Statistical Proof That DIY Doesn’t Pay

DIY keeps getting debunked, this time by hard data.

Because if you’re doing it yourself – especially after the initial stages – you’re probably missing out on significant earnings and stunting your career.

Here’s what happened when the Future of Music Coalition asked a panel of musicians about their teams, and cross-referenced that against broader earnings.  It’s all part of some groundbreaking research the Coalition has been conducting on artist revenues, all based on detailed musician interviews and actual tax filings.

At a top-level, the takeaway on this dataset is clear: team members bring in more money.  But amazingly, the Coalition also mapped the amount of money likely to be brought by specific team members, and further broke things down by recording, composition, and touring income buckets.

In each graph, the average from all respondents is represented at the top (sample size=5,371).  The rest speaks for itself.

I. Recordings.

  • Save

II. Touring.

Here, the issue of causality versus correlation becomes more apparent.  In the case of a booking agent, there’s a clear gain – just recently, Zoe Keating told Digital Music News that the addition of an agent had a demonstrable impact on touring revenues.

But, soundperson?  “The fact that a soundperson is next on the list probably doesn’t mean the soundperson leads to more money – it’s the reverse – they’re already making enough money from live performance that they can afford to take out a sound person,” Future Music of Coalition consultant Kristin Thomson noted.

  • Save

III. Compositions.

  • Save


33 Responses

  1. Sev

    Impact means a collision. You probably mean “effect”.

    • What?

      one of the definitions of impact is “influence; effect.”

    • hurricanehead

      well I suppose FOMC aren’t perfect after all, they can’t get it wrong 100% of the time.

      I’m encouraged to see reports with more reality when the sample sizes get larger.

  2. lifer

    Proof? Is this “gross income” before taxes and before the team takes its 20%+10%+10%+5%+5% cuts? Or does this purport to be “net income” after everyone on “the team” including the taxman is paid?

    • Visitor

      The full report, which includes more survey data and analysis, is at

      To Lifer’s question, the income in these charts is based on gross music-related income collected through the survey. We contemplated asking survey respondents about expenses, or about gross versus net, but realized it would be too complicated, given the differences in musicians’ and composers’ relationships with various intermediaries. But we knew that documenting expenses would be equally important and relevant. That’s a big reason why we also did the financial case studies, five of which are published here:

      …which gave us the ability to plot gross income versus real expenses, and calculate the net across time for a handful of artists.

      Another note: “statistical proof” is Digital Music News’ headline. Nowhere in our research memos do we say that this data proves anything. Artist Revenue Streams is a benchmarking effort, with data collected through three different methods simultaneously — interviews, financial case studies and a large scale survey.

      Nor do we think that DIY is impossible, or an all-or-nothing choice. Technology has vastly improved musicians’ ability to access the marketplace, but along with this has come potential added work and responsibilities. What should musicians do on their own? When is a teammate — whether it’s a manager, label, publisher, and/or booking agent — going to mean a net positive in earnings, or even just an increase in a musician’s capacity?

      Clearly, these are calculations that musicians need to make on their own, because only they know the components at play in their own careers, and what their priorities are.

      The article also says “the clear takeaway is that team members bring in more money”. To us, the data suggests that team members can have an impact on musicians’ earnings, but they must be chosen carefully for the reasons stated Lifer and Jason and other commenters. Musicians need to be cognizant of the tradeoffs and thoughtful in their decisions. We hope that this data, along with other reports, helps musicians understand the changing landscape.

      The entire report, which discusses the roles of various teams members, how they are typically compensated, and the effect of teammates on musicians’ earnings (plus more charts) is here.

      And, there’s an extension to this report that talks about teams, time allocation, financial support and accounting here.

      Kristin Thomson
      Co-director, Artist Revenue Streams project

      • hank alrich

        Thank you, Kristin. People will throw out a lot of comments based on a news item, which can only be shallow at best and which in order to attract attention must be stated in a mildly sensationalist manner. Pointers to the research documents are very helpful.

      • CAJ

        My gosh make an actual statement please! Please stop worrying about pissing off the D.I.Y. companies out there with all the research-y safe statements it’s not helping anyone.

        (1) D.I.Y. does not work

        (2) Real teams mean real money

        (3) Lottery winners take all

  3. dangude

    Then it all depends on how big the piece of pie your team (label, webmaster, booking agent, sound person, publisher and or attorney et al) takes. If what is left over is crumbs, then you may be better off DIY.

    If you believe that the team can get you more exposure with less income early on with more income increasing later, then good luck to you and hope that the team doesn’t move on without you.

    • didle

      because YOU should be the one managing the team

    • JC

      That is EXACTLY what I was thinking…and to the person that responded to you, you’re full of crap or very very very inexperienced if you think a musician should be the manager.

