Massive Growth In Independent Musicians & Singers Over The Past Decade

from the the-numbers-are-in dept

We’ve discussed in the past a favorite talking point of the RIAA, claiming a 40% decline in employment for musicians over the past decade or so, which simply isn’t supported by the numbers. We’ve been seeing a lot of people claiming this again lately, so we decided to take a look at what the numbers actually showed, and can’t seem to figure out where that decline is coming from, because the numbers show a very different story — one that suggests things are actually much better for independent musicians than in the past, just as we would expect. In fact, there’s been an astounding 510% increase in independent musicians making their full time living from music in just the past decade.

It’s important to note, of course, that very, very, very few people get to make a living as a professional musician. That’s just the unfortunate reality of the market. But understanding where that employment comes from is important. The RIAA, rather bizarrely, relies on the top line numbers for “musician employment” to make their case, but nearly all of those musicians are not musicians who are associated with RIAA member labels at all. Let’s dig into the numbers a bit and see what we find.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics Data is available on their site, though they don’t always present it consistently, and so we see some people cherry picking some numbers (what the RIAA did) to distort things and then, sometimes, they’re just bad at math (again, RIAA is guilty). So, if we look at overall employment of musicians and singers over a 10 year period, we can go back to the numbers from May 2003 and then the numbers from May 2012. Take a look at some of the key data points here. Let’s start with the top line numbers, which is what the RIAA and others have been using.

From May 2003:

From May 2012:

The top line there does show a decrease in full time musicians and singers, overall, but it’s a drop of 16.7%, nowhere near the 40% (or, even higher) numbers some claim. Anyone claiming a bigger drop from these numbers is doing something wrong. Because when you compare the same numbers a decade apart that’s the drop you get.

But the top line numbers aren’t that interesting, really. Let’s look a bit deeper at what makes up those numbers above, and you discover some very interesting things very quickly:

From May 2003:

And From May 2012:

If you look at what the jobs actually are in this industry, the largest chunk, by far, are musicians employed by “performing arts companies.” These are theater orchestras, symphonies and the like. They are musicians (very, very good ones), but they’re not the kind of musicians the RIAA is talking about when it talks about musicians. That industry (performing arts companies) is definitely dealing with a bunch of challenges of its own related to continued funding, getting paying guests for shows and the like, but those are very different from the challenges that the internet creates for recording artists, which is what most people are talking about when they have this discussion. A big part of the “decline” in full time musicians comes from these performing arts groups, however, going from 27,860 down to 22,500. The second biggest chunk of this number is also not what people generally think of in this area either: religious organizations.

So, let’s look at the kinds of musicians that most people think are being talked about when discussing musician employment: musicians in bands that record/release songs/albums, perform and tour, and that kind of thing. Remember, these numbers are very, very small, because the BLS is only looking at full time musicians, and there just aren’t that many people who make a full time living as a musician outside of working for a performing arts company. Back in 2003, the “sound recording industries” (i.e., the labels) employed a grand total of… 880 musicians. Across the entire country. Note, too, that this was the high point of the industry. The idea that the RIAA is some huge supporter of musicians when at its peak it didn’t support more than 1,000 musicians really says something, doesn’t it? A decade later that number is, indeed, way down: 190. The major labels aren’t supporting very many full time musicians at all.

But, much more interesting is the corresponding explosive growth of independent musicians. Back in 2003, it was a mere 300. But, by last year it was 1,830. In other words, over the past ten years, there’s been decided growth in full time musicians of the type that we’re normally talking about — those creating and releasing music. In fact, it’s grown 71% from 1180 in 2003 to 2020 in 2012, and the massive growth is seen in the area of independent artists who have much greater choice and control in their careers. And, it seems worth noting that the equivalent mean wage of an independent artist is significantly higher than one employed by the labels — $35.41 vs. $26.38. Mean numbers are a bit meaningless since all sorts of things can be hidden in the mean, but on the whole, the numbers look pretty good.

Now, there are plenty of caveats to go with this, since many, many musicians who release music are unable to do so full time, so they don’t show up in this chart at all. But by all indications more part time artists are also earning more money than ever before as well, with thousands of artists now being able to make some money, whereas in the past they couldn’t make any.

Of course, it would be great to get even more artists making a full time salary, but the argument made by the RIAA and others that now is a bad time to be a full time, performing musician, making and releasing music, just doesn’t seem supported by the numbers. It sure looks like there are many more full time, performing musicians now, it’s just that many of them are independent (and making more).

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Comments on “Massive Growth In Independent Musicians & Singers Over The Past Decade”

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bob (profile) says:

Kudos to the RIAA!

They were out there defending the artists and now these artists are making a living with music. Congrats to the RIAA! Thanks to their steadfast support, the ranks of musicians has grown.

If it were just up to the people on this web site, the musicians would be giving their music away for free and selling t-shirts and concert tickets.

