Average Income of a Musician

There are a lot of different ways to make a living as a modern musician, and it’s fair to say that most professional musicians make their living from not just one job, but from many different jobs. Diversifying your income streams is important to a lot of different professions, and the musician business is definitely one of them.

In this article, I talk about the following types of musician jobs. Click a job to jump ahead.

See also, Top 10 Gigs You May Not Have Thought Of.

Teaching Private Music Lessons

Teaching income rates vary widely, from $18/hr at a local music shop, to $150/hr for the most highly trained and sought after teachers. Rumor has it that the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic charges $200+ an hour for lessons. When I was a kid, my teacher charged my parents $12 for a thirty minute piano lesson.

I knew a concert pianist in Chicago who charged $75/hr, and I recently heard from a composition teacher in Manhattan who charges $100 for 50 minutes. These rates and the rumored rates of the NY Phil concertmaster represent the upper tier of lesson rates, and these musicians can only sustain this income because of their level of training and success. The average musician, teaching beginner and intermediate students, can probably expect to make $30-60 an hour. It all depends on training, experience and your perceived value in the community you teach in.

A full-time teacher can have upwards of 50 students a week. I’ve never heard of someone having more than 60 students, but its possible, especially if the lessons are all 30-minute sessions.

Say you have 30 students, with 25 of them in 30-minute lessons and the rest in 60-minute lessons. Lets say you charge $20 for 30 minutes, which I would say is more than reasonable if you are experienced and educated.

((30 x $20) + (5 x $40)) x 52 weeks = $41,600 a year

That is roughly a gross income of $40,000 a year for 17.5 hours of teaching a week. Travel and prep time are not included in that figure and will vary depending on the job and location (in-home lessons, for instance, will naturally require a lot of travel time).  Nevertheless, the amount of time musicians spend teaching lessons is scalable (you don’t have to take 30 students, of course) so many musicians teach part time and spend the rest of their work week performing with other groups, practicing, recording, etc.

For valuable tips on starting your own teaching studio, read our article Start Your Teaching Business in 30 Days by Greg Arney.

Lets move onto the next category, which will take much more time to discuss: performing.

Performing and Recording

Let’s break this down into two categories: performing original music and performing someone else’s music.

Original Music

Performing your own music is, of course, a very personally rewarding thing to do, but making money at it can sometimes be challenging. You’ll need two things to make a living playing original music.

  1. You’ll need to be able to write music that people like to listen to so much that they would pay money to hear it over and over again. That ain’t easy.
  2. You’ll need to find some way to get lots and lots of people to hear your music. You could try to get it on the radio, or featured on a commercial (Apple commercials are especially popular for this recently), on a movie, etc. You could also try to land a gig as the opening act to a touring band. These days, its also possible to get exposure for your material entirely through the internet (See Jonathon Coulton, internet superstar).

Once you have these two things (good music and fans), there are two ways to make money off original music. First, by performing it. If you play it at a bar or club for a group of friends or fans, you can make anywhere between $5 and $800 a night. I would say that $100 per performer could be considered a good night for a live, original band. Remember, though, that this nightly take might be split between you and all of the people that made the night possible (a manager or talent agency that booked the show, the bar owner, the sound man, etc.).

For an interesting read on this subject, I recommend reading Cameron’s article, The Truth About Booking Shows for Musicians in New York City.

The other way to make money playing your own music is to sell recordings of it. Recordings are sold everywhere these days, not just as concerts and record shops, but in Wal-marts and Starbucks and all over the internet. The traditional 20th century record label business model has all but collapsed since the digitization of the record business, and this has made the distribution and sale of recordings available to anyone with an internet connection and a PayPal account.

If you have music that people want to buy, selling records is probably the easiest way to make money as an original musician, because it takes much less effort and expense than performing and touring. Sometimes it seems like musicians perform primarily to showcase their music to large crowds of people in the hopes that these people will like them enough to buy their recordings.

So let’s get down to real numbers. Say it costs $5,000 to record and press your album (assuming you press CDs and record in a studio). If you sell the album for $10, you have to sell 500 to break even. You should be able to do that, even if it takes a little while. After that its pretty easy. People can buy your album online without you even having to ship anything to them. People pay cash for it at your concerts. Say you sell 100 albums a month online or in stores and another 20 at shows.

((100 online x $10) + (20 live x $10)) x 12 months = $14,400 a year

Its not enough to live on, maybe, but after you’ve recorded it and broken even, it doesn’t take a lot of effort. And as you build a fan base, that number is bound to increase.

On a side note, if you get a record label involved with this process you are almost guaranteed to sell more recordings, but you are not guaranteed to make more money, as record labels often take a lion’s share of profits. There’s a great deal of literature written about that phenomenon. Look up Donald Passman’s books for more info on record labels.

Personally, I highly recommend researching cdbaby.com if you are considering selling your music independently. They are a fine organization and have helped thousands and thousands of musicians sell their music with very little hassle and maximum profit.

For a thorough explanation of how to release your own music, read Cameron’s series A Musician’s Guide to the Self-Released Album.

Copyrighted Music

The second category of performance income is money made off of music other people wrote. This includes all kinds of performance jobs – not just cover bands, but lots of jazz gigs (playing standards), musical theatre jobs, cruise ship jobs, big bands, Vegas jobs, amusement parks, symphony orchestras – all kinds of work!

Cover Bands

First, cover bands. These gigs can be a good source of income, and wedding bands are probably the best example of this. These bands often have hundreds and hundreds of songs memorized. If the bride requests a song, they better know it! Wedding bands are usually pop rock bands or big band swing jazz bands (the jazz bands have written music, they usually don’t have to memorize songs). Wedding bands can charge $1,000 – $10,000 on one wedding, depending on what’s needed. There are weddings every weekend of every year. Let’s say your band makes an average of $1,500 on a wedding and you work one wedding every other week (26 weeks a year).

$2,000/wedding x 26 weddings = $52,000 a year

Bear in mind, though, that that money is usually split between every one involved (musicians, booking company, etc.). If 8 people are involved in the band (6 musicians, 1 booking agent, 1 sound guy), an even split would be $6,500 each year.  Perhaps not a lot, but also consider that many cover bands work much more often than every other week, and $2,000 is on the low side of the potential wages.

For a real-world example of cover band rates, check out the website of DC-based band Oracle – specifically the How Much Does Oracle Cost? section.

Generally speaking, you’ll make a lot more money if you manage the band yourself and book the gig yourself. If you work for a booking agency as a hired “sideman” musician, you’ll probably make more like $100 – $300 a wedding. On the other hand, you’ll book more gigs through an agency.

If you are interested in being a professional sideman, don’t miss our series A Guide to Being a Successful Sideman, written by some of the best sidemen from NYC and LA.

Symphony Orchestra

There is a great range of salaries for orchestras around the world. Positions, at least in union orchestras, are typically full-time with benefits. The lowest paying orchestras start their members at around $22,000 a year, and the highest paid orchestras starting at $143,000 (The Los Angeles Philharmonic). A full list of orchestra salaries is posted at www.icsom.org, but here are some examples of base salaries around the U.S. (all examples are from the 2011 season and available at icsom.org):

New York Philharmonic: $134,940
Kansas City Symphony: $45,822
Louisville Orchestra: $34,225
San Francisco Opera: $78,445

These wages don’t include pension, healthcare, extra services, or premiums for doubling and principles.  For example, pension contributions can be an additional 8-12% and the concertmaster of an orchestra traditionally earns twice the orchestra’s base salary.

Cruise Ship Musician

As in most traveling jobs, housing is provided on cruise ship jobs. Cruise jobs also provide excellent food and opportunity to travel to some of the most beautiful places in the world. They also pay you!

Hardly anything!

Just kidding. (Not really.) When I worked on a ship in 2004, I was paid $50/day to be the keyboardist in the show band. I understand that recently (2008) wages have been raised to $65/day.

Because of the other benefits to the job, it doesn’t really matter what they pay. People will always want the work.

Contracts are usually four to six months. If you work on ships year-round, the typical schedule is 6 months on, then 1 month off. For ease of example, let’s take a 12 month period where 10 months are spent working.

$65/day x 7 days x 40 weeks = $18,200 a year

This may not seem like much, but nevertheless, expenses are very low and it can be easy to save money while on a ship. Musicians often come off of ships having saved thousands of dollars.

For more information on this gig, see our comprehensive guide on this subject, Chronicles of a Cruise Ship Musician.

Musical Theatre

The income potential for theatre musicians can vary widely. To start, lets say you play with a regional theatre company that pays $75 a performance. They put up 5 shows a year, and have 60 performances of each show.

