So, you’re a professional musician.
As many a musician has pointed out, that can mean different things to different people.
It could mean that you’re getting paid for your services.
It could mean that you make a full-time living on your music.
And, it could even mean that you’re signed to a label and are actively releasing music and touring on a national scale.
Here, we’ll take the first definition as correct – that if you’re a professional musician, you’re getting paid for your services. You’re not just working pro bono anymore.
So, how much money can a professional musician expect to charge?
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How Much Does The Average Musician Or Singer In The U.S. Get Paid?
PayScale says the average musician or singer in the U.S. makes $47.68 per hour.
The chart also reads “median”, which would be a different thing entirely. Oftentimes, the two numbers (median and average) are relatively close but can also vary quite a bit.
Those involved in statistics should know the difference. So, a more precise chart would be appreciated.
Anyway, if you had eight hours of work per day, $47.68 would be a decent hourly rate.
What a lot of people don’t know is that a musician often struggles to find that amount of work daily and may even have a tough time getting weekend gigs due to competition, venue requirements or otherwise.
How Much Does The Average Musician Or Singer In Canada Get Paid?
Personally, I never play gigs that offer less than $50 per hour, and even that often seems low for the work involved.
Of course, music is a passion niche. Many of us do it because we love it, not necessarily for the money.
Still, I think it’s a good idea to charge a healthy amount, or you could easily get taken advantage of and not get what you’re owed.
And, if the expectation is that venues can get quality musicians for $50 per hour, they will never feel obligated to offer more than that, even when someone has put the hard work in to earn it.
How Much Does The Average Musician Or Singer In The UK Get Paid?
PayScale says the average musician or signer in UK makes £25 hourly. That adds up to roughly $32.03 USD. This is slightly more than Canadian musicians earn but significantly less than what U.S. musician earn.
This would suggest that it’s possible to earn more per hour as a US musician. But if you were to compare salaries or annual income (which we’ve done before), you’d see that it basically evens out across U.S., UK and Canada.
So, if there were more gigs overall, this would be true. But it seems there are about the same number of opportunities anywhere you go.
Are There Other Factors Affecting Hourly Rate & Salary?
There are plenty of factors often not thought of or considered when trying to calculate hourly figures.
There’s a relatively loose definition of what constitutes “work” in the music business, and it would be inaccurate to assume musicians get paid for all their work, because this is rarely the case. But I will get into that in a moment.
So, here are five factors that can easily affect hourly rates and salaries.
Musicians Only Make Money When They’re Working
“So, how does this differ from a day job?” you might be asking. “I only get paid for the hours I’m working.”
The reality is that there’s a lot of time and effort that goes into preparing for gigs that musicians are never paid for.
This includes but isn’t limited to (as applied to live performances):
- Making a set list (which sometimes involves writing or learning new songs).
- Practice, rehearsal, preparation.
- Loading and unloading gear at venues. Setup and teardown.
- Sound check.
- The time spent idly sitting at the venue before the show after setup and sound check.
A lot of people are a little unsure about this, so let’s look at a hypothetical (but rather realistic) scenario:
A rock trio is booked to perform three sets of music (45 minutes each) for $600 at a local bar.
We’ll round up and say that’s three hours of work total. Each member gets paid $200. So, that would mean each member made $66.66 per hour.
But this is inaccurate. The band’s time also went towards the following:
- The experienced band only held two rehearsals before the show, because they were comfortable with the material (a less experienced band may have had to get together three to six times, if not more). But the rehearsals still took two hours each, because the band wanted to learn new songs and make small tweaks to their set list. That’s a total of four hours of preparation.
- Again, the band was experienced, so they were able to load up, load out, set up, tear down, and load up again in about an hour total.
- Sound check was quick and only took 15 minutes.
- The band sat idly at the bar for a total of three hours before the gig, and for 15 minutes in between both sets, for a total of three and a half hours of idle time. Food and drink were on the house, but the wholesale cost of goods only added up to $15.
Add it all up, and you get roughly 12 hours of work for $200 each. That works out to $16.66 per hour.
And, again, regardless of the gig, there is generally preparation involved (if not group preparation then preparation at the individual level), so even professional artists would be hard pressed to increase efficiency.
It may be unrealistic to expect the venue to pay the musicians for this time, but no one else is going to either.
So, when you factor in all the work involved (not even indirect work, as everything mentioned ties directly into the quality of the performance), the average musician is probably making an average hourly rate of $10 to $20 per hour, not $40 per hour.
There Isn’t Always Work To Be Done
A music venue doesn’t always need live music. They can play canned music and can even hire a DJ, sometimes for less than it would cost them to book a full band. Depending on what works best for the venue, they may not be inclined to hire musicians to begin with.
Recording artists don’t necessarily need to hire session musicians. They can use realistic sounding VST plugins to achieve satisfactory results. Plus, they might be able to play most instruments themselves competently enough that they don’t require the help of others.
Singer-songwriter types who can’t play instruments, again, don’t necessarily need to hire session musicians. They can prepare backing tracks (with the help of a producer) they can use continuously, which in the long term, can be cheaper and are guaranteed to be more consistent.
And, the list goes on.
Theatrical performances, church services, restaurants and so on don’t necessarily need the assistance of live musicians or need to pay them anything for their time, and if they do, they can keep it as minimal as they want (e.g. hire a skilled pianist to handle all the accompaniment).
I’m not trying to be a Negative Nancy. I’m sharing from experience.
There is more music being made and published than ever. But this doesn’t automatically mean there’s more work to be done by willing and capable musicians. More than ever, music is a commodity, and even skill doesn’t equate to much anymore.
Notoriety pays more than skill does. I’ll be talking more about this in a moment.
