Industry Analysis: Music Sales Are Only 6% Of Musician Income

If you want to make a living from music, this new study of 5,000 musicians will help you understand where to focus your efforts - which might include moving to another genre.

Ultimate Guitar

Music sales only account for 6% of the modern musician's revenue, according to a new survey of 5,000 musicians from different backgrounds.

It also found that only the richest musicians benefit from copyright protection, but "the vast majority of other musicians do not."

Author Peter DiCola says copyright works in a "winner-take-all or superstar model in which copyright motivates musicians through the promise of large rewards in the future in the rare event of wide popularity."

Does that sound like anyone you know?

Regarding file sharing, only one quarter of artists say they are hurt by the practise - but just as many said that it helps their career move forward.

Here's a chart showing the average share of musician income:

It shows that the majority of income, 28%, is generated through live performances, which is great for touring rock artists but may also explain why the industry is shifting towards a 'lone performer' model where an individual DJ or songwriter will earn more because they don't have to share the income with four band members.

Torrent Freak notes that the chart would look very different for major record labels, "as they mostly rely on revenue from music sales. This also explains their strong views against unauthorized file-sharing."

If you're looking to earn more from making music, ask yourself: which of these sectors am I actively working in? Many musicians remain deluded that music sales will eventually earn their entire income. In most genres, this will rarely be true, and the modern musician must accept that there is work to be done in less exciting environments to live off music alone.

To compare musician income in more detail, the study analysed different bands of earners, from the highest earning 1% to the lowest earning group, to see if there were any inherent differences:

It found that copyright law only seems to benefit the highest earning musicians, though it could be argued that those musicians earn more because they use the law to positive effect and defend their rights where necessary.

"Rather than providing marginal incentives to create to all musicians at all times, copyright law mostly affects the revenue of the highest-income musicians in a direct fashion. This is not a surprise, given the prevalence of winner-take-all markets in the entertainment industry," writes the DiCola.

Does that mean copyright should be abolished, as many defenders of the file-sharing movement would have you believe? DiCola doesn't think so.

"Musical creativity takes a number of forms, not just the kinds that copyright law protects. This broader perspective should not, however, obscure the reliance on copyright for many musicians in particular subgroups.

"Those who focus their activity on composing rely on composition revenue and are much more vulnerable to harm from copyright infringement. The same goes for recording artists who rely on sales of sound recordings," DiCola said.

Finally, a chart which breaks down income by genre shows that rock musicians earn less than those in other genres, like classical and jazz:

In essence, the genre you write in could be the deciding factor in how much money you earn. This doesn't mean ditching rock for jazz; perhaps switching genres within the rock world will prove to be a savvy business move (but only if your goal is to increase your income from music).

To use simple examples, compare pop-punk with progressive rock. One genre attracts a younger fan base with no disposable income and that may have to find their music on torrent sites, and the other has an older audience on average that still likes to buy CDs.

Think about your genre right now. Is the average audience prepared to pay for music? If not, and if you're serious about music as a career, maybe it's time to cast your net elsewhere.

