How much do musicians really make?


Ever wonder how much musicians make? Most of us have a similar image of a fast-paced life full of shows, adoring fans, a smorgasbord of drugs, and of course, tons of cash.

Well, a new study released earlier this week from Princeton University (so you know it’s legit) flips that whole image on its head by putting an actual dollar amount on the median yearly income of musicians around the country.

It’s not pretty.

According to the report, the median income for musicians is $35,000, but it gets worse. Only $21,000 of that is actually earned through music-related activities (think: performing live, teaching music lessons, etc). The rest is earned at side jobs (Lyft anyone?). Paying work can be so sporadic that the average musician had to have at least three other sources of income.

With the average rent in the Bay Area coming in around $2,600, it’s amazing to think that there are any musicians left in our musical mecca. It is, of course, how we end up hearing of stories of seven band members sharing a two bedroom apartment.

During my time as a musician in several of the most unsuccessful hip-hop groups ever, we got creative by renting an old doctor’s office in Oakland and turning the exam rooms into bedrooms and the waiting room into our studio/recording space. Sure, there were six of us crammed in a doctor’s office with a shower we installed in a closet, but we were making music, and who could ask for more? Ironically, most of the money I made during this period was off of recording other artists; something that seems almost cannibalistic when I look back at it.

But generating income is not the only challenge musicians face. The study found several other disturbing trends that paint an even bleaker picture of the average musician. For one, drug consumption rates were particularly high when compared to the average U.S. adult population. Musicians were 5 times more likely to have used cocaine within the last month, about 3 times as likely to have used heroin, 3.5 times as likely to have used meth, and nearly 14 times as likely to have used LSD.

According to the study, musicians reported consuming alcohol at twice the rate of the average population. While most of these figures are probably aren’t surprising to anyone, this study begs a question concerning the effect of poverty-level wages on substance abuse in an environment where drink tickets are the choice currency for promoters.

If poverty and substance abuse weren’t enough to scare you, there is another major problem the study was able to quantify: sexual harassment. Women face significant disadvantages to begin with, but the rates of discrimination and harassment in the industry are staggering.

Nearly 72% of female respondents reported being discriminated against because of their gender, compared to 27% of women overall in the U.S. workforce, while 67% reported being sexually harassed compared to 42%. And with many musicians working as independent contractors, the sad fact of the matter is that there is oftentimes little to no
recourse.

For us as fans, the study highlights the importance of supporting the musicians that affect us. Go to that show, buy that t-shirt, or donate to that GoFundMe page to help a local band repair their Astro Van. At the very least, give them a damn hug. They probably need it.

Advertise with KFOG

Advertise with KFOG

Bay Area Live Music