How much do successful, but not megasuccessful, musicians make?
February 5, 2013 12:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm curious about the real-world economics of being a musician who "made it" but is not, say, Sir Elton John or Bruce Springsteen or Jay-Z. For instance, how's James McNew, bassist of the incomparable Yo La Tengo, doing? Is Ken Bethea, guitarist for the Old 97's, comfortable? Ian Matthews, drummer for Kasabian, are you sorted for a comfortable retirement?

Obviously, how well or poorly an individual artist is doing is anyone's guess, and possibly to a large extent on whether the artist has a songwriting credit and whether their catalog has been licensed for soundtracks or ads or whatever, and whether they have a bad contract with a major label vs. put stuff out themselves, etc., along with the usual financial costs (health, children, aging parents).

But I've always wondered about the day to day lives of musicians who I think are great and incredibly talented and have a fantastic body of work, but are not getting invited to the White House and don't have six mansions and their own vanity brand of tequila.

Sort of the "musical middle class"--maybe not destined to go ultra platinum, but also someone who is well past the opening-act-for-karaoke-night-at-the-local-dive stage.

Question has been with me for years ever since seeing a picture of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth sitting on the floor of their kitchen in a really unremarkable NYC apartment.

Could your average indie darling simply retire--maybe not to luxury, but to an average "middle class" life without punching a clock--after three or four albums (particularly if not the leader of the band)?

Conjecture or personal experience are both welcome.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Media & Arts (46 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Here is a recent article on what being a "big" band means for the band Grizzly Bear which addresses several of those questions.
posted by leesh at 1:00 PM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

This survey may be useful.
posted by subtle-t at 1:00 PM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, I think Ted Leo, who is not famous, but "pitchfork famous", had to move back in with his parents at some point.
posted by subtle-t at 1:06 PM on February 5, 2013

I read an article where Neko Case said she "made" about 30-40k a year, and anything more went back into making/producing music, touring, paying people, etc...
posted by jrobin276 at 1:09 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Le Tigre's JD Samson wrote about her financial situation on Huffington Post a year and a half ago.

"And I live with the stress of not knowing, not planning and not understanding whether or not I will ever be able to reach my goals of having a family and feeling safe financially. When I say "safe," I mean safe. I mean basics. I mean health insurance [...] dental care [...] retirement fund..."

Of course, there's a huge range between karaoke night and ultra platinum, but there's one data point.
posted by nevers at 1:10 PM on February 5, 2013

A friend of mine teaches at the ritzy private school where the lead singer of A-Ha sends his kid.

Which implies that, if you're smart about money and continue to put in the hours even as a one-hit-wonder, you could potentially do pretty well for yourself. I mean, I don't know that the A-Ha guy is a bazillionaire, but his kid is being expensively educated.
posted by Sara C. at 1:21 PM on February 5, 2013

The SPIN article about the Pavement reunion sort of addresses this:
... after five years on the reunion circuit, the Pixies' Black Francis recently came out with the maxim for the moment: "Forget the fucking goddamn art. Now it's time to talk about the money." (Let's: A New York–based booking agent estimates that indie bands that were lucky to pocket $7,000 a night in the mid-'90s can now command mid-six figures for a single festival date and low-six figures for one show at a large theater.)
Also Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon bought a house in Connecticut (before they split up) so I assume they were at least middle-class.
posted by mcmile at 1:22 PM on February 5, 2013

Sort of the "musical middle class"

There isn't much of one, to be honest. Music, like all entertainment careers, has a ridiculous power curve when it comes to salaries. It's not just bi-modal, like the law, it's logarithmic. So there are a handful of people making a disgusting amount of money and a disgusting amount of people making almost no money. Call it less than $20k annually, to be on the safe side. And there are relatively few people in between. Making it "big" but not multi-platinum "big" probably means pulling down $30-60k. But if they don't continue to work, play shows, and put out new material, that tends to dry up pretty quickly.

The few people who fall somewhere in the middle seem to me to be likely doing more outright commercial work (somebody's gotta play all those advertising jingles and film scores), are attached to universities (as with any professorship, good work if you can get it), or work in professional orchestras (again, good work if you can get it). They'll be some of the few people making between $50k-100k.

