Will Music Be A Hobby in 5-10 Years?

image from praisehouston.com “Can you put food on the table with music? Probably not. I see music as a really great hobby for most people in five or 10 years.

I see everybody I know, some of them really important artists, studying how to do other jobs.”John McCrea, Cake, NPR.

Note the messenger, but please share your thoughts below.

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  1. I find it interesting that all of this kind of talk comes from the major labels and major label artists, or at least the artists that are in the top 1% of money makers. It’s clear that their income has been and will continue to be severely cut from the “glory days”.
    But there’s an entire “musical middle class” that is not only putting food on the table, but thriving in this new climate.
    Rather than echoing the sentiments of the big fish over and over and over, how about covering some of us little guys who are making it happen and living the dream? The music industry may be dying but the MUSIC is alive and well.
    Jason Parker

  2. Well said Jason. Out with the old, and just because we don’t know what the new is yet that’s no reason to be negative about it. Let’s Resnais it so it works for the artist now.

  3. Jason hits the nail on the head. Not only IS there a musical middle-class, there has ALWAYS been one. a healthy one at that.
    An industry that has proven itself to be no more than a greedy middle-man is the only thing being left behind. As a working pro musician (that you’ve likely not heard of) I view that as a huge net gain.
    The intrinsic value of music is unchanged and things have never looked better for musicians, both professional and hobbyists alike.
    The “Middle-man” industry is the one that will be studied by future archaeologists.

  4. I agree 100%. I am looking at just the local scene here in FL and in Charleston, SC where I used to live, and there are alot of musicians, me included, that make a living off of music and the scene. The big, bad wolf, or the music “industry” makes it seem like if they are not able to afford their limos and big houses anymore, somehow that means the musicians they have made money off of are now “hobbyists”. I think that is not only rude, but a crock of BS. I say let the giant fall on it’s face and give that middle class the chance to be heard!
    Andre From Idlewood
    Please “LIKE” my page and support local/indie music!

  5. I really think it varies from musician to musician and place to place. In smaller cities and towns I see that the live music scenes for indies (unsigned) are pretty decent. They can actually get pretty good turn outs and make some dough from entrance fees because there isn’t much else to do and word spreads fast. In NYC (where I live) you’re either playing for for no one or for free because there is so much competition, a lot less place have live music anymore (noise pollution laws), and too many open mic nights.
    We used to live in a world where there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, that if you struggled as an artist there was a chance it would pay off, but now it seems like there will only ever be a struggle and that’s just unrealistic to survive by now.
    Free album download at http://www.facebook.com/chancius

  6. it’s a global thing, i see this happening everywhere, the big bad wolf is crashing down as the people coming up watch the show

  7. The percentage of musicians in Colorado making it full-time on music is pretty small. A few have done it. I’ve worked with some of them. I know their numbers, and I know it is possible. But it often involves gigging about 200 times a year, playing shows with guarantees, and actually selling music rather than just giving it away.
    But even among the buzz bands getting lots of attention in Colorado, most have day jobs and will always have day jobs. And most of those day jobs aren’t music-related day jobs. They are bartenders, or graphic designers, or nannies, or something else that actually pays money.
    I think it is very honest to say that music will be a low-income generating activity for almost all who pursue it. About six years ago I was creating a MySpace page for a television series that was about local music scenes. I hand-friended Colorado musicians/bands (rather than using an automated friend adder). I started at the top of the list by number of friends each had. I quit after I hit 6000 musicians/bands in Colorado. I hadn’t gotten to the bottom of the list yet, but by that time my eyes were glazing over with the number of punk bands displaying blood and skulls on their MySpace pages.
    So when you have more than 6000 bands/artists in a small state, obviously most of them not make money full-time from music.

  8. For those of you who are making a living at music, how much are you making, and from what sources? And what are you spending in living expenses? If, for example, you are living with a spouse, with parents, or with a significant other, and they are actually covering the rent/mortgage, that significantly changes how much you need to make.
    Are you paying for health insurance? And if you are, are you paying just for yourself, or for a whole family?
    I’m curious what people mean when they say they are making a living in music.

