What’s Your Criteria Of Making A Living From Music?

image from www.serviceevaluations.com First, if you're making a living from music or know someone who is, we'd like to hear from you. For the rest, we're curious as to what making a living from music means. Yesterday, we talked about the stat touted by Ian Rogers that fewer than 30,000 artists make a living from music. As expected, lots of readers disagreed. So, in accordance, we'd like to ask you the following:

  • Are you making a living from music? If yes, how so?
  • What are your criteria for making a living from music?
  • Have marketing costs gone down or have they increased?

Please share your thoughts on any of these questions in the comments below. If you're making a living from music or know someone who is, in a unique way, we may interview you and try to gain insight into how you've created a music career.

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  1. Hey Kyle:
    I’m a manager of some known and unknown acts. I have current and former clients who are making a living from music and all doing it outside both the mainstream and blogosphere radars. The caveat is that all are depending on more than just recording and touring to make their livings in music. Some are songwriters, others produce other artists, some are studio musicians and sidemen and others have become talent buyers and show promoters for events at which they themselves perform. All are making what would be considered a middle class living or better.
    I read the Ians’ piece on Digital Music News yesterday and questioned its validity. When Ian Hogarth responded with the criteria he used for his premise, it became clear he was talking only about artists making a “middle class” living as touring acts in traditional venues. That’s much different than making your living from music. That’s making a living from touring Pollstar reporting venues. In that case, 30K sounds right. If you expand the definition to include artists who make their living solely from music–no matter what facet–that number goes up significantly I would think based on my anecdotal evidence.
    Seth Keller
    SKM Artist Management

  2. Hi,
    you can watch our free documentary Rock The Biz, especially the chaper “income” at http://www.rockthe.biz/media/MO/player9.php .
    There are a lot of professional and semi-professional artists and labels giving an insight view about their way and definition of income, like The Whip, Bikini Machine, Audiolith Records, Grand Hotel Van Cleef or Trouble Over Tokio.
    I think there is a nice insight view to look at.
    Marc Weissenberger

  3. Definitely making a living from music here and helping other musicians make a living as well.
    The definition of making a living is as described above: paying your mortgage and living expenses solely from your music.
    We, at Partners In Rhyme Inc., license music to be used film, TV, video games, DVDs, Youtube videos, etc. and our composers are making very good money every month distributing their music catalogs through our websites.
    There are many other sites like ours that are enabling home composers to make a decent living as well and I think all of these musicians would fall under the radar of the criteria used for the 30,000 musicians in the world who are making a living.
    That is just one example.
    If you count street buskers in Europe alone that are making a good living that figure would probably rise by another 25,000.
    Mark Lewis, CEO
    Partners In Rhyme Inc

  4. My roommates and I make livings playing music in NYC. This includes recording, touring, and gigging as freelance musicians. It pays the bills, no complaints (not even from the neighbors when I park on the soft pedal and play piano at 1 in the morning).

  5. i’m making a living as a working musician in southern california, and have been for the past few years. before going full time, i started part-time and also had a day job. as my income from music increased, i worked at my other job less and less until i was able to make the transition..
    i play in several bands, play fill-in gigs, teach music lessons privately, and write, record and sell ambient music. so it’s a pretty big spread in terms of what i’m doing musically.
    on the other side, i also make my own websites and graphics, do my own marketing and advertising, etc. one the one hand, doing everything helps me save $, but on the other hand, pretty much all i do is work. every day is a really long day and there’s constantly different challenges and it feels like there’s always something not getting done.
    i love playing music and that is what makes all the work i put in worth it. if i had to work this much at a job i didn’t totally love, i would be miserable. and i’m far from rich, but i’m paying the bills and there’s a lot of room to keep growing. i try and keep a long term perspective on my career and i try to approach my goals and my growth 1 step at a time. baby steps. just like “what about bob,” which is an amazingly funny movie, but i digress…like right now, the next goal i’m working towards is getting to the point where i can afford to hire someone part time to help with marketing and promotion. so growing 1 step at a huge time is a huge thing for me and makes growth more attainable.
    i also have several musician friends that i talk to on a daily basis. we talk about what we’re trying to get done, and what’s going well and what are challenges are, and we try and encourage each other and give each other support. that’s also been really huge for me because it’s a lot easier to get things done when you have people who care about you to both encourage you and keep you accountable. i mention accountability because when you’re tired, it’s really easy to lay around the house and watch the cosby show instead of sending out emails.
    lastly, i just work my tail off, but not blindly. i’m constantly analyzing what i’m doing and how i’m doing it so i can work smarter. there are only 24 hours every day, and i know i need to make the best of them…
    so those are a few of my thoughts. time to get to work!

