Who Earns What

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WRITTEN BY
David Browne

It's widely reported how much the wealthiest pop stars make. Pick up a fi nancial magazine and you'll read about the 2007 earnings of the Rolling Stones ($88 million), U2 ($30 million), and Britney Spears ($9 million). Even Elvis Presley took in $49 million last year -- and he's been dead for 30 years. But what about everyone else -- the musicians, record execs, technicians, bloggers, and photographers? How much do they bring home -- and how have the realities of a depressed music business affected everyone from A&R reps to record store employees?

To find out, we asked more than two dozen men and women in the biz to list their perks, pains, and yearly pay. We won't pretend to call this a scientific survey, but we can say that these are all legitimate players and workers, some of whom have appeared in this very magazine. (For obvious reasons, they agreed to participate on the condition of anonymity.) For those thinking about entering the business (or those already in it who wonder about their futures), these comments and figures can be considered pieces of advice -- or, in some cases, words of warning.

TOURING SOUND ENGINEER
New York City

Perks: "When you're young, it's pretty great: You meet a lot of people. You're hanging out with bands. You don't have too much trouble getting into shows you want to when you're home. I'm not as worried about hearing loss as I once was. The older I get, the quieter the shows I mix get. I just did Neko Case, and that was positively heaven."
Pains: "You can wreck a lot of good relationships being away. It's not so much the fear of infidelity -- you just forget each other when you're away four months straight. That, and you get a really dusty apartment."
Pay:
$50,000

SUPERSTAR TOURING DJ
New York City

Perks: "Being by yourself is better than being in a band. You don't have to deal with any other personalities, and all the money goes to you. I literally bring headphones and a CD case to the gig. In the vinyl days, I'd spend maybe $300 a month on records; now I can get anything from anywhere. Maybe I download three songs from Beatport before a show, but I wouldn't call that big overhead."
Pains:
"I usually travel alone, and sometimes it would be good to have one person there watching over things. There are a lot of people doing drugs, and out of love, they're annoying as fuck. I've been almost yanked out of a DJ booth. They've got my arm, and all of a sudden I'm off the ground. I'll be in a corner by myself, and I can't flag anybody for help. I don't want to escalate the situation, so I just nod my head and try to snake out of it. They start repeating the same things, and I'm like, 'I gotcha, dude.' Cocaine makes people feel like they're Superman."
Pay:
$400,000

TOUR MERCHANDISE SELLER
Los Angeles

Perks: "It's like a vacation. I get my own room and tour the country. You count the merch around 2 p.m., and then you do whatever you want until showtime. I'm even into counting merch. I like going, 'Oh, I can get rid of this box and consolidate that and label this box.' It's weird, because I'm not that organized in my home life."
Pains:
"People wanting to know if there's something on the back of the shirt. Or they're standing there forever and there's a giant line behind them. Other people on the tour think that the merch people are the lowest on the totem pole, and it's bullshit. We're making the money that makes the tour go. On the White Stripes' tour, we'd sell $19,000 to $25,000 worth of merch a night, and that was paying for everybody's payroll for that day."
Pay:
$3,000 (for one-month tour)

SINGER, LED ZEPPELIN TRIBUTE BAND
Florida

Perks: "We're treated with respect: Our rider says we get a bottle of booze and beer at each show, and our meals are paid for most of the time. Those are things you never get when you start out in the music business. You're talking about guys who were working menial jobs. I was making $20,000 a year busting my ass on a job site."
Pains:
"I'm on the phone constantly. We're not paying a manager, and we don't have a record company. The job doesn't have a pay scale. One guy can work for nothing, and another guy can make hundreds a night; there's no way to gauge it. The fans have high standards -- you'd better be really good or they'll turn their backs on you."
Pay:
$150,000