  9. I think everything will boil down to whether the public decides to carry on buying digital downloads off independent artists directly.
    We’re repeatedly told that no-one wants to pay for music anymore, or just to stream it (hence no longer needing to buy). However, I keep hearing people say they do want to buy music directly if the artist is truly independent.
    If increasing numbers of people agree, then there’s a very good chance of the musicians whose music is reasonably popular making a reasonable living.

  10. I make my living Teaching, Performing, recording, selling recordings,consulting and freelancing.
    I have made my mortgage payment and support my family of 5. My wife and I both work (and I actually make more money as a self-employed Jazz guitarist than my wife in her full-time union job) We have Health insurance for our family via her benefits package.
    It’s a good deal of work but far from impossible to make a nice living as a musician.
    I hope this helps.

  11. Facts:
    1) The great majority of independent artist make very little or no money in the their entire careers.
    2) If you do something for out of enjoyment and that activity does not generate profit its considered a hobby.
    3) The definition of making a living for some is not for others, if you are making a living by scrapping by,and you are on some kind of government assistance or live with other people that cover most of your bills, your are NOT making a living.
    4) The money being generated by music today, with all of our technical tools, is still far less that it was just 5 years ago, when they didn’t exist.

  12. The thing is, it only shows numbers in regards to album sells, it doesnt show us what number is “selling music” on the “total incoming list” …since lots of the money comes these day out of showa, publishing, marchandize etc…

  13. I can’t tell you what I make annually – just don’t think that would be smart – but I can tell you this…
    It’s taken me 6 years to get back to what I was making in 2002-2003 as a full-time on call musician/audio-engineer for a company whose annual budget ran about $12 million a year. But in 2010 I transitioned back to full time music.
    I have a wife and four children, I live in a second-ring suburb of a top-20 market in the US. My income makes up 75% of our total household income. I have a child in an expensive private college who’s done a great job landing scholarships. I pay for health insurance for my family. I think we’re fairly average, even though we live a little leaner than many of our neighbors.
    I’ve managed to piece together a living from a number of sources: live shows, licensing, and work in my studio. I play 3-5 times a week, I have a job writing and selecting music for a software developer, and I’ve got a number of songs tied up in television licensing.
    The biggest mistake most musicians make is putting all of their eggs in one basket. You can’t make money doing one thing, you have to have your hands in several endeavors and be patient. Oh yeah – leave your ego at the door, I have a friend whose cover/tribute-band is making $15k – $22k PER SHOW this year, and they’re turning down shows… but that financial resource can finance your “original project” quite nicely.

  14. this headline should read “Will Major Record Labels Be A Hobby in 5-10 Months?”
    I laugh at McCrea, clearly egos are taking a beating. Boo hoo, stars and their star machine are going to have to work a little. (I’ve had my share of experiences with record labels – from what I’ve seen I’m surprised they’ve managed to keep the lights on as long as they have…)
    The model is changing, but I’m coming into contact every week with increasing numbers of artists that are not only surviving – they’re expanding their operations. You just have to be resourceful, curious, diversified, and open to opportunities. And oh yeah – you’re gonna have to live within your means… The boat floats if you don’t overload it.

  15. Music consumer here:
    A lot of the handwringing I hear in writings like Suzanne’s response above seem to focus on average-quality pop/rock/punk/hiphop bands. I have a suspicion that there are way too many of those (supply/demand) at a time when interest has turned waned. Rock music was the voice of a generation or two, but we in those generations are fading out. Suzanne mentions punk bands: Punk was a popular, profitable genre for a very limited time. I’d speculate that local bluegrass and folk musicians do better financially than local punk bands.
    I remember some friends who were in punk bands around 1980. None of them made any significant money at it, even though they played locally to some notoriety.
    Find the MP3 blogs which unearth forgotten rock albums from the 1960s and 1970s. Hundreds and hundreds of forgotten rock albums. It’s unlikely the artists who recorded those albums — and they were good enough for someone to record them — made a living at music for very long.
    I speculate a lot of the future is going to be in grants, in musical genres which are considered grant-worthy by the people with purse strings. Think of research scientists: a large number of them work for universities and depend on rustling grants to keep their departments afloat. Nations more advanced than the USA have significant grant projects for local folk and ethnic musics, and for classical music.
    Teaching is also going to be a big part of income for musicians (I know some freelance music teachers) — this implies that one should focus on styles where a bit of polish can be applied, and for which there are students demanding lessons.
    Summarizing this another way: an era where musicians could say “I want to make MY art MY way, and I deserve an audience” is winding down. Before the rock boom, most musicians had to tailor their work to what was currently in demand — this applied to the great classical musicians (Haydn was a servant in a royal house), the Tin Pan Alley era, the jazzers. If you were going to break the mold, you’d better be an instant hit (Louis Armstrong) or you’re going to end up living in box cars (Harry Partch).

