc.

Income is higher if a musician composes, produces and distributes an album on their own. The distributing platforms keep a small profit, however—for instance, an artist could keep a $17 profit on a $20 sale.

However, big record labels still exist and can give an artist significant outreach worldwide.

A Citigroup report recently found that the music industry generated a record $43 billion in profit in 2017—but only 12% of it went to the artists. Most of the money ended up in the hands of intermediaries such as tech companies, record labels and radio stations. The majority of the money artists made was from touring.

The realities of earnings from live performance

Musicians nowadays earn most of their income from live performances. The growth rate of earnings from these shows is estimated to touch more than $30 billion by the year 2022.

This, of course, depends on the popularity of a band and the venue. If you can sell $20s for 1000 people who want to come see you, subtracting venue and advertising fees you could be looking at about $15,000 in profit.

However, a more realistic number to shoot for may be around selling $10-12 tickets for about 100 people, which could result in a profit of around $1000-1500 per performance. Plus discounting and venue fees and advertising, and after splitting it with band members you may not be making too much money.

The best deals in live performances is to look for events that can pay you a flat fee—also called a cache.

This means that no matter what, the event will pay you a certain amount (which you need to define beforehand). Sometimes they can even offer to pay for some of the expenses (hotel, food, etc.), which could work out in your favor.

Earnings from live streaming

A musician is able to gain fame at a rapid pace and also earn money by streaming their music live. This is the reason that many artists of today are known as YouTube celebrities. Statistics from last year state that watch one billion hours of content on the broadcast site. Similarly, platforms such as Spotify and Deezer allow a musician to earn money per click. Many musicians are able to multiply their revenue by performing live as well as streaming their content online.

There are also other ways that musicians make their earnings, such as from licensing their music and signing sponsorships with large organizations to selling their merchandise on the spot.

Other ways musicians make money

Other ways a musician can earn more revenue could be teaching classes, producing music for TV or movie series, producing other musician’s music, and audio engineering skills such as mixing and mastering.

These skills take time to develop and patience to establish oneself and find work. Fortunately, there are many resources available online to start developing these skills on our own.

Many musicians find that their true passion apart from playing music is helping to record other musicians or teaching students how to play an instrument.

It is always good to be well rounded and have a basic knowledge of all these skills even if your intention is not to pursue them full time.


Pursuing a profession in music can be scary at first since the trends in the industry aren’t looking entirely optimistic. Though the landscape has changed people’s appetites for music have not and there are many opportunities to pursue if you are creative.

Advertising for live shows, for instance, has never been easier. Contacting artists to draw your album cover is a breeze. Courses on audio engineering are abundant and very effective.

Musicians are able to seize opportunities that were never possible before—so don’t be discouraged!

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