The Power of Fair Pay in the Music Industry

A Message and Lesson Plans for Music Educators 

By NAfME Member José Valentino Ruiz, Ph.D. and Chris Shelton

Music educators have a responsibility to teach students about fair pay and the business aspects of the music industry (Skarstein & Aarø, 2019; Help Musicians UK, 2016; Cline & King, 2013). Research shows that underpaid musicians are more likely to experience burnout, become disenchanted with the industry, or switch careers (Skarstein & Aarø, 2019). Musicians who were financially struggling reported higher levels of burnout and decreased well-being (Skarstein & Aarø, 2019). Additionally, a survey conducted by Help Musicians UK revealed that 71% of professional musicians experienced anxiety and panic attacks, with financial worries as a major contributing factor (Help Musicians UK, 2016). Musicians who felt they were not being compensated fairly reported lower levels of job satisfaction and felt disenchanted with the industry (Cline & King, 2013).

However, music education often neglects the marketing and business sides of the industry, focusing primarily on technical skills (Bennet & Bridgstock, 2015). This lack of emphasis on business curricula can be problematic, as educators and musicians unaware of budgeting, negotiation, and fair pay principles may struggle to succeed (Smith, 2014). Some educators feel they lack the necessary knowledge or training to teach music entrepreneurship effectively (Smith, 2014). Others believe there isn’t enough time to cover the material, as they already have a lot of content to teach (Roulston, 2004; Toscher, 2019). There is a perception among educators that discussing money and business practices is taboo and may hinder students’ passion and creativity (Snow, 2012). Some music programs prioritize performance education over business skills, leading educators to focus more on rehearsing and performing music rather than teaching about the industry (Lehmann, 2018). Some educators may believe that teaching about the business side of music is not within their job description or should be left to music business professionals (Lehmann, 2018).

high school guitarist with yellow and white electric guitar

Photo: Lisa Helfert

To address these issues, music educators can incorporate business education into their teaching. This can involve lessons on budgeting, negotiation, and fair pay principles within applied lesson courses (Cutler, 2015). Bringing in guest speakers from the music industry who can share their experiences and insights on the business side of the industry can be valuable (Loeb, 2015). Providing opportunities for students to engage in entrepreneurial projects, such as organizing concerts or recording sessions, can help them develop practical skills in budgeting, marketing, and project management (McGee et al., 2021). Encouraging students to network and connect with industry professionals can also be beneficial, as they can gain insight into the inner workings of the industry and learn from experienced professionals (Weston, 2020). By incorporating business education into music teaching, educators can help students become adept at navigating the music industry while promoting a culture of fair pay and respect for musicians (Cutler, 2015). This can ultimately lead to a more sustainable and thriving music industry for all.

The following is a lesson plan to help music educators.

Title: Ruiz/Shelton’s Fair Pay Lesson & Assignments

Objective: To educate students on the importance of fair pay in the music industry and to provide practical skills for budgeting and negotiation.

Grade level: High school or college


  • Handout with information on the importance of fair pay in the music industry
  • Case studies or articles on successful negotiation in the music industry
  • Budgeting worksheet or software (Goodbudget, PocketGuard, Mint, etc.)


Introduction (10 minutes)

  • Ask students if they have ever considered the business side of the music industry, and if they think fair pay is important for musicians.
  • Discuss why it may be challenging for musicians to negotiate fair pay, and what obstacles they may face.

Presentation (20 minutes)

  • Distribute handouts with information on the importance of fair pay in the music industry and discuss the key points with the class.
  • Provide examples of successful negotiation in the music industry and discuss what strategies were used.
  • Discuss how fair pay can lead to better music and long-term success for musicians.

Budgeting Exercise (30 minutes)

  • Provide students with a budgeting worksheet or software and ask them to create a budget for a hypothetical music event.
  • Encourage them to consider all the costs involved in putting on a music event, including paying musicians fairly.
  • After completing the exercise, discuss the challenges they faced and what they learned about budgeting and negotiation.

Case Studies (20 minutes)

  • Provide case studies or articles on successful negotiation in the music industry and ask students to analyze the strategies used and the outcomes.
  • Encourage discussion on what can be learned from these examples and how they can be applied in real-world situations.

Conclusion (10 minutes)

  • Recap the importance of fair pay in the music industry and the skills necessary for successful negotiation.
  • Encourage students to consider these principles as they pursue careers in the music industry.


  • Review the budgeting worksheets or software to assess students’ ability to budget and negotiate effectively.
  • Ask students to write a short reflection on what they learned about fair pay in the music industry and how they plan to apply these principles in their own careers.