Think how many barrels of oil were saved from being burned so people could go to a concert just to support an artist? Think how many gallons of pesticides were saved from being sprayed on a cotton field just so people could support an artist? The RIAA is saving the environment and making it possible for us to support our favorite artists through digital means. RIAA+DRM=Green!

bob (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Kudos to the RIAA!

Ah, but that’s not part of the CD standard. That’s like saying the Internet gives people DRM just because a few files have rootkits. You might as well blame open source software too because of the weird things inserted into some distros.

DRM has just morphed. Now it’s just got another name but it still works by forcing people to log into a central server. Netflix, Spotify, Amazon and the other cloud services are just as effective as DRM. They’re smart enough not to use those initials even though their goal is one in the same: protect the artists from abuse by those who want to take their work by force.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Kudos to the RIAA!

Now you are just flailing around wildly.

DRM is digital rights management, a cute name for copy protection. Anything that incorporates a form of copy protection contains DRM, no matter what cute names they come up with.

But this is beside the point. You said that the RIAA was green, which is clearly false. Even today they try to push their shiny plastic disks onto people, instead of going fully digital like reasonable people (Vale) did a long time ago.

Robert (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Kudos to the RIAA!

What do you know about cloud services?

You can’t lump Amazon’s cloud service in with NetFlix (which isn’t a cloud service – a cloud service provides storage space, and in some cases like Azure, VM’s, VN’s, websites, SQL services, CRM services, or you can host them on VM’s within VN’s if you like).

Don’t conflate technologies.

The filelockers/cyberlockers/cybershares/vaults etc.. you are referring to are USING cloud services (which is really just a bunch of servers acting together in a farm, using load balancing, hosting multiple machines). And the industry created that DRM-like functionality and are pushing harder for more control.

What pissed people off about DRM was it failed to let gamers play the games. It failed to let people BUY from iTunes and then transfer those files to their non-iPod device.

That’s what DRM did. That’s why iTunes, Amazon and the like offered DRM-free items – because they saw people getting pissed and sales dropping, in terms of adoption rates not yearly sales – don’t conflate that shit either.

Said companies dropped DRM because they know consumers want to burn it to a CD for the car, listen on their OWN portable music device (not be device restricted) and they noticed MORE sales (increase in rate of sales) when consumers can access the fucking content they paid to access in a way they want to access.

That’s why DRM is harmful. Many artists get that. Many artists groups have come out against DRM for that very reason. That includes the author groups.

Only “groups” or organizations made up of lawyers support DRM and that’s been proven here when articles expose said members for what the organization really is.

Lowestofthekeys (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Kudos to the RIAA!

Ah yes they did:

“Discs with DRM schemes are not legitimately standards-compliant Compact Discs (CDs) but are rather CD-ROM media. Therefore they all lack the CD logotype found on discs which follow the standard (known as Red Book). Therefore these CDs could not be played on all CD players. Many consumers could also no longer play purchased CDs on their computers. Personal computers running Microsoft Windows would sometimes even crash when attempting to play the CDs.[55]”

You can argue semantics on the fact that the CDs were considered “CD-roms” but they still had music placed on them and eventually replaced the CD format.

In fact, I remember in 2005 buying a CD that gave me only 5 chances to copy it.

Zakida Paul (profile) says:

Re: Kudos to the RIAA!

You are right. Kudos to the RIAA. They have screwed over so many artists over decades to the point that the artists get fed up and go it alone. This means the artists can get on with the business of making music and connecting with fans without worrying about corporate RIAA bullshit.

Thank you for that, RIAA

bob (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Kudos to the RIAA!

Oh really? Have you been tuning in? I’ve seen hundreds of posts where Mike says that the key for musicians is to give away digital copies and sell what can’t be copied easily. He, himself, tried t-shirts for many years before giving up.

Why don’t you explain what this site is about if it’s not about giving away digital copies and making money on physical goods?

Robert (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Kudos to the RIAA!

Hundreds? Hmm… interesting.

Care to link to some where Mikes CwF+RtB says give away digital versions? Also, Mike gave up on t-shirts? Where’s that? I see them still available on the insider shop:

What Mike has said was:
1) Don’t give it away and pray (despite you saying he says that)
2) Don’t rely on digital sales alone, give more, fans want more, offer packages that are more than just a digital download
3) Don’t try to force a scarcity upon something that isn’t scarce

There are “hundreds” more, but I’m not going to type them all out, I know you won’t read them.

bob (profile) says:

Re: Re: Kudos to the RIAA!

Actually, you’re speaking about the recording companies, the same ones that have made acts like Bruce Springsteen, REM, the Rolling Stones and others more money than you or I will ever see in our lifetime. Yeah, those companies really screwed over the artists.

The fact is that 99% of the independent artists would jump at a somewhat decent contract with a somewhat respectable house. Being independent is hard work. It’s do-able now because the RIAA has been on the ramparts fighting for artists’ rights but it’s still hard.

silverscarcat says:

Re: Re: Re: Kudos to the RIAA!

um, bob…

While a MINORITY of artists have gotten rich under contracts with those leeches, it’s a TINY minority, less than 1%.