  16. On how fast musical economy can turn, this is from PBS.org’s site about Ken Burns’ jazz show:
    “Ballrooms — where jazz orchestras once reigned — began to close all across the country as Americans turned in ever-growing numbers to television for their entertainment. In February 1950, Down Beat presented Duke Ellington with a special award simply for still being in business. By then, every one of the big bands that had appeared in the 1949 readers’ poll had left the road but his…”
    (and that was television with just three channels… what does the 150-channel era mean for music?)

  17. Was “John McCrea and the Roughousers” making cash hand over fist or something?
    This dude is also 46 years old, so it’s not a shock that most of the people he knows are giving up the ghost.

  18. That article has him mentioning being on airplanes more than once. How’s about toughing it out in a van? You can save more bread that way, Cake!

  19. So I clicked through the NPR link to read Joel McCrea of Cake being all down about the future of the industry, and at the bottom of that article is this link about a musician whose career seems to be going great:
    (Janine) “Jansen made a big splash in 2005, when her recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons became one of the best-selling albums on iTunes. Since that time, her career has only grown…”
    “Jansen plays about 140 concerts a year, but she makes sure there’s plenty of room for more intimate music-making. She’s artistic director of an annual chamber-music festival in her hometown of Utrecht…”
    So it doesn’t sound like Janine Jansen is going to be pushed into hobbyist mode anytime soon.

  20. Here’s a book author showing a way forward — even for music recording sales, perhaps?
    Amanda Hocking, who has never been published by a “real” physical-book publisher, is selling 100,000 copies of her young-adult romances every MONTH, on the Kindle platform, for around $3 per book-download, of which she gets to keep 70%.
    People will say that the Kindle platform is piracy-protected: it is somewhat, but there is still book piracy going on out there. But at $3 a novel, Ms. Hocking’s books have become too cheap to pirate.
    And she has connected with a group of fans and is making about a half-million a year.
    A fluke? The novelr.com article lists 25 other indie authors selling 2500 copies per month or more.
    This scene has just gotten started in the last year. This is potentially ginormous.
    This is what Bob Lefsetz has been saying for years: take a tiny tiny payment from every sale and have it blow up into the hundreds of thousands of copies.
    It’s the App Store model.
    But this comes back to the Techdirt motto: it only works if you are Connecting with Fans. And it only works if you can extract yourself from the traditional royalty system and record company overhead.

  21. This post reminds me of that rant by some industry douchebag a few months ago asserting that all independent artists are creating is crap that clogs up the marketplace for his proteges on his label, the genre of which my thoughts about it should not be put into print.
    As a former professional instrumentalist, I have a living memory of being able to support a reasonable-sized family at a decent standard of living as a freelance musician in the second largest city in southern California. Unfortunately the pay scale for those jobs has not kept pace with the ever increasing cost of living while the number of available jobs has decreased, making that no longer viable except under exceptional conditions. Now I live in the first largest city in SoCal and am doing original music, which is a major game changer.
    If I still wanted to do the stuff that traditionally is financially compensated, I am sufficiently qualified to, and could quit my day job. However, my husband/music partner and I are committed to our original project, and while the startup curve has been precipitous and impoverished, and I still have a day job at this point, even here in L.A. (one of the most jaded, over-saturated music listening populations on earth), where for the past year that we have been working hard to gain a foothold, people have consistently shown their willingness to pay a price that is 2 to 4x the standard market price for our CDs (i.e., “hard copy” music – not digital downloads), which indicates to me that there are still a lot of people willing to part with negotiable currency for something they consider to be of high quality.
    Nevertheless, if one wants a sustainable, humanly worthwhile standard of living and developed country niceties like health insurance, a well-maintained vehicle, etc., that seems to require diverse, independent streams of income. Oh, and our overhead is probably fairly modest compared to other two-adult households in this part of the world.

