How little musicians earn online

You’ve heard about the struggling musician. It’s a tough business. How tough is it though? David McCandless of Information is Beautiful, looks at how much musicians make from major online outlets. Bubbles are sized by how many sales or plays a song must get before someone makes US monthly minimum wage.

Sales vs. Plays

To place sales and plays together seems unfair, as it makes the bottom three look really bad. For instance, label revenue on is actually much lower than what the artist makes per play. I imagine the sales business model is pretty different from that of streaming too, so there should be some kind of division there.

Let’s not forget that artists usually have songs playing through most or all of the revenue streams, so it’s not all bust. I’m not saying the splits are fair (really not my area to judge), but still, I’m just saying.

Don’t like the bubbles? Grab the data to give it a go yourself.


  • Almost perfect.

    But let’s add a bubble to represent how many times an artist has to have a song played on the radio to make minimum wage.

  • Dave Allen June 4, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    One issue is the the ‘scale’ is not kept consistent. The graph switches from number of albums sold to number of tracks sold. This exaggerates the difference between non-online (per album) versus online (per track) outlets.

    • That’s exactly right. A better comparison would have to assume a basic number of tracks per record and interpret a record purchase as the purchase of a collection of tracks.

      On the other hand, the comparison would still be misleading by implying that a consumer who opts for a digital download instead of a record will do so by downloading the full album.

  • Apparently I am not the only one who found some issue with this infographic. I put together a critique on my blog:

  • As Dave said, the scale’s not consistent, which makes this graphic really misleading. Album =/= track =/= play

    Normally, when I buy an album, I intend to play multiple tracks, and when I buy a track, I intend to play it multiple times. So, taking the two iTunes digital downloads and the Rhapsody. So, one album sale is approximately equal to 10 track sales on iTunes. One track sale on iTunes is in turn approximately equal to 69 plays on Rhapsody. Now, 69 plays may be a stretch for the average number of times that a track is played when its bought, but I know that I don’t buy tracks only to play them once.

    So, this chart definitely misleads more than it illuminates.

  • What about Zune Pass? I suppose ~ Raphsody

  • Dj Gilcrease June 4, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    Rhapsody = 527,273 off by 38%
    lastFM = 232,000 off by 85%
    Spotify = 2,697,675 off by 41%

  • I don’t feel sorry for them when I watch MTV Cribs

    • You should feel sorry for most of the people on MTV cribs because they don’t own those houses or furniture or cars, they’re on lease from their major label until they lose popularity in exchange for all their income. They don’t own that stuff.

  • One these days, David McCandless will get bored of the number-as-circle trick. I hope.

  • If I am understanding this correctly, each of the graphs represent the number of that type of sale is required to equal minimum wage. So if an artist is intelligent enough to use a mix of those methods (if not all of them) he should be bringing in a respectable amount. Who in their right mind would use only one method of selling his product?

  • The good news is that although these figures are staggeringly low and can be discouraging, there are so many other avenues for an artist to generate revenue.

    I wrote an article on about how to increase a musicians’ revenue streams at

    There’s no doubt that it’s incredibly challenging to forge a sustainable career in music Musicians must outwork, out-talent, and embrace social media like nobody’s business. The money will come.

    Thanks for such an eye-opening article-

  • In my experience, as a musician you make most of your money touring.

  • This same kind of display would be pretty interesting for game development, especially looking at the indie game developer movement, which has taken off lately.

    An interesting twist would be to look at the ratio of listens to sales. In other words how many times do people listen to your music, and then buy it (or not)? In the game and software biz at least you can have a free demo version of your game to give away, and then let people buy it if they want to play the rest.

  • i’m from philippines, and it’s frustrating how outside-US cannot directly buy music from the ipod’s itunes, or how spotify/pandora and others limit accessibility to certain regions of the world. probably, if they can open up to more countries like mine, we can help add more numbers to their needed hits.

    just saying.

    • The reason that places like Spotify/Pandora have limits outside of US/Europe is that they’re supported by advertisers associated with those regions. I’ve been thinking for a long time about trying to shift over some of my download prices for the sales that are direct from my site (through Linklok) so they are regionally based. So a download in Malaysia where the average income is under $5000 would be significantly cheaper than in the USA. It seems like iTunes should be doing this, but they’re not.

