Starting Salaries in the Music Industry

There are a lot of stereotypes about people who work in arts and entertainment, but one of the most common is the idea of the “starving artist.” This idea has been perpetuated and even romanticized through several centuries in operas, paintings, and even the musical Rent. The idea is that an artist is so passionate about their work, they’re willing to sacrifice and try to survive with little means in the name of pursuing that passion. But, what about the business side of the arts? What exactly can you expect to make when you’re starting out on the non-performance side of the music industry? Berklee College of Music conducted a study last year which determined salary ranges for many different areas of the industry. Using that, we can start to get an idea of what to expect. First, it may seem exciting to look at a list of salary ranges and dream about the things you can buy with the high end of these ranges, but unfortunately it’s unrealistic It doesn’t matter how great you are at what you do, you are going to start off on the low end of that range. There are plenty of people who will argue that that isn’t going to be true for them because you’re worth so much more and have so much more experience than your competition. But, it really does not matter. Music industry jobs do tend to pay less than their non-industry counterparts (not saying this is fair, but it’s the way things are right now and you need to be prepared). So, what exactly should you expect?

Low-end salaries for common music industry positions, according to Berklee’s salary guide. Graph created by K. Reilly

Honestly, living off these salaries in music-centric places like New York and Los Angeles isn’t exactly easy. But, now that you know what to expect, you’ll be better prepared. So, how do you deal with a salary that might not cover your expenses?

  • Start saving now so you have extra money to support yourself once you start working
  • Consider looking for a music job in a less expensive city
  • Consider looking for a related non-music job to build more experience and save up money
  • Consider commuting from home
  • Look for a job at a company who works with, but isn’t solely focused on music (they may be more likely to pay more)
  • Start your own company
  • Consider supplemental part-time work
  • Be willing to have roommates
  • Set a budget and keep track of your expenses

What do you think? Are these low-end salaries acceptable or unreasonable? Is this an issue that needs to be addressed? How can an entry level music employee make the most of their salary in an expensive city?

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