Living As A Musician

Becoming a rockstar is still an aspiration for millions of people, but the percentage of musicians who actually become wealthy through their art is vanishingly small – and perhaps even declining…

Playing the Breadline

Even in the ‘golden age’ of recorded music, when rock behemoths such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were in their prime, the vast majority of artists were lucky to get paid at all for their efforts – while those at the top trashed hotel rooms and bathed in champagne.

In the digital age, the distribution of music has been greatly democratised – anyone with a laptop and a DAW can create, produce and disseminate their efforts globally, all from the comfort of their bedroom. However, music has also been commoditised to the extent that consumers are reluctant to pay for music at all. When they do, it’s likely to be a streaming subscription that provides all-you-can-eat access – which gets sliced up into remarkably tiny revenue parcels for each artist (and larger slices for major labels).

Mind Your Head

Bottom line: in order to make a living from selling music, you need to be massively popular. Otherwise, you’ll need to turn to live performance to pay the bills – and while this may seem glamorous, it’s actually a lot of work, fraught with uncertainty and stress.

No such thing as job security, paid healthcare, holidays or a pension pot here; if you’re not playing, you’re not earning (and even then, you’ll probably have to chase up to get what you’re owed). It’s little surprise then that the issue of mental health amongst musicians has begun to crop up more frequently – for example, this article quotes a study indicating an unusually high rate of (albeit self-assessed) anxiety and depression amongst musicians versus the general population.

This is certainly something that bears investigating further; the social benefits of music (both for musicians and listeners) are invaluable and incomparable, and it is in everyone’s interest to ensure musicians are enabled in every way possible. We need to encourage people to participate in music at every level, and for those who choose to do so (and have the ability), earning a living from music should not be a tradeoff between enduring a state of perpetual financial peril and following your calling.

Considering that music performance provides cognitive benefits that can be transferred to success in many other areas of life, it would be a shame if pragmatism forced many musicians to apply these benefits to other areas at the expense of following their own musical path…


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