How Do Musicians Actually Earn Money?

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“I find it quite strange that I’m struggling to buy a one-bedroom flat in London six albums into my career, 12 years down the line.” These are the words of Al Doyle of Hot Chip – a massively successful UK band – speaking to the BBC in 2015.

Doyle remembers one business meeting particularly well, in which he was told, “If you’d been making music just four years earlier, you wouldn’t be sitting here talking to us now… you’d be lying on a bed made of gold.”

The Streaming Legacy

Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and Pandora are widely accepted to benefit listeners extensively, but little thought is given to the effects they’ve had on musicians, whose livelihood used to come from selling music. Unlike their 20th Century counterparts, musicians these days are extremely unlikely to get rich from selling music.

But what about those who are hardy enough to attempt to earn as a musician? Where does their income come from?

1. Live Shows

According to TorrentFreak, live music accounts for 28% of an average musician’s pay. This is the bulk of one’s income, so if you’re not willing to live life in a tour van, musicianship may not be your ideal full-time endeavour.

2. Teaching

At 22% of income, tuition is very much a mainstay of the modern musician’s wallet.

3. Ensemble Playing

Salaried performance for an orchestra or band sits at 19% of the average musician’s income – from pit work to international arena touring.

4. Session Playing

If you can muscle your way into some steady session work, you’re on to something good – but be prepared to practice hard. Session gigs make up 10% of the average pay.

5. Other

Busking, live streams, YouTube advert income, corporate composition all sit within this category, which forms 6% of the pie.

How Do Musicians Earn Money?

Live music accounts for the majority of musicians’ income streams.

6. Songwriting

Get a credit on Adele’s next album, and you might just be able to pack in the teaching gigs… Generally speaking though, songwriting makes up just 6% of musicians’ pay.

7. Sound Recordings

Here’s the rub. Recorded music – including Spotify and all other digital streaming and sales – only allows for 6% of the whole. Streaming was invented for the listeners, not the players.

8. Merchandise Sales

You might be more likely to own a Joy Division T-shirt than physically own one of their records, but merchandise still only represents 2%.

9. Gear Rental

Peer-to-peer music equipment hire is on the rise in the UK – not least on the London DJ scene. Lending underused gear provides all players with a significant passive income stream.

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