The life of a touring backup guitar player with a major country band or artist isn't that different from touring in other music genres. The pay still depends on the musician's ability to play shows and the particular length of an artist's tour. The limited touring schedules of some country music artists and bands could have a negative effect on a freelance musician's ability to pay bills and keep playing professionally without a permanent commitment.
A backup guitar player doesn't usually play a role in songwriting and isn't usually a full member of a band or artist with a record deal. This means the guitar player doesn't earn royalties for album sales or a percentage of the merchandise sales at concerts and festivals. A backup guitar player, even a player touring with a major country artist, usually earns a flat fee for his services for the entire length of the tour. The upside of this relationship is the guitar player doesn't have to participate in any interviews or press events unless the artist he's touring with needs him to play for a performance.
National Salary Numbers
As of May 2010, the mean hourly wage for musicians across the country, including tour guitar players, was $30.22. This represents a 3.3 percent increase in hourly wages from the previous reporting year in 2009. The middle 50 percent of all musicians across the country earned $22.39 per hour as of May 2010. The top 10 percent earned $60.02 per hour, while the bottom 10 percent earned $8.50 per hour as of the same year.
Country Music's Financial Picture
The country music industry hasn't experienced the same level of declining record sales as other music genres. According to Forbes, as of 2009 sales of country music albums only declined 3 percent compared to the double-digit losses in alternative and rock music. Major country music artists are also among the whole industry's top earners. Kenny Chesney, country music's top earner for 2010, grossed an estimated $50 million from album sales and touring. This allows him to pay a much higher rate to secure the best musicians possible for a tour.
Limited Touring Schedules
Country music artists tend to tour less frequently than artists and bands in other music genres. This lack of a touring schedule can negatively impact a touring backup guitar player's annual salary, since she only earns money when she's playing. For example, country music artist George Strait only played 32 dates over a 12-month tour from late 2009 into 2010. While the tour brought in an estimated $1.3 million per night, that figure had very little to do with his touring band's pay. If an artist wishes to keep a guitar player or other band member on permanent retainer, the artist must pay the musician a year-round salary to keep her having to find new work.