Key Takeaways from our study on recommended live musician pay

November 17, 2023
A color photo of light skinned male hands on a piano keyboard.

Key Takeaways from our Study on Recommended Live Musician Performance Pay

In 2022/2023 we partnered with Whippoorwill Arts and the Center for Music Ecosystems to research live musician performance pay, and create a robust study entitled “Recommendations for Live Performance Pay & Professional Protections for Working Musicians.” The full report is available for download at the bottom of this page. But for those short on time, below is a summary of key findings from our study on recommended live musician pay.

Paying musicians for all opportunities benefits everyone across the ecosystem, including audiences, venue staff, and businesses. Live music performance is labor and musicians should be paid, not asked to play for free or exposure. Data collection, collaboration, and open conversation can help guide this industry-wide shift incrementally. We recommend the following guidelines to support working musicians and reimagine the arts ecosystem:


• Ensure all musicians are fairly compensated, in alignment with local cost of living.
• Develop a guaranteed ethical pay scale offering transparency and clarity to musicians.
• Factor in performance-related expenses musicians incur while determining compensation.
• Expand funding for traditional and non-traditional listening venues as paid performance opportunities.


• Advocate for gig workers in the music economy to gain easier access to existing social safety nets, including unemployment benefits, worker’s compensation, parental leave, healthcare, etc.
• Take simple, effective measures to establish and protect the physical and emotional wellbeing of hired artists.
• Hire an access coordinator or designate a staff member to act as a “point person” accountable for ensuring artists’ accessibility needs.
• Implement equity booking and publicly commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion growth. Collect measurable data to understand and improve collective efforts towards inclusion.
• Connect musicians to materially empowering resources such as direct-to-artist grants.

Minimum Hourly Base Rate, per Musician
Band leader or soloist
Special occasion or large capacity venue
Wedding w/reception
Outdoor event
After midnight
Emerging (N/A)
Experienced (+10%)
Professional (+25%)
Increased Pay Rate:
Base Pay +25%
Base Pay +100%
Base Pay +200%
Base Pay +100%
Base Pay + 100%, calculated in 15-minute increments
Base Pay + 50%

Sample expenses rate card

Food and Drink
Accommodation (if required)
Porterage or Cabotage
Waiting Time Not Covered by Fee
$0.65 per mile traveled (to and from)*
$50 per band member
$160 per room required
On request
$55 per hour, per member

* Based on current IRS standard mileage rate; subject to change.

This study on recommended live musician pay was a project of Whippoorwill Arts in partnership with
the Center for Music Ecosystems and 4A Arts.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LIVE PERFORMANCE PAY AND PROFESSIONAL PROTECTIONS FOR WORKING MUSICIANS V1.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

4A Arts believes arts and culture are basic human rights and powerful tools for building a healthy society. As a nonprofit social movement, we seek to democratize, catalyze, and prioritize arts, culture, design and craft in American society. Our goals include increased public support for the creative economy (commensurate with its impact on the American economy) by all levels of government, and creation of a Secretary of Arts and Culture.

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