  22. I almost resisted the temptation to comment – to yet another morsel of “bait”. The word “hobbyist” has been banded around quite a bit recently to denote and demote the output of the vast majority of people who are making music.
    This large demographic group has always been there. It is not something the ‘Internet invented’.
    5-10 years? It has always been the case that most musicians did not make a living out of music. A big chunk of the music business has been about selling the mythology to off-load music equipment and publishing. The ‘hobby’ market is a huge well-established and well-oiled machine. With Digital Music it now includes computer equipment, software and web services.
    These hobbyists referred to themselves as ‘working-musician’, ‘semi-pro’ or even ‘indie-arist’. Whatever tag you use I doubt that anything will change, 5-100 years, regardless of talent or technology. To make a living most either diversify ( the point has already been made ) – take a paying day job or are supported by long-suffering partners.
    The “big plus” is out there – on sites like Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Reverbnation – the ‘Beautiful Noise’ – more great music than your ears can handle.

  23. Here are the ways most non-famous full-time musicians make a living:
    1. Playing in multiple bands so that they gig as much as five times a week. And playing those gigs in bands where they are paid at least $75-$100 per gig rather than having to split beer money five ways.
    2. Playing at weddings and other gigs that come with a guaranteed $1000 – $3000 per gig.
    3. Teaching music, as much as 20 -40 kids a week.
    4. Church music director.
    5. Being in a cover band.
    6. Playing on cruises or in dinner theaters.
    7. Playing in a house band or being the solo piano player at a bar. But these gigs are much harder to come by than in the past.
    The problem with all of the above is that the musicians who do it tend not to get a lot of respect, either from the music reviewers or from other musicians. Being a wedding musician tends not to be something musicians proudly announce. It’s not considered very prestigious. The non-famous musicians I know who are making the most money are viewed rather condescendingly by local music critics and by up-and-coming musicians who think that kind of thing is akin to selling your music soul to make a buck.
    But playing original music that the bloggers love tends to be the least lucrative kind of music you can do.
    The advantage of having a day job that pays the bills is that you can do the music you love without regard to whether it pays the bills. That can be very creative.

  24. This is where the rubber meets the road for me, Suzanne.
    Your list of how many musicians make a living is a good one. I’ve done all those things except 4 and 6 in my career. And I’ve never felt bad about ANY of them. Right now I make about 75% of my income from playing weddings and I LOVE my job. Here’s why:
    1. I play weddings with my own working band of 3 years, and we play them on our terms.
    2. This means that I get to play with people I love and respect and have a great time with.
    3. We get paid a very good sum for our services.
    4. We get to celebrate with people on one of the happiest days of the year.
    5. We get to play in amazing, beautiful, cool venues.
    6. All this happens about 35 days out of the year. This means that I make 75% of my income on 10% of the days of each year.
    7. This leaves 90% of my time free to play my own music, write, record, tour, and play shows that don’t pay as well without worrying so much about them.
    Frankly, I couldn’t care less what anyone thinks about the way I make a living except me and my family. Granted, I’m 43, so I’m long passed caring about appearances. I’m much more concerned with creating a lifestyle I appreciate, playing beautiful music with people I love and respect, and enjoying the time that my lifestyle affords with my family and friends.
    I’ve never understood musicians who look down on other musicians for the kind of work they take. Is it any different than working at Starbucks or tending bar or being a stockbroker? The only difference I see is that I get to play music full-time and enjoy myself. Most of the musicians I know with dayjobs complain about those dayjobs constantly.
    And to answer your previous question: I’m married, my wife is also an artist, we pay all our bills, pay for our own health insurance, and take as many vacations a year as we want!
    As for the % of bands making a living being small, it’s always been that way! I’m not sure when this golden age of every musician making a comfortable living that people talk about happened…it’s always been a struggle and it will always be a struggle for 99% of working artists. Those of us who roll with the changes and are proactive in finding what works for US are the ones making a living, as it’s always been.

