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Musicians Are Poorer and More Abused Than Regular People, Survey Says

A new report sheds stark light on income, discrimination, harassment, mental health, and other challenges facing musicians in the US.

Andrea Domanick

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Female musicians face harassment and discrimination at substantially higher rates than women in general population, according to the results of a new survey of 1,227 professional musicians in the United States. Findings show that women make up about one-third of musicians, and of those, 72 percent say they’ve been discriminated against because of their sex—almost three times the national average of 28 percent. Harassment was also markedly higher, with 67 percent of the women surveyed reporting that they’ve been the victim of sexual harassment, compared to 42 percent in the general population.

Artists of color face also face heightened rates of discrimination, with 63 percent of non-white musicians surveyed reporting that they’ve experienced racial discrimination, compared to 36 percent of non-white self-employed workers nationwide.

These results are among the findings of a new survey conducted by the nonprofit Music Industry Research Association (MIRA) and the Princeton University Survey Research Center, in partnership with MusiCares, that seeks to assess the magnitude of harassment, discrimination, and other occupational challenges musicians face.

Other notable findings include low median income, higher rates of mental health struggles, and a higher rate of substance abuse compared to the general public. Surveyed musicians reported a median income of $35,000, with $21,300 coming from music related sources in 2017 (the report also points to the American Community Survey's findings, which puts musicians' annual median income between $20,000 and $25,000 from 2012 and 2016; general median personal income is estimated at $31,099). The majority of those music-related earnings (81 percent) were reported to be from live events, and findings also indicate a high degree of skewness—that is, inequality—within those earnings. Sixty-one percent of participants said their music-related income was not enough to meet their living expenses.

Particularly disturbing, half of musicians reported feelings of depression or hopelessness at least several days in the last two weeks, compared to less than a quarter of the adult population as a whole; 11.8 percent reported having “thoughts that you would be better off dead or hurting yourself in some way” at least several days in the last two weeks, almost quadruple the 3.4 percent of the general population.

Musicians are also about twice as likely to drink alcohol frequently (four or more times per week) as the general population, and also indicated substantially higher rates of drug use (6.5 times more likely to use ecstasy, five times more likely to use cocaine, and 2.8 times more likely to use heroin or opium, for example).

The survey results arrived in conjunction with the MIRA’s annual conference in LA this week, where its findings and other economic challenges facing the music industry were discussed among leading economists, academics, music executives, and other industry professionals (full disclosure, this writer participated in the conference as a panelist).

“I think the findings point to underlying power imbalances in the music business that can lead to exploitation of musicians, especially female musicians,” says MIRA co-founder and Princeton economist Alan Krueger, who called many of the findings “disturbing.” “Many problems in society—imbalance between men and women, low pay, mental health problems, substance abuse, work-related injuries —are amplified in the music industry.”

You can check out the full report below, and read more about the relationship between misconduct and labor conditions in the music industry in our Noisey investigation.

Andrea Domanick is Noisey's West Coast editor. Follow her on Twitter.