But they're not the kind of performing artists you're talking about. I think it's actually pretty difficult to make a middle class living as a pop star. You're either broke or maybe lower-middle-class, or you're rich. Not that much in the middle.
posted by valkyryn at 1:23 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Portlandia sketch where Aimee Mann is cleaning houses is based on several people Carrie Brownstein knows. Aimee Mann agreed to do it because she knew lots of people in similar straits.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:25 PM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Another data point (David Lindley)
posted by bricoleur at 1:34 PM on February 5, 2013

Another data point: in this interview Corin Tucker (of Sleater-Kinney and an ongoing solo career) mentions her day job doing web development.
posted by SoftRain at 1:40 PM on February 5, 2013

I believe Ken Bethea and the rest of Old 97's confirmed that their annual income is about $30-40K on a call-in morning show in Dallas some years back. But yeah, my impression is if you're fairly middle-tier or indie, it's still a lot of hustle but not a lot of money.
posted by Kitteh at 1:41 PM on February 5, 2013

I have close relatives who were in famous bands (pretty much everyone here on MeFi would know the bands, and probably have their albums), toured Europe and the US extensively, people know their names if you say the name, but wouldn't recognize their faces any more. They hardly made anything in the 90's at the height of their success, and now they are solo artists but currently broke, living paycheck to paycheck, and working additional weird jobs to feed their kids.

So, yeah, the musical middle class, but nothing like the economic middle class.
posted by TinWhistle at 1:47 PM on February 5, 2013

I've known a few people who aren't even "really" in the band, but play guitar on tour for several metal/emo/whatever bands. They seemed to be doing alright.
posted by thylacine at 1:51 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I should add in that these musicians live in the central part of the country where you can buy a lot of house for $100k or less.
posted by thylacine at 2:03 PM on February 5, 2013

Orchestra musicians can make bank. A senior, tenured member of a major orchestra could make upwards of 300k. A professor of music can make >100k. A good teacher could charge >$100/hr for lessons. I don't think that's what you're talking about, though.

I have friends who are full-time musicians and who have, for all intents and purposes, 'made it.' They pull down in the 30-40k range. That's before even considering things like health insurance. Most of my musician friends don't have health insurance. Most of them also live in New York. 30k a year pre-insurance doesn't go very far in New York.

Most of the income is from touring, and the folks I know who are making it happen spend a lot of time on the road. so they sublet out their places to make ends meet while they're gone. And the touring isn't glamorous. You drive your own band in a bus around the country.

A lot of them supplement their gig money with teaching, or a grant here and there (if they are jazz of classical people, or can do that kind of thing).

The real money, as you mention, is in licensing. Getting a tune on a commercial can take the pressure off for a couple years.

I work as a professional and paid musician from time to time, but it isn't my primary income. Obviously a lot of musicians piece together their finances this way. It's nice having a couple income streams, and I even get a royalty check every now and again, but even with modest success, it could never send a kid to college or even pay all of my monthly expenses (which are modest).
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:07 PM on February 5, 2013

my brother has been in several working bands, and at least one you probably would have heard of. for a festival in finland, they took home 20k for the show. lolapalooza they got something more like 9k. divide by 4 and minus expenses...also, he does receive some royalties from previous albums sold. currently, he is living in a nice part of brooklyn but has started a business as his "day job".
posted by ps_im_awesome at 2:12 PM on February 5, 2013

I know Exene Cervenka has mentioned more than once that she can't afford health insurance to deal with her multiple sclerosis. And a lack of health insurance may very well have contributed to the death of Alex Chilton.
posted by scody at 2:17 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

as scody mentions, the big issue for musicians in the US is healthcare: you can add Victoria Williams and Vic Chesnutt to the list; Chan Marshall recently talked about her financial and health problems.
posted by holgate at 2:22 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another one for the musician health insurance list - Andrew D'Angelo. He got brain cancer about five years and musicians and friends chipped in for his treatment.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:30 PM on February 5, 2013

A lot has changed over the last few decades, not just the economics of rock bands.

Example. I once was looking at a really old "Guitar Player" magazine and it had an article about guys who worked as studio pros, doing jingles and so on, to earn a living, and playing jazz or blues at night - in Chicago. I haven't looked but I doubt there is much studio work doing TV or radio sessions in Chicago these days; you just do not need to hire skilled players and book studio time to churn out that kind of music anymore, and that's been the case for probably 30 years. That's really bad for the guys who used to pay the bills this way, but it's good for the producers who can just sequence everything themselves and run a little one or two man shop.