  25. Chris…
    I’ll agree that your first two points are facts. I have to disagree with the second two.
    As for #3, the first half is right…making a living means different things for different people. Scraping by is part of the process and always has been. Making a living as an artist takes sacrifices, like those you mentioned. But one hopes that these sacrifices are short term and that in the long term what you’ve given up on the front-end will come back to you on the back-end. I scraped by for 6 years before hitting a point where I’m more comfortable. It’s part of the process. Don’t put it down because it’s not how YOU want to live.
    As for #4, it may be technically true, but it only paints a part of the picture. The BIGGEST dropoff in music sales in the last 10 years has been catalog sales. We’ve all seen the charts where there’s a huge spike in music buying when CDs came into existence. This was not some magical time when everyone started to buy new music in quantities that had never been seen before. This was predominantly people buying music they already owned, replacing their LPs and cassettes with CDs. Now we’ve all replaced our old music. We own everything, and we share it on the internet. This is why the majors are dying. It’s not because people are buying less NEW music, it’s because people are buying less OLD music. The majors always made exponentially more on catalog sales than new music.
    I’m generating more income now that I have ever. I sell more downloads and CDs now AND I OFFER THEM ON A PAY-WHAT-YOU-WANT BASIS. I’m not saying this beacause I think I’m special or that my music is better than anyone else’s. I’m saying because I’ve figure out a way to connect with my audience and in turn that audience wants to support me.
    That’s why in my mind there’s never been a better time to be an indie artist. It just takes some hard work (as it always has) and an entrepreneurial spirit (as it always has).
    Those purporting doom-and-gloom are just stuck in the old way of doing things. There’s a whole new world out there!

  26. “Music as a great hobby for MOST people”? That sounds somewhat condescending to me. Who says music should be pro anyway? Outside the Western world most people are into some kind of music (just as we used to be before WW2 when many houses had a piano). And as Projectswebhop says, music was never more than a hobby for MOST people anyway. But let’s not forget Cake sold 44,000 albums in a week. If you can’t live on that level of support you either need to make more albums or get your lawyer to renegotiate your contract. I know the record industry got used to multi-platinum but that was never about feeding the artists on their roster.

  27. No trophy, no flowers, no flashbulbs, no wine,
    he’s haunted by something he cannot define.
    Bowel-shaking earthquakes of doubt and remorse,
    assail him, impale him with monster-truck force.
    In his mind, he’s still driving, still making the grade.
    She’s hoping in time that her memories will fade.
    Cause he’s racing and pacing and plotting the course,
    he’s fighting and biting and riding on his horse.
    The sun has gone down and the moon has come up,
    and long ago somebody left with the cup.
    But he’s striving and driving and hugging the turns.
    and thinking of someone for whom he still burns.
    The Distance – Cake

  28. What bothers me about the emphasis on how new opportunities in music are somehow tied to the end of the major label system is that the way most working musicians make their money is the same way they have always made their money. They play weddings. They give lessons. They direct church music programs. Most musicians have never been signed to a major label, so their lives and their ways to make a living in music haven’t changed all that much.

  29. I don’t think that new opportunities in music are tied to the end of the major label system. I think the end of the major label system is tied to new opportunities in music. What killed the major labels is greed, plain and simple. What that’s led to is a more level playing field as far as distribution is concerned. How could that be a bad thing???
    And while I agree with you that the way lots of musicians make a living hasn’t changed that much, our ability to find, connect with and ultimately sell music to new fans has changed dramatically. It’s not the demise of the majors that did that, it’s the internet. It’s a game-changer as far as potential new revenue is concerned.
    You’ve worked with countless bands over the years, Suzanne, haven’t you tried to use every available avenue to help them succeed? That’s all any of us are trying to do.