Back in the late 1990s, the Dixie Chicks, at the height of their popularity, were speaking with Dan Rather about their careers, and he brought up that they had sold, off their latest album, over 30 million copies and pointed out that they should have lots of money.

Their response?

“Please don’t point that out, we’re not seeing a dime of that.”

And that was one of the most successful bands of the 90s.

Wanna try again with your failed arguments?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Kudos to the RIAA!

“Wanna try again with your failed arguments?”

of course not, he won’t respond to pesky facts and such, he’ll just trot out the same old tired bullshit next time…

there is NO debunking with the copymaximalists, no matter how clearly they are shown to be wrong (on many levels), they will bring the same ole shit up again, and again, and again…

(repetition is the cornerstone of propaganda…)

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Lowestofthekeys (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Kudos to the RIAA!

The recording companies have built themselves an artificial market that cannot maintain their expected bottom line.

They’ll continue taking from the artists even when things like digital music reduce overhead. You remember when they tried to reduce royalty rates ( Or how about when multiple artists sue their record labels for unfair royalties (

I guess you could say they’re not screwing them over, but rather bending them over and sodomizing them for every last scent to maintain their profit.

Zakida Paul (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Kudos to the RIAA!

Who represents the record companies? And since when has the RIAA fought for artists rights? The only rights they fight for are those of the corporate types in the record labels.

Have you spoken to 99% of artists? Have they all told you that they would jump at a decent record deal? Yes, being independent is hard work but nothing worth doing is easy and it is more rewarding than taking the easy route.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Kudos to the RIAA!

And I thought you of all people had got the memo. Record companies doesn’t exist. They have actually never existed as of the start of 2013. They are called music companies. MUSIC COMPANIES.

Please use the correct name! RIAA is just four letters with no meaning. They are an independent lobbyist group that some music companies for some reason hire at times to get politicians informed etc.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Kudos to the RIAA!

Okay, I’m really starting to think that Paywall bob is just an elaborate manifestation of Poe’s law, because the alternative is just too crazy to consider.

Of course in this case I’m betting this isn’t the real bob anyway, as not once in that entire post was ‘big search’ mentioned, which is all but impossible for him to manage, not to mention the OoTB-level ‘what the here are you smoking?’ last paragraph there.

out_of_the_blue says:

SEE? Works FINE if you create your OWN outside of RIAA.

As I just posted in prior item — and which got contradicted by Techdirt fanboys simply cause that’s all they’ve got — just CREATE AND MARKET YOUR OWN NEW STUFF. Don’t worry about the RIAA. — So you clowns who contradicted me there, Mike hisself has just proven you wrong!

BUT Mike is in with GRIFTERS who want to use the values in the RIAA or MPAA catalogs. That’s why most of his efforts go toward taking the existing mass of values and using it to create new income streams, NOT NEW CONTENT.

jackn says:

Re: SEE? Works FINE if you create your OWN outside of RIAA.

The labels associated with riaa and the likes haven’t produced new content for quite a while. Just that same I IV V stuff weve had since the payola days.

(I IV V is musical so you might not understand).

the riaa and the lables don’t produce any content. At best they are a distrubution channel (and they are terrible at that function). They actually arent’ even a distribution channel, more like an organized ring to strong arm the real distributers. So dude, they add ZERO value to the chain. Not a good place to be (unless you can corrupt the laws to your favor, then ZERO value is a bonus).

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: SEE? Works FINE if you create your OWN outside of RIAA.


Okay, I’ll be right back. I’m going to try your suggestion.

Right, back. Guess what?
Complete failure.
I got a group of people together, formed a band. We recorded it and put it up on Piratebay…next day, several music labels had simultaneously sent DMCA notices to Google with links to our torrents, despite us never signing over the copyrights to our music to them. Since we’re new and still poor, we don’t have the money to sue them in court.
Okay, so we tried Youtube. Again, failure. Turns out five seconds of our song is identical or close enough to another song, so much so that ContentID flagged our song and the ad revenue that should have been going to us ended up going to an already rich record label star.
So we tried distributing through cyberlockers. I’ll give you three guesses what happened there. All of those cyberlockers were sued in court, for copyright infringement. In fact, one of them was one of the most visited sites in the world and its owner was arrested and his servers seized. Two tracks we had recorded we stored only on the servers, thinking they were safe. Okay, stupid move, one should always keep backups, but our speech, our music, is now effectively gone.

So what’s that you’ve said OOTB? That artists are at liberty to distribute their music for free, there’s nothing stopping us? No, not from where I’m standing…

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: SEE? Works FINE if you create your OWN outside of RIAA.

WTF is Bandcamp? Never heard of it. Is it a service that is somehow immune to being dragged into court, where it can either win but go bankrupt, or lose and close? Have the record labels agreed to reasonable deals, and not sought to increase the amount of money going to them by insane amounts? Is the service available all over the world, with no restriction based on where you are?