By Tom Davenport

53 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Icarus Lives
    This is a fantastic news item. Informative, factual and relevant. More of this please!
    You might want to consider "switching genres"?? Music is funded by money, but music itself is NOT about how much money you can earn. No way in hell would I ever consider swapping my guitar or my drums for a turntable for the sake of money!
    Just to be clear, the analysis at the end only mentions switching genres if you're specifically looking to increase your income. You might not need to - maybe you're already working in a genre that generates high sales. We all know that music is more fun as a hobby, but some UG readers are looking to write music as a career. The ones who can get over their bias and treat it as a business will succeed in that, but in many other cases it is obviously irrelevant.
    I really think everyone is misinterpreting these charts. When they say things like "teaching", I think they are referring to giving lessons, not being a teacher at a school. Lots of professional touring musicians give private lessons in their free time.
    Exactly. Tons of touring guitarists give lessons for income when they are in a static location for a while or through the internet. It is a smart source of income if you have the chops and that's probably why it is higher up on the scale.
    If its only 6%, then why are record companies bitching about pirating!!?
    That's the percent of income from sales for the musicians themselves, not their label. The record labels make the majority of their money from the sale of the records they promote, so pirating cuts deeper into their pockets than those of the people making the music.
    Because that's ONE musician... record lables have hundreds of artists under them, and some that've been poopular for nearly half a century now. They still make loads of money.
    for other reasons... not just music sales. pop singles today quickly go gold and platinum anyway, regardless.
    because they're not making anything from record sales. I'd bet the percentage was significantly higher twenty years ago.
    um how about a chart with COLORS? so it's more legible lol. interesting article though.
    I've known for a long time that musicians make very little of their money from record sales. Nice to know the numbers and have a source to cite.
    My band put out a CD in 2009 and we did it all ourselves so every CD we sold we got all the money from. We sold ~200cds and that made us enough money to break even and with the t-shirts we made we now have enough to get our new cd out. What i am trying to say is that the charts dont apply to all the bands out there. And no this does not justify piracy...if the 800+ people that downloaded our cd actually bought it we would be able to eat more than just noodles and meatballs. I get that not everyone liked it but lets say 400 people did like it, that would still be ~4500$ HUGE money for a new band.
    Whats your band called, also you should try and get yourself on PledgeMusic, thats a great thing to do if you have the right amount of fans to help you get started with money in your pocket!
    Bands with asociated with record companies earn less that independant bands, the only difference is the is the difusion of their music
    Is anyone else just seeing "Insert Chart" instead of an actual chart?
    I love how they only show one of the three graphs and it's super illegible, yet the author made sure to throw in his Twitter account.
    Pad Mast3rs
    People often forget that labels support bands a lot by sponsoring music video, studio recording, marketing. That is the reason i hate people legitimating piracy because of the artist not receiving much money. They receive more support the more CDs are selled therefore they have the possibility to make more money. Sorry for mistakes and greets from Italy
    The chart compares apples to oranges. How can you compare a music teacher, with income coming solely from teaching to a band on a label who does not do any teaching or working as session musicians and include them in the same chart?
    I will just quote Frankie Bello by saying "I love music, but I hate the music business."
    That's why I'm in the LIVE audio industry. Bands make their money touring, mainly in merch. Last year was our company's busiest year in doing live audio production. Bands of all ages are touring more. It's recession-proof, experienced that 1st-hand. Plus, what better way to experience how talented a band is...playing live! Last year, most of the shows I did during the week, were sold out (in 2000 cap. venues). Mostly by teenagers, tickets worth $30 to $60 each. We still wonder how they can afford it, let alone be allowed out on school nights that late. Just like any troubled times, vices and entertainment will increase. People will spend to be entertained, get drunk, get high, have a good time to get away from their's human nature.
    This would be a much better article if we could see the charts. I'm sure it will get fixed throughout the day... But anyway interesting article but the closing paragraph put me off a bit - you should never make music just to make money. I htink experience has shown us all that bands who do this suffer artistically for this (literal) payoff. Having said that I am fully aware that some musicians do need to make a living off of what they do. Its just a bit disheartening to think that some are forced to make a business decision rather than a personal preference one.
    Another crappy attempt to justify piracy. It doesn't matter if it makes up 6% or 60%, it is still part of an artist's income. Just because it may not contribute to as large of a part of their income as touring might, depriving an artist of money to be made from song sales is still not justified. Say all you want about labels recouoping money for CD sales and artists not seeing that money, they still see royalties from the copyright in the compositions. This argument is tired. Grow up and buy your music. If you can't afford it, then stream it through their website or royalty paying service (i.e. spotify) until you can afford it.
    Somehow people still don't understand that it's not piracy that's killing the music industry; it's killing ITSELF. They promote these shit acts and spend shitloads of money on producing a full-length 40+ minute record that people only want one-dollar-a-pop-songs from. The people using iTunes are far, FAR more numerous than the people pirating. If you think one dollar per customer is enough to cover touring and production expenses, you might want to retake elementary math. I should also add that music piracy dates way before the internet; people will borrow albums from friends or the library or what have you and make illegal copies of them. Before CD's, people were doing it with cassette tapes. People were recording shit from the radio that they heard. Piracy is nothing new. What's new is the way music is SOLD nowadays.