The impression I had was in the pre-digital age it was already necessary to sell at least 100, 000 records to make anything like real income from royalties, and even selling 500,000 wouldn't really make you a rich person. And selling that many records is really really hard to do, especially now, for new artists. So the situation has always been tough and it has just gotten tougher.
posted by thelonius at 2:42 PM on February 5, 2013

One thing to keep in mind, there are plenty of musicians who are making a decent living, but most of those are not playing original music in a band. Session musicians, orchestras, wedding bands, jingle composers, broadway musicians, etc.

The key difference here is that those musicians are being paid for their skills and abilities. When you are in a band playing original music, you are getting paid for your songwriting and ability to draw in fans.

I know quite a few musicians who make a decent living, but none of them focus on being songwriters. They play backup for other people, or do wedding gigs, etc. The musicians I know who focus on their own stuff, even if they have a large enough fan base to tour every year, are barely hanging on, and most have day jobs.

A one hit wonder will usually make a decent amount of money for a while, because once you get onto mainstream radio, that's when royalty checks start coming in. This only applies if you actually wrote the song, though.

If you aren't on commercial radio, you have to work your butt off to get by. Even bands who you know about and who bring in a good crowd usually end up having day jobs or living on peoples couches.
posted by markblasco at 2:55 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

A few levels of success, based solely on experience/musicians I have known. I think you are looking for levels 2-3?

Level 1.
The vast majority, even the ones who are putting out records that set my heart on fire, grind it into carbon and compress it into diamonds, make my soul sing with hope and fear, those absolute undeniable classics -- the vast majority of those great and incredibly talented musicians with fantastic bodies of work will never make enough off of their music to live on. Maybe $10-15k/year, if they're lucky? Lots of debt, too. This means they need at least a full-time day job at home, plus roommates, with tours squeezed in whenever they can, until they inevitably give it all up to settle down with families/kids/etc. So many of my favorite bands have imploded in precisely this manner and it is absolutely heartbreaking. Wish I could be an indie rock Medici.

Level 2.
Hyperactive hustlers with an edge who have scraped and clawed their way up to affording the everyone-smushed-in-one-Pricelined-hotel-room rather than the everyone-sleep-on-our-friend's-floor thing but are still basically living tour-to-tour with barback or waitstaff gigs in between, and are still touring in regular old vans: Those folks are usually pulling between $25-35k p.a. Maybe $40k if they're having an awesome year, like if Pitchfork "Best New Music"d their record and they snagged a few well-paying summer festival gigs (bearing in mind that even a mid-afternoon set at Lolla can fetch a princely sum). I tried and failed to find an interview with the inimitable Dessa of Doomtree, where she explains how much she makes from music -- it's something around $30k/year, and her hustle is unstoppable. She works harder than I ever will. Most one hit wonders living off of residuals will likely be in this level for a decade or more after their hit, largely dependent on to whom they are willing to license "that one song, you know the one!!!!!!!"

Level 3.
Bands are now touring in buses and likely making $40-50k or thereabouts; however, buses are very expensive, which takes a cut. As does shelling out for a separate hotel room for each band member every night. As does bringing along a crew that may include two or more instrument techs, sound person, manager, boyfriends/girlfriends/husbands/wives/kids, etc. And maybe a separate bus for the crew, too. The band I knew best that entered this level (before they dropped all of their 'little people' friends, natch) were just entering the cusp of bitching about not having any money because it was all getting spent on things like overseas representation and bus drivers and copious amounts of cocaine.

Level 4.
The most famous musicians I know could (and should) have retired ages ago to live off of the big bucks that poured in for their inescapably popular hit single, which they licensed to any and all comers; I don't doubt that they could have been actual millionaires if they'd played their cards right, because they certainly made actual millions. As it stands, they are probably only mid-six figure-aires, and even that is likely dwindling by the day -- they're not getting any younger, and they're certainly not getting any more popular. Also, there is/was SO much kvetching about how much lawyers, managers, assistants, etc. are costing at this level, and they all hated each other/playing music together but felt they had to soldier on in order to sustain their current lifestyles.

All levels.
No one has health insurance, which means they're all on the brink of disaster. Hurray!
posted by divined by radio at 3:01 PM on February 5, 2013 [9 favorites]

A-Ha weren't one hit wonders outside North America - aside from being massive at home, they had several huge hits in the UK, and did a Bond theme - all of which get plenty of airplay still. Jona Lewie is another example - two hits, one of which happened to become known as a Christmas song, and the airplay royalties each year keep him going.