$75/performance x 60 performances x 5 times a year = $22,500 a year

The next level is touring musical theatre. This can be a hard life, but the money can sometimes make it worthwhile. Touring sidemen can make $500 – $1,000 a week on non-union tours. $600 a week plus a $300 a week per diem is a good wage for a touring non-union musical theatre sideman (this includes per diem and assumes hotels and transportation are paid for). Musical theatre tours typically work from fall to spring, mirroring the school year.

36 weeks x $900/wk = $32,400 a year

Music directors and conductors can expect to make 30% more than sidemen. This seems to be true across all musical theatre gigs.

See also How to Become a Musical Theatre Music Director.

The best musical theatre wages are found, of course, on Broadway in NYC, but also on union tours of Broadway shows (which can sometimes pay the same). Broadway scale is negotiated and protected by Local 802, the NYC chapter of the American Federation of musicians. A full list of 802’s wages can be found on the wage and contract info page of their website. But I will summarize (these wages are as of 2011):

The starting weekly wages for a musician on Broadway is $1,673.24 or roughly $209 for each performance. This is assuming the musician plays every show and only plays one acoustic instrument. However:

  • The union contract on Broadway allows musicians to “sub out” up to 50% of the shows in any 104-consecutive show period (about 2 months at 8 shows a week). In my experience, it’s uncommon for a Broadway musician to play every show in an 8-show week.

  • Many musicians on Broadway play more than one instrument, or play an electric instrument – and this earns them 1 (or several) “doubles”. “Doubles” increase the wages of that player (for example: 25% more for play a synthesizer instead of a piano, 12.5% for playing flute in addition to saxes, 30% to be Associate Conductor).

Doubles are not optional, I should add. The orchestration of a show is dictated by the composer, orchestrator and music director. Most reed books require musicians to play 3 or 4 reed/wind instruments. So, for example, a reed player on Broadway who plays flute, alto sax and clarinet would make 2 doubles, which is 31.25% above scale, or $2,185.88 per 8-show week (again, assuming the musician played all 8 shows).

The other mitigating factor of Broadway jobs is that shows are never guaranteed to run for any specified length of time. If a show opens and ticket sales are poor, it might close within a few weeks.

Let’s assume a show ran 36 weeks out of a year and you are the reed player above, making 18.75% above scale, or $247.60 per show. Let’s assume this musician played, on average, 7 shows a week.

36 weeks x 7 shows a week x $247.60 per show = $62,395.20 a year

If you’d like to know how I landed a gig on Broadway, read our series How I Became a Broadway Musician.

Freelance Musician

As I mentioned before, few musicians are able to devote all of their time to just one income stream.  Many work as self-employed freelancers in a variety of musician jobs.  In fact, according to a study done by the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Endowment for the Arts (available here), 44% of professional musicians in the U.S. are self-employed.

Regarding freelance income, geography has a big impact on one’s income potential (but also on one’s expenses). Living in a small town in Montana may not net you the volume of work that would be available in a large population area. That said, although one might associate music careers exclusively with only the highest population centers (New York, LA for example) it is still possible to make a living as a musician in a smaller population centers. I have met musicians living and working comfortably in cities like Phoenix, San Francisco, Orlando – even St. Paul, MN and Richmond, VA. I do not mean to suggest that one could make the same living freelancing in St. Paul as one could make in New York City, as that is not true. I only mean to suggest that towns like St. Paul may have enough volume of work for musicians to make a living.

In my experience, how well you can make a living in a given area seems to have at least a partial link to the population and median income of the area. This is just my own approximation, but I estimate that a working musician can make at least $30,000 a year living in a population of at least 400,000 with a median income around $55,000. Again, this is my own evaluation based on what I’ve seen in several different cities in recent years.

For help keeping track of freelance music income, see also Freelance Musician Excel Spreadsheet.

This entire website is devoted to the freelance musician career. We only allow working musicians to write for this site – everything here (over 500 articles) is written by people who know what they are talking about. So have a look around – click on the links in the sidebar, follow us on the social media of your choice and please tell your friends.


My point here is that it is possible to make a living playing music, and that its more possible than we’ve all been taught to believe. From these figures, its clear that you would not make a LOT of money. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that working as a musician would ever make someone a lot of money. Chances are good it never will. But if you had the choice between making enough doing something you loved, and making more than enough doing something you didn’t love…well, for me the choice is obvious, and I think its that way for a lot of working musicians.

Published by

David J. Hahn

David J. Hahn

David J. Hahn (@davidjhahn) is the co-founder of MusicianWages.com and a former Broadway conductor. He grew up near Chicago, lived in New York City, and settled in California. In 2012, he left the music business to found California Surfcraft, a San Francisco-based start-up that makes high-performance surf gear out of fiberglass-reinforced cork. He is the inventor of the Bodypo®, a sustainable alternative to the traditional bodyboard. He is a cancer survivor, an advocate for unlikely career paths, and, beginning in spring of 2015, a father.

155 thoughts on “Average Income of a Musician”

  1. Also consider a military band. Full-time active duty musicians start out at $1400/month, higher if you have some college, if you make it into one of the highly competitive “premier” bands you get an automatic promotion to E6 ($2100/month). Active duty military means all of your room and board is paid for – 3 meals a day in the cafeteria (sometimes good, sometimes not so good) and a room in the barracks (think college dorm). If you’re married you get a raise and an apartment/house on base. Many full-timers teach lessons or play gigs locally to bring in some additional income. Depending on which group you’re in you might play in a concert band, a smaller chamber ensemble, jazz band, rock band, country band – lots of opportunities.

    Military musicians definitely lead a military life. You’ll move every couple of years, you’re locked into a contract (at least 4 years the first time) and you do what you’re told when you’re told. In most cases you’ll have to go through basic training. Depending on which band you’re in you might tour your region or around the country (in some cases around the world). You may get sent overseas for 3-6 months (especially with the current world political situation). It’s a good life if you can put up with the military side of things.

    The National Guard also has bands in most states. My guard band rehearses one weekend a month, occasionally gigging during the weekend, and tours regionally for about two weeks over the summer (usually around the 4th of July). The pay isn’t exceptional but it’s not bad for a weekend gig. I clear about $250 after taxes for a weekend and I have my evenings free to do whatever I want. Sometimes I drive back home Saturday night, sometimes I stay at the base. Last summer I made about $1200 for tour plus food allowance (and I wasn’t spending gas money). I get plenty of free time during tour to do whatever I want, whether that’s being a tourist, just hanging out or sitting somewhere with my laptop getting work done (I work as a freelance web developer). We usually have at least 2-3 completely free days during tour and any day that we travel more than an hour or two we won’t have a gig. Even on gig days we rarely work more than 4-5 hours including travel time.

    It’s not for everyone and I’m still debating whether I’ll re-enlist when my contract is up in a few months. For anyone looking to finance a college education it’s DEFINITELY worth a look. The college benefits even with the part-time National Guard gig practically paid me to go to school. From a very practical standpoint, active duty military means your health care is paid for, and in the Guard there’s very affordable and high-quality health insurance for you and your family. If you play a less “in demand” instrument like euphonium, double reeds or french horn then it’s a very good opportunity for a full-time paid gig playing your horn.

    Check it out – the military may be a great fit for you!

  2. Dave,
    This is very informative for those in their early career and still floundering. I wish I’d had this info when I was at that stage.
    I just want to add my two cents to the topic of getting gigs.
    I’m a pianist, composer and arranger, producer and I also write (as in words and lyrics) so I’ve never been too far from some kind of gig. I live in Charleston, South Carolina now though I spent 27 years of my life in the NYC area. It’s far more difficult to find gigs in smaller towns as you say but I would suggest to anyone considering a move to someplace outside of the big metropolis that they do some homework on the place they’re moving to. I found several agents here in Charleston and contacted them and sent a CD before I moved here. Within a few weeks of gettng here I was already doing solo piano gigs in private homes and banquet halls. I eventually also did arranging for the symphony orchestra here and also landed a teaching job at a private school. True, the most financially rewarding work is still coming from outside – I’m currently working for Disney as a background composer, but if all else were to fail I have developed some solid contacts here simply because I started out the right way.

    1. VERY GOOD ARTICLE. FERNANDO I ALSO LIVE IN CHARLESTON(WEST ASHLEY).What music agency in charleston would you recommend,if any? We are a christian rock band getting things tight right now,but know a good amount of people in this industry and are looking around at differnt options.

      Thanks, Bill-DOUBTING THOMAS

  3. 100 sales a month for a new band doing original material is a lot.