    I completely agree with third eye, the industry with it's short term point of view is killing itself of. And there is collateral damage as well: who do you think is more responsible for the death of HMV for instance? Piracy or itunes? As for the 6% part, let's say I spend 500$/year on music related products. Knowing this 6% figure, I would tend to favour spending my money on shows from which I know the band would benefit rather than on the CD.
    HMV is responsible for the death of HMV, due to their abysmal selection, and the ridiculous prices on said abysmal selection. I buy music as often as I download it, and not once have I bought a CD or record at HMV due to the fact that, aside from a handful of bands, all they have are layers of trash shovelled onto more layers of trash.
    This is not an attempt to justify piracy. This is a wakeup call that any dreams of selling records to make a living are ill informed. Better to supplement it with other kinds of musical income.
    I never took it as an attempt to justify piracy. It's a great, factual, informative article. Please do more articles like this one.
    I'm pretty sure that Merch fraction is pretty much inaccurate. most big bands I'd say they make a majority off of merch. thats how most bands help get by is off merch and what not. sure as hell isn't selling cd's but it helps.
    An interesting experiment to note is Protest the Hero funding their next album through Indigogo. I believe this is the future of recording artists. Within 2 days they have already raised $140K of their $125K budget. Why would they worry about piracy if they've already made their cash BEFORE the album comes out. Takes away the whole hoping for sales and hoping that people don't just download it afterwards. Now they are not a small act now, (this is their 4th album), but I could see the model work for any artist who wants to raise money to record an album (and tour, videos, pay their yearly salary, etc).
    "Why would they worry about piracy if they've already made their cash BEFORE the album comes out." the money is for the album's expenses, the only thing they'll get from that money are a measly $833.33 per member per month, the BIG rest of that money goes to studio expenses. so you see, they still depend on album sales and live performances, also i'm pretty sure they would use the extra bucks for other expenses instead of keeping them.
    Crowd sourcing to fund an album isn't something new. The Blackout did it a few years ago, and i think Enter Shikari have, as well as a few others.
    The problem is that Protest The Hero is Protest The Hero. People know who they are, and people would pay for something that they would make. The average band is completely unknown, and nobody gives a damn about them, much less enough to give them five figures.
    About piracy, the music recording industry kicked themselves when they opted for the CD, instead of the Master Tape. The Master Tape was meant to prevent piracy. Copies could only be made through these Master Tapes, which the label would keep. Copies from these tapes would be sold to the public.
    For all the people saying "Shame on you for pirating", I ask sure, you are taking money from an up and comer who probably does rely on the income but isn't it better for them in the long run though? If someone pirates your music and they like it that person will want to drop cash on your next album and they'll want to drop cash to see you live. Personally, I just got into Against Me! and I fully admit I pirated their entire discography and I was so impressed that I've seen them live once and I plan on buying their next album. Pirating if anything creates new fans.
    The chart should give a period of time to give an idea how much time it takes the musicians to make that money.
    wow this really makes me hope that protest the hero's latest endeavor will be a much needed gamechanger...
    The first chart is for all types of professional musicians, not just rock bands. That includes professional composers, orchestra musicians, and music teachers (wtf?). I'd imagine that for the types of music that are actually relevant to the issue at hand, the figure is higher than 6%.
    Actually, no. Talk to any up-and-coming band and they will all tell you that record label pay next to nothing in royalties. You buy an album, the band sees literally pennies from that sale and the rest goes into the pocket of the label.
    Second Rate
    Next to nothing in royalties you say? Could it be because records are financed by money and not sunshine and unicorn flatulence? See, the label gives those "up and coming" bands money to record that album, money that they expect to recoup before those bands start seeing bigger royalty checks. Think of it as investing, people invest money in things in hopes that they will make their money back and then some. It doesn't matter whether your investing in a global megacorporation or a band, the principle is the same.
    The 6% isn't the total share of the album they get, it's the share of their income that comes from that. Maybe I should have been clearer, but that's what the graph was showing, and my point stands.
    If you think other kinds of professional musicians are irrelevant, you're probably in the camp that earns the least from music.
    I guess execs in the business really started to see the profit in touring when Berry Gordy sent Motown artists all over the country when the label was just getting started to promote not just themselves as artists, but the label itself. And he also did some shartsy things like incorporate into the contracts the artists signed in the first place that all travel and recreational expenses incurred on tours by the artists would be payed through the royalties generated through sales. But licensing music all over the place is the other major bread winner for recording artists now. And you don't have to be a mastermind, just find some brass in Hollywood who deal with finding music for movies and t.v.'s and send them a clip of a song played over a scene from a movie (just make sure you own the copyright and publishing for that song which is also not hard to do). But the main reason why the artists have NEVER really made any money in record sales (and it's really common knowledge and was somehow left out of this article) is the fact that when an artist signs with a label, the label gives the artist/band a cash advance that needs to be paid back in full with interest before any royalties can be obtained by the signee. And those expenses are held over from previous recordings.
    I don't think it should come as a shock that certain genres have a bigger payoff than others. We all know for decades now that the real money's on touring unless you do somehow make a big hit. You can get rich if you make it to the mainstream but even if you have a successful music project with plentiful touring you can have a comfortable life and I think that's more than most of us that want to make a career in music even ask for since it's mostly a passion. If I can throw in my two cents in the whole making money off music I suggest everyone who wants to do that full-time take some business and marketing classes or seminars. Marketing your project is the crucial part and many musicians make money off investments they make, let alone dealing with labels.