In order to make a decent living, you need to get publishing credits. Cathy Dennis had two or three chart hits in the early 90s and faded from public consciousness - she moved into songwriting for others and co-authored I Kissed A Girl, which probably built her a swimming pool or two, and 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head' which was sonic miasma for long enough that it probably built all her pet chihuahuas swimming pools as well. We all know about Linda Perry and Gregg Alexander, but Dennis is probably completely unknown in North America or to anyone born after 1990. If you can do that - or get your song covered by someone who will give you sales and airplay, or write a song that gets used a lot in adverts or TV montages (like Shed Seven's Going for Gold during the Olympics, or Bloc Party's I Caught A Glimpse which was used to soundtrack the BBC Wimbledon coverage a few years back - you can do quitely very well without the general public noticing.

On the other hand, the bass player from Echobelly served me in a record shop a few years ago, and the lead singer of Menswear is now in IT recruitment - both bands were second-tier Britpop bands and pretty famous in NME-land at the time (which was somewhere between Actual Famous and Pitchfork Famous). And there are many bands who made it big and lost it all quickly by not knowing how to deal with it while they had it. Five Star were one of the biggest bands of the late 80s, but they spent their money on a huge house (they were a family), matching cars and a home studio - then got dropped a year later.
posted by mippy at 3:29 PM on February 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

a-ha were also touring extensively until recently and playing regular 10-bands-on-a-bill 80's revival concerts in big venues.

1000 True Fans = livable wage for one person
posted by K.P. at 4:52 PM on February 5, 2013

There was a book called "Have Not Been the Same" about the Canadian music scene 1985-95. It went into the finances/personal lives of "big names" in Canadian Music and I was shocked at how many household names were struggling/had second jobs. So yeah, even big names don't make much, especially with the way the record companies have set up contracts/finances.
posted by saucysault at 5:08 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've worked with Frankie Sullivan of Survivor (who co-wrote "Eye of the Tiger") and he lives very well off that one song as far as I can tell. They still do local festivals (think suburban fourth of July festivals and the like). They weren't a one hit wonder but I think it's a case in point of one song's licensing over time making a great living for the person who owns the rights.
posted by Bunglegirl at 5:19 PM on February 5, 2013

Jonathan Coulton did an interview with Planet Money where he said he made around 500k in the last year, but I'm sure if he were with a label his income would have been a fraction of that.
posted by phoenixy at 6:32 PM on February 5, 2013

All levels.
No one has health insurance, which means they're all on the brink of disaster.

Not true - some qualify for coverage through SAG-AFTRA.
posted by Oriole Adams at 7:36 PM on February 5, 2013

Jonathan Coulton did an interview with Planet Money where he said he made around 500k in the last year, but I'm sure if he were with a label his income would have been a fraction of that.

Although Coulton is really not representative of the music business: he's perhaps better seen as a song developer. That's not an aesthetic/critical judgement -- it's simply a reflection that his market is more Engadget than Pitchfork, and right now, that's where the money is. (See also: Karmin.)

Anyway, anecdata: Cathan Coughlan, who supported U2 with Fatima Mansions 20 years ago, trained himself up as a web developer in the late 90s (and I think works for the BBC); Pat Kane of Hue and Cry (MeFi's own, briefly) started writing about digital culture. Lauren Laverne of Kenickie is now a BBC presenter on radio and TV.

Licensing matters these days: there's always a chance that a creative team will use a song from their gig-going youth for their latest high-profile campaign or as part of a film soundtrack, and direct a decent sum into your bank account -- with the knock-on of digital sales. But that's a pretty capricious way to make a living.
posted by holgate at 7:49 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

The vast majority of EDM producers make nothing or very little and don't do it full time. A 'hit' record on beatport would probably mean a thousand dollars for them at best.
posted by empath at 9:30 PM on February 5, 2013

My friend played bass for fun. on a national tour when they were a mid- to low-level indie band, playing clubs but filling them. It took place right before they recorded their newest album, which has made them, like, famous famous. He was a hired hand, not a band member. He said they paid him something like $500 per week, plus a small per deim. He's also been in a couple of bands that have toured widely, but on the small venue circuit. No one in those bands made any money. They all had other, full-time jobs and definitely spent more money on instruments and gear than they earned by playing music.
posted by PhatLobley at 10:27 PM on February 5, 2013

This is a really cool question, but one that is hard to answer. It's kind of like asking "how much money does a moderately successful businessperson make? a moderately successful professor? attorney? etc."

