About once a month, we get an email from a researcher, journalist, policymaker, or student asking us a simple question: how many musicians are there in the United States? Given FMC’s work with musicians, it makes sense that they ask us, but our answer is the same for everyone:
there is no reliable way to measure the real size of the US musician population.
In a on the Artist Revenue Streams site, we outlined the particular challanges associated with estimating the size of the musician population in the United States.
First, what do we mean when we use the word “musician”? Are we just talking about performers and recording artists, or does the definition also include composers and songwriters? How about music teachers? Many musicians play multiple roles simultaneously (songwriter + recording artist + performer), but there are also creators who specialize in one role (composers who do not perform, or performers who do not compose, for example) so the parameters are important.
Second, there’s an issue with how music creators define themselves. While lumping performers and composers together into a category called “musicians” is convenient for referencing this creative class, it is sometimes inaccurate. For instance, many composers and songwriters don’t identify as musicians, but as writers. Some professional singers consider themselves performers or recording artists, but not musicians.
Third, how do we decide who is actually part of this population? In 2010, when we started to draft the research protocol for the Artist Revenue Streams project, we spent a lot of time thinking about how to define the population of study, a necessary step in any research project. For many populations, there are commonly-understood criteria, or demographic characteristics, or certifications that make this sorting process relatively easy. But unlike – say – doctors or lawyers, there are no formal exams for musicians to pass, nor accrediting organizations to join.
Fourth, how do we define a “professional” musician? There are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who enjoy writing songs, playing music, releasing recordings or uploading a self-made video once in a while. Many may consider themselves musicians or composers. But when doing research on the earning capacity of the musician population, it’s important to devise a way to identify those who are making a living from music. The question for us was, what should determine “professionalism”? Should it be based on workweek hours, career lifespan, music degrees, a minimum number of recording or composing credits, education, income from music, label affiliation, union membership, or a combination of these things?
The post on the Artist Revenue streams website details the challenges, the process by which we assessed the data sources on musician population, and the method we eventually adopted to define our population of study.
This post is one of many outcomes of the Artist Revenue Streams project, which provides a data-driven snapshot of the income streams on which musicians and composers are relying presently, and how they are changing over time. It has been added to a list of data memos that have been released since January 2012, which also includes a deep look at jazz musicians, how income from sound recordings has changed, whether radio airplay matters, the impact of conservatory and music industry training, the effect of teammates and time allocation, with more to come. We encourage you to dig deeper into these reports to get a better understanding of musicians’ earning capacity and their sources of income in the 21st century.
(image via Shutterstock)