In March of this year, Artist Revenue Streams co-directors Kristin Thomson and Jean Cook participated in a panel at South by Southwest called Brass in Pocket: Accessing More Musician Income. Drawing upon data collected through the Artist Revenue Streams project and the panelists’ personal experience, they talked about a handful common assumptions and myths about how musicians make money.
This week, the ARS team is expanding on the SXSW panel topic through a series of posts.
We’re starting by tackling the assumption that musicians are rich. This is a feeling that is reinforced by shows like MTV Cribs, by annual lists from outlets like Forbes and Billboard that publish figures about the most well-paid musicians, and even by musicians themselves who reference luxury brands in their lyrics, or embrace high-priced lifestyles. Naturally, the public begins to assume that musicians – especially chart-topping, highly visible ones – are rich, based largely on what they see on stage, read about online, or hear on the radio. And even when the musicians aren’t rich, some embrace the stereotype because it adds to their own brand’s value.
There are some musicians who are doing very well financially (at least in gross earnings), and we applaud their success. But, just like the US population, there are very few at the top. While there are a handful of musicians who are wealthy, the vast majority of working musicians in the US are middle class earners.
Examining the qualitative and quantitative data collected as part of the Artist Revenue Streams project, we find that the average personal gross income for the past twelve months of all survey respondents was $55,561. This number includes income from all sources, which could include other jobs (music related or otherwise), pension payments, investments, and so on. This is slightly higher than the US population.
By multiplying personal gross income by percent of income derived from music, we were able to calculate a gross estimated music income (EMI) for each respondent. When aggregated, the gross EMI of our 5,013 survey respondents was $34,455. This is slightly lower than the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ per capita personal income estimates for 2010, which was $39,945. This finding was recently referenced in Berklee College of Music’s Annual Salary Survey. Note as well that this is gross music-related income; it does not reflect music-related expenses, which can significantly eat away at musicians’ revenue.
Check out this blog post for more data about musicians’ income and expenses, then tune into additional posts in the coming days, where we’ll be using data to examine the veracity of other common assumptions. For instance, in a post-Napster world…
1. “musicians make all their money from shows/live performance”
2. “musicians don’t make money selling recorded music any more”
3. “musicians make all of their money from selling t-shirts/merch”
Musicians: what are other assumptions that you hear? What do your relatives or friends assume about your livelihood that is either incorrect or incomplete? What blog or article comments have infuriated you? kristin [at] futureofmusic [dot] org (subject: Mythbusting%20request) (Hit us up here!) We are game to tackle other misconceptions and see if the data can provide some clarity beyond personal anecdotes or isolated instances.