The Average Salary of Rock Groups

by Wilhelm Schnotz; Updated September 26, 2017
Some guitars cost more money than a rock musician may earn in a year.

Even in the height of the recording industry’s success in the ’70s and ’80s, becoming a millionaire rock star was a difficult proposition, no matter how much talent a musician had. With record labels struggling as music sales plummet, becoming the sort of rock band that’s able to afford its own jet is even more difficult. Many bands struggle to make ends meet.

Average Rock Band Earnings

Most self-employed musicians can’t support themselves on the money they earn through performing their music and related merchandise sales, and must turn to other forms of employment to supplement their income, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bands who play shows in rock clubs and bars may earn between $5 and $800 a night, according to Musician Wages, with moderately successful bands able to reasonably expect to receive $100 per member per night. Most bands are unable to consistently book concerts in their hometown, however, and must tour to play regularly, thus incurring travel expenses on the road.

Average Rock Band Album Sales

A band’s ability to sell albums depends largely upon the number of shows it plays, the size of its fan base and the quality of its music. Bands who self-release an album and, in doing so, incur recording and production costs, earn the highest return on single-copy album sales. Bands who sell 120 albums a month at $10 each may expect to net $14,400 per year, according to Musician Wages. Each member of a typical four-member rock band earns $3,600 annually in this scenario, once the production costs are covered.

Average Major-Label Contract Earnings

Although rock fans grow up hearing tales of high-dollar album advances paid to rock bands when they sign contracts with major record labels, their year-end incomes are often greatly different than those advance figures would suggest. Advance payments are credited against a band’s royalties from album sales, meaning many bands don’t receive royalty payments on albums for years after they are released. After a year of expenses including tour costs, recording and video budgets and other expenses, an average rock musician with a $250,000 advance may net $4,031.25, according to independent music producer Steve Albini.

Average Major-Label Show Earnings

Most acts who have a contract with a major recording company can use the prestige of their recording contract to secure more and higher-paying gigs than independent bands. These musicians still aren’t getting rich doing so, however. A major-label band member may expect $200 per show at a college, plus a $15 per deim, according to Many touring bands lose money on small nightclub gigs, which typically pay $100 to $500 to the entire band, though they incur the loss in hope of selling more merchandise and building a long-term fan base.

About the Author

Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.

Photo Credits

  • Guitar player #1 image by Warren Millar from
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