  • Ask students to research and present case studies of successful negotiations in the music industry.
  • Encourage students to create a mock music event and develop a budget and negotiation strategy for paying musicians fairly.

Note: This is just an outline, and the lesson plan can be adjusted based on the needs and interests of the students

closeup of a cymbal in a drumset

Photo: Lisa Helfert

Moreover, here is a negotiation assignment we created for music educators to implement within their applied lesson curriculum:

Title: Ruiz/Sheltons Personal Negotiations Homework Assignment

Objective: To develop negotiation skills and learn how to determine fair compensation rates for artistic services.


  • Write down a list of the services and products you are capable of providing as an artist.
  • Conduct a quick investigation by asking three professional colleagues or professors within your artistic discipline for their perceived or suggested rates for the specific type of services you provide.
  • Based on the information gathered, provide a multitiered table of compensation rates per service that is appropriate for your profession and provide justification for your rates.
  • Indicate how you determined the tier of compensation you would hypothetically demand, referring to the instructor’s lecture for this determination.
  • Indicate what you are willing to negotiate and by how much. Also, indicate the non-negotiable terms of the agreement.
  • Refer to your “pillars for your business” and SWOT analysis for defending your fee for your work. Provide a bullet-point list of variables that distinguish you from other potential hirers.


  • Your document should be well-organized and clearly demonstrate your understanding of the negotiation process and compensation rates in your profession.
  • Your bullet-point list of variables should be specific and relevant to your artistic services.
  • Your compensation tiers and negotiation terms should be fair and reasonable for both you and the client.
  • Your justification for your fee should be well-supported and persuasive.

Extension Activities:

  • Role-play a negotiation scenario with a classmate or instructor based on your document.
  • Research negotiation strategies and techniques used in the music industry and share your findings with the class.

By teaching our students to value fair pay and treatment for musicians, we can help them not only become successful musicians themselves, but also contribute to a more just and equitable music industry as a whole. As the saying goes, “treat others as you would like to be treated,” and this sentiment applies just as much in the music industry as it does anywhere else. As music educators, let’s strive to be fair and just in all our business dealings and teach our students to do the same. By promoting fair pay for musicians, we can help to create a more sustainable and equitable music industry for all.


Bennett, D., & Bridgstock, R. (2015). The urgent need for career preview: Student expectations and graduate realities in music and dance. International Journal of Music Education, 33(3), 263-277.

Cline, T., & King, E. (2013). Musician income and well-being: A study of freelancers in the UK performing arts industry. Psychology of Music, 41(3), 324-341.

Cutler, D. (2015). The Savvy Music Teacher: Blueprint for Maximizing Income and Impact. Oxford University Press.

Help Musicians UK. (2016). Can music make you sick? A study into musicians and mental health.

Loeb, S. E. (2015). Active learning: An advantageous yet challenging approach to accounting ethics instruction. Journal of Business Ethics, 127, 221-230.

McGee, C., Schwartz, N., & Ehrlick, S. (2021). The music den: a framework for entrepreneurship education in a university start-up incubator. Industry and Higher Education, 35(4), 360-366.

Roulston, K. (2004). An investigation of music teachers’ work in changing times. Journal   of Educational Change, 5, 31-56.

Skarstein, L., & Aarø, L. E. (2019). Making a living in the Norwegian music industry: A study of musicians’ mental health and working conditions. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 17(5), 1217-1231.

Smith, J. (2014). Entrepreneurial music education. Promising practices in 21st century music teacher education, 61-78.

Toscher, B. (2019). Entrepreneurial learning in arts entrepreneurship education: A conceptual framework. Artivate, 8(1), 3-22.

Snow, M. H. (2012). Music education and entrepreneurship: Post-secondary music teacher education and value creation for individuals and communities. Boston University.

Weston, D. (2020). The value of ‘Soft Skills’ in popular music education in nurturing musical livelihoods. Music Education Research, 22(5), 527-540.

About the authors:

headshot of Jose Valentino Ruiz with wind instrumentNAfME member José Valentino Ruiz, Ph.D. is CEO of JV Music Enterprises, Resident Media Composer at Hayden5, and founding Program Director of Music Business & Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida. Ruiz is a multi-Latin GRAMMY® and EMMY® Award Winner. For more information, visit

Chris Shelton playing guitarChris Shelton, M.M. is CFO at Jellybean Creative Agency and Instructor of Record of Music Business & Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida. Shelton is an American Prize® Award Winner and a multi-Global Music® Award Winner. For more information, visit

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

June 8, 2023. © National Association for Music Education (

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