The Average Working Musician Makes About $21,500 a Year

Uber drivers, on average, make more than professional musicians.

Uber drivers, on average, make more than professional musicians.

According to the Music Industry Research Association (MIRA), the average US musician makes about $21,500 from music-related sources.

Thanks to the exploding popularity of streaming music platforms, the music industry has experienced a revival.  Just see for yourself.

Warner Music made $3.58 billion in 2017.  Streaming pushed Sony Music’s revenue past $4 billion.  And Universal Music Group has performed so well, its parent company has toyed with the possibility of a $40 billion IPO.

So, with revenue rising, the average American musician must be doing quite well financially, right?

No.  Not even close.

According to a new study published by the Music Industry Research Association (MIRA), the average artist earns between $20,000 and $25,000 a year.  That number hasn’t changed in the last six years.  In partnership with the Princeton University Survey Research Center, MIRA surveyed 1,227 musicians living in the US.

Breaking down the numbers, median musicians made around $35,000.  They earned income from 3.5 music-related activities last year.  The average American musician, however, earned $21,300, primarily from 4 music-related sources.  In contrast, the average Uber driver earns $30,000 a year — from one source.

The highest-grossing sources for musicians include live performances (81%), conducting music lessons (47%), and performing in church choirs and other religious services (38%).

Image by MIRA

Per week, the average musician spent up to 14 hours performing.  Performance-related travel took up 5.7 hours and composing another 4.4.  Women spent less time performing, traveling, and composing than men.  Yet, they spent more time conducting music lessons.  Non-white artists also spent less time performing, and more time composing and engaging in non-music work.

On average, musicians in the US performed five different genres.  The ten most common include Classical (37%), Jazz (35%), Pop (35%), Folk (31%), Blues (31%), Country (28%), Christian (27%), Adult Contemporary (24%), Independent (23%), and Mainstream Rock (23%).

When asked about their primary instruments, 25% listed guitar.  17% used pianos or keyboards.  15% sang.  10% played on drums.  Another 10% used a bass guitar.  5% listed organ.

61% of all musicians said that music-related income “isn’t sufficient to meet their living expenses.”

Half of non-whites and 32% of whites shared this sentiment.

So, with music clearly not helping them make ends meet, why do they continue to perform?  Artist expression and the sensation they feel once they perform as well as collaborating with others.

But, what do they dislike?  Not knowing whether they’ll make ends meet and whether music will take them anywhere.

Image by MIRA

And what about the gender breakdown and discrimination?

Women only make up about one-third (34%) of self-reported musicians in the US.  Showing that they remain an underrepresented part of the music industry, the figure hasn’t changed much in nearly thirty years.  In 2000, women made up 35.1% of self-reported musicians, just 2.2% higher than in 1990.

72% of them have felt discriminated against because of their sex.  This number remains significantly higher than the 27.8% of female US self-employed workers who experienced sexual discrimination.  More non-white musicians (both men and women) reported feeling discrimination because of their gender and race than non-white self-employed workers, 63.3% to 36%.

67% of female musicians were victims of sexual harassment.  The number of white and non-white female musicians who experienced sexual harassment remained mostly the same.

Image by MIRA

Unfortunately, many musicians have mental health issues.

In the UK, 71% of musicians reported suffering from panic and anxiety attacks.  69% had depression, and 18% suffered from other forms of mental illness.

US musicians didn’t fare much better.

Half of American musicians reported feeling down, depressed, and hopeless in the last two weeks at the time of the study.  Less than quarter of the general adult population in the US felt the same.  Musicians also had difficulty sleeping, low energy, trouble concentrating, and self-pity.  Alarmingly, 11.8% thought about dying or hurting themselves in at least several days in the last two weeks.

They also battle with alcohol and substance abuse.

Over three-quarters of musicians (78%) reported drinking alcohol at least once a week, higher than the national average (46%).  Musicians also drink more than the general adult population, 31.3% to 15.9% for “frequent drinkers” and 12.7% to 6.2% for those who drank more than three glasses of alcohol per week.

Image by MIRA

Compared to the general adult population, musicians are five times more likely to have used cocaine in the last month.  They are 6.5% more likely to use ecstasy, 13.5 times more likely to use LSD, 2.8% times more to use heroin, and 3.5 times to use meth.

MIRA has published the study online, which you can find here.

 


Featured image by Masao Nagasaki (CC by 2.0)


4 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    Mr. Sanchez, have you been to Austin, Texas? Some of our musicians are Grammy award winners, most are truly gifted talents. Some have done stints on the road with giant music acts. These incredible musicians still play for tips, relying on collections gathered on the passing of the hat. Not much has changed in the income area, we have a few music stars but we have thousands of music artists. All valued and loved but not very well supported monitarily.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      From Emma Little Board Pres. South Austin Museum of Popular Culture
      Mr. Sanchez, have you been to Austin, Texas? Some of our musicians are Grammy award winners, most are truly gifted talents. Some have done stints on the road with giant music acts. These incredible musicians still play for tips, relying on collections gathered on the passing of the hat. Not much has changed in the income area, we have a few music stars but we have thousands of music artists. All valued and loved but not very well supported monitarily.

      Reply

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