Composers, songwriters and performers create new musical works and performances for audiences.

Learn more about the economic conditions of practicing professional musicians and composers, including their age profile and incomes.

Get the facts about aspiring musicians, including those who find paid employment, and growing opportunities in music teaching.

Career prospects and earning potential

Growing numbers are studying music – and some musicians establish themselves at a young age

The ABS reports that 37,100 people aged between 15 and 64 had a music qualification[1] in 2009 - up from 31,100 in 2007. This exceeds the number of people with a qualification in drama/theatre (16,500), fine arts (28,000), photography (16,100), and craft (15,700).

The majority of the 5,175 full-time equivalent students studying music at the end of 2010 were enrolled in performance or creation (with smaller numbers studying musicology, music technology or music teaching).

Over 18,000 young people under 30 years of age currently have registered works with APRA, and Throsby and Zednik’s research shows that young people can establish themselves as professionals at a young age. They estimate professional performing musicians (excluding composers) are on average 26 years old when they become established – the youngest of all artists.

[1]   Non-school qualification – referring to educational attainments other than those of pre-primary, primary or secondary education


In general aspiring musicians face small creative incomes and challenging career prospects

Whilst some musicians achieve financial success, incomes from creative practice are usually small, and few of those with music qualifications end up in musician occupations. Instead, many musicians adopt ‘portfolio’ careers, and leverage their skills in arts related industries such as music teaching.

Throsby & Zednik estimate the median creative income from creative work – that is, the mid-point of the range of creative incomes – is $7,000 for practising professional musicians and $8,000 for composers.

Musicians and composers said the most important factor advancing their professional development throughout their career was passion/self-motivation, followed by hard work/persistence and talent.

More musicians and composers indicated that talent was the most important factor, compared with other artist groups.


Relative to those involved in music, there are few paid employment opportunities

Relative to the number of people studying and practising music, employment levels in paid musician occupations are low.

Recent ABS figures show around 500,000 adult Australians were involved in writing song lyrics, or mixing or composing music, including digital composition in 2010-11. Around 950,000 were involved in singing or playing a musical instrument.

A proportion of these also had a tertiary qualification relating to their participation. Of those engaged in singing or playing a musical instrument, 176,100 said they had had a relevant qualification, and 37,700 have a qualification relevant to writing music.

Very few of these participants earned any wage or salary for their engagement. Further, most of those who did earned less than 25 percent of their total income in this way.


Creation  -  Music

In the 2006 census around 7,800 people reported primary musician occupations such as instrumental musicians, singers, composers or music directors. This increased slightly to around 7,900 in the 2011 census.

Relative to the 12,500 thought to be currently practicing professionally, or the 60,000 of those registered with APRA | AMCOS, it is clear that considerable numbers of musicians are not working in musician occupations as their main job.

Looking at specific types of music practice suggests that composers/arrangers are the least likely to be practicing as their main job, whereas instrumental players are most likely to.


Surprisingly few women are engaged in music creation and performance

There are significantly more male songwriters, composers and musicians in Australia, compared with the gender distribution seen in other art forms.

Women represent just 20 percent of songwriters and composers registered with APRA, and Throsby and Zednik estimate women represent just 32 percent of musicians and 27 percent of composers currently practising professionally.

Comparable proportions can be seen in agriculture, forestry and fishing, manufacturing, and wholesale trade.

Whilst women represent 45 percent of those with a music qualification and 50 percent of those studying music, based on these statistics as few as 20 percent are likely to register a work they have written.


Creation  -  Music

While women represent 45 percent of those with a music qualification and 50 percent of those that study music, they make up just 20 percent of those registered to receive royalties.

There are significantly more male songwriters and musicians in Australia.

Unlike the musician population, two thirds of all music teachers are women, highlighting different career paths for men and women in the music industry.


Music teaching is the biggest employment market in the music industry

Practising professional musicians note some of the factors inhibiting their professional development are a lack of work opportunities, lack of financial return from creative practice, and a lack of time to do creative work due to other pressures and responsibilities.