Anonymous Coward says:

Another reason for the decline in RIAA-affiliated musicians

Technology. Specifically, sampling/synthesis/sequencing technology. It’s now completely reasonable for someone to compose, let’s say, a string section part entirely digitally — no violin/chello/etc. players involved. Given that extremely high-quality samples are readily available and are easily manipulated (to add ambience, for example) there’s very little need to book a studio, hire session players, have them learn their parts, record multiple takes, etc.

The same is true for nearly everything else. An investment of a few thousand dollars yields entirely serviceable results that are acceptable for all but the most demanding applications.

Thus the jobs have shifted, somewhat, from skilled studio musicians to skilled digital musicians. (And make no mistake: they ARE skilled. Correctly playing a nuanced violin solo on a keyboard requires in-depth knowledge of the mechanics of violin plus the skill to execute the performance.)

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Another reason for the decline in RIAA-affiliated musicians

Thus the jobs have shifted, somewhat, from skilled studio musicians to skilled digital musicians. (And make no mistake: they ARE skilled. Correctly playing a nuanced violin solo on a keyboard requires in-depth knowledge of the mechanics of violin plus the skill to execute the performance.)

This may be true, but one other interesting point in the data: the employment of sound recording engineers has seen a somewhat dramatic increase over the same period, contrary to the complaints often heard.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Re: Another reason for the decline in RIAA-affiliated musicians

Here is a summary of the employment figures for Sound Engineers, May 2003–May 2012

Total: 11,840->14,280

Motion Pictures: 3710->3760
Broadcasting: 1870->2200
Sound Recording: 1600->2880
Performing Arts Companies: 570->1110

Note that the single biggest rate of growth is in those working for Performing Arts Companies, and there were also 460 Independent workers, a category not counted in 2003. This would probably reflect the spread of “DJ’ing,” that is, cue-ing recorded music at otherwise live performances. The employment of musicians in performing arts companies had diminished by about 5000. Roughly speaking, one sound engineer seems to have replaced ten musicians.

Sound Recording may not be a consistently defined category. Someone who does sound engineering for a record company is a sound engineer, but so is someone who has a little “record your own album” shop.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Another reason for the decline in RIAA-affiliated musicians

A lot of theatres and performance venues have modernized in the last ten years with video equipment and more elaborate sound equipment like wireless microphones, and they’re creating more video content to put online. It’s easy to assume that more sound engineers have been hired in this area – so it’s not all just DJs.

out_of_the_blue says:

AND DESPITE Mike and his pirate band, you've NOT affected the "dinosaur" business model!

Old Disney rolls on (much to MY displeasure):

As does new Grumpy Cat:

And I was looking there for the weekend box office numbers, but is too far down now. — You should all have read them, anyway.

POINT IS, with all your railing about the “dinosaurs”, and despite MASSIVE pirating — just go to The Pirate Bay and count how pages until you find a torrent that isn’t OBVIOUSLY infringing, that’s the WHOLE draw — they just prove daily that Mike’s anomalies and his wacky notions don’t matter at all. You fanboys just can’t recognize reality.

You’re NOT winning the war with your notions. Way to go after Hollywood is with Populist principles: they just get WAY too much money for mere entertainments. Limiting incomes will force better products, not the “live-action” cartoons that are nearly all of Hollywood’s current products.

Robert (profile) says:

Re: AND DESPITE Mike and his pirate band, you've NOT affected the "dinosaur" business model!

Maybe if you understood this sites assertions (non-abuse use of laws) you’d understand just how foolish you look when you comment as you do.

Quote this site where it endorses “sticking it to the man” via filesharing? Find it!

You won’t, not from people who endorse this site.

You’re just pulling the same old RIAA-based strawman arguments that only stupid musicians like Gene Simmons believe. It’s almost as bad as the CastleLowery cherry-picking quotes and constant attacks on Google when not understanding what’s really happening (all while using an “appeal to authority” fallacy saying he’s a techy and a musician).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: AND DESPITE Mike and his pirate band, you've NOT affected the "dinosaur" business model!

And you can’t recogonise the reality that piracy will continue on this planet for as long as mankind lives on this planet.

Piracy is more rife and prolific now than what it was when Napster was operating and yet all the billions of dollars and efforts that the copyright holders etc. have spent since Napster has not put an end to piracy and neither has it reduced it.

Keep moaning and whining all you like about piracy Blue as it will be a waste of time and effort on your part. If the copyright holders etc. can’t stop piracy then you most certainly can’t stop it no matter what comment you make on this site.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: AND DESPITE Mike and his pirate band, you've NOT affected the "dinosaur" business model!

Here’s the funny thing: we’ve been having this discussion for about three or four decades now.

– Home taping is not killing music.
– Copyright infringement is not theft
– Copying a digital file is not like stealing a car.