MAJOR-LABEL A&R EXECUTIVE
Los Angeles

Perks: "At a major label in the 21st century? It's a leaner, meaner record business. The expense accounts here are now very, very modest. But people are still wowed by the fact that you're in any type of entertainment. It's a lot sexier to have a business card with my company's logo than to be working at Kinko's."
Pains:
"I scour North America for records on independent labels or unsigned talent with airplay on local stations. In the old days, you could break records regionally. Now it's very difficult. It's hard for local acts to gain traction nationally. In pioneering times, you'd just call a whole bunch of record stores and they'd say, '3 Doors Down' -- they didn't have a label then. But in the shrinking retail environment, when you call a Best Buy, you don't get anyone on the phone who has any passion for music."
Pay:
$92,000 (pay at previous label: $250,000)

MUSIC PUBLICIST:
New York City

Perks: "I've worked with everyone from David Byrne to the Beastie Boys, and hanging around listening to them talk about their art is inspiring. People have this perception of publicists as bombastic and full of shit. But I bring art to the masses. I've had artists say to me, after their first big magazine feature, 'Now my parents think what I do is legitimate.' And they mean it."
Pains:
"There's less money to go around, so you have to take on more clients to maintain your standard of living. On the Web, there's a problem of accuracy: To get info up as fast as possible, sometimes you lose the facts. Sometimes I have to explain reviews to my clients: 'Is that bad or good?' 'Well, he did say you sound like Arcade Fire, and everyone likes them, right?' If something goes well, you can take credit, but if it goes wrong, you get blamed. And press still doesn't sell records."
Pay: $120,000

INDIE-ROCK MUSICIAN
Toronto

Perks: "The lifestyle. I've always liked being on the outside of nine-to-five culture. The whole romance of being in a band and not working, even if you're dirt poor, it's still a great life. When you're on tour, you surrender yourself to the day's schedule, and there's something amazing about that. You roll out of bed on the bus and your meals are paid for and you've got a per diem, 20 to 30 bucks a day from the label. Either the club makes the meals or it's catered. You've got fruit and food in the dressing room, plus things like clean socks and cigarettes. Finding a good cup of coffee is your most difficult job of the day."
Pains:
"I have kids, and if you have a family, it's quite a strain. And you're not paid every two weeks. You won't get anything for a few months, so it can be a juggling act. I've worked as a carpenter on the side, and it's good to have another trade instead of just being a musician."
Pay:
$45,000

INDIE LABEL OWNER
Chicago

Perks: "You get to be waist deep in creating your own record collection. I've been a music geek since I was 15, and what better way to live that? I set my own hours. If I have a bit of an 'Irish flu' one morning, I can come in later. It's casual Monday through Friday. It's allowed me to delay an adult lifestyle and shirk any real responsibility."
Pains: "The sad irony is that I listen to music less than at any time in my life since I was 15. All day I'm staring at spreadsheets, putting together ad plans, or a thousand other things that are tangential to the actual music. I work six days a week. A lot of the artists stay at my house. One time an artist didn't know the pilot light was out in my stove and put a frozen pizza in, turned the gas on, and took a nap. I came home, and if I'd had birds, they would've been dead. You're living it, and that's a good way to end up institutionalized."
Pay:
$40,000

RAPPER'S BODYGUARD
Miami

Perks: "You get to enjoy a life that the normal person wouldn't be able to afford, at no cost and no expense to you. I fly first-class and stay in five-star hotels everywhere in the world. The gratification of the job is: I make people do right. Just like the police, I'm not going to allow a bad person to treat someone bad who shouldn't be treated bad. I carry a gun and a knife, but I don't need a weapon to take someone down."
Pains: "The public perception and the actual job are two different things. It's not a party for me when I'm working. Anyone can be a threat. You don't eat with your client, because the most vulnerable time is when your client is eating or sleeping. You don't really have a personal life. If your client wants to stay out 20 hours a day, then you do, too. It's also about protecting my reputation. Nobody's going to hurt you or kill you on my watch, but if they do, that means I don't work anywhere else."
Pay:
$150,000

Get more rock'n'roll salaries, perks, and pains in the April issue of Spin, on newsstands now.

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