    • SirKingLordHighness June 17, 2010 at 5:39 am

      That’s because your region has the worst music piracy in the world.

  • Interesting graph to peruse as I sit here listening to music for free on Pandora. Then again, I have bought three albums off iTunes by artists I’d never heard of before Pandora suggested them for me. The trick is using methods that cost the listener nothing, and earn the artist very little money, to generate sales of the CDs that do generate the artist some money.

    And, as someone else mentioned, touring. My husband was in a death metal band for a while, and although they had a good website, they only ever sold CDs at shows.

  • I think this is trying to show that if you like a musician, buy their music, don’t just stream it otherwise they won’t get any money.

  • Music artists get free advertising from the radio and spottify. In fact better than free as they get paid for it. Because it’s on the internet the potential audience is massive. Billions could listen to the tracks.

    This would increase the chances of their music being heard and used in films, TV commercials TV shows, all of which they get money for.

    Also when they tour their fan base could be massive due to this exposure, with money coming from ticket sales, book sales, clothing and merchandise – all down to exposure on spottify

    I don’t feel sorry for them. If they are truly interested in music they would make it for free, for the love of it, for self expression. Not to swindle kids out of their pocket money

    • Right – just like if a mechanic really likes tinkering around with engines, they should fix your vehicle for free, and if a farmer really enjoys successfully cultivating crops, they should give you their produce as simple expression of their job satisfaction.

      Think about it for more than five seconds, and perhaps you’ll realise that in order to produce anything of artistic merit, a person needs to devote significant time and energy to their craft – the end result often representing the culmination of a lifetime’s dedication, practice and experience.

      But I guess, since you can’t touch the music, or sit on the music or eat the music, it isn’t really real, is it? And you’re so, so special, that you should just be allowed to use it all for free, anyway. Because you’re you.

    • Mmm Alex do you go to work for free, let alone the love of it ? I am recording sound engineer, revenue is so low that a apparently sound engineers are a luxury when making music. . Do the math an artist only gets 20% of his album and it never actually reverts back in ownership to him. It’s like buying a house paying it off 4 times over and never owning it.

    • Alex. FU you entitled little jacka$$. Keep listening for free and tell yourself you deserve it so some poor artist can provide you with entertainment “for the love of it, for self expression.”

      I just expressed myself, so you can have that for free douchebag. When I take the time to write a song, record it and perform it, you can damned well pay. It’s not swindling – it’s providing a service.

      • Ha ha, thanks Sean, your comments did provide me with entertainment. I hope you put as much passion into your music. As for the other people’s comments, I think they are well made and they make some good points, I agree that I would not work for the love of it. I think Simon on the 10 of June also makes a good point. Maybe it’s not the music artists that have swindleled me of my cash over the years but more the “music industry”, record companies, whose job is just to make money rather than make music. Like the film industry, they copy formats for success, churning out safe, bland, copies of previous winning formulas and don’t take risks on new and different ideas but manufacture pop stars and songs and covers of old songs but with new young sexy singers. I don’t feel bad that free music is affecting their pockets. Maybe Spottify will bring about a renaissance of live inventive bands?

  • I guess one of the debates would be whether any musicians are actually using Spotify or to make a living or whether they are just using it as a promotion tool, in which case, any additional money would be a bonus.

    If more people start signing up to Spotify and you’d hope that this would also mean more money for the artists, but I’m not entirely sure how they work out the amount of revenue they will give.

  • Lady Gaga earned $167 from a million plays on Spotify, so the answer is, alas, no-one makes any money from being on Spotify.

    I’ve never met a musician who doesn’t do it for the love of it.

  • To paraphrase James “LCD Soundsystem” Murphy, I think we need to get rid of the mindset that musicians automatically should become millionaries and it’s somehow their right to become so. I don’t think musicians are more worth than plumbers, teachers etc, and I reckon a lot of musicians would be very happy to be able to make a decent living by touring and getting money through CDs / merchandise etc.