The fact that they’ve survive for this long while they were supposedly on the brink of destruction this whole time just means that they were lying all along, and that copyright infringement for private use does not actually kill anything or harm anyone.

If it did, there would be no Sony or Disney or Microsoft right now.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: AND DESPITE Mike and his pirate band, you've NOT affected the "dinosaur" business model!

So, you admit that piracy isn’t affecting studio income, and the bullshit you say in every other thread is just that? That the windmills you normally tilt against are figments of your own imagination, and we can restore the free speech, due process and fair use rights you support destroying?

Glad you finally agree. Now, how’s about you get your corporate masters to stop destroying the distribution models for independent movies because they think they’re not making enough profit yet, hmmm?

“Limiting incomes will force better products, not the “live-action” cartoons that are nearly all of Hollywood’s current products.”

Wait, I’m confused… Aren’t you the one who usually rejects any alternate movie business or funding model if it can’t make a $100 million movie? Now I know why you refuse to log in – if you did, your lies and hypocrisy would be easily linkable within your own profile.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Completely true...

We’ve discussed in the past a favorite talking point of the RIAA, claiming a 40% decline in employment for musicians over the past decade or so, which simply isn’t supported by the numbers.

But there is a 40% decline in musicians over the last decade!*

*Definition: Musician (N)
A performer of rhythmic noises capable of making an RIAA-associated label a minimum of $10M in at least 4 major markets worldwide…

Violated (profile) says:


Well these figures are different from past figures I have seen from gross market income figures such as from iTunes, Spotify, Amazon sales and such, which then said RIAA labels got about 47% of sales while the independents got 53%. I am sure that difference is even wider by now.

These results are the same though in that the RIAA labels are smaller, indie musicians are booming, where in general the music market is very healthy.

The RIAA labels did hit the perfect storm in their earlier refusal to go digital, DRM etc, then huge indie competition who could record their own album starting from $200.

Keep in mind that the RIAA labels dropping from 880 to 190 bands was often a bloodbath of self interest. Labels closed, contracts terminated, copyrights sold on to other labels often under UMG. Now the music could be sold without having to pay the musicians anything when they now had no rights by copyright or by contract.

Life is not so bad for RIAA labels now where there is less risk in musicians who become indie famous first. They are often still the gateway keepers to TV and Radio.

I am also sure many musicians still dream to be the next Lady Gaga and to be handed a million dollar recording contract. Just a shame such fame comes built on much trickery and blood.

Anonymous Coward says:

The RIAA suffers from 2 main problems.

The first is an entitlement issue. Many of them genuinely believe that they, and only they, are the only legitimate arbitrators of what is and is not good music, and are therefore entitled to the lions share of the profits for exposing the “good” to the general public. Because clearly we, as a people, are simply not qualified to determine for ourselves what good music really is (and trust me, if you think some of the crap they say is public is insane, you should hear the crap that often comes out behind closed doors when they don’t have to hold to the “public persona”).

The second issue they seem incapable of grasping is that the money just isn’t their anymore. I, for example, make slightly less today than I did 15 years ago for essentially the same level of work (and I am far from alone, I know a more than a few people who have watched their $20-30 an hour jobs vanish to be replaced by $10-12 an hour jobs – in some cases for essentially the same type of work), while the cost of living continues to increase. Whereas I had, say, $1,000 in expendable income 20 years ago, most of that has been eaten up with rising prices. For example:
Gas that was $1 a gallon is now like $3.50 a gallon
An apartment that would have cost me $750 is now closer to a grand.

And even if I did still have the same $1,000, or $2,000, or whatever the value may be, in expendable cash, the fact that a CD will cost you closer to $20 today where a cassette would cost you about $8-10 means I’d only be able to buy half the physical media I did back then anyways. Even “educated professionals” today are saddled with such enormous tuition debts for the decreasing number of better paying jobs that they don’t have much disposable income either (in fact, such people were historically the biggest purchasers of new homes and cars, and over the past five years that has ceased to be the case).

If the RIAA really wants it’s business to thrive, maybe they should sit down and convince companies like Walmart and McDonald’s to start paying their employees (who are increasing having to rely on things like food stamps just to get by) more livable wages instead of funneling the bulk of their profits into the pockets of a increasingly select group of shareholder.

Richard (profile) says:


And EVERYONE is ignoring music teachers – this is by far the largest group of people who make a living from music – and has in the past included some of the biggest names in music -eg Gustav Holst. (In fact historically almost all the major composers made the majority of their livings from teaching.)

According to this page there are at least 150,000 music teachers in the US – dwarfing the other numbers you mention.

Greggore says:

A living

The one thing I really noted when file sharing was coming to the for front of concern for the RIAA and established musicians what that so many artist that I never ever would have thought to hit the road again….DID! I loved seeing the police 3 years ago. Steve Miller band! ZZ Top Steely Dan! and I even think Elvis is coming back from the dead.

