I’m an Indie Performer. And This Is a Breakdown of Every Dollar I Make

He plays as a salaried member of multiple bands, and also derives significant income from solo performances.

He writes, sells CDs, does session work, occassionally teaches, and seems like he’s on the road non-stop.  And he also doesn’t have health insurance.

Sound familiar? This isn’t every indie music composer or performer, but it is a profile of a very serious and active one. The individual, who will remain anonymous, was recently profiled in a detailed case study about different types of musicians by the Future of Music Coalition.  This exhaustive breakdown lists every source of income and every expense between the years of 2008 and 2011.  The only thing it lacks is hard dollar figures, based on privacy agreements.  Take a look.

Updated: There have been some issues with graph clarity in the below embed.  For much greater clarity, you can now access the full PDF here.

32 Responses

  1. about time

    Hopefully this will hint people who chant “emprace piracy, make a living from tours” to shut the fuck up.

  2. musicservices4less

    Interesting but without the hard dollar figures difficult to relate to. So, to the Future of Music Coalition – privacy excuse is BS. All you need to do is provide overall gross income and overall net income for each year “for the indie musician”. That would not violate any particular privacy agreement that is in writing, if there really are any. Com’on now. . .

    • Vail, CO

      This guy doesn’t have health insurance, which says a lot really. If you’re making $100K a year you get health insurance for $250 a month or whatever it runs.

      This guys is making pennies and working his ass off.

      • Visitor

        You’re aware right that a large portion of uninsured people in the US make 100,000+ and just pay medical expenses out of pocket right?

        • Visitor #2

          Since about 17% of Americans don’t have health insurance and only about 6% of Americans make more than 100k a year, I bet he doesn’t know that because it’s laughable hogwash.

  3. jelnet

    The legends on most of the pie charts are nigh on impossible to read. The graphs and visuals are not comparable within or between case studies. There are no dollar values set against any of the data, so the guy maybe earning anything between $100 and $100,000 a year, who knows.

    And why are the dollar values hidden based on privacy agreements when the individual is anonymous anyway?

    This study is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

    • paul


      In terms of the readability, try accessing the PDF directly here. You can zoom in with far better clarify, and see the figures a lot better.

      Embedding PDFs seems tricky, but you can also hit ‘Fullscreen’ on the Scribd above.



  4. kthomson

    Just a couple points of clarification.

    1. These aren’t anonymous musicians who took a survey. These five are specific, known, recognizable performers who allowed us to review their personal financial documents.

    2. We have a privacy policy for the project that we shared with our research subjects. In order to gain access to their personal bank accounts and royalty statements, we needed to make certain accommodations. And not disclosing the gross income numbers was one of them.

    Publishing the Y-axis values would help immensely because it would really put things in context. But it would also risk exposing our subjects. While it might be hard to guess who this “indie perfomer-composer” is, even with Y-values added in, we are pretty sure people could guess who the jazz bandleader is if we published his gross numbers, simply because the field is very small. This is a risk we were unwilling to take for the sake of our relationship with our subjects who trusted us with their personal information.

    You can see the four other case studies here:

    To a larger point, this is why the Artist Revenue Streams project relies on three methodologies employed simultaneously: we did 80 in-person interviews, we’ve published 5 case studies (and have probably 5 more on the way), and we did the large scale survey that was answered by over 5,000 US-based musicians and composers. We knew that one method would simply be insufficient in collecting data and telling a story that was accurate and robust.

    You can read more about the methodology and research structure here:

    Also, for more readable charts and graphs, check out the online version. Click on any chart to see it full size.

    We have more data releases forthcoming.

    Kristin Thomson
    co-director, Artist Revenue Streams project

    • Maxwellian

      Uh, “anonymous” means their identity is not revealed. So this musician is “anonymous”

      • kthomson

        Hi Maxwellian.

        A tiny point but I was making a distinction between the data collected through the online survey — in which the 5,000 subjects really are anonymous and that even we researchers don’t know the identity of — and the data collected through the financial case studies — who are known to us as researchers but referred to generally by their descriptive features instead of by name.

        Kristin Thomson

        co-director, Artist Revenue Streams project

    • hurricanehead

      “five recognizable and known”… well, that’s just not large enough of a sampling for me to think they are representitive of the 17% decline in working professional musicians since 1999 according to the Department of Labor…

      A highly selective and biased sample really doesn’t mean much. I’d love to see the breakdowns of five artists who are making less in 2011 than 2008 for these “case studies” to be meaningful. Of those who are making less could it possibly be the reduction of revenue from recorded music sales? Doesn’t that warrant investigation? Hmmmm….