    A discussion on what the average sales per month online would be useful perhaps.

    My experience is that the bulk of my sales are offline at gigs rather than online via my website.

  4. Alun, I agree with you, but consider a couple things… First, I think Dave’s numbers just demonstrate a somewhat simple equation that will no doubt be different from artist to artist, band to band. It’s really difficult to describe the average band making original music, because there are so many factors that will affect sales (genre, location, talent, internet savvy, etc.).

    Secondly and more importantly, online revenue is in actuality more diverse. For example, not only might you sell CDs from your website or CD Baby, but download sales of several different albums plus a few dozen individual tracks from stores like iTunes or Amazon MP3 can really add up.

    If you can figure out ways to boost your online sales (I’ve written about the strategies that work for me on this site), I think it can become a serious revenue stream and perhaps surpass your offline sales.

  5. Hi Cameron

    Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t dissing the article or anything. I was just exploring what the average sales might be as 100 a month seems too high for a new act doing original stuff.

    Interesting response. Can you post some links to the articles you’re referring to so I can go and have a read.


    Al 8-)

  6. Oh, I know you weren’t. I always felt like that number was a little high, but when I started looking at my combined sales and figuring out how to make this album sell a little better, or these two tracks sell better, etc. I was able to get to an average monthly number of sales that is fairly easy to maintain, and a serious revenue stream.

    The root of everything, for me, has been to make iMixes. Once I started doing that effectively, everything else started coming together around it. Here’s the article I wrote.

  7. I have a teenage son who tells me his pirating music is no big deal. Since he is a musician himself, I point out to him that someday thats going to be HIS money people are stealing. But he remains unphased. He tells me the record sales make money for the record label, not the artist. He says that the artist makes all their money from touring, doing the live concerts. And his thinking is that the pirated music promotes the concerts, so its helping the artist make more money. I still don’t allow pirating in my house. But tell me what you think, as artists out there having their work “shared”? Are you just glad to have it being enjoyed, or does it bother you? Admittedly, he is stealing music that is recorded by major record labels, so maybe its different than the independant musician working for his living. But I’d still like to hear what you think.



    1. I am a musician and an artist. I am also frugal and free is my favorite price to pay for anything and everything.

      You and your son are both right when it comes to the subject of file sharing.

      Personally, I am on the fence. Of course I want to be able to sell my music. But more importantly, I want people to hear my music, to spread my music, to share it with their friends. Chances are, few people would be doing that if they had to buy it.

      Making my music accessible for free leads me to people who want to pay for my music. There are many people out there who will still buy music to support an artist.

      The majority of revenues though don’t come from the sale of music, even at the major label level. They come from touring, merchandise sales and endorsements. In order to get the bookings, the merchandise sales and the endorsements, you have to have the audience.

      If I force people to pay for my music, I am likely alienating myself from potential fans. I consider my music to be my calling card.

      I also remember being young listening to the radio or my favorite songs in my room and how some of those songs got me through incredibly difficult times and inspired me. If I can do that for someone else, I don’t want to take that away from anybody, well to me that is far more powerful than a platinum record ever will be anyways.

  8. Hi Valerie, thanks for asking this question. It’s a good one, and the effects on the actual musicians has been pretty heavily debated. There’s no doubt that file trading has hurt the recorded music industry, but it’s also arguably been helpful to lesser known musicians.

    Dave Hahn and I are going to round up the thoughts of some other writers and musicians and try to tackle this in a broader sense. I can tell you now that as an independent artist, at least half of my income is generated through the sale of my music. Every sale makes a difference to me, but so does getting new people to give my music a listen.

    In the meantime, here are a few things to ponder:

    How many concerts does he attend to support these artists?

    Is he discovering new artists in the process or is he just downloading to try out whatever is popular?

    Do you think he’d be buying all of this music if downloading and file sharing was even an option? In other words, are labels and musicians actually losing sales here?

    Stay tuned!

  9. Whom ever owns this website please add me to your mailing list if you have one. This is a great site I found surfing and I don’t want to forget it.
    I am planning a tour of Florida in fall 2010 and could uuse help if anyone can suggest clubs that would be receptive to a solo aocustic act 30 years experience.

  10. Very cool post….I like your blog and have bookmarked it for future reference. It would be great to do what you love for a living! I’m not there yet.

  11. Thank you for this article. It is very informative and gives an insiders look into the real salary of a working musician. What type of fee for students do you recommend for a teacher just starting her own studio for private lessons?

  12. I agree with Dana. It is very informative and for those that aren’t musicians, I think it gives them a real nice insider’s look at what it really takes to make a living as one and that we don’t view it as say..”an expensive hobby”.

  13. I really liked what you said in your summary: “My point here is that it is possible to make a living playing music, and that its more possible than we’ve all been taught to believe.”

    This article was very reassuring. It is nice to know, as a student, that there are opportunities to generate income as a musician.

  14. this article is VERY informative. i wasn’t sure about the musician thing, because i wanted to do metal/hardcore, acoustic and/or pop punk. i’ll definitely use this article in the future.

  15. I am not a musician but the blog post is really interesting. I have many friends who are in music world and they hardly earn reasonable amounts of money. Apparently, there is a tough life struggle for most of the musicians.

  16. I am just digging into your website, and I really like what you have to say. I’m not in my twenties anymore, and after all these years I still haven’t been able to make significant money with music.

    But this year (out of necessity) I found a new way. Needing cash because I was in between work contracts, I would just walk into to a nice restaurant with my guitar and ask if I could sing a few songs. Depending on the neighborhood, that seemed to work about one 20% of the time. This had some advantages. I didn’t have to plan and promote a gig. I didn’t have to set up sound equipment and pay musicians. If things weren’t good, I could easily move onto the next place. And my tax advisor won’t even consider reporting this tip income. And I ended up booking gigs from the contacts I made.

    In fine dining restaurants, I found I could make tips as much as €10, and some nights I made as much as €100. Now that’s not much compared to my tech freelancing work. But if could somehow do this every day, or combine it with booked gigs, maybe I could someday quit the day job….

  17. Dave-

    Thanks soo much!I’ve been trying to find something like this for awhile so I really appreiciate it.It’ll help me figure out if I really want to go through with sharing my music, considering I live in New York and my rent is over the top…


  18. Dave

    Nice article. Great info that was well conveyed. I have been in business for 15 years and have had it. I just applied for the fall term for a masters in Music Ed at night and informtion like this is very helpful. Good luck to you.


  19. Dave

    Thanks for sharing the info and writing for this site. It helps to know what the potential is out there. Any thoughts on what you could do in as a studio musician these days? I friended you on FaceBook with some other questions as I am looking at a move to Las Vegas. Ever since I moved out of the Detroit area to northern IN though, not much in the way of Studios here unfortunately. Any thoughts? And thanks again for sharing!


  20. Hi Dave;

    Great article.

    I would like to add that there are also church musicians out here. There are not very many full time church musicians, but there are positions out there. Music & Worship Directors, Organists, Pianists, Adult & Youth Choir Directors, Choir Section Leaders, Bell Choir Directors (hand bells), Worship Band Leaders & Soloists… I am also aware of churches that hire in an orchestra for events such as Christmas & Easter services as well as for special choral concert events. Many of these musicians (that I am aware of) are paid union scale.

    Just thought I’d let you know.



  21. Thanks for the thoroughly researched and insightful post. It’s always good to have concrete numbers in mind when considering a certain avenue for making money as a musician. The starting salary at the New York Phil certainly caught my eye.

    Just to add to your data, I’m currently studying piano with a former concert pianist / current professor, and her rates are $150/hr. I took a few lessons with Daniel Pollack, the head of the piano program at the University of Southern California, and his rates were $200/hr, though they may have gone up since then.

  22. @Jamie – What was the assignment in Mrs. Stagno’s class?

    @Stephanie – Yes! Church musicians. The church has been a major employer of musicians for hundreds of years. I shouldn’t have left them out. I know that in New York City a church organist earns $75-100 a service at Catholic churches (and expect 2-7 services a week, depending on the church).

  23. Great article! I am a cover musician in florida, and make about 45k a year playing covers 6x a week. Love that people think that us musicians are POOR and have no money! I love my job!

  24. Hello there! I just want to ask, what’s the average or basic salary of a sequencer-singer in USA or Europe? Can you give me some ideas? Because im a sequencer-singer from the philippines and i plan to work in US or Europe. Can you give me some ideas regs the basic salary of a sequencer-singer. Thanks.

  25. David,

    I just wanted to say thank you for this wonderful information. I am citing your figures in my essay for my economics class, particularly the figure for Private Voice Instuctors. Thanks for the help.

