The Future of Music Coalition

BY Scott HonsbergerPublished Apr 30, 2012

Artists have always had a unique relationship with money. On one hand, the lack of it can be what holds them back from realizing their full creative potential. If art doesn't pay the rent, a part-time job becomes a necessity. Before you know it, the part-time job becomes a full-time job, leaving little to no time for art. Sound familiar?

On the other hand lies the internal struggle of capitalizing on your creativity. For most artists, money isn't the driving force behind creation ― it's expression. But you know you have to eat, so you accept the "art as commerce" reality and just pray you don't end up like KISS. Artists know they need money, but have a hard time accepting it, for fear that it will become the force that drives them.

In spite of this struggle, there are thousands of artists out there making a living from their music without compromise. How? Simple: diversification of revenue streams, or put more simply, making cash in lots of different ways.

That's the central theme behind the latest study conducted by the Future of Music Coalition, simply titled "Artist Revenue Streams." Started in 2000, the F.M.C., an American non-profit, was founded to advocate for fair compensation for music creators of all stripes. They want to ensure that "musicians have a voice in the issues that affect their livelihood," primarily by ensuring that they have the facts and information at their disposal to do so.

One of said livelihood issues, of course, is simply figuring out how to make one, and that's where the Artist Revenue Streams project comes in. Essentially, the project aims to identify the various ways in which artists are making a living.

"Artist Revenue Streams was a natural progression of our thinking at Future of Music Coalition," says Kristin Thomson, a consultant for the Future of Music Coalition and co-director of the Artist Revenue Streams Project. "For the past 12 years, we've all witnessed drastic changes in the music landscape. New technologies like digital music stores, streaming services and webcasting stations have greatly reduced the cost barriers to the distribution and sale of music."

In theory, if the costs barriers have been reduced, artists should have greater ability to make more money. But do they? "Many observers are quick to categorize these structural changes as positive improvements for musicians, particularly when compared with the music industry of the past," says Thomson, a musician and a former label owner herself. "While F.M.C. would agree that musicians' access to the marketplace has greatly improved, one question was less clear to us: how have these changes impacted musicians' ability to generate revenue based on their creative work? Artist Revenue Streams was designed and launched in 2010 to answer that question."

By conducting interviews with musicians, reviewing financial records, and distributing an online survey, F.M.C. collected over 1,200 pages of transcripts, has published five case studies (with more coming), and received data from over 5,000 working musicians across the country.

A good portion of musicians south of the border ― 42 percent ― draw 100 percent of their income from music. This sector includes performers, composers, side-men and -women, orchestra players on salary, and more. It's important to note, too, that of all those who completed the survey, more than half are making their money from three roles or more.

Coincidentally, the number 42 was also at the heart of one of the studies' key assets: it represents the number of potential revenue streams identified by the study as available to content creators. The full list, available at the F.M.C.'s website (, includes all the usual suspects like performance fees, merch sales, digital downloads, and more, as well as some you may not have thought of such as "persona licensing" or joining the YouTube Partnership Program.

Not every item applies to every musician; Thomson hopes that the list itself can act as a resource "that musicians can reference to make sure they understand where their money is coming from, and identify sources they may be missing."

The study goes into further detail relating to genre, role, and more. Want to know how the revenue streams differ between jazz side players and chamber orchestra members? Look no further than their case studies. Interested in what percentage of an artists revenue comes from licensing? They can tell you. The data goes on and on, and is delivered in many insightful and useful ways.

But the drive behind the study is more than just unearthing and analyzing statistics. According to Thomson, it's all about empowerment. "This research can help musicians and composers better understand the value of their creative assets, and factor in that value when making decisions about their career. Our findings can give musicians some sense of the impact that record labels, publishers and booking agents have on income, and we simply encourage musicians to be strategic and thorough when making decisions about their careers. I think this project in general underscores how important that is."

As we all know, the industry continues to change daily, and so will the data. When asked what's next for the F.M.C., Thompson agrees that replication in the future, and potentially in other countries, is vital to delivering ongoing and reliable data to musicians. "We consider this a benchmarking effort ― a starting point," says Thomson.

The life of a musician will never be easy, but with knowledge comes power. So while studies and surveys may not be very rock'n'roll, the knowledge gained from the likes of the F.M.C. may just help you keep the music coming. And that's a bright future we can all get behind. (To learn more and download the reports, visit

Scott Honsberger is the President and founder of the Toronto Music Industry Association.

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