      Of course if there is an intended bias to these “studies” perhaps to bloster Big Tech Arguments against artists rights to fair compensation, than it makes sense. FMOC and these “case studies” seem to have the stench of artists robbing big tech all over them.

      I’m not sure why anyone would advocate against aritsts rights to be paid or why anyone would support the ability for tech companies to ripp off artists without consent or compensation to the tune of billions of dollars a year in the aggregate.

      It’s time for artists to wake up! I for one am tired of being bullied by tech companies stealing my work.

  5. Egg Mcmuffin

    Nobody forces ppl to be musicians. If u want health ins, go work for the dpw…

    Its no dif than any self employed small biz guy or girl..

  6. Max

    What a tease…the whole thing is meanlingless…just give us one figure… what percent of Lloyd Blankfein’s salary did artist make in 2011? So we can join the annoying dots…

  7. Chris Daniels

    This is basically what the ‘new reality’ is for working musicians”or ‘middle class’ musicians … multiple income sources doing what you love, but it is a hell of a lot of work. I teach at a University (and love it), I perform, I record, I tour here and overseas, and I work on other band projects etc…I do have health ins because of the University. As far as dollar numbers they line pretty much the same. If you want to know the exact number that is private info but here are some basics:

    University > around 30 to 40K plus health >

    Touring> around 75 to 110 dates a year mostly outdoor festivals in the summer … some clubs > roughly 25K

    VO and advertising writing and performing (guitar, banjo, mano and vocal) 8K

    Recording & Publishing > 5K
    Other > writing for local music paper etc 2K

    So that is roughly 60 to 80,000 per year and health — and that is huge. Why? If I were diagnosed with Leukemia (ouch I was) and went through a hugs amount of chemo and eventually a bone marrow transplant via stem cells > without health ins that would have been impossible SOL as they say.

    The question also goes into politics. If there is no universal ccoverage of some kind in 2014 (Obama care… or whatever) … what will the ‘middle class’ musician do if they have no job that offers health ins … or health through a spouce ??

    In 5 years what will we see as the revenue streams of middle class muscians and will the continued shrinkage in revenue from recordings be halted and or at least stabalized.

    Last, the presure on live performance as the revenue stream is already forcing interesting changes. Now, “national acts” are starting to get forced into regional and local markets to make their yearly nut… so what happens to local artists? Their number of gigs drops. This is already happening. Summer concert series that used to present ‘local’ artist in my region are increasingly starting to book acts that would be out of their price range (national) because those acts are now competing with all the other national traffic … caused by the need for performace to be the main income of musicians.

    Historicaly the musician is the one who gets squeezed and it’s happening again. (Remember that one of the musicians on the Titanic was hounded by White Star Line for the expense of his uniform … that is not a joke,look it up)

    At some point musicians might have to start a union…hmmm?

    • kthomson

      Excellent post, Chris. And this is the kind of story that we’ve encountered a lot through this work.

      An interesting point about unions. There are two in the US that primarily relate to musicians: AFTRA (for singers and recording artists) and AFM (for performers). And we can tell from our survey data that membership matters. Musicians who are members of unions make more money per year than those who don’t belong to a union. There are a number of reasons why. We are working on a report that explains this in detail but, in the mean time, we have a few slides about it in this presentation about jazz artists.

      Kristin Thomson

      co-director, Artist Revenue Streams project

    • Suzanne Lainson

      Thanks for the numbers, Chris. A lot of the discussions about how “great” it is to be a musician today don’t supply any numbers, so we have no idea if it’s a musician who is thrilled to be making something at a show (instead of losing money). Or if it is a musician making enough money to get health insurance and support a family.

      Also, I’ve seen the same reality about regional musicians as Chris describes (Chris and I live in the same area and we have met on a number of occasions). Musicians who used to sell CDs at shows and who were able to get good guarantees at festivals have seen those revenue streams drop. There are so many more musicians hoping to hit the same fans and the same venues that the competition for paying gigs is more intense than ever. Throw in the cost of touring and the live circuit can be tough.

  8. guess

    look at an expense (cd & merch buying: maybe 5K?) it’s 7.5% of all costs, so his costs are about 60K. expenses are half of his gross rev, so that makes it 120,000.

    that seems high though? i’m guessing more like 60-70K in gross revenue per year, so he nets 35K.

    If someone knows AFTRA, AAA, AFM dues, that’s 0.5% of his expenses.

