How Much Do Musicians Get Paid?

Now that ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Money for nothin’ get your chicks for free

Dire Straits

While it may seem to some that musicians “ain’t workin’,” those of us in the trenches know too well just how hard the work is. And there are times when we wonder if we’re being paid what we’re really worth. (I’ve wondered that in the middle of a gig!) We have our own idea as to what we’re worth, but it’s the market that determine’s our value. It makes sense, then, to find out if what we’re earning is in line with what other musicians across the country make.

As far as musicians’ salaries go, the range is wide: reports it as between $14,000 and $168,000 per year, with the 2010 median hourly rate of just over $22. Average hourly figures were slightly better at $30.43. It may be disheartening to look at the average, but you must remember that musicians playing non-salaried jobs (club dates) are figured in right along with whatever John Williams and Gustavo Dudamel earn.

Below is a salary range chart compiled from data published by Berklee University.

Cruise ship musician $65/day
Orchestra musician $28,000 to $115,000/year
Broadway musician $1,000/week for duration of show
Club dates (NY and Boston) $75 – $125/musician. In 2010, union scale in Atlanta was $120/musician for a 4-hour show, with additional pay for doubling on another instrument.
Church organist/pianist $100/service; $70,000/year for full-time, salaried music directors
Conductor, symphony orchestra $15,000 to $275,000/year
Jingle composer $300 – $20,000/commerical
Film score composer $2,000 to $500,000/film
Piano tuner $95/hour
Piano teacher $20 to $100/lesson; $28,000 to $42,000/year; more, depending on the demand for a particular teacher
Music dealer, sales $13,000 to $50,000
Session musician Varies – hourly rates set by the American Federation of Musicians (AMF); rates generally depend on location.

The cruise ship figure came from a great post by David J. Hahn, who notes that what you earn as a cruise ship musician almost doesn’t matter, as there will always be folks who want to travel, eat, and sleep, and play music while saving money.

As with any salary comparison chart, use this information as a guide. For example, a piano teacher with no experience cannot expect to command the same rate as someone else with a doctorate, a steady performance schedule, and 20 years experience. Nor should you undercharge, as I learned when I started a business a few years ago. No one takes you seriously if you aren’t charging at least what your competitors are. The bottom line is this: do your homework before you discuss compensation.

And, just in case you’re wondering, here’s a look at how some of the folks at the top of the food chain are roughing it:

Elton John $80 million
Bruce Springsteen $70 million
Paul McCartney $58 million
Justin Bieber $55 million
Lady Gaga $52 million
Jay-Z $38 million
Adele $35 million
Kanye West $35 million
Mariah Carey $18 million

A Musician’s Guide To Goal-Setting


The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Lao Tzu

It’s important to write things down that you don’t want to forget. Consider that the single step in your journey.

Consider all of the to-do lists you write and the calendars on which you scribble appointments. Perhaps you are one of those organized people who carries a planner with all of that information in one place. Or maybe you prefer to keep your notes and appointments in other, more handy locations: on hands, napkins, backs of envelopes, and bits of paper.

Whatever strategy works best for you, I strongly advise taking some time to write down something very important: your goals as an artist.

The reason we need to do this is because it’s so easy to come up with a goal, fix it firmly in our minds, then lose sight of it a few months later. We then wonder how we got so off course, when only a short time ago the goal was the most important thing to us. The answer, of course, is that life happened to us in the meantime, and we didn’t write down what we wanted to achieve.

Fortunately, this is an easy problem to fix. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Get something substantial to write on. Use a notebook or diary. (Napkins won’t do here; you’re going for permanence.)
  2. List all the things you want to accomplish as a musician. Want to record a CD? Write that down. Thinking of teaching guitar lessons? Put that on the list, too. Keep writing, no matter how impossible the goal seems.
  3. Put the list aside and go do something else for awhile. This is important.
  4. Critically examine each goal on your list. If it seems reasonable to you, commit to it by putting a date on it. If it’s too vague or if it seems too pie-in-the-sky, cross it off.
  5. compassWrite out a statement for each goal. It’s well and good to say you want to make money from your music, but that’s not a strong goal. Make your goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely) Try it this way instead: I will earn at least 50 percent of my annual income from performance, teaching, and merchandise sales by December, 2013.
  6. Post this list where you can see it every day.
  7. Do something every day that will help you achieve your goals. This may be something small, like creating a Facebook page to keep your fans informed about your performances. The important thing, however, is to do something.
  8. Review your goals on a regular basis. This can be each year, quarter, or month. Evaluate your progress by measuring it (the M in SMART). Do you need to revise your due date? Or maybe the goal is no longer attainable or relevant. If that’s the case, remove it from your list.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of reviewing your goals on a regular basis. Not reviewing them is like deciding to fly north in an airplane but never checking the compass on the way. Eventually you’ll drift off course, you’ll lose your way, and you’ll wonder what happened.

