Case Study On How An Indie-Rock Composer Musician Makes Money

from the breaking-it-down dept

We've talked about the Future of Music Coalition's excellent Artist Revenue Streams project for a while now, and over the last few months they've been releasing more and more results from the project. At some point in the future I'll have to dig more into some of the earlier results, but I thought it was interesting that at SXSW they released some specific financial case studies on five (anonymous) musicians in particular, digging with great detail into how they make money. I found the "indie rock composer-performer" case study particularly interesting, given some of the regular debates around here.

While this is just one performer, and clearly not a "representative sample" or even a composite sample of how such musicians make money, there's still plenty to be learned from the report. What comes across is that it certainly takes work, but an indie artist such as this guy has been able to increase both his earnings and his profit over the last four years. Of course, that doesn't mean that each of his multiple revenue streams was increasing, but that he was continually altering his approach to maximize his own revenue and net income. For example, after a few years of relying heavily on income from one band that he was in (and he's in a few), he's been able to successfully shift to being a solo artist. Of course, the revenue shift there is pretty clear. While he made a salary from the previous band, as a solo artist, a large chunk of his revenue now comes from live performances:
One thing that struck me as interesting, and which corroborates similar stories I've been hearing from other artists, is that while touring can be tough, the ability to "tour smarter" these days means that it can be profitable. Frequently, critics insist that touring can only be profitable for the largest bands, but we keep hearing otherwise, and this report suggests something similar. Yes, there is significant expense involved in touring, but it can be done well and profitably. Either way, the entire case study is worth a read.

Filed Under: business models, case studies, independent musicians, revenue streams
Companies: future of music coalition


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  1. identicon
    Kristin Thomson, 31 Mar 2012 @ 10:41am

    More case studies

    Most commenters above are correct: for musicians who perform, money from live performances/shows is a critical income stream. But we tend to mention at least three caveats when we talk about this revenue stream, all of which have been hinted at already:

    1. touring costs money. Duh, but there's often a big difference between gross and net. Bands can be making five figures a night, but if they haven't got their costs under control, then the net is in danger.

    2. touring expenses are not scalable. Essentially, the more shows you play, the more money you earn, but also the more money you spend (unless you set up a residency somewhere).

    3. touring and live performance require constant output. Commenters above got it right -- to make money as a live performer, you have to play shows. Stop playing shows, and the cash flow stops as well.

    This makes touring unique, but also very different from income earned from sound recordings, compositions, or brand which can continue to earn money over time. And, as a commenter mentioned, there's teaching and other income-earning activities based on their knowledge of the craft. We have data about these revenue streams as well.

    As mentioned in the article, this case study is just one component of the Artist Revenue Streams project. For readers who are interested, there are a lot more charts for this case study, as well as four others: a jazz bandleader, a jazz sideman, a chamber music ensemble, and a professional orchestra player. Access any of these, plus an executive summary, here:
    http://money.futureofmusic.org/case-studies/

    The financial case studies are one of three data collection methods that we've been employing as part of the Artist Revenue Streams project. We've also conducted 80 interviews, and we ran an online survey that was completed by over 5,000 US-based musicians and composers.

    More published stuff here, with additional reports forthcoming.
    http://money.futureofmusic.org/findings/

    If you're a musician or composer who would like your own financials to be considered for our next batch of case studies, fill out this intake form here. We can't guarantee we'll get to it but we are always seeking additional participants: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ARSinterviewcandidates

    Thanks for your interest --

    Kristin Thomson
    co-director, Artist Revenue Streams project

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