With too few professional music opportunities, professional musicians and other artists undertake arts-related work (mainly teaching music) and non-arts related work to support their creative practice.

Their non-creative work generally generates higher financial returns than creative work (musicians generate 44 percent of their income from creative practice, despite devoting 52 percent of their working hours).

The 2006 Census found high and increasing levels of employment in music teaching relative to other music occupations, which remained stable in the 2011 Census.

In terms of the size of the labour market, this means teaching music is one of the best opportunities for finding work in music.

Unlike the musician population, two thirds of all music teachers are women, suggesting women are working as teachers as opposed to practising artists.


Musicians leverage their skills in other industries to complement their creative incomes

Whilst they face challenging financial conditions, Musicians are able to leverage their skills in other occupations and industries. Throsby and Zednik estimate that musicians and composers fare better than other artists, having higher annual incomes that have fared better over time (most artist incomes have not kept pace with inflation). Composers are one of the only groups to have increased their incomes over time in real terms.

Two-thirds of practising professional musicians and composers are able to cover their costs of living with their total arts and non-arts income (65 percent and 63 percent respectively) – compared with smaller proportions of other types of artists.


Number of songwriters, composers and musicians

60,000 Australian songwriters and composers have registered a musical work

Around 60,000 Australian songwriters and composers have registered a musical work with the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) during their lifetime and are eligible for royalty payments.

These songwriters and composers are found in all parts of Australia, following a similar geographic distribution to the Australian population. Two-thirds live in metropolitan areas – and most are registered in NSW or VIC.


Over 1,000,000 musical works have been registered in Australia’s song writing history

Both the number of members and the number of new works registered with APRA | AMCOS are growing each year. The number of Australian songwriters and composers registered as members has been growing at an average rate of 10 percent per year since 2005.

Over 80,000 new works were registered by Australian songwriters and composers during 2011 – up 20,000 on 2005 levels – an average growth rate of 4 percent per year. A further 14,000 were registered by publishers on behalf of Australian songwriters.

There are currently over 1,047,000 works registered by Australian songwriters in the APRA | AMCOS database.


Most Australian songwriters identify with the Pop/Rock category

More than half of all songwriters/composers registered with APRA identify with the pop/rock category.

Other common genres self-selected by APRA members are Alternative, Blues and roots, Country, Electronic and Jazz.[1]

[1]   Note songwriters/composers can be registered in more than one category


600 Indigenous Australian composers are generating royalty income from a musical work

In the 2011 Census, 80 Indigenous Australians indicated their main occupation was a ‘Music Professional’.

Indigenous membership of APRA is somewhat higher – estimated at 875 members in August 2012. APRA estimated that around 609 Indigenous songwriter members had generated royalty income from a musical work since 2000.







There is a large cohort of professional musicians currently practicing

Throsby and Zednik estimate there is a large group of performing musicians currently practicing at the professional level. Their 2009 survey of members of some music organisations[1] estimates there were approximately 12,500 singers and instrumental musicians that met one of four criteria[2] of a practicing professional artist, and approximately 900 composers.

The practicing musicians surveyed in Throsby and Zednik’s research were found to be older than other artists and the wider workforce, with an average age of 50 years in 2009.

Many of these musicians (almost 40 percent) identified themselves as ‘established but working less intensively than before’.

Collectively musicians and composers represented the largest group of practicing artists in the study. Throsby and Zednik’s research shows little growth in their number over time, compared with other artforms. The findings suggest fewer younger musicians are practicing professionally in this way.

[1]   Throsby and Zednik derived their sample of ‘practising professional’ musicians from the membership of the Australian Music Centre, Australian National Choral Association, Musicians Union, Qmusic and the Song Company.

[2]   Practising professional artists were defined as people who are permanently living in Australia, and who either: have had an artistic achievement in their artform in the last five years (for details of what constitutes an artistic achievement for each artform see the recruitment questionnaire on the website of the Australia Council for the Arts), or have been engaged in the last five years in creating a serious and substantial body of work in their artform, or have undertaken full-time training in their artform, or have received a grant to work in their artform.