Musicians make most of their money from concert sales, and no matter who you are, you should never rest on your laurels or hardy’s. Get up and active and play your music for the public. that’s how musicians make their living.

I also applaud all of the musicians that are learning how to make, mix, record and distribute music on their own. No one needs a middle man…no one needs a pimp.

RyanNerd (profile) says:

Yes very, very, very few make a living...

There are also very, very, very few athletes that become professional football players and make a living at it. However there are many athletes.

What would happen if the NFL or the NFL team owners went into everyone’s backyards and sued anyone playing football that used any of their team tactics or plays? Or maybe someone, God forbid, used the same callout that their quarterback used in the Denver game last week?

Infringement I say!!!!

Karl (profile) says:


I actually brought these numbers up in an earlier comment, but Mike wrote me to say he’s doing a story on it, so I didn’t say anything about it since then.

Now that the story’s out…

Everyone who reads this site really should dig into the numbers. I actually spent a fair amount of time doing this, and the numbers are even more interesting than Mike makes them out to be.

For example: Between 1999 and 2002, there was actually an increase in the number of working musicians – from 46,440 to 53,940 (an increase of 7,500 jobs). Interestingly enough, these are the years that Napster was active; employment didn’t start declining until after Napster was shut down.

Employment levels would not dip below the 1999 levels until 2010.

It’s also interesting to look at they type of people employed by the “Sound Recording Industries.” They did employ quite a bit of artists – but they were the type of artists who were graphic designers or illustrators (i.e. people designing advertising).

The sound recording industries have always employed more “suits” (management, business/financial employees, office administrators, etc) than artists. In many years, the number of musicians employed by the sound recording industries was so low, they didn’t even report them.

Another interesting trend: it’s no secret that the sound recording industries are in a bad way. There was an especially bad decrease in employment between 2008 and 2009. But since that decrease, the number of artists (and most everyone else) has declined, but the number of managers and businessmen has actually increased. Not everyone is equally affected, it seems.

Note: if you do decide to look at the numbers, you have to account for some wackiness at the BLS. “Musicians and Singers” wasn’t even an occupational category until 1999.

Also, prior to 2003, the BLS used the SIC Division Structure, which lumped in the music industry into the “Services, not elsewhere classified” category. They switched to the current NAICS system for 2003, so that’s as far back as you can go to get data for the sound recording industry specifically.

Just FYI. Or perhaps TMI.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Numbers

You’re right Karl. All that money going to ad-supported piracy websites instead of musicians and labels doesn’t cause any harm at all. Everyone in music recording is making more money than they did before, right?

That’s not what he actually said, but considering more musicians are making a full time living, there might be a point there. I notice that you don’t even comment on the flat out fact that there are now more indie musicians making their full time living — a lot more.

As for “all that money” I always find it laughable that people who have no experience with internet advertising think that these sites are making a lot of money. Seriously, if you think Pandora/Spotify rates to artists are low, you should see what ad rates are like these days.

horse with no name says:

Re: Numbers

Figures don’t lie, but you can make them say almost anything you want, given a chance.

Looking around at the numbers, it’s clear that in 2003 (and even in 2005) that there wasn’t a big breakout on detail. But the key classification (27-2042) is interesting:

2003: 300
2005: 1310
2007: 1640
2009: 1570
2011: 1910

So it seems that almost all of the “growth” happened between 2003 and 2005, long before the creation of most of the online communities and self-selling websites, so there must be something else in play here.

Maybe, just maybe, the BLS refined their view of what a musician was, and added people to it from other groups, deciding what was independent in a different manner. As an example, maybe “label workers” are only those getting a direct paycheck, and everyone else, including those with a recording contract or other, are considered independent.

It seems a little more logical, because there is no other reason why there would be a sudden 4 fold increase in a 2 year period. It seems more like improvements in classification, which is consistent with them adding more and more categories and reclassifying jobs.

horse with no name says:

Re: Re: Re: Numbers

You mean like how people like Chris Dodd insist that supermarkets are IP-focused and dependent industries?

I suggest you go look at how a modern supermarket works. It depends almost entirely on IP to function, without it the products you buy would be more expensive, and often out of stock.

You can look up things like “captaining”, bar code scanning, product placement, and all the other business areas. It’s like Wal-Mart, they aren’t just a success because they are big, they are big because everything they do (EVERYTHING!) depends on IP to make it happen. Store design, stock, traffic flow, shelf layouts… all calculated by software created exclusively in the company. They are category killers because they do it better, and do it for less, because they are mining the data down to the last byte.

They are IP focused businesses. Without it, they wouldn’t be in business.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 supermarket groceries = IP-focused industry

“What you’ve just said … is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Numbers

HI HORSE!!! Waves

Wanna know a little secret?

I work in a supermarket. And I can tell you for a fact that IP counts for very little in the job. Since when does store design, traffic flow and shelf layouts be counted as Intellectual Property? So the idea of putting luxury biscuits at eye level while the cheap brand you have to stoop for, that is somehow eligible for a government protected monopoly?

