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The Financial Challenges Faced by Independent Artists: Insights and Support Strategies

Understanding the Financial Struggles of Independent Artists and How You Can Help


I've always been a creator. As a young kid, I played with trains built towns from model kits and scenery from paper mache for them to roll through. In my teens, I became a musician, playing drums, writing lyrics, and singing (which I continue to this day). Inspired by the works of German authors Böll and Goethe, my love of the written word began to take root. My musical lyrics turned into poetry and years later turned into two novels - Waiting Impatiently and Invisible Sun. The passion for creating for me has never been about the money but the experience. Can I turn this passion into a money-making venture? Probably not.


In a world where the entertainment industry seems to glitter with multimillion-dollar deals and record-breaking streaming numbers, it's easy to assume that artists, writers, and performers are basking in financial success. However, a closer look reveals a stark reality: many independent artists struggle to make ends meet and find it difficult to monetize their original creations in the current market.


The Billion-Dollar Discrepancy

Forbes reported that the highest-paid entertainers of 2022 raked in a combined $4.4 billion before taxes and fees. However, what's surprising is that most of these high earners didn't create anything new. Instead, they cashed in on their existing catalogs, studios, or rights, selling them off to streaming services or private equity firms. This glaring discrepancy highlights the financial difficulties faced by performers, creators, writers, and artists in profiting from their original work in today's industry.


Stagnating Earnings for Independent Artists

According to Statista, the revenue of the "independent artists, writers, and performers" industry in the U.S. was $18.6 billion in 2017, with a projected growth to $23.1 billion by 2024. However, these promising numbers don't translate into high average incomes for the individuals within this sector.


Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that the median annual wage for independent artists, writers, and performers stood at just $32,900 in May 2020. This figure falls significantly short of the median annual wage for all occupations, which was $41,950.

While Data USA reported a slightly higher average annual wage for independent artists, writers, and performers in 2020 at $52,473, this number can be misleading. It often includes a few high-earning outliers who skew the average upward, and it doesn't account for the substantial expenses these artists incur, including equipment, materials, travel, marketing, taxes, and insurance.


Camus Quote About Art

Authors Struggle to Make a Living

Authors, in particular, face daunting financial challenges. A survey by The Authors Guild found that the median income of published authors in 2017 was a mere $6,080, marking a 42% drop from 2009. Shockingly, only 39% of authors could rely exclusively on their writing-related income. This statistic underscores that most authors need to rely on other sources of income to make ends meet.


Visual Artists: Below the Poverty Line

Visual artists also grapple with dire financial situations. According to a report by The Creative Independent, the median income for visual artists in 2018 was a paltry $20,000, well below the poverty line for a family of three in the U.S. The same report revealed that 61% of visual artists had to hold down a second job, and 75% had accumulated debt. These statistics paint a stark picture of the financial challenges that visual artists face in sustaining themselves through their art.


Musicians in Financial Distress

Adding to this grim financial landscape, independent musicians face their own set of challenges. According to Two Story Melody, the average income of independent musicians was just $5,750 per year in 2018. However, it's crucial to note that this figure may be skewed by a few outliers who earned substantially more than the majority of their peers.

The situation becomes even bleaker when considering the median income of independent musicians in 2018, which was a meager $2,500 per year. This figure falls below the poverty line for a single person in the United States, emphasizing the dire financial circumstances many musicians face.


Challenges Faced by Independent Artists

Independent artists face a myriad of challenges that hinder their financial success and recognition in the industry. These challenges include:

  1. Limited Exposure: Independent artists often struggle to gain exposure and recognition in an industry dominated by established players. They must be proactive in marketing themselves, networking, and seeking opportunities for exposure.

  2. Limited Resources: Lacking financial backing, independent artists must find creative ways to fund their projects and cover expenses such as equipment, travel, and marketing.

  3. Building a Fan Base: Attracting and retaining a loyal fan base in a competitive market requires consistent, high-quality content and engaging with fans through various channels.