The professional musicians I know have achieved a wide range of financial success, and one that is not entirely orthogonal, but largely independent of their success as indexed by more ephemeral scales of recognition, status, or influence.

How much time and energy you put into making money explicitly and how much time and energy you put into whatever it is that you make money in order to achieve is a delicate system for everybody, and I think artists of any stripe struggle with it more than most.

An answer that is less full of pseudophilosophy and bullshit is: the people I know personally who chose music as a profession that make $100k or so are shrewd businesspeople, and those who barely pull down $20k are not. It doesn't, in my own limited experience, seem dependent on who is more widely known.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 10:28 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great question and I've loved all the answers! I think it's safe to say classical music has a larger percentage of people making a living than most genres do, but the economics are really different:

Forgetting the people with jobs (salaried orchestra player, music professor or teacher, etc.) and just considering fulltime freelancers, making money is mostly about being directly hired to do your thing (whether it's performing or composing) by organizations or venues with good budgets -- as opposed to anything like CD sales, media licensing, or other more distributed/audience-based stuff like in most other genres.

We have at least three MeFites who are fulltime freelance classical composers, FYI!

I'd be supporting myself as a freelance composer if I were living alone (as it is, I merged finances in my marriage a few years ago). My money comes, roughly in order, from:
- commissions (group X will pay you amount X to write a piece for them);
- prizes and grants;
- occasional things you could call expertise-gigs (being a guest composer, sitting on a grant panel, etc.);
- ASCAP and other payments for performances; and
- sales of pieces to ensembles (for example, say a conductor wants to do an existing piece [not a commission] with a choral group; an increasingly common thing at this point is sending them a PDF specially licensed for them and they'll pay you $1 per copy they need to print).

In other words: almost all of that is one person or board or panel making one decision that results in a chunk of money for me. I'd be interested in knowing more about licensing, releasing CDs/audio, etc., but I haven't made those a priority (yet). For the moment, I have really no status in the world at large and modest/specialized status within my own pretty insular genre.
posted by kalapierson at 11:08 PM on February 5, 2013

I have a close friend who is a successful musician. Successful meaning you have probably heard of him. He was in a band that everyone has heard of, but is no longer together. He is now solo and still can get gigs easily in just about any city in the world, and puts out an album most years that sells some, but not a huge amount. He sometimes gets invited to perform with current big stars.

He owns apartments in New York, London, and Paris. He bought those back when his old band was big. He rents those out for a decent amount, which is how he pays the bills. His music nowadays is basically self-financing (he spends a lot on instruments and rents studio space), and it covers travel costs when he goes on tour, but he wouldn't be able to support his family on it. He has a (part time) day job. He still gets stressed about the cost of daycare, the possibility of losing his job, etc.
posted by lollusc at 11:32 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine's brother was in a band that has recently, over the last 5 or so years, become moderately successful. Playing larger nightclubs, getting written up in all the big music magazines and blogs, appearing at major festivals like Coachella, etc.

I was shocked when I found out he'd actually quit the band. Turned out that they'd had just the wrong level of success for him to be able to make a living: because of their success, he now had to spend a lot of time touring, etc. So he couldn't have a steady job. But they weren't making enough for him to be able to not have a job. So he would end up back at his patents' house in the sticks in between tours, trying to cobble together temp jobs.

He stuck it out for a few years but finally quit and started training for a new career. Takeaway from that: it's tough to make it as a member of a mid-level band.
posted by lunasol at 12:06 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Djs make a lot more money than bands. Even a small time DJ can make significantly more (flights hotels) are all covered by club promoters and there's usually just one person) than a mid-size say playing to 1000-1500 capacity rooms band.
posted by stevedawg at 1:57 AM on February 6, 2013

Djs make a lot more money than bands. Even a small time DJ can make significantly more (flights hotels) are all covered by club promoters and there's usually just one person) than a mid-size say playing to 1000-1500 capacity rooms band.

Depends on the DJ. Guys like Avicii and Tiesto can pull down 50k-100k a night. Most local DJs make between nothing and maybe $500 a night. Touring DJs with a regional following make maybe $1000 or $2000 a night plus travel-- for a friday or saturday gig. Middle of the week gigs make maybe 1/3rd of that at best, if they can find middle of the week gigs at all. Keep in mind that DJs generally can only 'work' two nights a week.

