How Little Musicians Earn
When it comes to musicians, most people think of music stars and how much money that they generally pull in. Looking at high profile celebrity musicians, it is quite easy to see how the allure of success confuses many into believing that such heights are attainable. In reality, however, it takes many years to get to a point where a musician can reach that level of stardom; unfortunately, many are simply forced to eke out a living from playing small gigs for very little money.
In this day and age, it would appear to be much easier for musicians to profit from their work. Recording costs have remained constant for the last 20+ years instead of rising to adjust for the cost of inflation. Distribution of product is no longer a consideration with the internet being in most households since artists can sell their goods via online marketplaces. However, competition for gigs and even selling CD's is steep. The number of clubs supporting live music has really dwindled. And those that do support bands are requiring them to pack the house, to get their fans to purchase copius amounts of alcohol and to leave after, perhaps, only 3 hours in order to make room for the next band. That's correct! It is not uncommon for upwards of 4 bands to stand on the podium during a weekend engagement. Without the ability to play gigs, how else can a group/musician promote and sell their CD's?
You may be quick to answer radio stations, but they no longer promote music. In fact, many stations play the same old drivel because they know that their listening audience only wants to hear what they loved in their youth. Which brings up another issue; most people do not want to hear what's new, or worse, they may want to hear what's new but are unwilling to pay for it. Now all is not lost, as the internet is filled with many internet radio stations such as Pandora or even video sites such as YouTube. They can be the perfect vehicle for an artist to be discovered. But being discovered may not necessarily sell product nor boost a musician's earnings. In fact, most CD's are money loosers since the artist never sells enough of them to recoup on the cost of production. Hopefully, they can at least sell enough to build a following, to earn more money at a gig and to build a bigger following, and to do the same again and again until it finally works.
The average musician in the United States makes around $1,160 per month. In order to do this, they must gig every chance they or sell quite a large number of tracks and continue to produce and market new content. Selling at least 1000 retail albums, for example, or selling over 200 CD’s via an online service such as CD baby, at the very minimum, is a requirement. This can be quite a daunting task as self-producing your own album requires special equipment and knowledge of studio editing. Not all artists possess such knowledge and will, therefore, have to produce an album with the help of a studio, provided they can find one willing to front the production cost, which obviously leads to a lower profit margin. As an example, the average retail CD album, with a good high royalty record contract, will only net an artist around $1 per sale.
What about the cost of instrumentation? The upfront costs for instruments, tools, even clothes can be quite staggering should the band want to have that professional look and sound. This, too, can dip into their profits. Bands lucky enough to have signed a record deal may have these costs fronted by the label. By no means is this a gift! Once the band begins earning an income, the label is 'gonna get theirs first', meaning that they will take a cut out of any earnings from shows and even album sales.
Starting out, a band may expect to earn around $100 per person for a night of music, and this is only if they are lucky. In many cases, musicians end up playing for free, paying to play. This occurs when you factor in the extras such as the travel costs, hotel expenses or food that the band may have to pay for in order to play the gig. Sadly, a musician could end up only pocketing just a few dollars per gig. And let's not speak of equipment breakdowns.
There are countless stories of groups testifying to the hardships they had to endur in order to succeed. The Band spoke of eating bread and water to line their stomachs with "food" to stave off hunger.
To augment their income, many are forced to take day labor jobs, give music lessons and, if they're lucky, teach at a public/private school. The latter at least provides benefits. Speaking of benefits, all too many have no health insurance, no pension plans, no savings and still they continue.
In general, a musician can really only expect to earn somewhere around $20,000 per year if they regularly play shows and sell records online and this only after a few years of real struggle.