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How Much Does a Backup Guitarist Make in Major Country Bands?
The life of a touring backup guitar player with a major country band or artist isn't that different from touring in other music genres. The pay still depends on the musician's ability to play shows and the particular length of an artist's tour. The limited touring schedules of some country music artists and bands could have a negative effect on a freelance musician's ability to pay bills and keep playing professionally without a permanent commitment.
A backup guitar player doesn't usually play a role in songwriting and isn't usually a full member of a band or artist with a record deal. This means the guitar player doesn't earn royalties for album sales or a percentage of the merchandise sales at concerts and festivals. A backup guitar player, even a player touring with a major country artist, usually earns a flat fee for their services for the entire length of the tour. The upside of this relationship is the guitar player doesn't have to participate in any interviews or press events unless the artist they're touring with needs them to play for a performance.
National Salary Numbers
As of May 2017, the mean hourly wage for the 40,170 musicians employed across the country, including tour guitar players, was $35.86. The middle 50 percent of all musicians across the country earned $26.96 per hour as of May 2017. The top 10 percent earned over $69.81 per hour, while the bottom 10 percent earned under $9.70 an hour.
Country Music's Financial Picture
The country music industry hasn't experienced the same level of declining record sales as other music genres. According to Billboard, the number of units sold for country music grew by 2.5 million between 2016 and 2017, ranking country fourth among genres. Major country music artists are also among the whole industry's top earners. Forbes reported that Luke Bryan was country music's top earner for 2018, grossing an estimated $52 million from album sales and touring. This allows him to pay a much higher rate to secure the best musicians possible for a tour.
Limited Touring Schedules
Country music artists tend to tour less frequently than artists and bands in other music genres. This lack of a touring schedule can negatively impact a touring backup guitar player's annual salary, since she only earns money when she's playing. For example, country music artist Dolly Parton only played 63 dates over a 12-month tour from June 2016 through July 2017. While her tour brought in an estimated $37 million, that figure had very little to do with her touring band's pay. If an artist wishes to keep a guitar player or other band member on permanent retainer, the artist must pay the musician a year-round salary to keep her having to find new work.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Musicians and Singers
- Forbes: The World's Highest-Paid Country Music Stars Of 2017
- CMT: Country Music Claims 10 Percent of Total U.S. Album Sales in 2016
- Billboard: U.S. On-Demand Streams Passed 618 Billion in 2017, Outpacing Sales Declines Again
- Forbes: The Highest-Paid Country Music Stars Of 2018
Jonathan Lister has been a writer and content marketer since 2003. His latest book publication, "Bullet, a Demos City Novel" is forthcoming from J Taylor Publishing in June 2014. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Shippensburg University and a Master of Fine Arts in writing and poetics from Naropa University.