How Much are We Earning? (A Small Look at Musicians Incomes)

After reading this article about how the government thinks a musician makes $300k a year (albeit the example is blown out of proportion) I thought it would be a good idea to do a small study on how musicians are actually earning money and how much they make in a typical week. I looked at original/cover artists, buskers, dj’s, educators and freelancers and in most cases a combination of 2 or more of these.

So we all know that it isn’t necessarily a walk in the park to make money as a musician. That being said, it also isn’t the hardest thing ever. The key distinction I think to make is that you’re not intrinsically making money from purely the music, it’s the needs that the music serves. Realising this is important. So without further context let’s look at each sample and analyse what factors are at work.

The Original Band

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So first I should state that this was quite a subjective look at each revenue stream for music, samples were low. However, I think we can still give a framework that will help a lot of people that are trying to make money in these industries.

I interviewed 2 local original Adelaide bands about their finances and the stories mirrored each other. They were definitely not in it for the money side, as there wasn’t much there. Bands were making on average between$50 and $300 a gig to be split 3-5 (typically) ways. Money was required to produce records and purchase gear so these guys were essentially running at a loss. Of course if they weren’t enjoying what they were doing then they would no longer be a band. Just imagine working at a fast food joint and actually paying to be there!

So let’s look at why an original band makes any money at all. Firstly the money they make is very closely related to their fan base and fan dedication. Whether you have 100 people that on average attend 1 in 5 shows (20 people per show) or you have 20 people that will come to every show the result is the same. In 1000 true fans  Kevin Kelly explains that it is no longer necessary to compete for the masses attention. Find your niche and dominate it. Instead of trying to recruit as many fans be specific. Go to shows of bands with a similar sound/style and talk to their fans about your music. The ‘conversion’ will be much higher.

Essentially what you’re supplying to your market is entertainment and if you’re good, a personal connection and a sense of belonging to something bigger, just look at the grateful dead!

One notion that I think makes it hard for original bands to succeed is the fact that whichever original band puts in the most work gets the better results. This is hard to do when you’re not making money from your music at the start (you have to actually have a day job for starters). It’s kind of like a startup, you take a risk by investing time but you can only flourish if you do.

Obviously if you are happy in whatever you’re doing as an original band then stick with that. I don’t think all original bands should feel like they ‘need’ to be successful, in many cases the experience is more for themselves than others.

The Cover Band/Artist

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Personally I’m a little more familiar with this realm. Be aware again that this was all done with a low sample size and location fixed to Adelaide, Australia.

As I’m not making reference to specific people I’ll give a broad picture of what the cover music scene can be like.

Depending on the musician and their workload, market and demand a figure could fluctuate from anything as low as $100 a week to as high as $1500 a week. I think one thing to appreciate here is the diversity and lack of standards in the music industry. This could inherently come down to the degree of subjectivity when it comes to music. Let’s just create a made up person (based on real numbers however). This person plays on average 3 gigs a week. One gig pays $300 for 3 sets, another $200 for 3 sets (it’s a Wednesday night) and a wedding which pays $400 for 3 sets. This musician earns $900 for that weeks work, not bad right?

Rather than go into more potential figures lets take a look at the factors at play here. Firstly there is the market that the musician is appealing to. Do they fit the demographic of typically a pub/restaurants vibe. For example, you’re not going to put a country music cover artist in a place where people who enjoy soul music are (crude example but whatever).

You also have to be in demand which could mean you have a really polished product or a way with patrons and managers (ideally a combination of the two, although it’s not always the case)

Rather than delve too much into it I’ll just state that this is a strong market at least in Adelaide and there is money to be made (don’t give up).

The DJ

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Typical rates can be anywhere between $40 – $100 an hour. DJ’s have the appeal that solo artists do (you’re only paying one person). Depending on the market, whether it’s a club or a 21’st, wedding etc the rates can vary but from DJ’s I’ve talked to it’s reasonable to expect to make $100-300 a gig. Obviously then the amount of work you get is the determining factor so get on top of your marketing and networking skills!

In the same sense that a Cover band or artist has to be savvy to their market so too do DJ’s and the ones that do tend to be more successful than those who do it to satisfy their own tastes and needs (it’s great when these align but there’s no point playing trap at an RSL club)

Educators

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I won’t say too much in regard to this but state some typical numbers. Lesson prices usually range from $20-$30/35 for half an hour or $30-$100 an hour. This obviously all depends on your experience and how much students are willing to pay. Obviously the better you are and the more switched on you are about your market and how much they are willing to spend on your services the better.

Wrapping it up

Essentially what I’m trying to prove in this article is that there are many ways to make a living as a musician. Being aware of where opportunities lay is the first step, going out and grasping them is the next step. If you perfect your craft and build your skills you are likely to end up making more per week from your music than the week before. So go do your ‘homework’ and apply things you learn to get more gigs. Be clear of the service you’re providing and really target that niche!

 

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