We recently came across three articles aiming to put into perspective how musicians can earn a living through music. Unsuprisingly, there are differing opinions about whether some of the activities listed are valid or preferable ways to make money (don’t worry — holding up a liquor store is not one of them).
It’s worth noting that most of the blog posts we see about this kind of stuff presume that the artist is a performer. Naturally, we care about songwriters and composers, as well. That’s why we’re currently investigating how they — as well as performing and recording artists — are earning a living. We’re doing it through our recently launched Artist Revenue Streams (ARS) project —
This post at Music Think Tank is called “Want to Make $50,000 a Year in Music? Start with One Dollar a Day.” It basically says that you can make real money by doing things that many musicians think to be unglamorous, like, say, busking.
Every day, grab an acoustic guitar and head down to the street corner. Start playing songs and singing with the case open to take tips. Don’t stop until you have at least one dollar.
There you go. $365 for the year.
Are you a drummer? Grab some drums and set up shop on that street corner. I’ve seen kids playing with buckets busking for money. There’s no reason a drummer with a minimal drum kit can’t do the same. (Even though we all know drummers are “special”…)
“$365 a year? That sucks!”, you say.
Yep, that does suck. But that’s $365 more a year than you were previously earning. Being in a band over a 6 year period, I’ve lost way more than $365. Busking every day will earn you more than my band that was playing multiple cities in multiple states 3 days a week for 6 years.
It goes on to describe incremental ways that a musician can earn more money, like selling cheaply-produced CDs while busking, for example. There’s also the expected bits about attracting 1,000 dedicated fans and selling exclusive merchandise to them, etc., etc.
A reply of sorts came in the form of this article, How to Actually Make $50,000 a Year as a Musician. It kicks off by saying that telling a musician to busk 365 days a year is really bad career advice, then goes on to list a few more realisitc —if not entirely glamorous — a musician can get by on their craft.
- Get a church job (3 services a week @ $100/service) = $15,600
- Start a teaching studio (12 students @ $50/lesson) = $31,200
- Play background music once a month (@ $250/gig) = $3,000
- Play in a band twice a month (@ $50/gig) = $1,200
That’s $51k a year. That’s how it’s really done.
This Hypebot article takes a similar tack, and is pretty thoughtful in terms of the idea of music as commercial activity and music as art, and whether a forced distinction is neccessary.
The fact of the matter is that being a working musician has always been a hustle. Nowadays, there are more tools at artists’ disposal, and some new ways to earn revenue, but there are plenty of questions about how — or if — it all adds up. Back in 2009, we published an article called “The 29 Streams,” where we identified that many ways that musicians can be compensated.