First, we’re going to look at how…
The Type Of Gig Affects Outcome
Musicians don’t just get paid to be musicians.
If you’re getting paid, it’s because you’re offering a service. You might be performing, backing up a singer, recording a part in the studio or otherwise.
Rates can vary based on the type of gig you’re playing as well as its requirements. The longer the gig, the more you can generally expect to be paid (or you’ll be paid a day rate, which has the appearance of being a lot of money but probably isn’t consistent with what you’d realistically charge hourly).
I could see the average working out to about $40 hourly, even factoring in all gig types. But while we’re on the topic, let’s explore the various types of gigs available to musicians:
- Session work – live and in the studio. For efficiency, let’s throw backup musician and guest appearances under this category too.
- Arrangement – preparing the music for performance or recording.
- Composing – music for TV, film, video games and so on.
- Performance – one offs at coffeehouses, bars, pubs, clubs and other venues. For solo artists, duos and bands. For orchestral musicians, theatrical performances.
- Other – there are certainly other types of gigs available, but they are usually some variation on the above.
So, pay can be more, and sometimes less, depending on the type of gig you are booked for.
I haven’t touched on royalties here, but these are generally earned on recordings, whether it’s streaming royalties or royalties on licensing and placement opportunities. So, this type of income doesn’t apply to a lot of “gig” type scenarios.
Naturally, there are some great paying gigs out there, such as festivals, weddings, corporate functions and the like. It’s fair to assume, though, that the better the gig is, the more competition there is for it too.
And, oftentimes you are required to play what the crowd wants to hear – not what you want to play.
The Agreement Makes A Difference
There are different agreements for different gig types.
And, sometimes there are different types of agreements for the same types of gigs too.
For instance, with live performances, musicians can be paid on:
- Flat fees. This is like the example I gave above (an experienced band getting paid $600 for three 45-minute sets). Many venues have flat fees worked out for live performances. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of the equation, and if the venue is less reliant on a musician to bring a crowd, they can be more amenable to spending more on performers. At some venues, flat fees do not exist.
- Ticket sales. Many venues want musicians to bring out a crowd and are highly dependent on the musicians for traffic, because they themselves either can’t be bothered, or don’t put any effort into attracting their target audience. These can still be good gigs depending on the scenario, but if you can’t count on the venue to send out emails or social media updates, the onus will be entirely on you to generate interest in the gig. I’ll be honest though – with ticket-based gigs, I’ve played at many venues who had solvency issues and didn’t have a mailing list or social media following. So, there was no collaboration or cross-promotion at work.
- A percentage of food and drink. Again, venues generally want musicians to bring out a crowd, and one way they can reward musicians for their effort is to pay them on a percentage of food and drink. In combination with a flat fee or ticket sales, this can be a sweet deal. If all you’re getting paid on is 20% of food and drink, you’d better make sure you’re bringing out a crowd that’s going to eat and drink a lot.
- A combination of the above. Flat fee or ticket sales arrangements are the most common. But sometimes you get gigs where you are paid on flat fees plus food and drink. Sometimes you get gigs where you are paid on ticket sales plus food and drink. And, on rare occasions, you can find gigs where you get paid a flat fee plus ticket sales.
- All the above. If you’re especially lucky, the venue (and perhaps a combination of collaborators, partners or sponsors) will pay you a flat fee, as well as on ticket sales and food and drink. Depending on the deal, though, you might end up with roughly the same amount you’d typically earn on a flat fee.
- Live performance royalties. You can report your performance to your Performance Rights Organization (PRO) for additional royalties. This usually requires that you sell a certain number of tickets and submit all applicable documents for proof of performance though.
So, your fees will be highly contingent on the type of agreement you strike up, regardless of gig type.
Your Experience & Influence Opens Doors
You wouldn’t expect Chance The Rapper, Ariana Grande or Justin Bieber to play a $200 one-off gig, would you? It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
I know these are extreme examples, but fundamentally, the reason they can charge more for a booking is because of their brand.
And, they can easily filter out gigs that aren’t worth their time by setting their rates high.
If you are well-known, if you’re regularly making headlines, if you’ve got a large fan base, not only can you charge more, but there’s a good chance you’ll be offered more too.
Sure, charging $100,000 per gig (some noted pros charge more than that) might seem unimaginable and beyond the realm of comprehension now, but it might start to make more sense after you’ve played the same $150 per night gigs for a decade.
Realizing getting better gigs generally just means charging more (because you get higher quality clients), you will gradually raise your fees from $150 to $200, $200 to $300, $300 to $500, $500 to $1,000 and so on.
Of course, for many other musicians, the lightbulb never comes on and they continue to play the same $150 gigs for many more decades (and, that $150 stays the same by the way – it never goes up in relation to inflation).
This is exactly how it works and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Everybody wants to talk about the overnight successes, but in almost every instance, you will find that these were 10+ years in the making.
Not just that but the people who were willing to pay the price probably experienced bankruptcy, illness, death in the family, extreme life circumstances, or some combination thereof along the way. Read the biographies of successful people and you will almost invariably find this to be the case.
Anyway, the point is this – depending on your notoriety as an artist, you may be able to command a larger sum of money per gig.
In my experience, though, it’s a rare personality that stands out from the crowd, and it can even take years if not decades to create the persona. It takes deliberate, concentrated effort.
Professional Musician Hourly Rates, Final Thoughts
How much does a professional musician get paid? What are their hourly rates or salary?
As you’ve surely seen, this is a harder question to answer than you might have initially thought.
There are so many factors dictating fees. And, there’s a much bigger spread than the stats even show.
Hard working independent musicians can make a living wage, and if they can establish themselves as recognizable personalities, they can make more. But it takes work and it doesn’t happen overnight.