      Starting to think all of these posts are just being thrown up without even double-checking. A manager is THE FIRST thing you should go out and get…don’t be fooled or stupid. It’s common sense…music 101.

  4. waiver oddly

    This is just to distract us from the evil anti-artist shit that the rest of FMC is doing in Washington DC.

  5. S. Fingers

    Another demoralizing article… for the DIY musician. Unfortunately it is quite true.

    After having commented on a previous article on DIY at the start of the month and shamelessly plugged my website, I have received a little more than hundred hits. Result: Few video hits and some song listens, and no sales (the music might be the problem there.) After all, for an unknown artist, optimistically 10-50 out of 1000 visitors might show more interest, and out of those visitors 1-5 might make a purchase. So, I guess most DIY musicians are quite aware that DIY does not pay.

    But it’s funny that even when I used to give away for free, there wasn’t much traffic nor many downloads, almost nothing. Then we decided that we should put it up for sale so that we might be able to recoup some of the money spent on making the music videos (when it’s your brother making the videos, I still consider it DIY.) Anyway, as soon as people saw that the music was up for sale, the website and other related social media gizmos received much more attention. Also, people began looking for ways to download it for free, which isn’t always a bad sign. Alas, the sales since have been almost non-existant. Never mind recouping the money spent on the videos, we haven’t even gotten back the money we spent on putting two of the albums on CdBaby (A few months back, uploaded everything to Bandcamp for free, should’ve done that in the first place.) The digital distribution system seems tempting but if you are an unknown, trying to make money from it is a bit like trying to fill an olympic swimming pool with a drop of water per hour.

    So, having a team of musicians, engineers, producers, managers, labels, publishers, lawyers, etc. is the best way to go. People who know what they are doing can rarely hurt (of course, you might start making money after your second or third record, then might to buy yourself out. But that’s the price, is it not?)

    However if you don’t have access to such luxuries or working on your own, you can keep struggling and complaining (but never forget to listen, read and learn). Some say there are too many musicians/artists around – thanks to the digital age – that are cluttering the scene. While it is true that there many more artists/so-called artists/delusional people, popularity-wise they amount to almost nothing (a drop in the ocean?). Even most of the indies are backed by labels and whatnot (some artists are even developped and marketed as indie for more credibility.) So don’t be troubled by the DIY musicians, unless they spam you with their stuff. You’re in control, turn their music off, block them, ban them, stab them, burn them… Switch to some other site, page channel, whatever…

    After all, as DIY doesn’t pay and it’s killing the artist, we won’t be around too long.

    To the readers and Digital Music News: Sorry for this long rant-like comment (also some mention of brands). (It might have some relevent and mostly irrelevent stuff in it, I’m too lazy to check.) But it does help one to gather one’s thoughts. And please don’t worry, I won’t be making comments on every article that comes along. It’s just couldn’t resist the last temptation of the DIY musician. Hasta la vista…

    P.S.: Touring? Heck, you’re lucky to get a gig once in a blue moon. I doubt the following is specific to the country I live in. Most locales don’t want to entrust their stage to an unknown. “Nice music but…” “…How many customers can you bring in?” “…Hmm, not many likes on your facebook page.” After a while you’re embarrassed to invite your friends to a new gig because at the end, you are taking their money. (Very important point: Friends are not fans.) Okay, I’m rambling again. I’d better sign off. Over and out.

    • paul

      S. Fingers… no apologies necessary, at all. Loved the comment and its honesty.


  6. Jason Spitz

    DIY is not a way to make a living. It’s a way to get your start, and it helps you build a business with YOU at the center, where you can maintain creative control & strategic direction. But ultimately, if you get big enough, you’ll have to hire some helpers. If your helpers are good at their jobs, they can help make you a LOT more money (relative to what you could earn going DIY)…though you’ll still have to do a good amount of work yourself. If you’re smart and lucky, the whole operation can elevate to another level where you can delegate more of the work and focus your energy on your music — and on being the CEO of your company, because that job never really stops.

  7. Geoff

    This is the dumbest report I’ve read in a long time. Of course artists with agents make more money from touring than artists without agents. I don’t know of a single artist playing regularly in venues larger than 200 capacity that book themselves. It’s a selffulfilling report you’ve got here.

    And regarding the idea of artists on a label making more money than artists not on a label — again, this is a very dumb way to look at things. Artists selling over a certain amount of records are most often on labels, so you’re comparing the haves to the have nots. I’d be much more interested in looking at a report that compared the incomes from sound recordings of a band that sells 25k, 50k, or 250k records doing it themselves versus selling that same amount on a label. That would actually be a worthwhile study, not generalizing on bands on labels versus not on labels.

