Recommendations for live musician base pay presented by new study

October 27, 2023
A black and white photo of a person in a suit playing a guitar, showing their hands on the strings and frets.

4A Arts announces the release of a study with recommendations for live musician base pay and performance protections for live music performances. We partnered with Whippoorwill Arts and the Center for Music Ecosystems for this historic list of recommendations. They comprise over a year’s worth of research into the current status of the music industry and surveys with musicians across the country.  

A black and white photo of a person in a suit playing a guitar, showing their hands on the strings and frets.
All too often, “exposure” or tips replace actual pay for the labor of musicians.

In a survey from 2021, Music Export Memphis found the most frequent answer to hourly pay rate was $100. Many musicians, however, indicated this rate has remained unchanged for decades since many of them began performing as early as 1970. Adjusted for inflation, that rate should have increased to nearly $800 an hour in 2023.

This study is the first of its kind to make recommendations focusing on paying artists who play in venues such as the nonprofit festival sector, elder care centers, rehab programs, public schools, and more in the non-commercial sector.

Many musicians’ unions across the country have their own pay scales. However, these unions often focus on large orchestras or traditional commercial venues. Therefore, exempt from those pay scales are independent professional musicians without a consensus on how and what they should be paid. Furthermore, they are left without the resources that provide professional protections against harassment and discrimination.  This lack of a reference point has left musicians without context or support for their needs. 

Already this study on live musician base pay has created change. Thanks to this study the 2023 Northwest Folklife Festival (Seattle, WA) began paying its musicians for the first time since its inception in 1971. 

Whippoorwill Arts founder Hilary Perkins talks about the report, the process, and their mission with 4A Arts Executive Director Gavin Lodge in episode 112 of our podcast, Framing the Hammer.


We hope this study will set the bar and change practices for those who employ musicians across the country going forward. 

Please read on for the full report, Short on time? Check out the executive summary on page 3!


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A headshot photo of Gavin Lodge, Executive Director for 4A Arts.

Written by

Gavin Lodge

Actor, entrepreneur, political strategist, and father of two, Gavin Lodge comes to 4A Arts with a unique perspective on arts and culture in America. A 20-year veteran of stage and screen, Gavin grew up in suburban Colorado and traversed the country in his work with political campaigns at the senate and presidential levels as well as touring for shows.

After studying international affairs and philosophy at the University of Colorado, he worked as a field organizer in the Iowa Caucus followed by the role of “body guy” to then-candidate Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State. Politics empowered him to move to New York City to pursue a performing career. Ultimately, he performed in multiple Broadway shows (including 42nd Street, Spamalot, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) as well as regional theater, national tours and several network television appearances.

Though he was thrilled every time he stepped onto a theatrical or sound stage, Gavin was equally happy to take on leadership roles in his local union and later his kids’ PTA.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, Gavin jumped back into the political realm, working as a strategist for Bryson Gillette, a minority-owned PR firm focused on politics and public affairs. He also volunteered for Be an #ArtsHero, an arts advocacy movement blossoming during the first few months of the pandemic. During his time with Be an #ArtsHero, he was part of a team that successfully lobbied for a first-of-its-kind hearing on the creative economy in front of the House of Representatives Small Business Committee.

Gavin lives in rural Connecticut with his partner (a composer and orchestral conductor), his TikTok-dancing daughter (who is musically gifted in unparalleled ways) and his soccer-playing son who recently told him “Dad? I’m just not into concerts and theater stuff.” As he told his son, Gavin believes there is much more to American arts and culture than “concerts and theater stuff.” From the video games his son loves to play to low-rider paint jobs to streaming television series while sitting on the couch, Gavin sees American arts and culture as an inclusive, “big tent” spectrum where everyone is an artist and everyone is a member of an audience.


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