Reality check — How much can you earn?

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    We see different forms of these questions all the time:

    A) “How long will it take until I can quit my day job?”

    B) “How much money can I make from composing?”

    The brilliant folks at Output have put together some pretty cogent answers to those questions. The short answers are A) maybe forever and B) composing only makes up a small slice of a musician’s total income.

    The quick takeaway is that the average income for musicians including all music revenue streams is about $35K. Composing accounts for only about 6% of that.

    Art Munson

    Thanks MichaelL, added to the newbie page.

    Michael Nickolas

    Ok, so the case study has a musician

    “who writes, records and performs his own music and regularly tours the US and abroad. He spent a significant amount of time as a salaried member of two different independent rock bands that actively toured the US and abroad, and typically played festivals and large rock clubs. When he tours his solo work, he performs in night clubs, galleries, pubs, art centers, museums, small theaters, and bars…He has appeared on fourteen records as a leader, 32 records as a band member and 27 records as a sideman. He manages his own tours and those of the various ensembles that he co-leads. He sometimes works with a booking agent for his solo tours in Europe.”

    They sum up the case study with “After expenses and taxes, it’s estimated this musician will bring in around $12k in Net income. Not a huge number, but still not bad if you consider it supplemental income.”

    Supplemental to what?? This guy is touring all the time in the states and abroad with two bands and performaing all over the place as a solo act. He’s doing sessions, managing all his tours and works with the agent. Is he really supposed to be doing all that around some kind of full time job?

    The article missed the boat in their summary. There is a different story here.


    Hi Michael,

    I think there’s too much emphasis on this guy being an indie artist, which limits the story to a certain type of musician.

    But, I think the overarching theme, which you’ve mentioned before, is that most composers need other sources of income, from music, or something else.

    The income chart showing percentages of music/other income by age is kind of interesting.

    Michael Nickolas

    The chart was interesting, and I think pretty accurate. And you’re correct, I would say it takes three or four music job revenue streams to earn enough. The bulk of my income does come from composing, but income from libraries is just a small part of composing earnings.


    Every guy has his own path and destiny I suppose. I don’t teach, don’t tour, and never perform live in my city anymore. I do write 1 track a week and upload to several libraries for 7 years now and I have finally topped the highest numbers on that chart in 2015. The earnings came from: back end PRO royalties, sync fees, and royalty free licenses sold.

    You just have to have patience, mutiple revenue streams, and write the best tracks you think will work across many markets: RF, Reality TV, Sports Content, Trailers, TV Spots, etc. You do have to get 300 to 500 really good cues out there working for you and that does take a lot of time. 50 high quality tracks a year for 10 years ought to do the trick! I know, easier said than done, but it can be done!


    50 high quality tracks a year for 10 years ought to do the trick! I know, easier said than done, but it can be done!

    The trick, I think, and the point of the article is that you’ve got to do something to pay the bills and keep a roof over your head during the 7 to 10 years that it takes to accumulate 300 to 500 really good tracks.


    What if you can make 300 good quality tracks a year? Would you be able to make $100,000+ in 3-4 years time?


    What if you can make 300 good quality tracks a year? Would you be able to make $100,000+ in 3-4 years time?

    It depends, of course, what ‘good quality’ means. If your work is amongst the best you can find on RF sites, then you might be one of the best performing RF composers. Top composers on sites like AS, ML etc make four figures each month.

    If they’re amongst the best you’ll hear on reality TV shows, then (in a good, not too big library) you’ll become a go-to composer for reality TV editors (they often look up a composer’s other tracks when they find a piece they like). Depending on the shows and where they air, after 3-4 years at 300 tracks a year, for sure you could making $100,000+.

    My take (and this is based off 11 years of writing full time) is that 900-1000 tracks could make you anywhere from $20k – $200k from reality TV performance royalties, and where you fit into that range depends on these things:

    1) consistency – 300 tracks a year for 3-4 years is a highly ambitious goal (more than one finished and delivered every weekday of the year), especially to maintain consistent quality across a fairly diverse range of styles and emotions. But if you can pull it off, 900 – 1000 good tracks is a great foundation for living off your music full time.

    2) Your tracks are in the hands of smart libraries that aren’t too big or easy to get into (you don’t want to be a needle in a haystack that is constantly having tons of ‘hay’ / tracks added), and actually have good connections to TV producers and their editors. Where the music airs matter of course too – networks and 1st tier cable are much much better for royalties than 2nd tier / obscure channels. I think that still falls under how smart the library is 🙂

    3) Your tracks are what the client wants and will use i.e not just the library but the library’s clients / customers. Your tracks can be amazing but never get used because they’re not appropriate for the client’s projects, (which could come down to structure, style and feel) or on the other hand, the production might not be super great but you somehow captured just the right vibe / tone of a show and make a killing.

    I guess a 4th deciding factor is where the business is headed in terms of performance royalties rates, cord-cutting etc, but that’s a whole other topic 🙂


    It depends, of course, what ‘good quality’ means.

    That says it all.

    Maybe it would be helpful to put up an example of what you (and others, including myself) would mean by
    “good quality.”

    I know that we can easily spend a week, or more, on a single track.


    It’s definitely possible to make a living. I made about 1k in April from 4 RF sites. I’m basically a newbie at Music loops (1 of the 4), and I have been reluctant to build my library at Audio Jungle (also 1 of the 4). So the biggest revenue is from Pond5 at present. I am composing and uploading like mad now though. So I expect things to only improve from here. Once I start making enough. going to play live more and try to start a band. Things are looking good.
    It took me 3 years so far to get where I am. I think within another 1-2 years I will have reached my goal of making essentially what I would at a full time job. Not giving up.


    All my income is from home recording. I sold my first track on Audiosparx five years ago after having uploaded a bunch of stuff I’d already made anyway, just to see if it would sell. I was absolutely elated when I got the email to inform me of the sale. It gave me so much belief. So I registered some music with my PRO and uploaded to some of the other well known libraries.

    The next milestone was my first backend – I got a letter from the PRS to tell me I had generated £23.96 in royalties. Again I couldn’t believe it and I was deliriously happy. I spent the money on a bottle of bubbly to celebrate and a frame to put the letter in. It’s on my studio wall right now.

    After that I went part-time at my job for three years and built up my portfolio of music (and I managed to find libraries and publishers crazy enough to want it!) I finally quit my job a year ago to make music full time and I’m still alive!

    I still have so much to learn but I continue trying to improve and I cannot believe how lucky I am to be doing the thing that I love while friends and family drag themselves out of their beds every day to go to jobs they hate.

    I am very fortunate, and I am proof that it can be done 🙂


    thats encouraging to hear! Can I ask roughly how many tracks do you make per year? And do most of your tracks go to a mix of Royalty free and Non Exclusive libraries, or do you have one or two Exclusive companies that you work with for the majority of your income? Thanks for sharing.


    Thanks for that question mojorising, I’m interested in knowing the track number per year and if they are non-exclusive or exclusive. Indeed…very encouraging maxpower!


    I’ve never counted! I would say a rough estimate is 250-300 tracks per year. Initially I was making more non-ex music but having now built relationships with a number of exclusive libraries I find myself moving away from that and it’s almost all exclusive stuff now. As others have mentioned here, you’ve just gotta keep going !

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