Artists Say ‘Exposure’ Is Way More Important Than Getting Paid…

This is the reason why it’s so easy to book an artist for free.  And, why the whole concept of a musicians’ union seems so far-fetched.

The survey (here), conducted by Right Chord Music and Farida Guitars, involved more than 200 mostly unsigned and indie artists.  By far, these artists are making most of their money on the road, with downloads and CDs a distant second and third, respectively.

Welcome to the riddle of the modern-day musician: most of the money is coming from shows, yet it seems like there’s always an amazing group willing to play for free.

Which leads to some bad economics: even among the paid, the study’s authors (based in London) were quick to dismantle the idea that the road is a lucrative place for artists.  “Although average incomes from live shows were not captured in this survey Right Chord Music would expect  income from live shows at this level to be between £20-£50 per London show, and a band to be playing a maximum of three paid shows within an average month.

“It’s clear once income is divided up between 3-4 band members and petrol, parking, hire, and rehearsal costs are factored in, income does not necessarily mean profit.” 

Unsurprisingly, streaming and merchandise ranked extremely low on the income list.  But perhaps most surprisingly, more than a third of the surveyed artists are selling CDs on a table at shows.  That’s roughly double the number for the next outlet, Bandcamp.

This just scratches the surface: check out the much larger study over at Right Chord Music, which dives into methodology, management, recording, and all sorts of other areas.  

30 Responses

  1. TK

    The title says “way more important” while the chart says “biggest challenge.” I see those as two different things.

    • Visitor

      Let’s fix that headline…

      NON-PROFESSIONAL Artists Say That “Exposure” is Way More Important Than Getting Paid…

      • Visitor

        “NON-PROFESSIONAL Artists Say That “Exposure” is Way More Important Than Getting Paid…”
        Thank you, co-visitor! 🙂 It’s incredible that you had to point that out.
        Exposure is literally worthless today, unless you get it in 100m+ doses.
        Ask professional artists what’s the biggest challenge is, and the answer will be:
        Piracy cut music sales by more than 50% from 1999-2012.
        Nothing compares to that.

        • GGG

          Plenty of bands that make plenty of money without getting 100ms of anything.
          You realize you can be a happily working musician without having a mansion, Ferrari and private jet, right?

        • Visitor

          Piracy cut music sales by more than 50% from 1999-2012.
          This is not even in the ballpark of truth.

          • Visitor

            Fear not my fellow visitor, music sales are up for the first time in many, many, many years. I also know that you are keenly aware of the numerous, unprecedented, coordinated, global anti-piracy efforts that are putting a quick end to the pilfering. Heck, even Lady Ga Ga’s fans are in on it now, plugging leaks all over the interwebs as we speak. Pirates know the jig is up, they really do!:)

          • Visitor

            “music sales are up for the first time in many, many, many years”
            Yes it all changed in 2012, thanks to the anti-piracy efforts you mention.
            It’s depressing it should take 10 years to realize that piracy is the most serious challenge to the industry.
            Then again, better late than never. 🙂

      • Melissa WHidjaya

        Hey! Yes totally agree that exposure is a high priority for musicians who are less established. Obviously once you’re at the top of the game exposure is something that a)you don’t have to try so hard for and b)can afford to pay other people to deal with. I know that it’s important for lesser known musicians to get exposure in the hope that it will soon convert into dollars but It’s sad to think of thousands of musicians end up not following that path simply due to lack of funds at that early stage? I have an inkling that it’s not just about getting your music out there, but it’s totally about what you do with the exposure that you have that will be the make or break for you when it comes to making money from your music. The obvious example being Amanda palmer who yes, had an audience but it wasn’t ridiculously huge, but she connected with them on an insane level to the point where they’re just waiting for reasons to give her money. And this isn’t about how many times her songs got played but it’s about how she leveraged that connection with her audience in such a direct way. I work for a company ( that lets you easily sell through social media and on your own site, and one of the things that we encourage is to look at the potential within your current fanbase – it applies to musicians, artists, writers, whoever. If you have a smallish fanbase there’s no reason why you can’t tweet at each new person that follows you or even email them directly. I think you’ll find that by making a direct connection your fans will convert to buyers AND they’ll spread the word about you too.

  2. Captain of the Concordia

    33% still sell CDs at shows? How can that be true?

    • GGG

      You’d be surprised how many people like supporting very small bands by buying a CD. And depending on the genre/audience of music, you can sell a good chunk if you’re smart/lucky/good enough band.
      An alt-country act I used to work with, for example, sold like 5-15 a show, depending on how big the crowd was (“crowds” being anywhere from 10-50 people), when we did a small bar/club swing down south to SXSW one year. People that showed up were mostly older (40s-50s) and the music fits right in with what they like. Wasn’t any substantial amount of money but paid for gas and food.

  3. GGG

    Can’t make money if nobody knows who you are.
    Also, yea, like the guy above said, your headline and what the question asked are pretty much completely different things.

    • Visitor

      “Can’t make money if nobody knows who you are”
      People know who you are if you make great music.