    Yours truely,
    Chrissy Z.

  26. Wow this article was extremely informative and interesting. I am only 16, but I am 100% sure that I want to be a jazz pianist. I already do gigs at restaurants and parties, but it is a lot different when I can just spend the money on anything I desire. I was getting a little nervous for professional life (actually my parents were but…). However this article makes me feel much better. After all, money is just what I need to survive. Music is what I need to live.

  27. This is from the section for teaching lessons:

    “Say you have 30 students, with 25 of them in 30-minute lessons and the rest in 60-minute lessons. Lets say you charge $20 for 30 minutes, which I would say is more than reasonable if you are experienced and educated.”

    ((30 x $20) + (5 x $40)) x 52 weeks = $41,600 a year

    This math insists that there are 35 students not 30. It would be

    ((25 x $20) + (5 x $40)) x 52 weeks = $36,400 a year

    Otherwise very good article.

  28. this is awesome. i am on my way to becoming a musician, but i want to be able to make a great living out of it. how many of these would i usually be able to do at once ( i know i cant just do one thing).

    1. Frank – that is the best question I’ve gotten in a long, long time. It shows you have a good idea of what it takes to make a living as a musician.

      Yes, you’ll have to do almost all of these gigs to make a living. There’s not a gig on here that I haven’t played myself, even the symphonic gigs. All of those numbers are based on what I earned when I worked the gigs.

      My income sources change every year, but in 2010, these are the gigs I worked and the percentage of my income that came from each:

      Music directing theatre shows: 25.7%
      Accompanying classes: 16.6%
      Church organ: 18.7%
      Song placement (feature film): 11.6%
      Synth programming: 9.1%
      Accompanying auditions: 6.7%
      Blogging: 4.2%
      Selling recordings: 2.7%
      Private vocal coaching: 2.7%
      Background music gigs: 1.7%
      Copyist work: 0.2%

      So you can see – a normal, working musician like myself works a lot of different jobs all at once. You are only limited by the number of hours in a day and the skills that you are able to monetize.

  29. You mean I have a life? I’m working at the top of the corporate ladder, but economic situation is bleak for our company. Soon I will be out of work. I will just start looking for a job as a pianist or something, I guess I will just disguise my face so that my former subordinates and business clients will not recognize me, unless you can inspire me that a musician is also prestigious, especially for ex-CEO’s. Thanks

  30. Dear Jun,
    I realized a long time ago that many Americans have very little respect for most musicians. They believe we “play” therefore, our work is not valuable. However, after touring Europe from 1990-1998, and singing in China for five months in 2006, I understood that most people abroad have a profound regard for musicians. So, I live by that belief rather than the one held by Americans who tend to be faddists.

    My philosophy about the natural food chain is this:

    The farmer begat a teacher.
    The teacher begat a doctor.
    The doctor begat a lawyer.
    The lawyer begat a musician, artist or actor.

    Now, the irony is that once many artists have reached their pinnacle, they revert back to the farm like Freda Payne, Roseanne Barr and Shirley MacLain.

    So, after 59 years of being onstage, I’m ready for the farm. But I know this, few people remain in their professions as long as musicians. Eubie Blake was still playing piano at 100. Alberta Hunter sang until just before her demise at 83. Lionel Hampton could hardly walk across the stage at 80, but he played the vibraphones like a young man, once he got to them. There’s a long list of musicians who worked well into their 80s and you, my friend, could be one of them.

    Keep the music playing!

    Joan Cartwright
    The first women in the world to publish a jazz and blues song book!

    1. Thanks Joan. Actually I’m not that old. I just want to concentrate on music as my new source of income before office boredom will kill me. The only obstacle now is peer pressure. I’m known in the community as a company boss. But anyway your words is giving me a lift. Besides, I don’t have much option. Our company won’t survive the current crisis,

      1. Joan: Great response; thank you for that.

        Jun: If you’re concerned about peer pressure and what others think of you (especially based on your career choice), music may not be right for you. As Joan said, Americans tend to have a fairly low opinion of musicians–it takes thick skin, perseverance, and ignoring naysayers to succeed in this industry. With that said, If you’re serious about making the switch, I’d encourage you to continue working on your music while you give a lot more focus on *why* a career in music is important to you and, especially, *why you care what others think of you.* If you can answer those questions honestly for yourself, you will have a clearer idea of what you want your life to look like. Best wishes!

    1. I, categorically, don’t care at all about pop stars. This website is for working musicians – the hard working people that work the jobs above.

      If you would rather hear about pop stars, and if you think the work that most working musicians do is worthless, you should find one of the million sites that cater to wannabe pop stars and read that instead.

  31. You’re right about church musicians. However, musicians that play by ear and sight-read have the potential to make much higher per service for those churches that require that. I am in a small town and make over $200 for a church on Saturday. Then about $300 for a church on Sunday. If I play in a large city such as Miami or Ft lauderdale then I get close to $500. My brother plays in LA and makes about $1000 at both of his combined churches. My cousin in North Carolina also makes about this much. Style: blues, gospel, southern gospel, etc… Hammond Organ players make even more.

  32. Thanks, Dave, for this great article. I will be launching a web resource for prospective music majors in early July, http://www.majoringinmusic.com, and would like to link this article to our careers section. You underscore the value of music school students getting some basic business classes and other entrepreneurship education under their belts in anticipation of launching their careers.

  33. Thank you so much for making this! In my math class, we’re doing a project on a careers and how much money they make. I chose musician and I needed to see how much money they made in a year, so this helped a lot. Thanks again! :)

  34. I have been a full-time musician here in Australia for 20 years now and I randomly just typed into google, ‘how much money does a full-time musician make’ (knowing that they’re are so many avenues).
    You nailed it and expressed every path of music so well. I have played everywhere from bloodbath pubs to posh weddings to swingers clubs..but you certainly said it how it actually is.
    Talk to you soon :)


  35. I think I found an insignificant error in your calculations.

    you may already know about it, but just in case, I’ll point it out so you can correct your text if necessary.

    here’s what I believe is your erroneous text:

    A full-time teacher can have upwards of 50 students a week. I’ve never heard of someone having more than 60 students, but its possible, especially if the lessons are all 30-minute sessions.

    Say you have 30 students, with 25 of them in 30-minute lessons and the rest in 60-minute lessons. Lets say you charge $20 for 30 minutes, which I would say is more than reasonable if you are experienced and educated.

    ((30 x $20) + (5 x $40)) x 52 weeks = $41,600 a year


    the error (I believe) is that you are double counting the 30 extra minutes for the five hour-long students.

    the correct equation is either:

    ((30 x $20) + (5 x $20)) x 52 weeks = $41,500 a year


    ((25 x $20) + (5 x $40)) x 52 weeks = $41,500 a year


  36. Hi there, superb article – have learnt alot from the comments also :) I am in my late 20s pro keys player desperately trying to become a full time musician. Anyone have any advice on the typical lifestyle of a musician – are you working round the clock? Is it mainly evenings that you work? do you constantly have to chase work? How long roughly does it take to be fully established? Curious Cat ;o)

  37. i am a guitar player & learner since last 4 yrs. i want to be a composer & background scorer. so with playing guitar is it good to learn keyboard playing or it is not good at all.
    pls reply soon.


      1. thank you jon ji for your kind reply.
        i have another query & that is a palpitation working on me while i am playing on stage {only played in few stage performances }. the fear is for “correct playing”. i know i will play correct things but the palpitation some how make me weak on stage. how i will get out of it?
        have you ever feels that way any time?

        pls reply soon.

  38. Great Job on the info David !

    I have been in Music all my life.To quote my 1st teacher Romeo Cascarino at Combs College of Music in Philadelphia (RIP to both)

    ” We are in this because we Love it, there can be no other reason”

    (ART vs Business like Oil & Water) However, one must become proficient at both and with time & experience cultivate a good career and with some good luck, carve out a living !

    Back in the day when I joined the AFM the motto for any musicians success was if you can SUSTAIN work for 42 weeks out of the year, you were considered a successful musician !

    That was the year in which the AFM convention was held in Miami and they allowed agents to legally take 20% for commissions !

    That of course is another subject. Point being, SUSTAINABLE WORK not how much ones makes. It’s a funny business Dave.

    Thank you for this great article.

    Musically Yours,


  39. I’m wondering if you’ve given much thought to how musicians make money through the on-line cloud based services like Spotify? Where they are getting some type of royalty per play (after jumping through the hoops of getting their music onto the services).

