How Much Do Musicians Make?

In the U.S., musicians make an average of $21.5K per year, and the majority (61%) report that the money they earn from music isn’t enough to make ends meet. The most positive study on musicians’ income shows that musicians gross up to $35K annually, with most of the money coming from live shows.

The most comprehensive recent study on musicians’ income was conducted by the Music Industry Research Association (MIRA) and the Princeton University Survey Research Center. The results of the study were shared on outlets such as Digital Music News and Magnetic magazine and show that the median annual salary for an American musician sits at around $21.5K.

While the study also pointed out that the median American musician earned as much as $35K per year, it’s worth noting that this sum also includes income that’s not related to music. This isn’t good news for anyone considering a music career.

Additionally, the median American musician needs to enroll in a series of different jobs (from live performance to music lessons) to get their annual salary. That’s why the majority (61%) of median American musicians state that the money they make from music isn’t enough to pay for their basic expenses.

On the other side of the spectrum, the top earners in the music industry have more than enough money to make a very comfortable living.

How much do top musicians earn?

The top musicians in the world can make as much as $590 million in one single year. At the end of 2021, Bruce Springsteen made a whopping $500 million after selling his publishing catalog to Sony, one of the largest record labels in the world. With a net worth of $1.4 billion, the American rapper Jay-Z made $470 million in 2022 alone.

The list of the highest-paid musicians also includes artists such as Paul McCartney, Kanye West, Rihanna, Bono, Madonna, and more.

Please keep in mind that these success cases are the exception, not the rule, in the music industry. For every millionaire musician out there there are hundreds of thousands of musicians making low or very modest incomes.

How do average musicians make their money?

A study conducted by the Future of Music Coalition and shared by outlets such as Output concluded that the majority of an average musician’s income comes from live performance (27%). Less than 6% of a musician’s income allocation comes from sound recordings (i.e., album sales and performance rights).

The same study determined that teaching is the second largest source of income for a median American musician (22%), followed by working as a salaried player (20%), session work (11%), compositions (6.3%), sound recordings (5.6%), and merchandise (1.6%).

Please keep in mind that a significant portion of the (little) money musicians make from compositions and sound recordings may come from performance rights organizations. The Future of Music Coalition study also points out that 6.4% of musicians’ income comes from other sources, which may include stuff like streaming royalties, commissioned work, and social-media monetization.

Finally, the same study determined that most of the 4,453 musicians inquired worked on multiple music-related tasks at the same time. Out of all of the musicians who entered the survey, only a third (33%) make more than 75% of their annual income in music-related tasks.

How much do musicians earn by performing live?

Most musicians make the majority of their money from live shows. But does that mean musicians are fairly paid for their live performances? Well, not exactly. Unknown to mid-range musicians, for instance, can get as little as $0 when performing at major music festivals.

While music-festival headliners can earn as much as $4 million for a one-hour show, the median American musician needs to struggle (perhaps even covering their own expenses) to perform live at major music festivals such as SXSW. Learn more by reading our article on how much artists get paid for music festivals.

How much do musicians earn from streaming services?

The aforementioned study conducted by the Future of Music Coalition was published in 2011, which means they were probably not up to the importance of online streaming in today’s musical environment. But are streaming services the new cash cow median musicians so desperately needed?

All evidence points to the contrary. In the United States, the most popular streaming services pay artists anywhere between $0.0188 and $0.0013 per play. This means that, unless you’re a very popular artist, you’ll have a very hard time making a decent annual salary out of websites such as Tidal and Spotify.

To make $1 on Spotify, for instance, you’d need to reach 229 plays (on average based on this data). That’s easy for artists such as Drake, who have banked as much as $200 million on Spotify alone. But for struggling, up-and-coming musicians, a few thousand Spotify plays per year is as good as it gets. In the end, Spotify money may not even be enough to pay for a nice dinner.

You can learn more in our article how much streaming services pay artists.

Can you make a living as a musician?

Being a professional musician is something most amateur musicians dream of. And while going from a part-time artist to a full-time professional can be hard, there are plenty of examples that show it’s possible to make a living as a musician.

A study from the Mythbusting series of the Future of Music website involving 5,371 average musicians residing in the United States concluded that more than 40% of the respondents spend 36 hours or more working in music every week (which makes them professionals). Even more of the respondents (42%) said that they derive all of their income from music-related tasks.

Is a music degree worth it?

The Future of Music survey also found that 60% of the American musicians inquired had a music degree, which means completing a music degree might be helpful for you to make a living as a musician. However, I would be wary to draw a conclusion from this percentage alone, and the answer to this question is not clear cut. In many areas of the music industry, practical experience is more important than your qualifications. We dig further into this in our article “is a music degree worth it“.

Do DJs make more money than other musicians?

DJs do not necessarily make more money than other musicians. While the top DJs in the world earn millions for their services, inexperienced and average DJs have to endure payments ranging from $50 to $250 for gigs that may last several hours. You can learn more about in our article “how much do DJs make“.

Conclusion

The music business is a rough and ruthless one to make money in. However, it is possible to make a living in it. You can work steadily as a musician and live comfortably out of your music-related income even if you’re not famous and playing in front of millions of people every other week. Is it a hustle? For sure, and the competition is heavy!

Brian Clark

Brian Clark

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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