July 11, 2018
By William Glanz
Music fans streamed the 25 tracks on Drake’s new album, Scorpion, 745.92 million times in its first week, according to Billboard, and the album recorded 732,000 equivalent album sales in the U.S. for the week ending July 5.
Not every recording artist generates the same revenue as Drake.
In fact, scores of U.S. musicians struggle to make a living, according to a new report from the Music Industry Research Association and Princeton University’s Survey Research Center. The median income for American professional musicians in 2017 was around $35,000, a figure that includes income from music and non-music sources.
“The music industry is a superstar market where a very lucky, talented few do very well and most struggle to make ends meet,” said Alan Krueger, professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University and president of the Music Industry Research Association (MIRA).
MIRA organized in January 2017. In partnership with MusiCares, researchers surveyed 1,227 musicians, composers and music directors between April 12 and June 2 this year to provide a snapshot of our nation’s music economy at the individual level.
The primary factor that distinguishes musicians who make money from those who don’t is clear, Krueger said.
“The challenge is becoming popular. Even the superstars make most of their money from touring… so what differentiates the superstars from the rest of the musicians is the superstars have a much bigger following,” he said.
The report comes amid industry reports that clearly show a music industry in recovery. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) reported this year that the U.S. recorded music industry had an estimated retail value of $8.7 billion in 2017, a 16.5 percent increase over the previous year.
The new MIRA report paints a more nuanced picture by providing individual data. Sixty-one percent of musicians said that their music -related income is not sufficient to meet their living expenses, according to the report.
“A 58-year old musician described the financial challenges that musicians face as follows: ‘At the local level, the pay for a night club gig in 1978 was an average $100. Forty years later it is the same or less, while the cost of bread, gas, milk, alcohol, housing continues to rise,’” according to the report.
“As a group, musicians are very poorly remunerated,” Krueger said.
Ultimately, MIRA researchers want to help the music industry “find a more sustainable business model.”
The new report also points to challenges musicians face in addition to financial hardship.
Musicians struggle with mental health and drug problems in greater numbers than the general population, while women in the music industry face discrimination and harassment, Krueger said.
For example, 48 percent of female musicians reported feeling down, depressed or hopeless for at least several days, compared to 52.5 percent of male musicians, according to the report.
Nearly 80 percent of musicians reported having at least one drink per week, compared with just under half of the general adult population, according to the report. In addition, musicians are also more likely to be frequent drinkers, almost twice as likely as the general population to report that they drink alcohol on four or more days per week, researchers found.
“All of those findings were very disturbing,” Krueger said.
Looking on the Bright Side
Despite the challenges musicians face, many also said they remain passionate about the industry.
“They really do live to perform for others, even while they struggle,” Krueger said. “They like the collaborative aspect of it. They like the creative aspect of it. They like to entertain people.”
Need for More Research
The new report also points to the need for more research, Krueger said, and MIRA plans to do an annual survey.
“This is a starting point,” he said. “One of our signature activities [at MIRA] is going to be to do a regular survey, probably an annual survey, of musicians and this was the baseline.”
Obtaining better data that helps researchers paint a more detailed picture will require surveying more musicians, Krueger said.
“It’s very difficult to survey musicians. To define a universe of musicians is difficult. To then go out and find them is difficult… but that said, I think the results are indicative of the challenges that musicians face,” he said.