    1. Selling on spotify will never make you money, it’s like 0,026 cent per play if I remember correctly [could be 0,26 or 0,0026 as well], so that’s a ridiculous low amount. Selling your music on Itunes is quite bad as well as you will earn 9 dollarcent for every song you sell…
      Streaming your music as a partner on youtube would give you much much more [aprox 0,2-0,5 cent per view].

      1. That’s incorrect. Apple (iTunes) pays the distributors $.70 (seventy cents) per song downloaded in the USA. The distributor typically takes 10%, which leaves $.63 (sixty-three cents) per tune to the record label or artist or whoever owns the track. CD Baby pays around $.50 per tune.

  40. I enjoyed this article completely. i am 17 and a senior at my school. i want to be a musician more than anything, i just need the right tools and methods. so far its just me and my bestfriend in a band. if i could get tips that’d be great.

  41. $20 is on the low side for 30 minutes. But if that’s what you’ve got to do, do it.
    I started doing in-home lessons for 20 bucks and hour 10 years ago. Now, I do in-studio lessons for 30 and at home for 35 or 40 depending on their neighborhood.
    I live in San Diego, CA and teach in the northern wealthier part of town. (but i don’t live up there.)

    it’s not a bad way to make some dough. but man, sometimes when you roll up to these people’s houses, you feel like a peasant.

    1. Do not feel like a peasant!
      First of all you are a musician,AND a teacher,
      two occupations that are very well respected within
      society,I teach up to 200 young guitarists a week
      up to college level,absolutley exhausting,yes…
      but at least once a week,I feel like a king!
      I miss the cruise ship gig though!
      Good luck to all…

      1. i’m ok being a peasant. a peasant with a master’s degree. i don’t know if i agree that musician and teacher are respected in american culture. everybody wants to be a a star.

        1. Interesting comment ! Peasant meaning a working musician earning a modest wage ? I hope not the European version (Middle Ages)

          You can look at it two ways: 1) Your a serious musician that finds fulfillment in the work or 2) Your are striving commercial musician wanting to get to the top of the heap !
          There is no correct version, it depends upon the individual.

          Respect for our profession begins with each of us and how we conduct ourselves. If you teach and have good professional ethics success comes from your reputation in the community. If you are a full-time player, then it comes from your peers and those knowledgeable clients,employers,management etc.

          An example: my dealings as a serious full time musician that has a work history in; teaching,producing,recording,performing and contracting, I find that other Professions such as Doctors,Lawyers,Professors,Teachers etc. give much credence to our profession versus Joe the Plumber or Jack the Truck Driver ! Not to say that some other professions don’t appreciate musicians however if they are self employed like most of us then, they have some idea with appreciation for musicians.

          You are always going to get some wise ass saying; Do you have a real job ? My best comment has always been, ” No, I gave it up for Lent and besides Real Jobs today are over-rated !” LOL

          Unfortunately there has been some bad press on our profession throughout the years because of some immature actions of those irresponsible individuals that have cast a shadow on all of us ! We change all of that personification through our personal examples and behaviours. It is an ongoing mission !

          Hope this is helpful. Good Luck

          1. I just mean that when I roll up in to a gated community with security gate and park my 1994 mazda, walk up to a 1.5 million dollar house, I feel poor. Financially. I know about the rest. I did choose this. Many times, actually.

            Everybody wishes they could play. I’ve only met one person in my whole life who didn’t wish they could play.

            1. My first teacher at Combs College of Music (defunct) in Philadelphia was the late great Romeo Cascarino. At my first lesson back in 1971, I asked him about his take on the music profession and here was his reply, “The only reason we are in this is, because we love it. There can be no other reason ”
              POINT: because someone has 1.5 million $ house doesn’t mean that they are any happier or fulfilled than anyone else, it just means they have more taxes to pay than you and more stuff in their life while you may have more flexibility etc ! One can never measure success in strictly monetary terms because to live rich only requires great appreciation of life and a willingness for adventure !
              Of course to acquire monetary success can have it’s comforts too but as long as you do it on your own terms then you are truly prosperous ! Don’t get me wrong, I am a capitalist and independent however, I have learned what’s really important in this life having come close to the end several times especially last year ! Stay focused and mission oriented while surrounding yourself with good people and taking care of your family and friends and good things will happen.
              Hope you find these words helpful.
              Musically Yours,
              Mike McAnally

              1. Mike McAnally,
                My piano/theory teacher Gerald Price taught me precious jewels of wisdom in Philly as well. I am in total agreeance with you.

                Live your life like it’s all you have because besides music it is all you have.

                To appreciate life, you open doors to all its wonders.

                Love and music,
                Diva JC

                1. Wow Joan what a great musician Gerald was.Why must we lose so many so young? Another Wilmington/Philly connection with Clifford Brown ! You were lucky to have such a great master! Many years after College I hooked up with Dennis Sandole to continue Jazz studies.There I met MANY PHILLY GREATS like Rufus Harley.With Dennis many of us realized the unique individual approach to esthetics in music while allowing us to flourish as individuals as did the great John Coltrane under his guidance.(the main reason I became a musician)
                  Thanks for sharing.

                  1. Somehow, I knew you knew Gerald. Philly was a great proving ground. I got to rub elbows with so many great musicians like Shirley Scott, Trudy Pitts, Philly Joe Jones, Bootsie Barnes and many more.

                    1. Remember Ortlieb’s Jazz Haus ! Home to Shirley (The great Scott)Bootsie,Mickey Roker and many others ! Some great memories from those days.

                  2. Ive done work in all of thesr areas for 22 years until retired 5 years ago except orchestra and musicAls, although I did play in the pit for a few very good $200 a nite just a few hours. Anyway your figures are dead on with what I was making in each area of work. Of course by doing so many things my income was quite a bit more than most

            2. I still remember the discussion I had with my jazz pianist friend. He waved Mark Levine’s (excellent!) Jazz Piano Book in front of my nose, saying “George, if you could learn everything in this…”

              I finished the sentence “…I’d make a third of what I make now.” It was a cruel answer, but on the money. So it happened.

              Ever pondered how a garbageman or a dog catcher never says “I’ll do this part time until I can make a living from it” ? Only us musicians. In America, society values a garbageman or a dog catcher more than us; the proof is in the envelope.

  42. Great article. My husband is a musician (Paraguayan harp) and I have been promoting his work for many years.

    In our community, booking fees haven’t increased in the past 10 years. In fact, many places are wanting to play less than they did a decade ago. It also seems there are fewer private party gigs – a decade ago a lot more people were hiring musicians for graduations, dinner parties, etc. I think people are now making playlists on their ipod or computer systems. Finally, people aren’t buying CDs like they used to and he doesn’t sell many downloads (CD sales were often a spontaneous purchase when people heard him play). Some bands sell merchandise (t-shirts, etc) which may work for certain types of musicians, but probably not a harpist! :-) Are any other point of sale items replacing CDs? I have seen download certificates, but I’m not sure why anyone would by them in advance unless to give as gifts. Thoughts anyone?

  43. Hi, I am a co-lead vocalist of my husband in a Christian band,playing our original compositions. We started recording the songs and plan to sell it ones we are ready. we also target to copyright the song.we got our funds through solicitation in our community. However, I foresee a problem because the band members started to mention about the future income.they wanted to have an equal share with my husband who is the composer of the songs. May I know what is the proper sharing of income inside the band including the composer?We were not prepared about this because our original plan was to use the income for another recording project and use it in the ministry such as feeding programs and evangelism, and not to get personally benefited on it, but an honorarium will be given after the set priorities are met. Please do help me with this issue. we don’t have a manager and a producer, for we thought we would not come up this far.

    1. Well … we are a christian band(rock and some slower),no screaming! We agreed to split the makings across the board,because without the rest of the band,the band would not be.We all add somthing very original to our band and we do sound differnt.No we do not have a web page yet.Of course this is somthing we/I got out on the table early,just incase things go really good for us.just like any new business you need to put monies back into company to make sure it does well and is able to continue making money,for yall it would be recordings,band equipment,cd’s,etc… .

    2. Simple. Composer/co-composers traditionally receive 50% of all music revenues for a recorded song. The other 50% goes to the production company from which musicians may be paid a royalty percentage going forward depending on the contract. Get yourself “Music Law” by Rich Stim. It will answer nearly all of your questions. If band members want an equal share, then let them try writing a song. Players think it is SO easy to write a song because a song may be easy to play. Just remember the parable of the talents: you’ve got ten (the ability to write), and they have one (the ability to play). You should get back according to your talents. BTW, Christian musicians are no different from other musicians: they are petty, greedy, and think they deserve a portion of someone else’s hard work (think “the Little Red Hen”). Good luck!

