Finally, the record industry is crumbling. Selling records is no longer a sound way to make a living. We know this. We've known this for years, since the dawn of Napster in 2000.
This has frightened musicians — and for good reason.
But a new study serves as a reminder that there's more to making money as a musician than record sales alone. Over the past two years, the Washington, DC–based nonprofit Future of Music Coalition (FMC) surveyed more than 5000 musicians about how they make money, and the results are surprisingly promising — showing that new, alternative models may be more sustainable for the musical middle class than the old-school industry ever was.
"I was really pleasantly surprised from the interviews of the number of folks who were making a very comfortable, pleasant living without a major label supporting them — and in some cases, without any label supporting them," says Kristin Thomson, co-director of FMC's Artist Revenue Streams Project. "Some of them are bands who are touring, some are individual composers, some are session players . . . . I was surprised and heartened and a little bit humbled by the number of working folks who are making a career of music."
SURVEY SAYS . . .
The massive "Money from Music" survey conducted by FMC encompassed a diverse range of musicians, including indie rockers, salaried classical players, commercial songwriters, and music teachers. FMC conducted in-person interviews and financial record reviews with artists as well, ultimately establishing a list of 42 different musical revenue streams.
Musicians still make money from likely income sources: touring, live performances, working as salaried players, session music work, teaching, songwriting/composing, recordings, merchandise, licensing.
The big numbers won't totally surprise anyone who lives and breathes music: the largest source of music-related income was live performances, with 28 percent of most musicians' income derived from live performances over the past year. The survey considered "salaried players" separately — and 19 percent of the survey respondents' income came from being a salaried player in an orchestra or ensemble. Together, a total of 46 percent of the survey respondents' music-related income in the past 12 months was derived from live performances.
They also make money from new digital-age sources (downloading sales, streaming-media royalties, YouTube's partnership program, ad revenue from Web site properties, fan funding sites like Kickstarter) and branding gigs (persona licensing, product endorsements, acting, sponsorships, and more) that might not have been available in the past.
The biggest take-away from the study is that musicians today are patching together a livelihood from multiple resources; more than half of those surveyed worked at least three part-time jobs simultaneously in the course of a year. For example, one classical musician might make money from solo gigs, composing music, performing with an orchestra, and teaching lessons. Or someone in an indie-rock band will make money from selling recordings, going on tour, and selling their "brand" through sponsorships.
"There were certainly instances in the past where artists could focus more and be say, just a recording artist and maybe do a handful of shows, but not too many, or be just a composer," says Thomson.