Making money from music | Anthony S Casey Singapore

Despite a multi-billion dollar music industry in Australia, most musicians are just scraping by. Here are the Aussie music buffs fighting to change that, in different ways.

It might surprise you to learn that there’s a lot of money in Australia’s music industry. It contributed up to $6 billion to Australia’s economy in 2016.  And on a world scale, our music market is the sixth largest for overall revenues. Now, this may bring to mind musicians cruising on private jets and lounging poolside with endless champagne. But don’t let the billion dollar figure fool you.

In reality, Aussie musicians aren’t breaking the bank. Only a tiny fraction – 16 percent – of professional musos make more than $50,000 a year. Even well-known artists like singer-songwriter Montaigne have revealed they make a measly $200 per week.  Musicians face a list of challenges, from being squeezed out music venues and studios by noise complaints, to not having the time, money or business skills to launch a music career.  And as more Australians access music through streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, cultivating a solid fan base – and making money from it – represents its own obstacles.

These platforms are now an important part of building an artist’s career, with about four million Australians paying to subscribe to a streaming service (that’s around one in every eight Australians). A small amount is paid per stream to the holder of the music rights (so the more streams the better).  The surge in streaming contributed to a five percent increase in the value of Australian recorded music in 2015, according to the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). And in 2017, Australian and New Zealand artists collectively earned $62 million in royalties from Apple Music and Spotify.

But streaming isn’t hitting the right note for all musicians. While it’s boosted income for more niche artists and genres, other acts are reportedly struggling to cash in. And if an artist’s music doesn’t easily fall into a streaming playlist it’s harder to make money.  Spotify and Apple Music have also been criticised for underpaying artists.    In Australia, while commercial radio has quotas for local content, the streaming giants don’t.  In recent years, the body that collects royalties for musicians (APRA) has pushed for streaming services to commit to a minimum 25 percent of Australian music in their playlists. (The same figure governing commercial radio in Australia.)

So how can Aussie musicians really make a living?

Live Australian Music Venues

In episode six of The Few Who Do, co-hosts Jan Fran and Marc Fernell meet two music buffs tackling the challenge in different ways. Helen Marcou has been fighting to protect Melbourne’s live music scene and the livelihood of its musicians, who have been pushed out of venues and studios by noise complaints.  And, well-known singer-songwriter Clare Bowditch has been teaching other musicians the road to success by helping them develop the ‘skills to pay the bills’.

For ARIA-winning Bowditch — who was also named Rolling Stones Australia’s 2010 woman of the year and toured with Leonard Cohen — strong work ethic is in her blood. Her mother’s family got by in Amsterdam during World War Two by making hair curlers out of steel. And her father — one of five in a single mother family — got his first job at ten at a petrol station. “What they did teach me was the value of supporting yourself and making a living early,” says Clare Bowditch. “So I, like them, wanted to be able to contribute at least to be able to buy my own smokes you know,” she says.

In episode six, hear her story of success against the odds and how this has compelled her to help others by creating Big Hearted Business. It was designed to help train and mentor young creatives to make money. And make it last. “I realised the gap existed still. How do we teach creative people about business in ways that make sense,” she says.

Helen Marcou studio Australian Music

Helen Marcou, co-owner of Bakehouse Studios

Helen Marcou has been navigating the industry’s challenging landscape in a different way.  For almost 30 years, she and her partner Quincy have run Bakehouse recording studio in Richmond, Melbourne. In episode six, you’ll hear how the squeeze on musicians from residential development (and the noise complaints it’s brought) presented one of the greatest challenges to live music in Victoria.  “What that created was this scenario where there was no protection of live music in Victoria,” says Helen Marcou.

It might go without saying that without places to rehearse and play, live music would die – and with it, the livelihood of musicians. But Helen Marcou didn’t back down without a fight. She reveals the lengths she and others in the industry went to save live music in Melbourne. It’s got to do with something called Agent of Change and took years of lobbying government. But the outcome has rippled through Australia and beyond.

Find out more in episode six of The Few Who Do, hosted by Jan Fran and Marc Fennell.


Over 16 episodes, Marc and Jan will tackle the big questions in society and culture today, and hear personal stories from Australians with big ambitions, entrepreneurs and small business owners advocating for change.

Because there is often more than one approach to our biggest problems, each episode, Marc and Jan will delve into different possibilities and get to know the people behind the ideas.



Introducing ‘The Few Who Do’

Two hosts, one problem, two possibilities…

Presented by Jan Fran and Marc Fennell ‘The Few Who Do’ tackles the big questions in society and culture today.

Whose responsibility is it to make our streets safe for women? How will we support a growing population with dwindling food resources?

We’ll hear personal stories from Australians with big ambitions, entrepreneurs and small business owners advocating for change.

The Few Who Do is an SBS podcast with CGU Insurance.

Dropping into your feed March 1


Upcoming episodes of The Few Who Do will examine

  • Why are Australians risk averse?

Only a small numbers of Australian companies are developing bold global innovations. How do we inspire more ambition and innovation?

  • How do we secure our food future?

Global population is predicted to hit 10 billion by 2050. Coupled with extreme weather patterns caused by climate change, our daily meals will look a little different.