      1. Stan, when you say “music revenues” I think you mean “publishing revenues,” right? Recorded songs basically carry two sets of rights:

        1) Master recording rights which are owned by whoever owns (and usually paid for) the recording. Traditionally this would be a record label.

        2) Copyrights for the underlying composition, which belong to the songwriter and if applicable, a publisher (split 50/50). If four member of a band co-write a song, they split the songwriters 50% while the publisher receives the other 50%.

        And finally, just to stick up for sidemen, if you don’t pay your band, they’re going to move on.

        In my band, it’s my responsibility to monetize my songs and recordings. I use that money to pay my band. If I’m not selling enough CDs, then I might have to pay my band out of pocket.

        Conversely, when I’m playing in somebody else’s band, I don’t expect revenue from their CD sales or songwriting, but I expect to be paid as their guitar player for live shows and recording sessions.

        1. Hey, Cameron!
          When a recording is sold, the composer/lyricist receive 50% of the revenue and the publisher receives the other 50% (BTW “publisher” does not mean a printer of sheet music, but rather the company that produces the music). The costs for recording, promotion, CD replication, etc. come out of the publisher’s 50%. There are no “master recording rights” that get a piece of the money. There IS the copyright for the recording that is specific to the band, but if they didn’t write the song, they only get paid a small percentage of the publishing percentage IF they have a contract with the publisher stipulating it. The value of this copyright is twofold: (1) to prevent movies and television programs from using recordings without paying royalties to do so, but those royalties go to the composer/lyricist and the publisher of the recording (this is how all of those 60’s, 70′, 80’s, and 90’s bands got screwed on the revenues from their recordings). This is also why it is so important to be a composer/lyricist: they get 50% of the recorded composition revenue. (2) What the band DOES get is the right to play the recorded composition in concert without having to pay a royalty to do so. This is where players make their money. I do know a bassist who has played on recordings for everyone big over the last thirty years who gets a nice fat ASCAP check twice a year for the teeny tiny royalties he gets from every recording he’s ever done. But he gets these royalties because it was part of his recording contracts. Get “Music Law” and Donald Passman’s book “All You Need to Know About the Music Business.” These two will help you understand the simplicity and the complexity of the music biz. Best Regards!

          1. Oh, and one other thing. Just because a musician plays on a recorded composition does not mean that he/she becomes part composer. If you wish to pay them for their participation in the actual recording, work out an arrangement with the publisher to make sure that the players get something: either a one-time fee or a small percentage royalty as the music sells. If not, then you will have to pay your band to cover your songs whenever they perform them.

            1. Hi Stan,

              Thanks for the discussion. I actually haven’t heard of revenues being divided the way you describe, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that has happened before or if it happens now.

              I used to work at Universal Music Group, and while each artist agreement was a little different, they were basically as described in my previous comment. The record label owned the master recording rights, and the costs of the album were paid for by the artists, out of the artists share (which was always much less than 50%).

              Publishing rights for the underlying composition were something different altogether. I’ve recorded many cover songs myself and I pay the statutory rate of $0.091 (as determined by the US Copyright Office) to the publisher for every copy I distribute. That royalty is split between the publisher and the songwriter.

              On the other end of the spectrum, when artists release their own album and are their own publisher, then they maintain all the rights and every penny of profit is theirs.

              There are all kinds of deals and variations of rights (such as Creative Commons) in between these two examples. So I’m not saying you’re wrong, I just want to make sure readers understand that there are different types of deals out there and they should understand the laws and read every contract before they sign anything.

              1. Hey Cameron,
                It’s an historical thing. In the early days, a recording company would approach a songwriter (like Irving Berlin) and would offer the songwriter half of all revenues generated if he would allow the company to record the song. If he agreed, the recording company would then hire musicians for a day rate and have them play the song for the recording. The recording company would then market the song and the revenues would be split 50-50 with the songwriter. The musicians would play for the day rate and would receive no royalties. That mindset has remained in the industry for over 80 years. Nowadays, there are multiple exceptions to this rule, and recording companies have had to adjust the way they do business in order to keep their business; but, the 50-50 principle is still the standard. PUBLISHER is a legal term that has been used for decades to indicated the recording company. The fact that sheet music can also be “published” (the common term), i.e printed, creates confusion. Usually, sheet music is printed by a printer under contract to the recording company.

                U.S. Copyright law §102 is specific. A copyright for a song can be either a “musical work, including lyrics” or a “sound recording.” In both cases, the songwriter owns the entire copyright (unless he signs it away). If a recording company approaches a songwriter about recording a song, it makes a deal with the songwriter that has traditionally been 50-50. If a songwriter (usually a band or band member) approaches a recording company, the deal will usually be weighted heavily toward the recording company and most first-time songwriters sign away much if not all of their rights to a song for the opportunity of getting the song recorded. I do not know whether or not the Universal Music Group handled primarily new acts, but established songwriters, like Carol Bayer Sager, Burt Bacharach, David Foster, Babyface, etc., usually get the 50-50 treatment because they have track records of success that the record companies would like to leverage for their own gain. It’s a sliding scale with no hard, fast rules; but, the general principles remain unchanged.

                In any event, the term “master recording rights” may be used by a company to describe the copyright they acquired to a song, but it exists nowhere in copyright law. Seriously, check out the two books I mentioned earlier and download the U.S. Copyright law. I guarantee that you will be glad you did. Keep rocking!

    1. Please clarify your condescending remarks in regards to Davids article. What is retarded in your view ?
      Are you a full time musician ?
      If yes, how long in the business ?

      AND…..what is not correct?

      Just curious to know why someone would make an unwarranted statement without reason !

    2. I would say, due to the anonymous user handle, poor grammar, and no homepage link, that this is most likely a troll, and probably a young kid, at that. I’d suggest to Dave that this be placed in the “spam” category and should be deleted, since even if he truly is a top pro musician who makes millions of dollars, he did nothing to further the discussion. Same with Thomas below.

      Dave, might I suggest some way to report spam on your site?

      1. Well, I was going to put it in the spam folder, but before I could get to it you guys starting sticking up for me, ha. I thought it was kind of cool of y’all, so I let it stay.

        I’ll get rid of Thomas below. No self-promotion here, y’all. If we allowed that the site would be overrun with it.

        We get a lot of spam. We get to all of it eventually, but it’s harder when we’re all gigging regularly.

  44. Musicians are at the top of the food chain.
    The farmer’s child becomes a teacher.
    The teacher’s child becomes a doctor.
    The doctor’s child becomes a lawyer.
    The lawyer’s child becomes a musician.

    Our responsibility as musicians is to bring the message of peace, love, hope and joy into the world.

    Do your job and you will be duly rewarded.

    Love and music,
    Diva JC

    1. This was great! Thanks!
      And often true.

      so, ya get to the top and then start over again. ;)

      yup. my dad was dirt poor. became lawyer. he has four children. a social worker, a musician, a teacher, and a theater major.
      guess we’re just spoiled.
      or realized it was good to follow your passion.

  45. Great Article . I am an 8th grader taking a college and career prep class and im interested in becoming a musician . My assignment was to plan out my lifestyle money-wise and my lifestyle would cost around $90,000. I will have a husband so I can split the cost half and half with him. So I’ll need to be making around $45,000 yearly . I want to study music in college, but I wanted to ask if this sounded like a realistic lifestyle . I know how to play the flute , and how to sing . I am currently learning guitar and piano . I love music but the thing im worried about is money . i want to be able to give my waaaaaaaay future child more than what my parents are giving me . My question is, do you think becoming a musician will be able to support my lifestlye?

    1. Priscilla,
      You have some high expectations for your financial life and that is a good thing however, instead of focusing on a particular number perhaps focus on what you want to do with your life. This starts with a first class education. Many of us professional musicians acquire this through experience and study either privately and/or institutionally !
      Music may not be the way for you however, if you feel the calling then you must give it a try. It’s the only way you will know if this is right for you.
      Practice is the key here however, no matter how good you are there is always someone a little better so you must stay humble and learn that disappointments will come with the territory. Learn to manage your business with great attention to ethics. When you deal with people you must have honesty and integrity working for you because you reputation is in your name and that becomes your marketing plan.Love of music is a given but you will need much more to be successful. A great Jazz drummer once told me that to make it in this business you must have, ” Stick- to- it- tive-ness !” That was the late great Philly Jo Jones back in the day. So stay focused,work hard,surround yourself with good people always and develop a good business plan and sponge ideas off everyone; Musicians,Teachers,Professionals,Self-Employed folks,learn from everyone. At the end of the day you don’t feel the calling any longer, you can always study Law or Finance and play music for hobby or a part-time professional, (Week-end warrior) it’s all good! Good Luck and I wish you well.