  30. The fact that people aren’t buying CDs as much as they used to has hurt musicians that I know. One, for example, routinely sold at least 3000 CDs per year at shows, and also did a good business through CD Baby. I don’t think digital sales have made up for what she has likely lost through physical sales (I don’t know her current numbers, but I know what she used to sell at shows). People who don’t have the past to compare to may think they are doing great with sales these days, or those who used to be on a label and are now selling direct-to-fans may be happy because they are keeping a higher percentage of the sale.
    But I’ll bet that those who have been selling CDs and before then, tapes, directly to fans have seen their music sales incomes go down over the last 10-15 years. And I’m not sure current Internet exposure has done much to enhance the gig opportunities for those who have been playing for the last 10-15 years. Those who have played in the local market before were getting exposure via local press, and those who were touring all the time, like jambands, had a fan network that was working with or without the Internet.
    What has been helpful for bands/artists who have been playing for the past 10-20 years has been email. It’s a lot cheaper than sending out postcards.

  31. Artist that deliver great music while building a True Blue Fan base can make a decent living in music.
    In all music, but, especially Indie Music, earning a living depends on how many customers you can attract to you and your products.
    Perfect your music and work on building your fan base each minute of the day.

  32. I write music and record it because I like going it. I long ago realised its mega impossible for unknown artists to make money. Okay gigging is a way of getting exposure, but its alot of work if your doing that to try to make money. I think the best thing is to do it cause you enjoy it and if you break even, then thats great. In 10 years time music will mainly be a hobby for most artists.

  33. Well I buy a lot of music, and it’s all digital anything about 200 a month that’s pounds not dollars. Majority of that is through independents so someone is making money and it just so happens it’s not the big boys. I intend on promoting my music through my label and I will make a living just like those other musicians some of which I know. It can and is being done without a major label so here come the happy times.

  34. Much of your perspective must depend on whether you’re discussing live music or recordings. There has been a recent shift for musicians toward live performance as an income producer for the simple reason that while I can copy and disseminate your recorded music (without paying anything), I cannot do the same to YOU. And so your performance will always be a valuable commodity, until functioning social taboos against music piracy evolve, either spontaneously or through government action.

  35. A lot of bands are figuring out the industry themselves steering clear of the wolves. My only advise is collaborate with musicians and/or passionate music supporters. A lot can be achieved in your area. Everyone loves music, and todays technology is helping out the DIY indie bands big time! Just be nice to everyone, collaborate your efforts and never burn bridges. Karma.
    My band:

  36. I’m a 45 year old who makes a living in music and I have since I was 15. My whole working life I’ve never had any other kind of job, and I’m happy to say that I find the current music climate better than ever.
    Most of my living comes from playing live, I play 5 – 7 seven nights a week, but there is extra income from studio work, song licensing, and some album sales. It’s good to try to diversify your income streams because if one dries up, you have others to keep you afloat.
    I have a family of 4 and I support them comfortably. Since I’m self employed I pay for things like health insurance myself, along with the mortgage, car payments, dental visits, utilities, groceries, car insurance, home insurance, gas, you get the idea.
    Right now we have a home, but my family lives with me on the road in an RV. It cut our expenses down to downsize from our house and we love the lifestyle, but I realize it might not be for everyone. Having the flexibility to travel and go to places where there is higher paying work has meant a boost in my income.
    The thing that has allowed me to keep at it for this long is relationships. Build good relationships with everyone you can in the music industry. When you get any kind of gig, be on time, be polite and do the best gig you can give, every time no matter what, and your phone will continue to ring with more gigs. Some of the people who you’ve built relationships with over the years will move on to better things in the music industry and when they need something, they’ll call you because you do a good job and you’re cool to work with.
    Build relationships with the people that come to see you or buy your music. They’re the one’s who ultimately decide whether or not you’re going make money.
    Be open-minded and versatile. Playing “Brown Eyed Girl” at a wedding may not be the high point of your musical career but it can put $500 in your pocket for a couple hours work. Be ready for as many situations as you can.
    That’s what has worked for me.
    I’d really love to see more features on who is doing well right now as opposed to all the doom and gloom.

  37. Rather than echoing the sentiments of the big fish over and over and over, how about covering some of us little guys who are making it happen and living the dream? The music industry may be dying but the MUSIC is alive and well.

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