  4. Standing Out: Finding a unique voice and staying innovative in a crowded industry is essential for independent artists to stand out from the crowd.

  5. Maintaining Motivation: The stress and uncertainty of a career without a stable income necessitate careful planning and a strong support system.


The Role of Marketers

For musicians, authors, and visual artists, marketers play a crucial but often overlooked role in their financial struggles. These marketers can include record labels, distributors, publishers, managers, agents, promoters, streaming platforms, galleries, dealers, auction houses, online platforms, curators, consultants, and collectors. They participate in various ways and often take a percentage of the revenue generated by artists from different sources.


For musicians, these sources include music sales, streams, downloads, licensing, merchandising, live performances, and more. The percentage taken can vary widely depending on contract terms, services provided, and the artist's bargaining power. According to Music Industry How To, some common percentages include record labels taking 50% to 85% of music sales or streams, while streaming platforms may pay artists between $0.003 and $0.019 per stream.


Visual artists face similar challenges, with galleries taking 40% to 60% of art sales, and dealers taking 10% to 30%. Online platforms, curators, and consultants also claim a share, which varies based on factors like reputation and demand.


Authors in the Marketing Mix

Authors also have their share of marketers, but the percentages involved can be more diverse and complex. The amount that marketers make off authors depends on various factors, including the type of author, the type of marketer, and the nature of the contract or agreement.


For self-published authors, marketers may encompass digital distribution services, online platforms, or crowdfunding platforms. These marketers may take a percentage of the revenue generated by the authors from various sources, such as book sales, streams, downloads, licensing, merchandising, and more. According to Music Industry How To, some common percentages include digital distribution services taking 0% to 20% of the revenue from book sales or streams, online platforms taking 25% to 75%, and crowdfunding platforms taking 5% to 15% of the revenue from donations or pledges.


For traditionally published authors, marketers may include publishers, distributors, agents, or retailers. These marketers may take a percentage of the revenue generated by the authors from various sources, such as book sales, advances, royalties, licensing, and more. According to Book Riot, some common percentages include publishers taking 80% to 95% of the revenue from book sales or streams, distributors taking 10% to 25%, agents taking 10% to 20% of advances or royalties, and retailers like bookstores or online sellers taking 40% to 60% of the retail price of books.


How to support an Author for Free

Supporting Independent Artists

In these challenging times, supporting independent artists becomes not only an act of appreciation but a lifeline for their artistic pursuits. Here are some ways you can make a meaningful difference in their lives:

  1. Follow and Engage: Follow them on social media and streaming platforms. Engage with their content through likes, comments, shares, and tags to boost their visibility and reach.

  2. Buy Their Work: Purchase their music, merchandise, tickets, or memberships to provide direct income and show your support.

  3. Contribute to Crowdfunding: Donate to their crowdfunding campaigns, Patreon accounts, or tip jars to help cover their expenses and fund their projects.

  4. Spread the Word: Share and recommend their work with friends, family, and online communities to increase their exposure and word-of-mouth referrals.

  5. Reviews and Ratings: Write positive reviews, ratings, or feedback on their work to enhance their reputation and credibility.

  6. Choose Fair Platforms: Stream their music on platforms that pay fair royalties or offer direct support to artists to help them earn more revenue from their streams.

  7. Attend Live Events: Attend their live shows, online events, or workshops to connect with them and showcase their talents.

  8. Collaborate: Collaborate on creative projects or offer your skills and services to help them expand their network and learn from others.

  9. Encouragement: Send them messages of encouragement, appreciation, or gratitude to make them feel valued and motivated.


Despite the allure of the entertainment industry's glitz and glamour, independent artists often grapple with financial difficulties and uncertainty. Supporting them through following, engagement, purchases, and contributions can make a significant impact on their ability to pursue their passion and create meaningful art. In doing so, we not only help them survive but also thrive as creative professionals. Independent art is worth supporting, and every effort counts.


Follow Andrew on Instagram: @andrewhhousley


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