      1. Thanks a lot, I really will take all of this to heart. And it’s actually kind of funny you said that i should study law , becoming a lawyer was my first choice because my teacher wants me to make my powerpoint assignment as realistic as possible, but at the end of the day, i thought that music would be more satisfying than law! :)

        1. Priscilla,
          You sound to me like your way ahead of most your age ! How about studying Law as a Major with a minor in music and your specialty can be Entertainment Law ? Best of both worlds. You will still have music (night gigs) as well as a day job helping people like myself and other artists !

          If I had to do over I would have studied Law because that’s what it all comes down to !In my vast years of experience with contracts both signing and writing them for performance,recording as well as publishing etc. I always used an Entertainment Attorney which was instrumental (unintended play on words here) in keeping it all real as well as protecting my interests. Union Musicians always rely on attorneys that work for the American Federation of Musicians (AFM)in dealings with labour and management issues IE.
          Broadway musicians (Local 802) Hollywood musicians(Local 47) and of course Classical Orchestra’s like Philadelphia Orchestra (Local 77) and many others as well.

          So the good news is, there is a bright future for someone like yourself. All you have to do is apply yourself hone your skills and always thing positive. Good things will happen.

          Keep us all posted on your progress.


            1. James,
              In all my tears I have never seen a poor lawyer however I have seen a poor musician and was there once myself !

              Your friends may have had the academic skills however, that is not enough. One must make good contacts through networking not digitally but through interface with the old fashioned handshake & smile ! That’s how it’s done.

              The old proverbial,” It’s not what you know it’s who you know” Unfortunately somethings never change. 1) The Human Condition & 2) Politics.

    2. Learn guitar and piano to a level at which you can teach. Combine that with flute and voice and you can teach four instruments. This keeps it more fun, and easy to fill up your schedule.

      Using some current numbers.
      40 students, $25/half hour = $1000/wk.
      20 hours per week actual teaching time.
      $52,000/year minus your vacations, your students vacations, sickness, and soccer tournaments, you will make 45,000 or a bit more.
      If you travel to student’s houses, it will take longer, but you can charge more. You can arrange it to come out even.
      If you are settled, you can teach out of your house.
      If you choose to have kids, you will be around them more.

      These are real numbers. I have done exactly this. I have made more, and I have made less.
      I also play gigs and do studio work.
      The most I have ever made in a year, working perpetually, was $54,000.

      Currently, I charge more than $25/half hour.
      And you will too, with a degree, and inflation by the time you get out of school.

      All this being said. Keep your options open. Study everything in High School and especially college. You never know what might spark your interest.
      Only study law if you love the attributes of that profession. Same with being a doctor. Only do it if it your passion.

      The other suggestions made in comments are valid, but, you will have to make your own choices.

      I have worked on a farm, every job in a restaurant, a salesman, a computer technician, and a musician. I have had jobs making more than $1000/wk, which I left. I have been a full time musician for over ten years.

      Life as a musician is difficult. But life as an anything is tough.

      Keep your mind open to many things, study, explore.

      To answer your question, though, yes, you can make $45,000/year.

      ps. you will not starve. and busking stinks. does not pay well in the United States.

      1. Mike,
        Thankyou, I’m 13(: . And Majoring in Law, and minoring in music sounds perfect . :)I’d have to look into Entertainment Law, I Don’t know too much about it . But I definatly think that I would never get bored if I would be going along with that schedule .
        All in all, Thankyou very much, you helped clear things up a lot, believe me . :)


        1. Wow 13, you have time on your side. For many of us time becomes our enemy so we can only focus on the most important things !

          Best wishes & good luck


      2. Thanks for the advice, but the thing is, i’m not really too great at teaching. I’m better at playing. And me being as young as I am, its not the greatest I promise you .
        And I think music is my passion. I love to play it more than really do anything else. But when I was on a debate team, i noticed i got really hooked too, so i think that law would be a close second, but I will need to make the money so I will hopefully become a lawyer.
        Thankyou again. :)

  46. On Spotify I agree with David !

    Sometime ago I had asked all my affiliates BMI,AFM,& my library site Audiosparx to look into the operation of Spotify. As a composer and producer it makes no sense giving their disposition of royalty payments to artist. It really is counter-productive and why would you give it away when there are other avenues to travel in regards to optimizing your streams of income ? Back in 1998-99 when I went digital and launched my projects via internet, there was the Napster pirates of which after investigating some 2,500 downloads of my music of which I received nothing ! The lie was that if you give free downloads it will help sell your CD along with marketing exposure ! And Pink Pigs Fly at Easter ! This happened to many artist when joining music sites that leaked into Napster. There were many lobbies on Capital Hill about copyrights,artist rights and of course intellectual property rights of which the AFM,BMI,ASACP and many others fought to keep our rights intact however not always successful unfortunately. Below I took the liberty to copy a Criticism from Wikipedia it’s worth the read.

    (The service has come under fire for failing to compe
    nsate independent artists fairly. Helienne Lindvall of The Guardian reported that “indie labels… as opposed to the majors and Merlin members, receive no advance, receive no minimum per stream and only get a 50% share of ad revenue on a pro-rata basis.”[86] Swedish musician Magnus Uggla wanted to pull his music from the service, stating that after six months he’d only earned “what a mediocre busker could earn in a day”.[87] Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reported in 2009 that record label Racing Junior had only earned NOK 19 ($3.00 USD) after their artists had been streamed over 55,100 times.[88] According to an infographic by David McCandless, an independent artist on Spotify would need over four million streams per month to earn US$1,160.[89] Luke Lewis of NME points to problems with the Spotify business model, saying he was “convinced the ‘free’ aspect of Spotify is unsustainable” and that if “Spotify is to have a future, it needs to be a viable business”.[90]

    In September of 2011, Brooklyn-based independent label Projekt Records entered a public disagreement with Spotify, stating “In the world I want to live in, I envision artists fairly compensated for their creations, because we (the audience) believe in the value of what artists create. The artist’s passion, dedication and expression is respected and rewarded. Spotify is NOT a service that does this. Projekt will not be part of this unprincipled concept.” [91]

    A 2011 blog post alleged that the higher 320 kbps bitrate supposedly available to Premium subscribers was in reality only available on around 30% of tracks.[59] A large majority of the content was actually streamed in 160 kbps.[59]

    The usefulness of Spotify for listening to classical music has been criticised, because playback is not gapless (there is a slight pause between tracks), which affects much classical music, and searching is very poor.[92] This is also a problem in other types of music, including popular music, where some albums are intended to be listened to without gaps. [93]

    Spotify has also been criticised for bugs in the Android version, which prevents the use of offline playlist functionality on Honeycomb-based devices.[94]

    Spotify also faces new issues with the introduction of requiring a Facebook account. [95] )

  47. Very informative. I read several of the articles. I am most impressed with Cameron’s article, The Truth About Booking Shows for Musicians in New York City.

  48. I’m a church musician. I play the keyboard during Mass and train the choir for free. But I’m having financial difficulties right now. Is is reasonable to start charging a fee?

    1. Absolutely. The church has been one of the most reliable employers of musicians for hundreds of years – that will never change. I know music directors of churches that make $75k+ a year. I had a church gig for years that paid $100 a service – for me it was 2 services a week. But the church next to mine hired an organist for 7 services a week, also $100/service.

      1. Thanks David for the helpful information. I didn’t charge a fee in the past because my service is an offering. But then, I want to concentrate on this music which means I have to drop my other sources on income that didn’t have any sense of purpose to me.

        God bless you and your endeavors!

  49. Hi, really helpful article. I am a musician by hobby but am also consulting for a chain of restaurants.

    I am curious to know what is the going wage for a jazz or classical pianist playing at an upscale restaurant. It would be a 3 hour gig and take place 4 times a week. The pianist would not be required to sing. Thank you so much

  50. This website has helped my so much! I just graduated college and I’m picking up all kinds of work in Atlanta and the areas around it. Using some of the formulas you mentioned has helped me budget a little and gauge what I should charge for a lesson and what I can hope to ask for a performance: I just booked a gig with my cover band for $100 a person. Anyway, THANKS SO MUCH for posting such helpful info!

