Everyone wants to be one, but not everyone can hack it. Some rock musicians enjoy the spoils of fame, but it's a less-than-glamorous lifestyle. Gone are the days when rock artists signed multimillion-dollar contracts and could retire from a single hit song. Though today's climate of low record sales and high streaming means the top musicians are making less money than ever before, it's allowed an entire middle class of musicians to have a fighting chance without relying on a record label salary.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, musicians and singers – a category that includes rock groups – made a median wage of $26.96 hourly in 2017.
Rock groups are the stars you hear on the radio. In the '70s they were the notoriously fast-living icons that burned cash and lived a life of luxury and hard partying. Today, that’s not the norm. Rock bands are notoriously hard working and often run their own small businesses that transcend industries – from retail (t-shirt sales are a huge part of a rock group’s income) to event planning (those national tours don’t plan themselves). Making the music is just a small part of the job for a DIY artist and is responsible for only the tiniest piece of a rock musician's salary.
Rock musicians don’t need an education and many who are successful are self-taught. Some aspiring rock musicians choose to study their instruments or get a degree in music production or the music industry. This isn’t necessary, but it can certainly teach the basics of running a rock band, which is a business that can get pretty complicated once you get into contracts and publishing.
A significant portion of a rock band’s salary comes from live performances, but that’s not the only place to pull in cash. Musicians stand to make a lot of money from synchronization and licensing. Every time you hear a rock song on TV or stream a song from Spotify, that songwriter got paid. Some rock artists even make money with brand collaborations including sneakers, perfumes and makeup lines.
Average Income for a Rock Group
According to Billboard_,_ a developing artist can make between $280,000 and $960,000 annually if they’re signed to a label, sell about 60,000 albums and get radio airplay. It’s unclear if this is gross or net profits, but artists have a whole lot to pay for, including exorbitant costs for transportation, techs, tour managers and lighting – a sneaky expense that adds a lot to a live show, but costs an arm and a leg.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that musicians and singers make a median wage of $26.96 per hour, which means that half earn more than this amount and half earn less. But the truth is most rock bands spend a lot more than they make. Even Billboard's $280,000 paycheck is meager when you consider that a manager takes 10 to 20 percent off the top, a booking agent takes about 15 percent of the income that’s brought in through live performances and a record label may even take a cut. Then, the money is split between the various band members, and at the low end, may not even add up to the national average salary.
Luckily, artists without managers, labels and booking agents are actually making more money than ever before. Websites like Patreon allow fans to buy a subscription to the artist’s online content. Services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo allow artists to fund albums directly through their fans without needing a label advance, which is notoriously difficult to pay off. Even if an artist in these situations is pulling in just $150 per night on tour – a normal sum for low-to-mid-level opening acts – the fact that they keep all of their own profits actually means they can make as much as developing artists who have a lot more mouths to feed.
Job Growth Trend
The music industry is a notoriously tough business. In the last couple of years, album sales have sunk to historic lows and audiences have turned to streaming, which pays artists and labels a fraction of a cent per listen. In the first half of 2016, album sales plummeted by 13.6 percent to 100.3 million sales. That’s not much considering that a decade earlier, 500.5 million albums were sold.
Despite the lack of album sales, there are more musicians than ever because at-home recording technology has made it easier for a budding rock band to cut an album without the help of a label or producer. This means there are a whole lot of artists, but not a lot of people who actually want to pay to listen to them. As a result, most rock musicians have been making less money year after year from music sales and rely on ticket sales from live performances. Unfortunately, concert attendance is also waning. Rock festivals like Bonnaroo have seen ticket sales hit an all-time low, and Warped Tour, the only cross-country rock festival in the nation, ends its run in 2018.