  6. Merlyn was dead-on in his definition of making a living. I mean, how hard is that to define? It’s the same as any business, you pay your bills doing your job, whether it is digging ditches, nuclear research, or making music. It’s pretty clear-cut.
    Honestly, I think 30,000 is high. I think it is much fewer artists than that who make their living solely from the music business. Despite all the technological advances that have supposedly opened up new avenues for artists, the actual perceived value of the music by the public has gone down.
    People are less likely to pay a decent amount for music, and less likely to pay to go see artists play. Is 43 cents really what a song is worth? (That’s about how much you get after all the fees from an iTunes sale.)
    Think about this, in 1950, a 45 single went for $1.00. 60 years later, that same single is now going for $.99. How has that kept up with inflation?

  7. yes…i make a living from music. it took about 20 years or so to get to this point. it definately wasn’t overnight for me. one would think so since i’ve been a multi-platinum songwriter since 1998 but i think i had a few lessons to learn before i got to the point where i am now. imagine having a platinum plaque on your wall…and having to pass by it in the morning when you’re on your way to a 9 to 5. well, that was me a few years ago. im thankful though. i may not have made the kinda money i was supposed to have made off that particular project but that whole experience taught me about the business in ways that’s priceless. now, im able to point other artist in the right direction. i make my living from recording, mixing, songwriting, producing, running an indie label, teaching others about the music business, etc…i make money from mechanical royalties, performance royalties, producing fees, and running our recording studio.
    i stuck with my art when there seemed to be all kinds of obstacles in my path and then one day i realized that I was the only real obstacle. i had to let go of pride, ego, insecurity, doubt and fear (sounds so cliche) to get here. i had to strengthen my patience and stay focused. these are all intangible things but they have a tremendous effect on the physical side of life. also, an important thing to remember is music is subjective. to me there’s no such thing as a “hit record”. usually, that means that “the machine” has put some big promotion cash into a song. i do think music can be “timeless” though. if indie artist had promotion cash like the corporations, they would be able to reach just as many listeners. it’s really a numbers game. the more people who hear your record, the more sales you make. simple as that.
    i guess im saying all this to say…it’s definately possible to make a living from music! especially now, with the internet leveling the playing field for indie artist. all you have to do is keep going and keep following your passion and you will be guided to the exact experience/person/place/thing you need in order to reach the destination of making a living from music.

  8. @Seth
    re the Digital Music News article, there’s responses by both Ian Rogers and Hogarth below, and yes Hogarth I think declines to really offer his methodology. If anything I think there’s more need for this sort of study, and HOgarth is preparing a release with updated data apparently.

  9. Am I making a living from music? Currently – yes. This is the third or fourth “season” of my life that I’m working exclusively in music. Interestingly, the music side of my career path has become more stable than the various “day jobs” I’ve held since ’04. Notice I said “stable” not “lucrative.”
    As other work has fallen apart in this economy, I’ve been fortunate enough to patch together chunks of music related endeavors. I gig 2-4 times a week locally, and off and on I’ve been involved with a local software developer writing/recording music for their music-based video game. The songwriting paid the bills thru last winter, and now they’ve added me to their office staff to help weed thru some music licensing issues with major label publishers. I’m not getting rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I suppose if I were a single 20-something I might be making headway financially. (Then again, the 20-something kid I used to be might not have the expertise to handle the different hats I’ve got to wear to get by now…)
    I also receive some quarterly royalty cash from some licensing deals. Tyra Banks keeps using a tune I co-wrote for ANTM, and some material that’s been placed on MTV reality shows continues to surface a couple of times a year.
    My humble studio gets the odd session every couple of months when I’m not writing in it. It’s usually not a ton of cash, I’m mostly being compensated for creativity. Since everyone has access to decent quality recording gear, there’s no market left in studios (hence the reason why I very seldom re-invest earnings into studio technology.)
    My criteria for making money from music is just that – GET PAID. While I used to have high ideals about how music was used and the quality of the work, I learned from close exposure to artists and producers that were making serious cash that it’s not important. Art that doesn’t monetize doesn’t get the opportunity to reproduce. If you can keep the cash flowing, you live to fight another day. In this “digital era” you have to be willing to consider every idea that can turn into a check.

  10. I’ve made a living playing since 1980. A niche called ‘Modern Dance Accompaniment’ has been my primary source. Composing, playing as a sideman and over the last few years, arranging and recording have all augmented. I’m a multi-instrumentalist, and my composition is not conventional, and I both things to be a mixed blessing. Some wouldn’t call it a ‘living’, for example I don’t expect a regular two weeks at the beach every summer/winter.

  11. The cost of producing a song has gone way down, and the number of songs has increased exponentially. Likewise with the number of mediums.

