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November 2, 2010

It's still a long way to the top

A 2003 Australian study called Don't give up your day job found that musicians did better from their art than any other type of artist. But on average their incomes were "little different from those of all occupational groups, including non-professional and blue-collar occupations".

The commercial challenges of artistic creativity were highlighted by the finding that although artists spent 81% of their time on artistic work, they earned only 66% of their income from it. This frightening statistic appears more dire when put next to "about half of Australia's practicing professional artists earned less than $10,000 from their creative work".

This pattern of non-musical income supporting musical efforts is repeated all over the Western world, with the proportion of self-described musicians who have a day job consistently in the low-90%. In most cases, musicians' day jobs involve teaching music or selling musical equipment, which is really just a low-brow version of what brand-endorsed recording artists have done for years.

In the cottage industry described on the previous page, Independent musicians range from amateur stay-home songwriters to full-time professional writer/performers. Despite the massive investment in musical education in schools, the abilities, priorities and expectations of Independent musicians remain as varied as the music they produce.

Some stop playing the clarinet after high school. Some will quit their band and get a "real" job when they graduate from university and many will turn their talents to performing in amateur theatres, community bands and "Weekend Warriors" acts because they enjoy the show without the pressure of having to make a living from their efforts. A precious few will make a living from their music business.

One recent article outlined 12 categories of musician ranging from "The Hobbyist" to "The Superstar Signed Artist", with detours into non-performing songwriters and producers. The difference in the 21st century is that it is much easier for musicians to change between categories to suit their goals and lifestyle choices than it has ever been before - but it is also more difficult for an act to stand out among this enormous depth of talent unless they have a massive promotion budget.


Twenty-first century technologies have leveled the musical playing field. It is easier for musicians to achieve modest goals, including a sustainable living from their music, than ever before but it is also more difficult to achieve superstar status and even more difficult to achieve superstar income. You don't need to "beak through" any more just to make something out of your music.

This post is one section of Part 3 of Dr Huge's "How the record industry got it so wrong". The latest version of the complete ebook can be downloaded here and a hard copy can be ordered here.
Posted by DrHuge at November 2, 2010 7:02 PM

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