“If these numbers were reported by any other industry it would make national headlines”

Top artists are getting a larger share of total ticket revenue (see link at end of the blog post)
Top artists are getting a larger share of total ticket revenue (see link at end of the blog post)

First–apologies about the spam–somehow my blog (and twitter) got hacked (and no, Aaron–I wasn’t trying to monetize the blog!  😉 )

The above quote is from an older post by David Lowery, If the Internet is working for Musicians, Why aren’t more Musicians Working Professionally?  Setting aside the issue that most of the post is discussing how digital media isn’t really helping musicians financially, it’s the blurb near the end of the post that talks about the Bureau of Labor statistics showing a nearly 46% decrease in [self-reported] musicians making a full time living doing music.

But of all the numbers, this one is the bottom line. Salon recently reported stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that number of working professionals in the music industry are suffering a catastrophic decline. If these numbers were reported by any other industry it would make national headlines:

No Sympathy for the Creative Class

“Musical groups and artists” plummeted by 45.3 percent between August 2002 and August of 2011.”

This is also graphically represented here at Digital Music News:

So my question here would be, if pop music is so relevant and sustainable why is it that almost no one is really making a living at it?  Not that many were making a living doing it in the past, it’s just that more people are reporting now that they aren’t.  Another question would be why aren’t the folks touting the new models for Classical Music of relevancy and sustainability bringing up these issues?

To be fair, the statistics probably also include Classical Musicians as well as the Pop musicians–but we haven’t seen a 45.3% reduction in Symphony Orchestras and Opera companies, have we?  No, what we’ve seen is a proliferation of musicians (both pop and classical) with a drastic reduction in career, job, and pay-per-gig opportunities for all.

Those who are making it are doing so despite all this–and that happens on both the classical and pop side.  Likewise, those who aren’t making it just haven’t managed to figure out a way to monetize an environment that is increasingly hostile to compensation to creators and performers of music, and which is just flooded with musicians of all types who are more likely to want to play for next to nothing (or nothing) rather than go to a classical concert or stadium rock show.

Yet here we are using a hemorrhaging industry’s standards as the new model–and as in the Sports example from the previous post, Classical Music will be a step behind yet again.

For another take on the decreasing returns to all but the top earners, check out this Atlantic piece by Derek Thompson, How the Music Industry Explains Inequality, Globalization, Middle-Class Decline … Basically Everything.

6 thoughts on ““If these numbers were reported by any other industry it would make national headlines”

  1. ” … almost no one is really making a living at it?”

    Almost no musician is really making a living at it. There are plenty of people who are making livings at it: lawyers, folks who buy lots of servers, network providers … There’s lots of money to be made in pop music, just not by the actual musicians.

    And in that world, a lot of the hip, with-it, “we’re like the new revolution dudes” folks have talked an awful lot of naive young musicians into the belief that the new shape of the pop music industry is some sort of magical saving grace for them. You too can be a new music industry revolution success story, like us! Not unless those kids put down the guitar and buy a shitload of storage from a Google datacenter, they can’t.

    Similarly, a lot of the people who push the pop-music model to “save” classical music are also not musicians. They are most often the folks who float around in the industry but who don’t actually play onstage: teachers, professors, critics, pundits, conductors, “executives,” etc.

    And just as the new-tech server-owning zillionaires have managed to brainwash a lot of young musicians into the belief that said zillionaires represent some hip new means of hitting it big, the classical music revolutionaries are also talking a lot of hopeful and nervous young folks into the belief that that revolution is their salvation as well. In both cases, those young musicians are just being used as pawns, I think.


    1. True! Ironically, I just finished a book called “The Business of Media: Corporate Media and the Public interest” which outlines how broadcast media did the same thing. With the emergence of giant media corporations they, as gatekeepers for content, helped to contribute to a climate of homogenization of content as well as concentration of monies for content into fewer hands. Connelly and Krueger (2005) discusses some of the results of this (which mirrors what the Atlantic piece states):

      In 1982, the top 1% of artists took in 26% of concert revenue; in 2003 that figure was 56%. By contrast, the top 1% of income tax filers in the U.S. garnered “just”14.6% of adjusted gross income in 1998 (see Piketty and Saez, 2003). The top 5% of revenue generators took in 62% of concert revenue in 1982 and 84% in 2003. Surely, this is a market where superstars receive the lion’s share of the income. (Connolly & Krueger, 2005: 19-20)


      The “new boss” (as Lowery calls digital media giants) is paying even less than the old broadcast media giants and the trend towards fewer and fewer content makers (musicians) who can make a living is declining as a result!


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