  12. Well – let`s not forget there are all types of musicians out there. Some love performing at venues, some at studios, some just love to write a song and have others perform such for a split of revs. Nothing wrong with any of those. But one aspect or segment of musicians cannot wisely dictate how others should spend their creative time in order to generate rev and make a living out of it. It would have to take a concerted effort, taking into consideration ALL musicians. Period! There`s always strength in numbers. Let`s all learn to consider ourselves in totality firt and foremost. I for one likes to write songs and let fellow artists who enjoy performing do what they do to my compositions what they do best: Perform!

  13. At present, I work full time at a music store, perform out, and engineer my home studio for my income. I also think teaching is a great way to make additional income as a musician.
    I am currently putting into play: income from licensing, managing, digital distribution, and merchandising
    This would be a great idea for any community:
    Daniel W. Hill

  14. I agree with the definition above…paying your bills through music making and related endeavors.
    I fit that criteria. I make about 60% of my income playing weddings with my band, The Jason Parker Quartet. I make another 20% teaching classes and workshops to kids through two organizations in Seattle, the Experience Music Project and the Right Brain Center for the Arts. I make another 10% gigging in the clubs and the last 10% selling my music, both on-line and at shows.
    I have been fortunate enough to make a living through music for the last 10 years and hope to continue!
    I also blog about my life as a working musician. You can read more at http://oneworkingmusician.com.

  15. Performing a solo act along the Central California Coast for the past 24 years I have spent the last 21 full time in music. It is a commitment that you have to make to live it. Currently I have been blessed to have a corporate client who values my performance and utilizes my services frequently. Yes, I could still make a living in music without my client, but I would have to work so much harder, especialy when closing in on the big 60. http://www.bubbaramey.com
    It is so sad that musicians are treated with such little respect. There is so much free music with more new bands then ever before willing to play just for exposure that the venue owners don’t have to respect you either. I don’t knock the bands. Been there to get here. The venue owners are having a feast off our backs.
    It is even sadder that our government, who gladly takes our money in taxes, does not give us the representation we deserve. Isn’t that illegal? Taxation Without Representation. What is the problem with protecting our rights? Are we just tools for the emotional maintenance of society? What is our actual worth to society? I have to pay others in this life for what I need, yet we don’t deserve to be compensated for what the world cannot do without.
    If only the world could experience 24 hours of no music. Just conversation, monotone, not a melody or rhythm to be found. I belive those who survive the carnage and insanity would have a healty respect for musicians.
    Sorry for the tangent…just needed to vent!

  16. Thank you all so much for sharing!
    I’m wondering what some of your thoughts are on raising a family as well–essentially making a living for more others as well as yourself

  17. I’m a composer, orchestral arranger, and educator. My income is 100% from music. The breakdown is roughly 20% commissions/royalties/reuse of existing works, 45% arranging (including scripting and producing educational programs), 5% self-publishing, 20% presenting reviews and features on music for national radio, and 10% teaching of music. My wife is also a professional music, whose income derives solely from music-based activities. She plays for a professional orchestra, also does reviews for national radio, and works a few hours a week doing PR for her orchestra.
    For me, “making a living from music” means using talents, interests, and connections to build a career from various opportunities that aggregate over a lifetime in the field. There’s not a lot of money involved in music – if you average the lifetime income of a chart-topping musician, it often ends up being below the median income. So musicians making steady money in a modest way often achieve the same lifetime monetary success as famous musicians. It’s the emphasis on the ephemeris of big bucks and unlimited success that skew our expectations, and cheat us from seeing that the real rewards of this field are not monetary, but life-fulfilling.
    It’s so much easier now to promote yourself – even traditional institutions like orchestras have Facebook and Myspace pages, and upload performances to YouTube. Everything is changing, but the ability for a musician to stay professional is increasing, not decreasing.

  18. Hello. I have been living the dream of getting by financially doing only music since I was 15, and since then I’ve never had a non-music related job. The first phase of my music career was forming a band, writing and recording some songs, putting out our own records, playing gigs and selling those records to make money. Fortunately we had enough of a fan base to make this a steady income stream for 7 – 8 years, all without the help of a label so we got to keep all the money ourselves. After that band broke up I had to diversify my skills for the second phase of my career. I opened a recording studio, produced a ton of albums, did live sound at clubs, took a regular gig as a music director at a church, in addition to playing as many gigs as I could, mostly cover band type gigs. That kept me alive for 10 – 12 years. Thankfully there are still (small) royalty checks that come in from albums I produced during this phase. For the third phase, the one I’m in right now, I discovered dueling piano shows and I’ve been making my bread and butter from that the last 10 years, supplemented by occasionally filling in for missing band members, and selling albums of original music on the side. I see lot’s of people are licensing their music and that’s something I really want to get into but I haven’t put the effort into it yet. I have piles and piles of recorded material I need to do something with.
    @Sekayi you mentioned family, I’ve been the main bread-winner for my family (me, my wife, 2 kids) but it has been supplemented off an on by my wife working as well. The music biz for me has been a lot more stable than my friends jobs with corporate America which tend to come and go at the drop of a hat. Right now we are living just off of my income and we are traveling the country in our RV hitting up gigs for a while in an area and then moving on, as well as keeping the mortgage paid on a house in Seattle. I wrote a blog post that details all the stuff I’ve done to keep food on the table the last 30 years http://roamingroyalty.com/how-do-you-make-a-living-as-a-musician/ and it mainly consists of constantly asking for a gig. It’s pretty much that simple. There are paying gigs everywhere you just have to be persistent and keep asking for a gig. As time wears on and you get to know more people this becomes easier, people start to call you rather than you having to make calls all the time, but there are lean times where you just have to pick up the phone or get in front of the computer and start asking for the gig.

