As musicians, the purest and most honest appeal we all make to the universe at large is to “make it big”. Who doesn’t dream of filling a stadium with thousands of devoted fans, so intoxicated by your music that every gig is a feverish exchange of energy, adrenaline, art … and money?
Realistically, we know that very few musicians will make it to the top of the literal Billboard. But there is still decent money to be made in gigging, and payouts vary drastically in range.
It is entirely possible for a band to make next to nothing for a performance. With hard work, dedication, and a little bit of luck, most ensembles can expect to make $500 to $5,000 per gig.
Then there are bands like Metallica who are rumored to gross at least $6 million for a night’s work.
How much a band makes per show depends greatly on popularity, expenses, and different sources of revenue at the show. Let’s break it down a bit more …
Table of Contents
Income As a Factor of Impact
Unless you’re part of a manufactured, corporate-sponsored boy band, you’re more than likely part of a group that writes and performs original music.
How far your music travels has a significant impact on how much money you can make for a live performance.
Local Bands & The Economy of Exposure
Making the rounds at your local music scene tends to be the jumping-off point for most of us. Even the Beatles spent a minute performing their addictive interpretation of American rock at pubs and venues around their home base of Liverpool.
Unfortunately, there is little money to be made here. Honestly, it is entirely possible to net negative dollars at a show after considering expenses such as amps, strings, pedals, drum heads, cymbals, and the like.
Some venues don’t pay at all, citing “exposure” as the value proposition to eager, new bands.
That said, bands that have a dedication to the grind can definitely bring home some cash in the local scene. If you can fill a room with a hundred fans at $12 per ticket, you’re bound to pocket at least a little bit of spending money after the venue takes their cut.
Cover Bands & Corporate Gigs
To supplement their income, many musicians turn to the more lucrative world of cover bands, private events, and corporate gigs.
Cover bands average $300 to $500 per gig, with bigger-name acts pulling in $1,000 to $5,000 per show. Singers can make $50 to $300 per concert at private events such as weddings and bar mitzvahs, often pulling in more from performing at corporate events.
Touring / Mid / High-Level Bands
Bands that have broken out of the local scene can do quite well. At this point in their careers, they are touring and playing to a few hundred to 1,000 or more loyal fans per show.
Despite the heavy cost of touring (more on this later), this is where bands can start to make a living wage or better.
On a weekend night in a large market, bands can gross $1,500 to $10,000 depending on their popularity. Naturally, you can expect to earn a bit less in smaller markets or for weeknight shows. But your fans, especially those in smaller cities and towns, will be grateful for the opportunity to see you, even if it is on a work night!
The Mega Stars
They’ve “made it big”. They have Grammys. They fill stadiums. They’re living the dream. And, yes, they make piles of cash per show …
It is frankly astounding to learn how much some of our most adored and listened-to artists make while touring. Check it out:
On a recent tour, Slipknot and KORN were grossing $300,000 per night. Tool can pull $1 million per show.
Moving up in the food chain are the bands who are making millions for one live performance. In 2022, Green Day, Fall Out Boy, and Weezer teamed up for the Hella Mega Tour and reportedly grossed $4.7 million per night. That same year, Coldplay toured Mexico and grossed an average of nearly $5 million per show.
Then there’s the legendary Paul McCartney, who is one of the wealthiest musicians in history. One of his highest-grossing shows was performed to an audience of tens of thousands in Buenos Aires and earned him $5.7 million for the night.
It is worth noting that these are gross numbers, not net. Paul McCartney isn’t depositing nearly $6 million in his checking account after his evening in Argentina. Expenses for touring musicians are real and significant, and on the flip side, savvy bands can get pretty creative with revenue sources …
By the Numbers
Stunning shows are about much more than great music and tight performances. Factors such as on-stage energy, production value, and sound quality make the most memorable shows for hungry fans. And production costs money …
Bands that tour, and even singers with residencies, can have extremely high production expenses.
To put on a great show for you, mid to mega-level bands spend a large percentage of their gross earnings on expenses such as staff (engineers and techs), quality equipment (think inner-ear monitors and backup instruments), and production (lights, visuals, maybe even pyrotechnics).
Even bands that take a DIY approach to touring have to factor in the cost of transportation (vehicle, gas, insurance), lodging, and food.
Some bands retain special insurance for situations like injured fans and theft or damage to equipment. One can only imagine what those premiums run …
On the flip side of things, ticket sales aren’t the only source of revenue for live performances. When we say that Metallica grosses $6 million per show, it isn’t because they sold $6 million worth of tickets.
Merchandise is where the extra money is at. Even local bands will invest in t-shirts, limited edition posters, stickers, and more to sell alongside albums at their shows.
Big stars can get extra creative with VIP packages, backstage passes, and other valuable experiences to generate more income.
Of course, we all know this because we budget more than the ticket cost for nights out to see our favorite artists! (Don’t know about you, but I personally don’t leave a show without a shirt.)
Making money as a musician is notoriously difficult these days. And while only a lucky few will warrant a budget that rivals Paul McCartney and Coldplay, many singers and bands can make a perfectly comfortable living (or better!), making up to $10,000 or more per show. Pretty sure that’s the dream …