Fact-checking the RIAA's claim that the number of working musicians fell by 41%

Matthew Lasar's long Ars Technica feature, "Have we lost 41 percent of our musicians? Depends on how you (the RIAA) count" does an excellent job of digging into RIAA CEO Cary Sherman's claim that the number of working musicians in the USA has declined by 41 percent. After checking the RIAA's math, Lasar finds a gigantic discrepancy between the figures they cite and the conclusions they reach. But then Lasar delves further into the underlying sources, as well as government and industry stats, and finds that basically, the number of musicians working in America may have slightly declined, but is also projected to rise.

It is worth ending this cautionary tale with a review of the BLS's own occupational handbook projection for musician/singer employment in the near future. Note that the handbook cites a much higher employment figure for both trades in 2010 than mentioned in the above tables: about 176,200 musicians and singers. That's because it comes from the Bureau's National Employment Matrix, I was told, which adds additional data sources.

Employment for musicians and singers is expected to grow by ten percent over the decade—"about as fast as the average for all occupations," the government notes:

The number of people attending musical performances, such as orchestra, opera, and rock concerts, is expected to increase from 2010 to 2020. As a result, more musicians and singers will be needed to play at these performances.

There will be additional demand for musicians to serve as session musicians and backup artists for recordings and to go on tour. Singers will be needed to sing backup and to make recordings for commercials, films, and television.

Have we lost 41 percent of our musicians? Depends on how you (the RIAA) count


  1. I don’t even get the connection here?  

    Even if true what do working musicians have to do with the RIAA?  How would piracy affect those numbers at all, if anything piracy has increased the need for touring thus increasing the need for musicians.

    Such a silly little stat for them to flaunt.

  2. I don’t know that the figures are so distorted; but the trend down is probably less because of decrease in sale of recordings (which hit a long time ago) and more because of decrease in paying gigs. Anywhere you turn, live musicians are complaining about the increasing number of clubs that basically don’t pay.  Couple that with the fact that the BLS probably doesn’t take into account that the huge growth area in live music is EDM which is in part getting a lot of support from the promotion industry because each act generally consists of one guy and a laptop which makes it logistically easier and cheaper to put on a big show with lots of names.
    I defy you to identify any (non-DJ/EDM) musician with 20 years experience who will tell you that the financial opportunities for revenue from live or recorded music are anything but abysmal today compared to 20 years ago. Just because mean ol’ Mr RIAA says things are bad does not make them good.

  3. i’ve pretty much stopped listening to music save that which i already possess. i haven’t bought a new CD or hell even pirated anything new for some time. same for television i shut that off a long time ago, now i use HULU or netflix as i feel they give a better service. and wherever they are lacking there is piracy. and i found the world didnt end, i didnt spend my life going “what should i do?”  ultimately nothing really changed.
    so if they can’t get with the times and provide a better service, i don’t need them and i doubt anyone really does.

  4. The PROs are imposing more and increasingly ridiculous licensing fees on clubs booking live music… it’s becoming too expensive for venues for venues to license themselves for both live and recorded music, so they go with DJ only, cuz it’s cheaper.

  5. And how about a shout-out to the legions of musicians (that me and many of my friends are part of) that have been playing and recording for decades just because we love it. We don’t give a shit about making money at it or give a toss about piracy. Long live the unknowns.

      1.  The reason people want to make music free of money is because those industry predators sucked all the vitality of music while increasing the barrier to entry.  The blame belongs on the idiots forking their money over to record companies for overpriced dreck, not on independent artists making music out of love.

        1. I think it’s more a point about musicians who play clubs/parities and other paid functions for “exposure” instead of appropriate pay.
          Remember folks, people die of exposure.

        2. But the idiots who hand over their money may do so because they feel that what they’re experiencing has value and consequently that its maker should be rewarded. Money is a convenient way of doing this, and the industry predators have positioned themselves in the path of it. They have been allowed to do that precisely because the music makers (OK, and the consumers too) don’t care enough about it to stop them. Don’t shoot the piano fan.

  6. RIAA makes yet another groundless statement, Congresscritters “donation” sense tingles.

  7. I’d be willing to bet any decline in working musicians in America had more to do with it being REALLY hard to be any sort of ‘working’ (as in getting paid) creative professional in America these days. Pretty much all of my creative friends that used to be happy freelancers (musicians, artists, actors, etc.) have given in and gone to in-house or day-jobs because they need to do crazy things like pay their rent and buy groceries. It’s not a really friendly economy for working for yourself, no matter your profession.

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