    • Reverse Engineer

      aftra about $120, AFM varies but about $110 AAA $55?


      $285 = X*.005 X= $57,000 a year gross. This artist is grossing 57K a year. Net looks like it’s about 30K.

      This is a success story. you make 30k a year and you have no health insurance.

  9. Olddriveway

    One example does not prove a point. If it did I could find one casino winner who won a million dollars and argue “The casino model of investment works”.

    All you need to know about this “study”:

    Future of Music Coalition is a fake artist advocacy organization. They appear to be funded by the tech industry, indeed peruse there list of supporters and you will see current/former executives from various tech companies. Peruse their blog. They sure spend a lot of time on issues that are important to the tech industy, i mean considering they are a “music” site.

    The tech industry is “The Man 2.0”. Between iTunes, Google and Amazon stores the are the biggest players in the recorded music industry. They all take at least 30% of the gross digital recorded music revenues through their stores. This is probably more than any single major record label. And indeed the fact that they take no risk and don’t fund content creation the vast majority of profits from music may actually be captured by these firms.

    After defeating the RIAA and record labels in the copyright wars, they have now turned their gunsights on artists. They need to perpetuate the myth that artists are doing better under the new system. As a independent artist, independent label owner, songwriter, studio complex owner and manager I can tell you that overall artists are doing worse. This worries the tech industry because artists are much more compelling and sympathetic than the RIAA.

    In the last few months their has been a steady stream of artists detailing just how small are their revenues from the digital ecosystem. Others have illustrated how google in particular makes money from web advertising from filesharing sites. This and the Computer and Communications Industry Association progaganda study “The sky is rising” are the tech behemoths anti-artist pushback. IE propaganda.

    In fact I’m particularly curious about FOMC calling their study ” a case study”. Look at this website https://www.insightcommunity.com/cases.php. Look at the first “case study”. it appears that this “case study” may have come from this “sponsored” ie funded conversation. Further if it did come from this study note that the “winners” were paid $1000 dollars for submitting a “content creators success story” that met the anonymous sponsors criteria.

    1.Someone should ask FOMC if the independent artist cited in their study was paid to provide this information.

    2. http://www.insightcommunity.com is a floor 64 company. That is it is owned by the pretend tech journalist Mike Masnick of Techdirt. Watch for Techdirt to to write a puff piece on this study. At that time someone should ask masnick if this was one of his $1000 dollar contest winners. I suspect the that this artist was a winner. notice in 2011 they have the totally unexplained revenue source “Knowledge of Craft”. I mean what is that? If it does turn out that the $1000 dollars was his “knowledge of craft” payment then this artist grossed less than 60k and netted something more like 33k.

    3. In general a media journalist should investigate masnick and FOMC and ask them who they get their money from. donations and paid work.

    • Suzanne Lainson

      The biggest problem I have with non-music people telling musicians how great the business is today is that they usually talk about how well artists who were signed to labels in the past are now doing in comparison to how they are doing now as unsigned artists. Or they talk about musicians who just started and who are pulling in a bit of money, so that must be a sign that the business is better now.

      But as Chris Daniels illustrates, there was a substantial group of musicians who were always DIY, and their traditional sources of income have gone down. Many DIY musicians sold lots of CDs at shows. Once they covered the recording costs, the margins were great, and those margins generated the income to cover the rest of their business. For example, let’s say a musician spent $15,000 to record a CD at a local studio. And the musician charged $15 a CD. Those recording expenses were covered in the first 1000 CDs. A successful local/regional musican could probably sell at least 3000 CDs a year. Figure it cost them $1.50 per CD to have it manufactured, and then they were able to sell it for $15. A great margin. Now that fans are buying fewer CDs, it’s harder to make that kind of money. Sure, there are digital albums and merchandise, but the margins on both of those are less. And there are new musicians who record in their bedrooms for nothing. That opens the door for a different sort of musician, which definitely has changed the business.

      And if you talk to musicians who have been playing club gigs for the past 30 years, most will tell you now that they aren’t making more per gig than they were then. There are a number of reasons:

      1. DJs and karaoke eliminated a lot of live music in clubs.

      2. Bands often had the gig to themselves rather than having four bands booked for the night. Income that one band made in the past now gets split among more bands.

      3. There are so many bands wanting gigs that the clubs don’t feel they have to pay any of them very much until the bands are nationally known.

      4. There are more entertainment options for people than just going out to clubs for music.

      And then you have the economy which has forced many music fans to cut back on what they can spend on going out and on merchandise.