  19. Congratulations to all of you who have made a living in the music business! I’ll be speaking on behalf of the majority of us who haven’t attained that yet. After being downsized a couple of times from part-time jobs (taken to support my songwriting habit), I’m finally in a position to be a full-time songwriter. Although I’ve made money from wedding and singer/songwriter gigs, studio work, and licensing songs to independent artists and photographers (for personal slideshows), my primary focus is songwriting and making money through placements with artists, movies, & television. After getting kids through college and nearly paying off our house, I’m finally in the position to work full-time at songwriting and everything that goes along with that (marketing, networking in Nashville, etc.). My husband (and tax preparer) will attest to the fact that I’m not currently financially independent. However, unless I absolutely have to return to a corporate job, I’m going to continue this journey which has been fulfilling, in spite of lacking the indicators of commercial success. It just takes one good cut…
    Donna Opfer http://www.broadjam.com/donnaopfer

  20. Donna, congratulations on this development. I wish you luck.
    I am about to return to recording after a several year hiatus. I have a major birthday coming up in a few months, and I feel it is time for a major push.
    I will be in touch when I have something to listen to.
    PS Have you noticed how many places we have run into each other?

  21. Wow. I’m hoping to be a full time musician soon and a lot of the comments on this article are really inspiring. I just started recording with an awesome producer in NYC who makes a living of a mix of music-related stuff, but mostly through offering his services as a producer, licensing his music and selling his tracks on iTunes and other similar sites. It’s definitely possible to make a middle class living and I’m hoping to get there sooner than later. So far I put my first song on iTunes, etc. (via Tunecore) and it’s doing pretty good. Actually, my producer developed an awesome strategy for increasing sales of digital downloads. Super easy stuff that’s free and doesn’t take a lot of time. His method is helping me get new fans and make some money to fund my next projects. For anyone whose music is for sale online I’d recommend it http://www.sellingmusiciseasy.com.
    Jackie Scott
    Independent pop recording artist and songwriter

  22. It’s inspiring to read all the stories the various musicians have shared here on how we make a living from music. For me, making a living would be “to obtain an income level that is sufficient enough to sustain the cost of living, based on your current lifestyle, and have surplus to allow improvement of life quality for the future (said surplus to amount approx. 10% of total income).
    My income from music comes from working as an assistant engineer in a studio that makes music for television commercials, receiving commissioned work (also for TVC but on my own name), and gigs in wedding bands (they are quite high paying gigs, after all). A recent lovely surprise came last month (November 2010) when all these income sources combined allowed me to reach an income that is on par with the income of a university friend of mine who works at a mining company on the island of Borneo (in fact, I think I make more, based on his sharing his income two years ago). You might think this is not big, but remember: I get to make the same amount of income, but by doing something I love (I wouldn’t consider mining rocks something I love, but I suppose some people would).

  23. That 30k figure refers only to touring musicians in the continental US; specifically, it’s the estimated number of bands that can draw well in thousand-seat theaters or larger.There are of course other means of making a living, if you’re the right sort of musician; anecdotally, I know of a piano bar musician/singer who pulls down better than $50k/yr working four evenings a week and a self-contained, self-employed production music specialist who earns north of $100k/yr, which leads me to believe that touring may not be the best way for a musician to make a living. However, it’s probably still the best way to earn a following.

  24. I am a full time Independant Artist. I am not able to support my family on the money I make in music. I have other creative ways that assit with basic financial needs. I preform atleast twice a week and co-write/sing hooks ect. I also help edit photographs for flat fee. I inspire to make enough income from my singing/writing/editing talents to live nicely. Not Rich, just a steady, cash flow that meets all my familys needs. Best Wishes to all my indie artist struggling through the same trials. Remember drive is from the heart not the bank & dedication is the key to successful dreams! 1luva♥

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