    Was this report commissioned by the RIAA to convince bands that labels still provide worthwhile value to artists?

    • hank alrich

      Geoff, labels well below the radar of the RIAA can be very helpful to an artist who has enough of a profile to make a label’s effort worthwhile on both ends of the deal.

      I look forward to reading the research papers in detail. A news item cannot present the actual content of a project.

    • kthomson

      In case you haven’t looked at the full report, it includes more cross tabs on team data, including the team members of musicians who are:

      – spending more than 36 hrs a week and earning 90% or more of their income from music

      – professionally trained

      – high earners (earning more than $100,000 a year on music)

      – emerging v established v old guard musicians

      But, to your point, the team data is just one query in our broader, cross-genre effort to document on what revenue streams today’s musicians are relying on, how it’s changing, and why.

      We’ve also looked at the impact of these factors on musicians’ earning capacity:

      – airplay (commercial, noncommercial, webcasting, satellite)

      – professional training

      – comfort with technology

      – organizational membership (unions, associations)

      More reports here

      We have more data memos forthcoming, including some genre-specific reports, and one about income from sound recordings available soon.

      Best —

      Kristin Thomson
      Co-director, Artist Revenue Streams project

  8. caroline at Radar

    I appreciate the intention, but isn’t this bad science? It’s confusing cause and effect surely?

    If I engage an accountant am I really going to make 29.7% more income from touring? Of course not.

    Surely if I’m a bigger artist and I need and can afford an accountant, then by implication I’m going to be making more money touring.

    I think it’s a great subject area, but the stats given in the press release/reported here don’t really tell us anything.

    • paul


      Clearly ‘causation vs. correlation’ is an issue with any study of this sort, but I think there’s the temptation to place too much emphasis on this criticism. To me, the top-level takeaway of these graphs is pretty simple: artists with more developed teams make more money than those without these teams.

      Simple, right?

      Well, the controversial part is what this says about DIY, which is sort of this long-running fantasy that labels, publishers, even booking agents and professional producers are superfluous in the new music industry. So let me ask: what if it turned out that DIY, ‘solo warriors’ were actually making more than those with teams, or maybe more importantly, netting more than those with teams? We’d have an entirely different discussion here, because it would validate that artists can indeed do it themselves and reap greater rewards.

      I don’t think this is coming anywhere near saying this, though. Instead, this to me represents a progression away from that thought.


  9. @ohmyrockness

    Breaking News, guys. This article has finally uncovered statistical proof that being “DIY” doesn’t “pay.” (classic)

  10. @kevinmason

    The data says that true DIY for recording artists doesn’t pay.

  11. kevin

    If I can just suggest a framing from the realm of community organizing and punk activism:

    It’s a shift from “do-it-yourself” to “Do-It-Together”.

    That shift means that you retain much of the values of independence, individual creativity, artistic freedom, etc of the DIY approach, and you harmonize it with a mutually supportive team approach.

    The lesson here isn’t that DIY doesn’t work. The lesson is that collective action is more powerful than individual action.

  12. G. Devan Smith

    Interesting… but it only limits the samples to Jazz, Indie Rock, and Orchestral.

    And I don’t understand the distain of DIY artists. Some are DIY because of some of the things that had been researched. And being in a label ain’t good when some can make more money off of an artist’s music than the artists themselves.

    And I’ve personally known artists with NO (commerical) airplay a DIYer and was pretty successful.

    I’m going to read more on this… but something’s telling me this is a little slanted…

    And “hard data” can be manipulated. Just watch Politics.

  13. G. Devan Smith


    This “Hard Data” isn’t as hard as it portrays… it also doesn’t account for, among other genres, Electronic Music. The report also links to 42 revenue streams an artist can take.

    While majority are either spot on or worth to consider, this particular word does not cannote with revenue—> ADVANCE.

    An advance is a loan against $ from projected sales. NOT actual. Think of it as a PAYDAY loan… except THIS advance has a less of a guarantee of meeting sales targets. The fact this was stated leads many people to become DIYers. An example of this is here —>

    So while people who are showing distain for DIYers are clinging to this report like a Bible, the numbers are actually incomplete, and not as comprehensive as it portrays.

    Just something to think about.

    • Jazzy LG

      This article does not take in to account a DYI not having to pay 75-95% in recoupable income from the label’s investments.

  14. @ChrisKnab

    DIY only works when you build a supportive team of pros.

  15. @ChrisKnab

    DIY only works when you build a supportive team of pros.

  16. @HitQuartersHQ

    DIY Doesn’t Pay…

    Or at least literally doing it all by yourself isn’t cost effective.