I’ve put together a short list of resources and articles that can help you achieve focus, success, and satisfaction with your music and in your life. But these resources can only go so far. Ultimately, the only person that can make this happen is you. Remember: goals that are not written down are just wishes.




1. The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management, by Hyrum W. Smith. Well worth your time.

2. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey. The “why” of time management.


1. “Are You Reflecting On Your Goals As an Artist?” by Marcus Taylor

2. “Steps for Successful Goal Setting and Achievement” by Paul Christenbury

3. “Zig Ziglar on Goal Setting” by Ziglar Training Systems. Contains a link for downloadable goal setting pages.


Image credits: Top –  Flickr  Bottom – Flickr

Updated July 15, 2013

Can You Succeed Without a Record Deal?

I’ll help you out here: it’s not a trick question, but the answer isn’t simple.

It’s a question every musician ponders at some point.  “Do I really need to try to land a record deal? Is that selling out? Maybe I can just sell CDs on my own, keep more money, and handle my own promotion. After all, my friends love my CD!” 

Bryden Haynes is studying law in London, UK, and came up with a rather complex formula to determine if success without a record deal was possible. He begins his article by defining a few terms: “success” means a level of financial freedom, and “record deal” refers to a major or independent label that has a decent budget to promote your work. “Band” or “musician” means a solo artist or group performing original music. I need to point out here that Haynes made his calculations with UK artists and prices in mind, but after converting pounds to dollars (the dollar is trading at $1.56 against the British Pound as of this writing), I’m confident that his conclusion will stand equally well on this side of the pond.

Haynes assumes that the average 25-year-old UK resident earns around $28,392 per year. Arguably some earn more, and some earn less, but let’s accept that as average for now. He further assumes that there are around 600,000 bands in the UK (each with about 4 members) that want to succeed with their music, i.e., get a record deal and make over $28K a year playing gigs and selling CDs.

After doing a bit of research, Haynes discovered that the average band brings in about 15 paying fans per show to venues featuring original acts. Again, that number could be more or less, but if the cover is $10, and the band plays 2 shows a week, then each band member can look forward to bringing home a whopping $3,650 per year just from playing gigs, before expenses. That figure may sound low, but remember we’re working with averages here. And even if the band doubles the fans at each show, it’s still only $7,500 per musician per year. Not to worry, though. Haynes figures that each band member can still pocket a cool $187 per year from music downloads.

Depressed yet? By this point, many of those 600,000 bands are, too, and they fall away. In fact, over a five-year period, only about 20 bands will make it to the Top 40 charts, and only about 15 of them are actually earning over $28,000 per member per year.

So all of the number crunching comes down to this: if you’re a band, your chance of making a decent living from your original music without a record deal is 0.00025%. However, if you submit demos on a regular basis and follow up on the submissions, your odds of getting a record deal increase to 1 in 3428. And if you use what Haynes calls a pitching website (Bandcamp, Soundcloud, or Taxi), your odds improve to 1 in 200.

I can live with those odds.

I need to point out once more that these figures are based on conditions in the UK; I converted pounds to dollars only for the sake of convenience and clarity. But I’m convinced that Haynes’ conclusion is equally valid in the US, even taking into account the larger numbers of bands and music venues here. It’s still going to be worth pursuing the record deal. While your mileage may vary, the odds are overwhelmingly against you if you try to establish a successful (decent wage earning) music career without outside help from an established label. They can shell out the million dollars it takes to launch an act. As Haynes puts it:

Yes, you might have gone on to sell millions of copies of your album on your own (and therefore lose 50% of potential profits), but the odds are against this happening – and even if it did happen, the record label would simply capitalise on your new found success and increase your success further, possibly making up for the percentage they take.

Go for the record deal, and enjoy the journey!

20 Ways To Get More Gigs, Parts 1 and 2

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a band in possession of talented musicians and expensive gear must be in want of a gig.

I must sincerely apologize for maligning Jane Austen so horribly, but I just couldn’t help it. It’s true. Show me a band, and I’ll show you a group of people who want to play out. But how does one get those gigs? Is it as difficult as the Bennett girls finding husbands?

Not quite. The Live Unsigned Blog spells it out for you in this article loaded with advice on landing more gigs. (Part two can be found here.) Some of the advice is common sense stuff that musicians ought to know, like why bars hire bands (right answer: to bring more folks to the bar), and to be nice to the people who hired you. Then again, it might not occur to a band to try to stand out more (it worked for KISS) or to swap gigs with other bands.

There’s plenty of food for thought in these articles, and I’m pretty sure you’ll find a few things you can try right away. Let me know if you start booking more gigs. And remember that I get ten percent.

Note: This is a repost of an article that previously appeared on