Music artist (occupation)

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A music artist is a person who composes, records, and releases music, often through a record label or independently. Working as a music artist requires long training, either in music school or through gaining experience and physical conditioning and practicing to maintain and improve musical skills.

Music artists often face intermittent periods of unemployment, long nights in the studio, and frequent travel to performance venues. They also typically must deal with income uncertainty due to competition for places in bands or performance venues. Though a risky profession, it is one of the most over-saturated occupations.[1] While many musicians are only known within their city or region, some music artists, depending on public reception and appreciation of their work, go on to achieve celebrity status. Music artists sometimes live erratic, nomadic lifestyles.


Music artists are paid differently than most conventional occupations. Music artists are part of the entertainment field and the musicians union does set lowests wage rates plus what each instrument gets paid within a group to orchestra. They are like craftsmen of a trade contracted as any other self-employed career person. Contracts maybe for a year as part of an orchestra to a single concert or party performance. Instead of receiving a wage from a single employer, music artists have income streams—different avenues the music artists receive compensation through.[2]

Performance income[edit]

When a musician plays a live show, whether at a local pub or a stadium, they are paid for their performance. Musicians negotiate many different types of revenue-sharing arrangements with the venue, ranging from a normal flat fee to a non professional contracted percentage of ticket sales. Most professional musicians may choose to work full-time making a substantial income for each hours performance. Like actors in the entertainment field musicians have their own local workers union. The amount through negoitation increases once the musician becomes known for their professional talent playing their instrument(s) often winning national awards in the music recording industry.

Teaching income[edit]

Many instrumental musicians and singers also teach students or coach other up-and-coming professionals. Teaching may be done privately or through a music school, college or university or even online. This is a supplemental income source to a full-time professional musicians career in the music recording field.

Mechanical royalties[edit]

Songwriters and publishers make most of their money from mechanical royalties. Mechanical royalties are the payment for the distributed copies.

500,000 (albums sold) x 9.1 cents (per song) = £45,000
£45,000 (per song rate) x 10 (ten-song album) = £450,000

At the end of each quarter (end of every March, June, September and December), songwriters and publishers receive a check from their record label for calculated mechanical royalties.[3] Mechanical royalties were once the main revenue source for songwriters and publishers, but as record sales have decreased due to piracy and alternate distribution methods, this is no longer the case.

Performance royalties[edit]

Songwriters and publishers are paid every time their song is performed. “Performed” in this sense is any time the song is transmitted digitally, performed live, broadcast and/or played in a public place.[4] The money is collected by a performance rights organisations (PROs). These organizations retrieve money on behalf of the songwriters and publishers every time their songs are performed, to ensure that songwriters and publishers are properly compensated. In the United States the three major PROs are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. Each western country has their own which takes their percentage then collected by the USA major Pro organizations.

To be properly compensated, songwriters and publishers must choose a PRO to collect performance royalties. On release of their music to the public and use in different media, their PRO begins collecting performance royalties.[5] At the end of each quarter (end of every March, June, September and December) songwriters and publishers receive a check for performance royalties from the prior quarter.[5]

Synchronization rights[edit]

Synchronization rights is permission a company buys from a musician to use their work in (synchronize it to) another work—usually a film or video—such as a movie, television show, or commercial.[4] A music artist can choose whether to grant a license to anyone interested in synchronizing their song to a visual production. Music synchronization is common, especially if an artist releases a popular song. Companies want to use that song in commercials, to better market their products. Movie studios, such as Universal, acquire thousands of synchronization licenses every year for music in their movies.[4] Because of the immense use of music in marketing, synchronization licenses have become the way some music artists make most of their money.

Special permission[edit]

Music artists also make money by licensing songs to stores, restaurants, and nightclubs that play their music.[4] Music artists usually grant these places of business “blanket licenses” that allow them to play a collection of songs instead of licensing each song individually. Stores such as Walmart, Best Buy, and GAP hold blanket licenses that let them play music.[5]


Music artists are businesses, in the sense of their ability to generate revenue from selling a product.[5] To continue to generate that revenue, they must continue making product to sell. To focus on work, most music artists hire a team to handle tasks they do not have either the time or knowledge to handle. This team ensures the music artist’s business dealings, legal matters, and overall comfort are taken care of so the musician can make music and thus money.[1]


A manager is an individual or company that guides the professional career of a music artist in the entertainment industry.[5] The manager overlooks the day-to-day business affairs of the artist. This is usually the first person on the team of any music artist. In the early stages of a music artists’ career, the manager usually assumes the role of business manager, as well as booking agent.[5] As the music artist’s career grows, it may become necessary to hire individuals to specialize in those positions, but until then, the manager usually handles them . The manager receives compensation of 10-20% of the music artists’ gross income. The music artist and the manager negotiate the exact percentage, and sometimes the income the percentage applies to.[5] This commonly happens early in the music artist’s career before any major income is generated.

Road crew[edit]

Professional musicians and bands that go on tour are accompanied by a road crew that includes bus drivers, truck drivers and roadies who carry equipment onto the stage. In many forms of popular music, professional touring musicians will have a guitar technician or similar employee accompany them on tour. The technician tunes, maintains and sets up guitars and amplifiers. Celebrity pop and rock stars often have a bodyguard while on tour, to protect them from audience members and individuals who might pose a threat to their safety.

Entertainment lawyer[edit]

An entertainment lawyer handles all legal matters for the music artist. As contracts and agreements are a commonality in the music industry, it is absolutely imperative that a music artist has an entertainment lawyer on their team.[5] An entertainment lawyer’s duties include handling talent agreements, producer agreements, synchronization licenses, music industry negotiations and general intellectual property issues, especially relating to copyright.[6] Most music industry contracts are lengthy, densely worded, and are usually written to be negotiated. Thus every music artist should have an entertainment lawyer who can comprehend contract language and negotiate favorable terms.[1]


The highly varied nature and means by which a music artist generates income, the complex ways that they are paid, as well as the demanding nature of their work means an accountant is often essential.[1] Music artists often receive several checks from several different places that can easily become difficult to keep track of. This can leave the music artist open to being unpaid, underpaid, or having money stolen.

These peculiarities make filing taxes for a music artist an even more difficult and complex undertaking than it usually is.[1] This can lead to problems with the Internal Revenue Services, or other such taxation agencies, and even the demise of their career if ignored, thus, an accountant often handles the artist's taxes and also makes sure everything is done according to law.[7] The accountant's job is to make sure other team members, as well as the artist themselves are paid on time and the correct amount.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e Baskerville, David and Tim Baskerville. Music Business Handbook and Career Guide. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2009. Print.
  2. ^ Baskerville, David and Tim Baskerville. Music Business Handbook and Career Guide. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2009. Print
  3. ^ a b c d Brabec, Jeffry and Todd Brabec. Music, Money and Success: The Insider’s Guide to Making Money in the Music Industry. New York: Schirmer Books, 2006. Print
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Passman, Donald. All You Need To Know About the Music Business. New York: Free Press, 7th edition, 2009. Print.
  5. ^ Burr, Sheri. Entertainment Law in a Nutshell. Eagan: West, 2007. Print.
  6. ^ a b Moore, Schurley. Taxation of the Entertainment Industry. Washington: CCH. Inc., 2008. Print