More and more often, the software used by companies is going open source. For the past few years, my supermarket has been using Open Office, and not a propriety program like Microsoft Office. That’s just one example.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Numbers

Voted funny.

You can look up things like “captaining”, bar code scanning, product placement, and all the other business areas. It’s like Wal-Mart, they aren’t just a success because they are big, they are big because everything they do (EVERYTHING!) depends on IP to make it happen. Store design, stock, traffic flow, shelf layouts… all calculated by software created exclusively in the company. They are category killers because they do it better, and do it for less, because they are mining the data down to the last byte.

Since when did “captaining”, bar code scanning, product placement, store design, stock, traffic flow, or shelf layouts count as IP?

The fact that Apple sued over shelf layouts or something like it doesn’t mean they own it.

Stock is an IP issue now? Traffic flow?

You really are desperate, aren’t you?

That’s what being overly attached to an ideological position does: turns you into an idiot. It’s funny if you’re in the right mood.

mmrtnt (profile) says:


What’s truly astounding about this is that a trade group which, at its peak, represented about 1000 artists has been able to unilaterally dictate, stifle and economically terrorize not just the country but most of the rest of the world.

The RIAA has stifled innovation, dictated what software, services and hardware people can use/own and sued or threatened to sue anyone who didn’t obey.

Mind. Boggled.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Wow


Yep. They had every incentive in the world to stifle innovation and they took it.

For the past 40 years, they’ve had a controlled environment where their world was nothing more than complain for regulatory capture, get it from the government, ignore the public, and screw over artists and creative types for business types and CEOs. They have had the laws changed to their favor to ensure that they get an entitled gravy train while taking advantage of every last subsidy on the local, state, federal and international level.

This was not a free market. They could care less about the Constitution or the public so long as they made more and more money.

What is FINALLY happening is that the chickens are coming home to roost. Their monopolies peaked in 1999 but as can be seen, now that they have to deal with actual competition, they don’t know what to do. The old methods and tactics don’t work when the people are informed and avoid either their music or their tactics and it’s downright stupid to believe that you can stop piracy through enforcement.

I, for one, am glad that the recording industry is going down. They don’t represent the public or the concerns of those that enjoy innovation and technology. And soon, the RIAA will be going the way of the Dodo unless they change their management to understand the new digital realities.

madasahatter (profile) says:

Musicians making a living

What is overlooked by the RIAA, conveniently perhaps, is that the Internet allows one to discover musicians they would never otherwise heard. Many very talented regional acts can now have an international following without the promotion or blessing of the RIAA. Given that digital music or video distribution is very, very cheap for the artist and easy to do, the artist does not need retail distribution in the US when they are in Europe.

A question comes to mind with worldwide digital distribution, just what value to the band does a label add? True the band will need help with making deals with iTunes or Amazon, renting a recording studio, post production work, etc. But these do not require a label to do or arranging. I would not be surprised if the direct deal with iTunes or Amazon is more profitable per download than working through a label. Musicians have told me that with some comptent technical help they could avoid the labels.

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis say Hi, and fuck you RIAA

That said, the amazing indie duo we know for The Heist didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. Macklemore has been at it since 2000, and finally hit the big time (international recognition) after a decade as an independent professional musician who wasn’t really known outside of the Seattle/Northwest area.

That said, I’m actually rather impressed by the boom of independent musicians that have popped up and turned down offers by the RIAA, which is still trying to present itself as “the only way to fortune and fame in the music biz” despite the fact that it’s clearly no longer the gatekeeper for music.

Anonymous Coward says:

Musicians in bands are not employees of labels

Maybe I am wrong about how these categories work, but I think this analysis may be based on an incorrect assumption that the “independent performer” category includes only indie/DIY musicians and the “sound recording industries” category includes major label musicians.

In fact, I think most musicians who are in bands would probably be in the independent performer category, regardless of whether they are on major labels or indie/DIY labels. I was in a band on Atlantic Records as well as a number of indie labels but I was never an employee of any of those labels. I paid taxes as self-employed the whole time.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

I'm a statistic

Now, there are plenty of caveats to go with this, since many, many musicians who release music are unable to do so full time, so they don’t show up in this chart at all. But by all indications more part time artists are also earning more money than ever before as well, with thousands of artists now being able to make some money, whereas in the past they couldn’t make any.

Of course, it would be great to get even more artists making a full time salary, but the argument made by the RIAA and others that now is a bad time to be a full time, performing musician, making and releasing music, just doesn’t seem supported by the numbers. It sure looks like there are many more full time, performing musicians now, it’s just that many of them are independent (and making more).