        • Visitor

          “Right, and then you’ll make money”
          Yes, if you make top 40 music.
          But exposure won’t do you any good if you’re in a less popular genre.
          A million streams is a lot to a jazz musician, but it won’t finanse his next album. It won’t even buy him a new instrument.

          • GGG

            So no indie artists make money? What is “money” to you? Seems like you have some incredibly lofty ideas of what that is. I’m sorry your, I’m sure masterpiece songs, haven’t given you your private jet yet.

      • Visitor

        Are you a label gatekeeper, or 12 years old? Nothing else could explain such a simplistic understanding of the market.

  4. Saumon Sauvage

    A sample group of 200 is hardly large enough to come to any general conclusion for anyone other than those 200 people.
    A performer is a laborer. You pay the dishwasher, so pay the performer.

    • GGG

      There’s two issues here, though.
      If you hire a band to play at your restuarant for entertainment, or a club that has people no matter what’s goin on there, should you pay them? Yea, I’m 100% behind that.
      But if you’re a touring band, got a gig at some place that relies on bands bringing in crowds, and can’t get 15 people out on a Friday night, what money do you deserve?

  5. JTV Digital

    ‘Getting our music heard’ gets 19%
    whereas ‘Getting our music on radio’ is at 6%
    (Isn’t it still the best place to be heard by the masses?)

    Performance and mechanical royalties are not included in the potential ‘revenue sources’

  6. Cameron

    People die from exposure.
    There are over 150,000 full time professional, working musicians in the US, yet this survey reached out to “over 200 mostly unsigned and indie artists.”
    That’s like 200 photographers telling you their biggest challenge is getting more followers on Instagram.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      I can’t speak to whether this is technically ‘statistically significant’ or not, and there may be issues with survey methodology. But I have a feeling the results aren’t that far off, especially from what I’ve seen.
      Let’s just say I’ve seen situations that pretty bluntly show that really, really good musicians are often willing to work for free, even while the dishwasher is getting paid.

      • Graham

        I’ve seen really good musicians perform for free as well. I’ve also seen something else that is relevant to the study, bands performing at a reasonably paid beer/wine fest with a stage off in a corner. I had to chase the musicians into the crowd to do soundcheck because they wanted a beer. At the end of the show the general consensus was that the show wasn’t good because people weren’t paying attention to the music and were staying near the beer. The take away I get from this is they aren’t interested in professional endeavors as a musician unless it feeds their ego or narcissism and free beer is more important than the mundane aspects of the profession.

        • GGG

          Thank you. People on this site seem to forget that the vast majority of people trying to be working musicians in 2013 are mediocre at best, and have this douchey entitled attitude that the world should revolve around them because they are “struggling artists.” Or that everyone should love their music because it’s their music.
          Not to mention, if you do your research, there are plenty of gigs that pay, whether it’s a guarantee, a % of bar, tix, etc. But even most of those are dependent upon people actually giving a shit about you. You don’t deserve money just because you decided you didn’t want a desk job.

  7. Willem

    Can anyone explain why it’s unsurprising that merchandise is so low on the ranking? It’s one of our biggest incomes (as a metalband)..

  8. James Walsh of Bristol Kids

    If I love someone’s music I don’t tend to take them for granted. But if I meet them and they are treating everyone like crap all the time then I know I won’t care as much about them.
    Yet , still, I know they worked hard to make the CD’s. I don’t believe in piracy since it cannabalized both the Music and Film industry and is really just “an F U” to older musicians and companies from teens who are rebelling against every kind of authority figure.
    Business is about turning a profit and it still is a fight over who has the power. .. So… Vinyl is making a comeback. People love music even if its on vinyl. Surprise surprise. Bands have to decide whats more important- giving up or giving back…. Musicians are still the leaders in charity efforts, just look at Linkin Park. Look at The Babys…first show in the Valley is for charity. If you want to tick me off act like I don’t matter. If you cool with me I’m cool with you.

  9. Chris Stevens

    The problem of exposure is where does it end? I can appreciate an uknown band seeking exposure. Without name recognition a musical artist is very low on the ist to earn money. But how many times does an artist give away their art (music) before they realize it’s time to charge?
    I’m not sure the bulk of players are mediocre, but no question for most their band is the ‘bowling night’ or ‘golf day’ or some other escape from their day gig and the pressures of daily routine.
    That’s what causes the ‘exposure’ gigs. It’s not about money for them, it’s about being able to play to an audience.
    Myself personally I only play for free if it’s a charitabe event I honestly belive in, e.g St. Jude. And even then it’s not too often.

    • GGG

      It ends when people care about you/you are actually in demand for you, not just for being random music. Now, not to say I don’t think people should pay musicians to play events that will have people showing up regardless. Because in those cases, they absolutely should unless it’s some charity thing like you bring up.
      If you look at acts like Pretty Lights or Girl Talk or any number of acts that give away their music, they got big enough that if someone wanted them to play their club knowing they’d bring a ton of fans, the acts can easily say “ok, give us X amount of money and we’ll play.” But a band who might bring 15 people tops doesn’t really deserve anything, no matter how good they are. Unless, again, they are asked by someone to play a gig that doesn’t rely on their draw. Then it’s up to them to ask for money or not.