      So there are musicians who have found things have gotten worse. And it isn’t just because they “aren’t talented enough,” or because “they aren’t working the business enough,” or one of the other reasons often given to blame the musicians.

      Sure, there are musicians who feel good about what they are doing, but many of the indie bands today don’t actually make a living doing music full-time (unless you count giving lessons, teaching music in school, being a church music director, etc.).

      Having everyone making music and still having a dayjob is not necessarily a bad thing, but we do need to discuss it when painting an overall picture.

  10. CaseyFMC

    We’re definitely not saying things are better for musicians. We’re simply attempting to capture a snapshot of what musician revenue streams look like at this time, and how they’ve changed. The answer is complicated, particularly as some revenue streams are available to some musicians, while others are not.

    To the previous poster questioning our orientation: we are pro artist. Just because we choose not to wholly demonize new technologies does not mean that we aren’t chiefly concerned with a) artist compensation, and b) artist access to audiences.

    We beliv artists must be able to maximize the value of their copyrights in any way that they see fit, in any environment where these works are used. We will fight to the bitter end for equitable artist compensation, and are willing and able to challenge both content and tech structures and business models to achieve this goal.

    One thing to keep in mind, just to reiterate what Kristin said: the case studies are but one of the methodologies employed. And there will be more case studies that could reveal a whole different picture. And, it should be noted that not all musicians earn revenue directly from copyrights they own (or transfer).

    I hope you can join us in the fight for equitable and transparent creator compensation. We may have differences of opinion in approach, but there’s no way in hell anyone can legitimately say we don’t want artists to get paid, appropriately and often.

    Casey Rae-Hunter

    Deputy Director, Future of Music Coalition

    • Olddriveway


      Your organization always try to “spin it” in the headline. It’s always “Look artists are making more in the new digital paradigm” but whenever I dig a little bit, it turns out that you guys have emphasized certain things and downplayed others. in a way that has created a false positive impression. Stop doing that and I’ll beleive you when you say you really don’t have any hidden agenda and are actually pro-artist.

      Example. This time you chose an artist to highlight that showed upward growth in income. (And of course they did because they appear to have started from a very low baseline. if we follow “reverse engineer” numbers it looks like this artist was netting less than 24k a year in 2008). What was the criteria that went into selecting this artist? did you guys ahead of time “want” to publish a positive case history? did you seek out a income growth story.

      Also i’m highly suspicious of why you didn’t publish the overall gross and net for this artist. Privacy concerns? I don’t believe you. There are a zillion indie rock composer artists out there doin what this artist is doing. I think the real reason you withheld the actual amounts is you didn’t want to say that the artist netted less than 35k a year.

      Finally i think the question about whether this case study was somehow related to the https://www.insightcommunity.com/cases.php “content creator success stories wanted” needs to be answered. A simple yes or no.

      I graciously await your reply.

      • Overdog

        “Finally i think the question about whether this case study was somehow related to the https://www.insightcommunity.com/cases.php “content creator success stories wanted” needs to be answered. A simple yes or no.”

        The silence speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

        Future of Music Coalition is about as transparent as a fucking mountain.

        • Visitor

          I think they answered it here.

          They have no affiliation.

  11. YES< I"m A ARTIST


    More “much to do about nothing”. I wonder how many of you are OBAMA fans, or fan’s of socialism?

    Nothing but crying from sites like this, pure garbage.

    Now that any artist can be “Heard” and get music out to some degree and having Majors no longer control the flow of music, you knuckled headz come out and thing that 99% of the garbage out there being masked as music, should be making money.

    How many of you on this site are artist or wana bes?

    Never the less, let me get back to production.

    One word of advice to all you Ass clowns on this site, not every track sells and not every artist makes it. Music is Subjective. The population is bombarded with idiot style TV, MUSIC CHARTS et all. So, shut up and make good music. If you can’t make a living at it, learn another skill and keep at the process of building your name and brand.

    Gosh, the Industry makes me sick to my stomach. Next thing I will read is that the GOVERMENT should support all artist on my tax dime.

    • knuckled head

      wow, the repugs even have sock-puppets on music sites, trolling. amazing how they can turn anything into “dem evil communists”… but you never hear them arguing about banks (Bank of America, etc) or major corporations (General Motors, etc) being bailed out on the public dime. it’s also amazing that the 1%, via media ownership (talk radio especially) get the 99% to vote (and post) against their best interests.

      i would love this dude to post a link to his music. hope it’s better than his grammar & spelling.