Raises Hand: I’ve been making music and releasing it via Bandcamp since 2010 (and other Digital Music Services since 2012). I can indeed testify to the truth of the reality of the part-time musician because I am one. By day, I program for the Brooklyn Startup The Conspiracy?. By Night, I am Iron Curtain, Chip Musician. That is, I make new music on old video game systems. It’s quickly becoming mainstream, as shown by what my buds in Anamanaguchi is doing (i.e. their kickstarter for their latest album Endless Fantasy, which led them to place #2 on last week’s dance charts, #1 on last week’s Heatseekers charts and #102 on the Billboard 200. All without a record deal (even though they did get a Distribution deal with Red Eye, but that’s another story).

Still, the chip scene is a very communal and intimate scene and the people do this mostly as a hobby, albeit with hopes to get money on the side. Even though there are people who do this as a living (like Danimal Cannon and Infinity Shred) and even rarer are the mainstream breakouts (like the aforementioned Anamanaguchi), it’s still a rare feat for a chip musician to make a breakout success. We do this for love with the hopes of getting money secondary. Sometimes there are artists that branch out into mainstream EDM (like Sabrepulse, Shirobon and Henry Homesweet), and that usually gains a more mainstream reception, but even so, those that do do it for love and not $$$.

Thank you for listening to my rant.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m confused as to why the income switches from annual earnings in 2003 to wages in 2012. Is there any information about the median hours worked at the wages listed in 2012? It seems a bit disingenuous to assume that a wage indicates much about earning without any context about the amount of work. It’s pretty uncommon for musicians to work forty hours a week consistently for a whole year. My experience has been working in 80-100 hour week bursts.

Also, and this may have been pointed out, but I don’t think musicians signed to record deals are considered employees of the labels they sign with. Musicians who are considered employed by the labels and recording studios would be staff songwriters (which hasn’t been a realistically attainable job since the ’70s), some arrangers, and maybe a handful of go-to session players. Even then, most session guys are freelance. It’s been a long time since the days of Motown having bassists and brass sections on salaried payroll.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Resident Evil GEMA

GEMA … are they like .. similar to the Resident Evil zombies ?!? o_O
Kinda, but more like the Resident Evil zombies from the Gamecube port. That’s the one where you shoot a zombie dead and leave the area thinking it’s safe, but when you come back, the body’s disappeared only to attack you from behind as you attempt to ready your shotgun in sheer panic.

Dilpreet Bhatia (user link) says:

The Bigger picture remains the same.

Earlier it was difficult to get your self recorded, and pushing your music to the world. Now it has become so easy to record yourself that any one who thinks he can sing is cutting a record out, and youtube is paying money via ads. But there are just a few people who make it big in the industry and that was true 20 years back and that is true now. And I bet, the one who are earning money from their music, they are spending atleast 50% of their time in promoting their music and thats what is most dissatisfying trend that has emerged.

Joaquim Sousa says:


I just wanted to say music education is so important for the cultural advance of mankind.
I had a music education. I learned by myself first but then later on I realised I had to learn how to read and most of all get the technique, learn scales, etc..
I have played for many years till I was 25. Music has sponsored some of my university expenses.Then I quit because it is truly sad to play alone!
Musicians are not taken seriously in Europe, it is not even considered a professional job. Truly sad! It?s impossible to live on music alone. I had a jazz teacher from Uruguay. His name was RICARDO FABINI and he played in a TV small national orchestra in Lisbon. Well, he ended up leaving the country and Oporto, because it is truly impossible to live on music and he was a great jazz musician. The same happens in Brazil – I just love to play Bossa Nova. Most of the musicians in Brazil can?t find a job all year long. Great musicians! Truly sad! They end up making a few bucks during the carnival events and that?s it! Then it?s over! Also I think there is no place available for all. And only an elite of musicians really can conquer a place in a stage. For example, in Brazil (I love their musical culture) it?s about a bunch of guys, the same guys who end up participating in the same musical recording and stage events. There?s no place for other artists! Only a minority can actually survive. I don?t know the musical reality of US, but in Europe things are really bad for musicians. However, I still think it?s important to get an arts/music education.

jcitron (profile) says:

Statistics versus reality!

Sure the lump-it-all statistics make things appear so wonderfully rosy, but in the real world, professional, independent musicians, the ones that appear to have such a great employment, make the majority of their living teaching. They are either adjunct professors or have teaching studios in their homes, or worse, rent studio space from a larger organization.

The reality is many professionally trained musicians end up working outside of the music industry. As a classically-trained pianist, who studied and practiced for hours daily, I ended up like many out there, working in the high tech industry instead. The concert engagements are far and few between, and the handful of students who showed interest in piano lessons weren’t enough when it came to paying the mortgage and student loans, and everything else we need to survive.

Serge says:

Sound Recording income?

“Back in 2003, the “sound recording industries” (i.e., the labels) employed a grand total of… 880 musicians.:

This can’t be correct; presumably you are not including all artists who release recorded music, but only those who are official “employees” of labels, that is, working with a W-2. Most label deals do not work like that.

There must have been tens of thousands of musicians who made a living from sound recordings without being an employee of a label, by getting advances and royalties in label deals. (I was one of them)

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