    • Simon, where in the name of all that is holy did you ever get the impression that musicians have a “mindset” that they are entitled to become millionaires?! I have spent my entire life around musicians, and never met one with that mindset.

      A lot of musicians would indeed be very happy to make a decent living by working at their craft. I can guarantee you there are far more musicians living below, at or near the poverty line than there are plumbers or teachers doing the same.

      If a song is loved by enough people, then musicians ARE worth more than a plumber or teacher, because they will touch many more people with their art. Why shouldn’t they reap the rewards? If you were willing to pay as much for the enjoyment of a song as you were for a daily cup of coffee, more people WOULD be able to make a decent living out of making music for your enjoyment.

      Furthermore, given the TRUE mindset of most musicians I know, I would be willing to bet more of it would make it back to the community in charitable donations and time than it would in the pockets of the same plumbers and teachers you cite.

      • It’s interesting that you start by saying that you’re not aware of the mindset that musicians should become rich, then you immediately after prove my point. Should you really be paid for how many people you “touch” with your art? That sounds absurd. Why is art of more value than the output of a teacher for example? I’d say that then a fantastic teacher who influence generations and generations of kids is more important than any musicians who has written a song that people like to smoke weed to or decide to put on a mixtape to a girl/boy they fancy. How about scientists who develop vaccines? Musicians’ output look pretty bleak compared to them, but still a lot of those scientists do not earn nearly enough as many musicians who have found success. I’m just saying it’s odd to look at a monetary reward as the given reward for touching lots of people with your art, surely the biggest part of the reward should be to do just that and not the financial gain.

  • I don’t know any musicians making (decent) original music who earn as much as a plumber or teacher.

    People don’t seem to be twigging the point that with laptops, having spotify is effectively like having the CD or download – you find the track and press play (you don’t have to wait until a song comes on like the radio). The problem for musicians is that Spotify is supposed to be a good tool for becoming known so people buy your music, but in fact it’s replacing people buying music. The business model for Spotify was that people were supposed to sign up for the paid for service…but hardly anyone does so little to no revenue is generated. So music fans have a way of legally listening to music for free, on-tap. They then resent having to pay for something for their MP3 player so hop onto Google and find a torrent site where they can download it for free (“Why should I pay for a song just because I want to be away from my computer when I hear it??”).

  • Thats not even including costs by the looks of it! So my band has easily invested $2000 on recording, mastering, duplication, etc… to make that money back on that we’d already have to sell 200 copies or so at $9 and then we’ve gotta sell like 800 CD’s a month to get minimum wage!! Thats insane when you think about it.

    Money from touring is so much more accessible, but then its a struggle keeping us with expenses unless you get the rates you actually ask for!

  • to sell 12 thousand MP3s per month would be amazing. I have two labels that dont sell that amount per year all in. Gigs is where artists are making money and remember even when sales were good in 70s, 80s etc bands still toured, they still sold merchandise. Online sales is merely advertising tool. sad but true. worryingly though is the lack of royalty and income from no tradition radio, like the streaming. this should be looked at. If radio did not pay people they’d be in trouble but once its online people dont have a clue or dont care. its as bad as file sharing

  • That guy alex….

    you weren’t ‘swindled’. You presumably made a rational decision to exchange money for a product.

    We live in virtual global meritocracy. the models of distribution have changed rapidly, and intellectual property laws are as they are. you need to read more about those things before spouting absurd arguments.

    Think about journalism for a minute, for instance. people can now set up a magazine or blog for virtually no cost, and this has put pressure on some revenue models of journalism. The question then becomes ‘how do we ensure a high standard of journalism if full-time journalists don’t get paid enough?’

    The ‘love’ has nothing to do with it. We should all seek employment in something we find fulfilling. If we can’t make a living from being musicians, we will have to relegate it to a hobby – but then we can never reach the level we might have reached if we could do it full time.

  • Duncan Hackett August 29, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    I was misled by the title “How little musicians earn online”. I thought it was going to tell me how small people manage to make money from the intenet.

  • like any thing else,if your in it for the money……….you probably wont make any.