The 10 Levels of Artist Compensation

Every day, we discuss issues related to artist earnings and compensation.

But how would you rate yourself on the compensation scale, and where would you ultimately like to land?  Here are ten different levels of artist accomplishment – from the most wealthy to the most income-challenged.

Artist Royalty.

I never have to work another day in my life, thanks to my royalties and other music-related revenues.  If I go on tour or make new music, it’s because I want to.  I can live a fairly outrageous, lavish lifestyle, and enjoy this healthy stream of income for the rest of my life.

Royalty with Responsibilities.

I never have to work another day in my life, thanks to my royalties, touring receipts, and other music-related revenues.  However, it could run out: although I can live quite comfortably, I have some budget considerations and long-term financial planning to consider.

Actively Wealthy.

I am making a very substantial amount of money from my music, but I cannot retire.  I tour, release albums, and write songs, not only because I want to but because – frankly – I have to.

The Middle-Class Musician.

I am a middle–class musician, producer, or other music-related professional who makes a decent, livable wage that supports not only myself, but my family as well.  I can put some money into long-term investments, like retirement funds, property, etc., and can get a kid or two through college.

Surviving, thank you very much.

I’m a working musician, producer, or other music-related professional, and making a decent, livable wage that barely supports myself.  Or, I can cover the costs of a team, touring expenses, and my own expenses, but not much else.

Operating at a loss.

I am not quite breaking even, but staging full tours, creating serious recordings, and hiring others to help manage things like digital distribution, tour management, and social networking.

In the game.

I am making the equivalent of a minimum wage salary and surviving off of my music.

Part-time, looking for full-time.

I make a modest amount of money from my music, but I must work another job at least part-time to survive.


I make little to no money from my music, and rely entirely on other sources of income.  I may not be trying to generate income from my music, but still face some expenses related to this hobby.


I’ve unfortunately given up, due to financial challenges related to making music.  I’d blame this partly on piracy, and the generally low level of compensation from most performance outlets.  I’ve found another profession, or am looking for another profession.

Written while listening to Adele, likely an 8 or 9 at this point.

21 Responses

  1. Corey Tate -

    I’d bet over 75% of all artists occupy one of the bottom three. I’d love to see estimates of how each tier breaks out in percentages. Anyone have any guesses?

    • Peter

      if you think about the swaths of artists on networks like Purevolume, Facebook, Youtube, Bandcamp etc, I would place the estimates more at 90-95% in the bottom 3.

  2. Curious Fac

    I think it would be to the benefit of both bands and their fans for people to know where specific artists fall on this scale. eg. if my favorite band at #3 or #7?

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  4. 2

    Number two. I would never rely on making music for a living anyway. I have to be financially stable through other means so that i could create the music that I want without compromising for commercial success.

    • mdti

      more than 40 000 streams gives you 149 euros ?

      In Paris subway, you could make 5000 (if you are very good, people do give money, and it can be banknotes, I’ve seen that with a awesome singer/guitarist who could compete with Keziah Jones (who actually began his career in the paris metro…..).

      If you are the average accordeonist or vilionist playing old french tunes for tourists, you will have a much harder time, but you will certainly go beyond 150€ per month.

      Musician – like my father used to say when i was a teen and all about music in the 80’s – and I did not beleive him – “kid, you will end up playing in the metro”…. Thanks to the internet, his prediction is 300% true….. glad i saw that coming a few years back 😉


      Thankyou Zoe for posting this I found it very helpful. I received my first royalty checks this year mostly from satellite radio plays. I’m a 3. I enjoyed reading your note page the most now I think I will check out your tunes.

  5. Tany

    you talk only about “musicians”.

    I´m talking about composers, songwriters, lyricists and others who do projects for industry, film, tv etc. These people do not act on the stage! They sit in the studio and make some money with their work. There is no compensation possible with live music.

  6. Visitor

    you don’t have to get paid to play, so let me say, it’s an 11 man 11, I mean 15, oh wait no 20, wait for it oh that’s right it’s the top of the world.

  7. Jay Stapley

    There are so many other ways of making a living as a musician apart from the tired and dying “star” system.

    I’m 55 years old and have been a professional musician since I was 18. Follow my blog here to see how I make my money day-to-day.

  8. Visitor

    Right now, I’m a 3, but have been as high as a 6. I think most musicians are in the bottom 3.

  9. @p2dahi

    I know where I’m at but I know where I want to be .. time to work

  10. kevin

    Speaking as an artist I seriously doubt there is a 3 through 7 to speak of. Maybe there is for some very, very small fraction. But if it only applies to some small fraction than it’s not an intelligent discussion. The music industry doesn’t provide a definitive economic good or service. Instead, it’s a collection of self serving children who never grew up fighting over crumbs of attention left over after it’s consumers have already had their fill of media. And it’s consumers expect whatever subjective goods and services it does produce, to be free. There are four pillars of revenue for an artist: Album Sales, Media Placement, Merchandise and Shows. You won’t have any of them if you don’t do shows. And shows cost a ton of time and money and you will be operating at a heavy loss (nothing new there). Instead, go get a two year degree, make 60k a year, write/record all the music you want and submit it for media placement opps. Maybe you get lucky and make some cash. You probably have a better chance with this approach to a “career” than any other. And you’ll probably be a much happier individual.

  11. @stickyfingers

    So, I finally see the state I’m in: I’m not a musician, but a f**king hobbyist on his way to being burnt.

  12. Gemma D Lou

    I started reading this from the bottom up.

    It seems a logical step. To start out as a hobbyist and to get more serious. I think anyone serious about doing music should aim for a level 7 starting from now, and achieve it within 2 years.

    And then work backwards from that point, with what they have to do to achieve it.

    For example, a very insightful post by Nina shows what she has to do within a week to promote herself and her business.

    Then you’ll have actionable steps to take. It helps when you know what works and what doesn’t.

    To be honest, these things are easier said than done, but it’s worth knowing exactly what you have to do to achieve your goals.