photo of piggy bank

During the latter part of 2008, the Sandy Brown Jazz website is looking at some of the factors that influence the economics of jazz.

Part 1 considers the situation from the musicians’ point of view. Future parts will look at other financial perspectives including those of Audiences, Venues, and Agents, Promoters and Sponsors.

We should like to test out the points that are made below and would welcome your observations. We appreciate that people (not just musicians) are sensitive about disclosing how much they earn and so we are looking for generalisation and issues rather than asking you to tell us your annual income! Your identity (name, address, email address) will be treated in confidence and not shown on the website.


A jazz musician won £1 million on the lottery. 'No, it won't change my life', he said, 'I shall just go on playing as before - until the money runs out'.

Question: How does a musician become worth £1 million? Answer: He starts with £2 million


Earlier Research

In December 2006, Jazz Services Ltd. published a research paper ‘The Value of Jazz in Britain’. This report was commissioned by Jazz Services from Mykaell Riley and Dave Laing from the University of Westminster.

A detailed questionnaire was sent to over 2000 musicians and achieved a response rate of about 33%. More than half of those who replied were located in London and South East England (53%).

The musicians were asked to describe their professional status:

33⅓% said their work was ‘all jazz’.
54% said their work was ‘mostly jazz’.
13% said their work was mostly non-jazz’

Interestingly, the highest proportion of ‘mostly jazz’ players were based in London and North-West England, and the researchers linked this to the wider availability of a range of venues (theatres, broadcasts, etc) in those regions.


Musical Styles

Riley and Laing’s research encompassed a range of musical styles:

They recorded that the highest levels of full-time musicians were found in Latin/Caribbean, Free jazz, Modern and Mainstream. The highest levels of part-time players were in Traditional and Big Band jazz.

These findings raise a number of questions about the interests of jazz musicians and audiences in different types of music. The findings also have a bearing on the interests of promoters and venues, and we shall cover these areas in future months.

Full-time or Part-time
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68% of those who responded said that they worked full-time and 28% part-time.

Riley and Laing defined ‘full-time’ as indicating that performing jazz was the sole or main source of work and income. ‘Part-time’ indicated a primary or significant source of income or employment outside music. A minority or respondents (presumably 4%) indicated that they were ‘non-professionals’ or ‘amateur’, which was interpreted as meaning that their earnings from music were negligible.

Sources of Income

The following table from Riley and Laing’s report shows the sources from which those musicians who responded said their income came:

Source of Income % of jazz musicians’ total income
Live performance fees
Broadcasting fees
Recording and session fees
Composing and Arranging fees
Teaching fees
Other music employment

Non-music sources


The report does not appear to say how the ‘Source of Income’ figures relate to full-time or part-time musicians.

"It never makes much financial sense for me to play at a certain venue in London because it's a 'rock-and-roll' deal there - the band takes the door. If the venue relies solely on its own (probably small) circle of fans then you won't get the numbers".
(Sandy Brown Jazz correspondent).

As the report points out, live performance represented almost half the musicians’ income.
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Teaching and non-music sources account for 36.4%. The figure for teaching suggests that a number of musicians were involved in the Education field. The study showed that music Education was a growing area – how easy it in 2008 to find work in music teaching to supplement income from playing?

15.7% of respondents said that their income came from non-music sources. We presume that this equates to the part-time figures, and those musicians who take on other work. What is the situation in 2008?

It appears that the Musician's Union and the Arts Council recommend rates of payment for musicians, but 'the market' may well govern how much a musician is willing to accept for a gig. One person has told us that a number of musicians refuse to play at one venue (although others do) as the venue is only willing to pay particularly low amounts.

Some gigs seem to be more profitable than others, session work, functions and festivals often paying more than 'standard' gigs.

It also appears that much of a musician's financial viability depends on how often he or she is able to play. This in turn can depend on how many bands they get to play with. Musicians develop their own networks and a good musician can frequently be asked to play with different bands. The more people they play with, the wider the network becomes and perhaps in turn the opportunity increases for playing with more 'famous' bands who can attract larger fees.

Annual Earnings

photo of bank notesWe should particularly like to examine the figures for ‘annual earnings’ and see whether it is possible to ‘benchmark’ what a musician might expect to earn in 2008. It is unlikely that we can benchmark a current rate for different types of gig (function, session, pub, etc) as there are so many variables at play, but it might be possible to identify a range of rates - e.g. what is the least and what is the most you have been paid for a function in the past year?


Earnings from Music

Looking at the Riley and Laing study, they concluded that in 2004, the majority of jazz musicians continued to be paid less than the national average wage of £22,248. The national average wage for 2008 has of course risen and is estimated at £28,210.

The national minum wage in the UK has different levels and some different criteria. From October 1st 2008, the rate rises to £5.73 per hour (age 22+), £4.77 per hour (age 18-21), and £3.53 per hour (ages 16 and 17). Taking the age 22+ age and assuming a working week of 37 hours, this equates to £11,024.52 a year. If musicians were paid at the national minimum wage, according to Riley and Laing's figures half of them were not working enough hours in the week at music to receive that £11,024.52 figure.

Their table of findings (earnings from music) showed that 21% received more than £20,000 with over half earning under £10,000.

Annual earnings from music % of all jazz musicians
Less than £5,000
Between £5,001 and £10,000
Between £10,001 and £15,000
Between £15,001 and £20,000
Between £20,001 and £25,000
Between £25,001 and £30,000
Between £30,001 and £35,000
More than £30,000

Some Questions for 2008

1. Clearly, different sorts of gigs will pay different amounts for a performance. How far is it possible to bracket the sums being paid for different sorts of gig (lowest and highest payments for functions, sessions, etc)? According to Riley and laing, the average band fee in 2003-2004 was £363 and in 2004-2005 was £420.

2. How helpful are the Musician's Union Gig rates?

3. How many gigs would you need to play to make £28,210 before expenses?

4. The figures from the study only talk about income – we presume that there are costs to be set against these figures – travel, telephone, etc. What other costs are involved?
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5. Does the cost of travel and overnight stays, particularly at a time when these costs are rising, influence how far a musician will travel to a gig? (Too frequently paying £50 for a train ticket or fuel to a gig that pays £20 will soon leave a musician broke).

6. How far are venues/promoters prepared to cover these rising and additional costs?

7. How easy it in 2008 to find work in music teaching to supplement income from playing?

8. How far do musicians have to take on non-music work to make ends meet?

9. How far can this interfere with their playing? e.g. Presumably non-music work needs to flexible to allow for the musician to take on a gig and the hours involved?

10. The sale of CDs at gigs was reported as a specific item in the Riley and Laing study. What sort of income do musicians expect from this source these days and how big a factor is it? (There seems to be a current trend to charge £10 for a CD at a gig - is this a common experience?).

11. Similarly, how important are sales or downloads direct from musicians’ websites?

12. What other financial considerations need to be taken into account from a musician’s perspective?

Contact us by clicking here. Please tell us:

 Your name,
 The region where you live,
 Your interest (musician, band leader, promoter, etc.),
 If you are a musician - whether you are a full or part-time musician,
 If you are a musician - your main musical style,
 Your experience and comments.

Thank you for your help.

© Sandy Brown Jazz 2008 - 2014

Next Month: The Audience's Perspective

(Tell us how much you think people should be paying to listen to live jazz and why - click here).

The Value of Jazz in Britain’, 2006, Mykaill Riley and Dave Laing, University of Westminster available to download from Jazz Services Ltd.

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