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Berklee issues report card on music pay, prospects

Music for Screens: Winter 2013

Britney Spears earned $58 million in 2012, according to Forbes magazine, which is a pay bonanza that many music school grads aspire to even though less-remunerative jobs are their fate. Salaries certainly run a wide gamut in the tune biz, according to Berklee College of Music survey.

The Boston-based school’s “Music Careers in Dollars and Cents” survey of industry pay found million-dollar salaries are also feasible for concert promoters, record producers, booking agents and movie music composers. The 2012 survey sees various jobs connected with Hollywood work, concerts and symphonies as well paying, though salaries in many segments is softening. That’s because digital music equipment has lowered the barriers of entry, resulting in more people trying to crack the music business in segments like performing, says Peter Spellman, who helped in creating the survey and is director of Berklee’s career development center. “So it’s a buyers’ market in a lot of places,” he says.

The often-celebrated job of A&R rep (for artist & repertoire representative) — who prowls nightclubs to discover new talent — now pays just $28,000-$85,000-plus a year for all that latenight pub crawling, according to the Berklee survey. A&R salaries have declined because labels cut back on signing new acts. Elsewhere in the survey, musical instrument retailing has also weakened as low-price mail-order undercuts brick-and-mortar stores. Compensation for teaching and engineering jobs is mediocre, though the number of education jobs has been growing.

Job opportunities have increased in concerts, which is now the bread-and-butter for many established artists because online piracy has deflated recorded music revenue. Another category where job count is swelling is music therapists — ranging from nursing homes to schools to correctional facilities.

As for those lucrative Hollywood gigs, many are not on annual salaries but pay on a project basis:

  • Composers for major studio films get $35,000-$2 million-plus for package deals — where the composer pays all costs for producing a finished soundtrack, which lowers the composer’s net pay. For indie films, it’s in the $2,500-$500,000 range. Most get paid in the middle of those ranges.

  • Composers for TV shows take $1,500-$55,000 per project in straight pay, which means no package deal expenses. Many TV composers work alone on desktop digital audio workshop equipment so costs are minimal.

  • Music supervisors for major Hollywood films nab $150,000-$500,000 per project. For lower budget films, the range is $10,000-$150,000. TV is $2,000-5,000 per episode. While some of the high-end fees are impressive, most of the gigs pay in the lower end of the spectrum.

  • Songwriter-lyricists earn anything from peanuts ($250-$750) for penning an original song for an indie film to $7,500-$17,500 for the same work on a major studio film. For a primetime TV series, it’s $500-$2,500 an original song.

  • For jobs connected to sound in pictures both in and outside Hollywood, supervising sound editors top this segment, earning $80,000-$140,000-plus annually with mixers not far behind at $40,000-$120,000-plus.

The Music Careers survey includes some job categories that Elvis wouldn’t recognize: webmaster, digital marketing manger, content producer and blogger, which stoke buzz for music in online social media. “Gadgets have become the big thing in the music industry and tech companies are running so much in music distribution,” says Spellman.

“Song pluggers” earn $20,000-$64,500 pitching tunes to advertisers, TV shows, video games, movies and anybody else that licenses from music publishers. “Their main goal,” says Spellman, “is what they call ‘song casting’ with a high-level recording artist.”

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