  51. Thanks for this article. Its been a very interesting read including the comments. Do you have any advice specific to singers? I currently do gigs with a cover band and I’m starting to MC for private partys which doesn’t require much singing but pays well. I’d love to do music full time but haven’t figured it out. I know that I’ll need to do more than just one thing so I’m still looking. I’m getting really busy but it’s not enough to support myself on or even meet my monthly expenses without working a day job. I don’t play any instruments besides my voice so teaching music isn’t something I can do. Any advice on something that I’ve missed in the article or otherwise that can help? Being busy is good but there aren’t enough hours in a day to do it the way that I’m doing it to really get out of the day gig. Any help is greatly appreciated!

    1. You could teach voice lessons. A lot of the jobs above include your talents – cover bands, original bands, cruise gigs – there’s lots of stuff.

      Like any gig in this business, you just have to be really good and keep hustling. You can make a living as a singer, sure.

      Check out church gigs – those pay well and always need singers/cantors.

  52. A reed player on Broadway who plays flute, alto sax, tenor sax and clarinet would make base salary plus 2 doubles, not 4. Alto and Tenor don’t count as separate doubles in the current 802 agreement with the Broadway League. You can’t just add up the number of instruments.

    For example, the Porgy & Bess WW section is

    1. Flute and Picc (no double)
    2. Oboe and English Horn (no double)
    3. Clarinet, Alto, Flute (2 Doubles)
    4. Tenor, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet (1 Double)
    5. Bassoon, Bari, Tenor (1 Double)

    Make sense?


  53. I am an American living here in Ireland with my Irish husband.We would love to come to USA to live but him being a Musician is hard because work is so hard to come by. it dosnt matter how good you are here in Ireland just as long as your cheap. my husband backed up Freddie Fender and Johnny Cash when they were in Germany. so someone please tell me where in USA would be a good place for someone who playes Irish/Country/oldies and Little rock /Blues go? Thank you

    1. It’s difficult everywhere, so there’s no guarantees. But my guess would be New York or Nashville. There’s an Irish scene here in NYC, but I’m not sure how well it pays. Nashville has a great country scene, of course, and they’ll value his Irish skills there as well.

      Chicago has a great blues scene, but the pay is low.

  54. thank you this article was very informative im only 16 but i play trombone for the school band and i had no idea what a salarie was for someone in a symphony or orchestra but now i do thank you it was very helpful and intesting

  55. The U.S. Navy Music Program has been an excellent career choice for me. I am a saxophone player and have been in for 22 years. I can retire now but choose to continue to stay because of the benefits and pay.

  56. I’ve been having this conversation with a student of mine, and when you do the math, it can be scary:

    Berklee is nearly $40,000 a year. Not every school is that expensive, but a lot of them are in that ballpark. I personally have $116,000 in student loan debt getting my bachelor’s degree in guitar performance.

    My student loans are $1222 a month.
    A decent apartment in a music town is min $1000 a month.
    Reliable transportation with insurance can be $300 a month.
    Health insurance with a decent deductable is $400 a month.
    so that is $4000 a month – and we haven’t discussed taxes, food, gear, expenses while networking, clothing, gas, internet connection and utilities, etc.

    It seems if you went to school for music $60,000 a year would be an absolute bare minimum.

    I gig about 150 dates a year in a good paying band ($200/show) and teach 20-40 students a week. I’ve been racking my brain for the last few years trying to figure out how to make this all work. I don’t have a spare moment to add to my income!

  57. Good article. However… I’m finding that in local clubs and bars today, I’m making the same $$ per gig I was making in 1977. ($75-$100) Sometimes less! There’s no keeping up with inflation in the Arts. The general music doesn’t appreciate live music like they used to and weekend crowds are way down. Nowadays, bar bands seem to be a nuisance for people who just want to go out to a bar and talk with their friends. Wedding/corporate gigs are the only way to go (if they haven’t already opted for a DJ playing other musicians’ work).

    1. That’s partially true. I’m still in middle school and there is a large chunk of people (including myself) who love live music, but if the speakers are up so loud that the floor is shaking during a performance where there are people eating it can give them an upset stomach. I love it when people come in and perform live at one of our burger places or something more than having recordings playing, but if people are eating don’t have the volume up too loud or they won’t be able to eat or chat without being disrupted.

  58. Get real guys.The musicians on thee titanic were romanticized in the media but they lived next to the potato peeler and only received half their wages.I think musicians should charge clients 1000 an hour and play free for groups of children who appreciate them.

  59. i just skimmed threw this so it could have been mentioned but what about being in band and touring. like bands like of mice & men, bring me the horizon, black veil brides, pierce the veil, sleeping with sirens, memphis may fire, suicide silence, ect. bands like them were you go on tours and play their kind of music like post-hardcore, heavy metal, rock and stuff. anything about being in bands like that? feeback would b greatly appreciated.

    1. I agree with you. I’m doing research for a school project where we have to pick a career and try to stay on our feet in the real world when we’re fresh out of high school. I want to be a singer in a band and an artist. I obviously came to this website for the band, but I saw your comment (while listening to My Chemical Romance/Hotelier) and couldn’t help but to agree. If anyone does have info I would like some too because that’s the genre that I was going to have the band play. Thanks for bringing up that point!

  60. There are other markets for musicians left out of this article who can make a 6 digit income. Studio musicians who write and record for broadcast and movies, worship pastors (large churches), musicians who can also secure audio engineering jobs audio design, and the smartest musicians….the ones who know how to invest. I’ve been a full time musician for 30 years, and never put my musician eggs in one basket. Got to be versatile and do many things in the music business to make real good money. Investing in stocks at a young age helped too.

  61. I’m doing a project for school where we rp that we just got out of high school and need to get a career. We get money to get us started with a home, insurance, car, ext. I need as much help as I can get and this article has been very helpful, but if anyone could help get me details on being the vocalist in a rock/alternative(like Peirce the Veil, Black Veil Brides, Green Day, My Chemical Romance) band of 5 (including me) I need as much info as possible. Thanks! :-)

    1. This article looks at income for the average working musician, not rock/pop stars, whose income could vary drastically based on their record contracts, touring agreements, and other sources of revenue beyond their band.

  62. Gotta love the way it is taken for granted that every musician who might want to read such an article is American without bothering to say so.

      1. My comment was intended in good heart. I try to encourage Americans to be more open to the rest of the world, but it is a ahrd grind. .

        There is nothing wrong with a website being American, but it should SAY that it is American. It isn’t much to ask, it is what decent, sensitive people everywhere else in the world would do. There is no other country in the world whose inhabitants would forget the difference, and frankly this characteristic of the US is repulsive. It is also deeply uncultured.

        You do realise that this ugliness and insenstivity is one of the causes of every form of anti-Americanism, including Jihad, do you not? And thus of every form of suffering by Americans that arises from anti-Americanism?

        I used to think that the internet would reduce the cultural isolation and myopia of Americans, but all it has done is to make everyone else more aware of it.

        1. Hi I have a question. I am a college music student who plays the clarinet. My question, is it plausible to assume the same income with my instrument generally speaking. I see the original post is directed towards keyboard or piano. An obviously more popular instrument. Please let me know. Thank you for your time.

          1. Chuck: Unless you are a major league symphony quality clarinetist I would do the following. First learn tenor sax, it is the usual double for clarinet or I should say clarinet is the usual double for tenor sax.

            Next learn flute. You will probably be able to learn sax faster than flute. The fingerings on flute are similar to sax but the embouchure is way different.

            Study w/ a sax player then a flute player. Get up on your reading. Check out the Bugs Bower, Lennie Niehaus and Greg Fishman books. If you are not familiar w/the rules of swing then get a sax teacher who is.

            Lastly consider going into either a Navy, Army or Air Force Band. You will learn a lot. If you are single consider an overseas band, you will travel a lot. If you do not want to do a service band then consider a cruise line band.

            Oh yes on clarinet do not just be a classical guy. Start listening to and learning jazz clarinet. Learn how to play the improvised clarinet part in a Dixieland Band. Check out Bechet, Goodman, Shaw, Edmond Hall etc. For new guys check out Allan Vache’ and Ken Peplowski.

  63. I just found your web sight. I am 74 yrs old. I am on a karaoke website Singsnap and do some songs there. I do download the songs I do as well as the tracks.
    I perform occasionally for benefits like the Cancer Society ( local chapter )for free. I also do a local Senior Center as well sometimes. I also burn some copies to a cd for a very few friends at no cost. I also put some pictoral movies that I put on You tube under Jeff Peters sings with Disney for non profit. Is any of this illegal for me to do? I have about 9 on You Tube. Please view to see what you think. I used Window Movie Maker.
    Thank you for your patience.

  64. i lovvvvve to sing you can really make a living out of it! singing is a way to show your emotions and other feelings you have in a sinple but great way!

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