Government Data Says Indie Musician Employment Is Up 500% Since 2003…

When it comes to gainful employment among musicians, the assessment is mostly bleak.  Here’s a breakdown recently offered by RIAA chief Cary Sherman, based on US Department of Labor Statistics.


Even worse, the top-level number of employed musicians is relatively tiny (and always has been).  But what if Sherman and the recording industry are focusing on the wrong numbers, while ignoring data related to independent, non-label dependent musicians?  That’s a question recently raised by Techdirt, whose Mike Masnick re-plunged into the Department of Labor data to make the case that artist employment and welfare is actually much better than ten years ago.

Let’s see: overall, BLS counted 50,600 employed musicians and performers back in 2003, a number that drops 16.8 percent to 42,100 (see graph above).

hand-left October 10th, 2012: “Musicians Are Better Off Than Ever Before In History. And Here’s Proof…

This is a very small number of musicians actually paying for meals from their music, but there’s also this: the ranks of employed independent artists are multiplying, with smaller base numbers but far greater expansion.

In fact, the growth has been more than 500% over the past then years or so…

musicianstrata2012 musicianstrata2012

Small numbers now, but potentially massive numbers ahead.



Written while listening to BT, Markus Shulz and Chief Keef on wooden LSTN headphones.

14 Responses

  1. Visitor

    “the growth has been more than 500% over the past ten years or so…”
    And 500% of nothing is interesting because…?

    • GGG

      Because it’s growth…?
      Also, read his next line…he pretty much acknowledges what you’re bitching about.
      Sometimes I feel like some commenters on this site won’t be happy until any asshole who picks up a guitar and writes a shitty song is granted a million dollars for being a “musician.”

  2. Visitor

    “But Techdirt has a different read”
    Sure, it’s like child porn: UNICEF has one view — NAMBLA has another.
    So what?

  3. wallow-T

    5,300 fewer musicians employed in “Performing Arts Companies”: this sounds like the slow-motion collapse of the classical music industry, well-documented by people like Greg Sandow, due to the failure of classical music to win a significant number of listeners younger than about 55 years of age. Along with the shrinking of the paying live audience has been the significant loss of government and private donor support.
    The steep fall in “Sound Recording Industries” most likely represents the replacement of live in-studio musicians with canned sounds. 20 years ago I was friends with the wife of a pro musician who worked on film scores, and the bitter joke was reflected in a bumper sticker: “Honk If You’ve Been Sampled Today.”
    These two categories make up nearly all the musician job losses touted by the RIAA, yet neither of them have anything to do with copyright or filesharing issues.

  4. Yves Villeneuve
    Yves Villeneuve

    Unfortunately, there are musically-trained musicians at the post-secondary level who feel entitled to success because of their formal education. Sad but true.
    The above numbers probably indicate independant musicians actually making a living from music versus the tens of thousands unable to achieve this level of success. The reality is growth of 500% every ten years might not be sustainable in the future.

  5. David

    I’m no expert on US labor statistics, so correct me if I’m wrong, but on the face of it the category ‘independent artists, writers and performers’ does not seem to refer specifically to musicians at all. There could be a boom in mime artists for all we know!

    • David

      OK, I looked up the BLS website. If you search for ‘independent musician’ you get data on NAICS 711500: Independent Artists, Writers and Performers, but then there is an occupational sub-category for ‘Musicians and Singers’, which does indeed show an employment total of 1,830 for May 2012. Total employment for all ‘Musicians and Singers’ was 42,100. I could not find out how ‘independent’ was defined for the purpose of the classification, but I doubt that it would correspond closely to any of the various meanings of the term used in the music industry. (E.g. one sometimes sees artists described as ‘independent’ just because they are signed to a non-major label!)

  6. Jeff Robinson
    Jeff Robinson

    Yep, there are more independent recording engineers now too and wages have plummeted from a former annual income of $45,000 a year to just over $22,000 a year according to the Musician/Engineer Survey of 2009.

    You can see why this isn’t a good thing.

    More people working part-time for low or no pay makes for poor final product.

    • derpa derp
      derpa derp

      Exactly. “more indie artists working” only means that a shit-load of indie artist are making UNDER minimum wage and collecting welfare…

  7. techdirty

    Since I’m lazy, can someone answer this for me: why does techdirt always seem to promote how great the net has been for musicians careers? Piracy is good! More indie working musicians than ever! Up is down, black is white!

    Who are the backers of techdirt? The gang that makes billions by selling ads, providing high speed cable, selling hardware?

    PS as to lay, by that i mean i have songs to write, produce, record; equipment to buy, learn, finesse; instruments to maintain, practice; programs to study, learn, ; graphics to create, websites to make, twitter, facebook, tumblr & blogs to promote, videos to shoot and edit….


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