Photography: Of Teddy Winston Brand. Model //Producer Ted.W
Making the leap to mainstream success as a musician still isn’t easy, especially as record labels merge and disappear. But even as old doors close, new ones open.
Yamaha has an in-house record label, as does Red Bull. Production duo Midi Mafia helped break its debut EP after Hype Music, a partnership between MTV and Sony/ATV, landed one of the band’s songs on Jersey Shore; genre-bending sextet Delta Rae scored a deal with Warner Music Group in part because of the success of their Kickstarter campaign.
For artists whose careers truly take off, as seems to be the case with the aforementioned musicians, it becomes hard to handle everything on their own. That’s why big acts have booking agents, attorneys, road managers and business managers who carve out sizable slivers of an artist’s total income for their efforts. Those that can keep an eye on an increasingly diversified portfolio of revenue streams are particularly valuable, and thus have excellent employment prospects.
“I think the growth area is in management,” says John Kellogg, assistant chair of Berklee’s music business department. “[Mangers] can coordinate all the various activities of creative talents and maximize those careers. It used to be record companies were the central place where that happened … that’s completely different now.”
One great example: Scooter Braun, who rose to prominence by managing Justin Bieber, and now has added The Wanted, Carly Rae Jepsen and Psy (of “Gangnam Style” fame) to his roster. He steered Bieber into lucrative deals spanning records, touring, film and fragrances, even helping the teenage crooner launch a career as a venture capitalist with investments in startups like Spotify and Stamped.
“I said, ‘This is a space where you can move the needle and you can actually be a part of something that’s more than just your money working,’” Braun told me last year. “‘You worked hard to get to this point, and these [startups] are benefiting over what you’re doing.’”
In the modern music world, forming mutually beneficial relationships with—or investing in—companies like Spotify might be even more important than, say, wooing disc jockeys and radio stations was in the old days (imagine the Beatles owning part of a major radio station in their heyday!)
Then there are musicians like Evan Lowenstein, of pop-rock duo Evan and Jaron, who’ve launched their own startups. He offered some wise words for fellow entrepreneurs in an interview with FORBES a few months ago: “You’re an idiot that doesn’t know when to quit–until you have a breakthrough. Then everyone calls you a genius.”
Hard work is a key to any career in any industry. But as McArthur points out, above all, anyone looking to make it in music can’t afford to be too picky.
“The most important thing is to be open to the possibility that what you’re going to be doing professionally isn’t exactly what you imagined,” he says. “Those of us that have the fire in our belly will ultimately make the transition, and the personal artistic goals will swallow the others. But if you go out the gate saying [your original plan] is all you’re going to do … you’ll probably end up making coffee.”
Buoyed by selling a chunk of his eponymous headphone line, Dr. Drepulled in $110 million last year. His earnings were easily the most of any rapper, rocker or pop star in the world—and, according to a recent reportreleased by Berklee College of Music, about 2,000 times what the average musician earned in 2012.
Dr. Dre made the bulk of his money on headphones, but he also raps, produces and plays the occasional concert. Amid the Great Recession, lesser-paid musicians are also learning that becoming jacks-of-all-trades is a crucial part of the modern business. The average personal gross income of the 5,371 musicians surveyed was $55,561, of which $34,455 per person came from musical work. More than half of all respondents reported generating income from at least three different jobs.
Although the decline of the music business over the past decade has been well-chronicled, the Berklee report reveals that the industry is no longer in a free-fall in terms of employment--the percentage of respondents who reported a decrease in income was roughly the same as the percentage who reported an increase. Industry watchers are optimistic about job prospects for those looking to make a career in music.
“I’m very bullish about it,” says Peter Spellman, director of Berklee’s Career Development Center and author of Indie Business Power. “Where I sit … it makes me very hopeful for our musicians here and what they can do. But it does require a certain amount of business savvy and marketing savvy, in combination with your musical savvy, to succeed.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is a bit more guarded, projecting a 10% increase in the number of music jobs in the U.S. through 2020, compared to 14% across the broader economy. But the BLS pegs average hourly wages at $22.39 for musicians, 50% more than the countrywide average of $16.27. And Berklee’s study reveals many music jobs where salaries top out in the six-figure range, some in fields that didn’t exist in the old music world.
One of those is video game audio, which is among the fastest-growing areas of employment for musicians. Though salaries start low—$18,000 for an assistant engineer who creates rough mixes in the studio—they can rise quickly. Audio directors often earn up to $140,000 per year for overseeing video game projects, while audio tool developers can pull in as much as $150,000 for writing code.
“Sound and audio technology careers around video games are pretty ubiquitously profitable and available at this point,” says Matt McArthur, a Berklee grad who now runs Boston’s only nonprofit recording studio. “I know a lot of us traditional engineers kind of yearn to be a part of the recording sessions surrounding game audio, because they’re the only ones who have large enough budgets to call in full orchestras.”
Music therapy is also on the rise. This field offers a staggering array of different jobs—at locations from nursing homes to prisons—and requires successful completion of an academic and clinical training program approved by the American Music Therapy Association. Salaries start at $20,000 for therapists at inpatient psychiatric units and top out at around $135,000 for private practitioners.
“Music therapy is huge,” says Spellman. “It’s growing more as more people understand the value of music for brain development and healing. I think we’re getting back to ancient views of music that are being rediscovered.”
Indeed, some traditional roles in music are on the rise along with the new. According to the study, 30% of musicians reported an increase in teaching income—including private lessons for voice and instruments—while only 19% saw a decline. On the flipside, 25% of musicians reported a decline in session work over the past five years, as electronic instrumentation continues to reduce the need for human players (though DJ work is another growth area, says Spellman).
Session work can still be reasonably lucrative—$100 for two hours’ work on the low-to-medium end, according to McArthur—and a valuable component of the jack-of-all-trades approach for a middle-of-the-road musician. Another part: playing live gigs, not just concerts at small venues, but events like weddings and corporate retreats known as “general business” gigs.
“Playing the Top 40 for rich people,” explains Christine Fawson, a Berklee professor who says she earns more playing trumpet than teaching. “You can make $1,000 per weekend doing it. We’re not making $1 million, but we’re making a living playing music … isn’t that what we’re here for?”
Photography: Of Teddy Winston Brand. Model: Ray
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