If you're a local opening DJ for a big name DJ, you're lucky if you get free drinks.

It's really simple economics. Avicii can sell 5000 tickets for $50 at almost any city in the world right now. He's gonna pull in at least half of that. Some clubs will actually take a box office loss booking an act like that, just to get people in the door to buy drinks.

Your average really popular local dj can draw a couple hundred people if there's no cover. He's not going to get paid much for that, if anything.
posted by empath at 2:10 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine teaches at the ritzy private school where the lead singer of A-Ha sends his kid.

Which implies that, if you're smart about money and continue to put in the hours even as a one-hit-wonder, you could potentially do pretty well for yourself. I mean, I don't know that the A-Ha guy is a bazillionaire, but his kid is being expensively educated.

Seconding the poster upthread who pointed out that Morten Harket is far from being a one-hit wonder. He remains a very big star in some parts of the world. Just a couple of months ago the members of A-ha were appointed Knights of the 1st Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav for their contribution to Norwegian music. Morten's had a very successful career for the best part of 30 years. You'd better believe he's a bazillionaire!
posted by cincinnatus c at 3:19 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of the members of Devotchka used to come into the library where I worked to check out movies, books & CDs. Not that that says they were poor or anything, but obviously dude wasn't rolling in it if he was using the public library for his entertainment.
posted by jabes at 8:35 AM on February 6, 2013

I've made around $18,000 a year just being a bassist in a cover band in my free time.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:01 AM on February 6, 2013

Indie cellist Zoë Keating uploaded a Google doc with spreadsheets of all her earnings from online sales & streaming for 6 months. It looks like she made about $90K in that time, mostly from iTunes and Bandcamp. She says that's about 60-70% of her total income, so it sounds like she makes about... $250K a year by my lazy math?

It's hard to say how typical that is since Keating is kind of an edge case, not working through a label or a manager, so she probably keeps more of her earnings than the average musician. She's also about as popular as you can get and still be "indie," with over 1 million fans on twitter.

From anecdotal experience I think Keating's situation is exceptional in a number of ways, but she at least proves that it is at least possible (if very unlikely) to make good money as an indie musician.
posted by speicus at 5:59 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just a bit of clarification, which may depend on your browser or OS:

speicus' Google doc link opened (for me) to a page that looked like a basic spreadsheet, but with totals nowhere near 90k. Clicking "View" in the spreadsheet and then selecting "List" changes it to a page where you can select which spreadsheet to look at (one of them being "iTunes/Amazon/Bandcamp"). The one that opened for me originally was only a Spotify calc.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:26 PM on February 6, 2013

I know a band leader in one of the top nationally touring blues bands. He once told me he makes a good middle-manager income (whatever that really means) and has gotten to see the world. His band has been around for almost 40 years, tours a lot, and he gets a lot of songwriter money coming in; he's paid his dues. He also told another friend of mine that he used to release a new CD and sell around 10,000 units pretty quick many of those direct to customers at shows and that don't happen no more. Touring costs have gone through the roof as well. Also, he's really thankful he owns a home and has completely paid it off. That doesn't happen too much in his world.

I also know the bass player from the same band who went on to play with a "classic rock" band who had 2 big hits in the 80's. He was stoked that this band was an actual corporation that withheld taxes for him and gave him direct deposit.

So basically, I have nothing to say other than both these talented men consider themselves successful and seem to be happy with their lives. They work in a musical scene, which I refer to as a blue collar scene, and can work consistently. They fortunately don't have to invest in some of the infrastructure and marketing that can eat into the profits of those in the pop world. In the first case if he can personally pull in $300 a night 250 nights a year and then royalties, he's doing OK. I don't know what kind of retirement plan can be expected, but 5 years ago the guitar player for the band retired after 35 years and he seems comfortable going on small tours, playing the occasional festival gig, and small local venues.

I think it really depends a lot on what kind of music you play. Contrary to what I think most would assume, I think a good long standing "blue collar" musician or band can actually work more consistently and at lower costs than many other more famous "pop" bands to make a fair living. Good session and touring guys also do OK as others have mentioned. Nobody is probably getting rich but as another musician friend says, "playing music for little money is better than a broom in my hand."
posted by Che boludo! at 8:37 PM on February 8, 2013

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