Do we really starve?

January 15, 2007 at 11:39 PM · The common stereotype that I've heard on and on is that musicians don't make enough money to eat. Of course, we all know that this is not true, if you have business skills and are a good player. What I'm interested in is what kinds of salaries different kinds of musicians can make. For instance, how does orchestral compare to teaching compare to soloing? Of course within these categories I am sure there are different kinds of salaries. For instance, the Boston Symphony Orchestra probably won't pay the same as the Podunk Symphony (no offense to Podunk residents). What I'm more interested in is a general figure. So many musicians embark on this path without actually thinking about the necessities of life, and I'd like to bring that to everyone's (and my) attention.

Replies (35)

January 16, 2007 at 12:30 AM · Members of the AFM can go to its website and look up a wage chart to compare wages of different orchestras.

January 16, 2007 at 02:25 AM · i support this inquiry. i think the topic of wages for musicians (or even a lot of other professions) is something people don't talk about - out of courtesy and privacy for the musicians.

i read that top of the line conductors make 1 - 2 million a year. holy cow. i've also heard concertmaster or principal spots in top of the line orchestras (ny, philly, chicago, la) make 6 figures.

really - i have no clue. i feel weird asking my teacher(s) (one soloist, one top orchestra principal) about how much they make. but they do charge $100 / hour for a lesson...

anyone with positions in orchestras like to open up and let us young fools get a sense of reality?

i'm starving.

January 16, 2007 at 02:35 AM · I'm not a professional yet, but it seems to me the whole "You can never make a living as a musician, go get a Real Job!" thing is a holdover from really over a century ago, when being a musician was considered anything but a respectable job, when it was an embarrassment to even have a relative who earned his only money by scratching on the fiddle. Musicians in those days were little better than servants--they had to go in the back door for everything!!

But by the mid-19th century, largely thanks to (*ahem*) a certain Mr. Liszt, musicians began to command a LOT more respect. Our situation even now is far from perfect (unless you're Karajan, good god that guy was loaded), but much much better than it once was.

January 16, 2007 at 03:36 AM · As a teacher and performer, I make enough to gain five pounds a year, if I'm not watching what I eat.

Are you wanting us to share our specific salaries?

January 16, 2007 at 03:44 AM · Edit: sorry, stupid "British pounds" pun removed...

January 16, 2007 at 03:46 AM · I think one would want to approach this from a major historical period perspective. Generally, I think you will find before 1900 for example, that the environment was 'some' different than today.

The competition and pressure remains though. But, making a living being at the top of the heap in music I believe, has the same parallels as being a quarterback in terms of not only getting there, but being one of the Manning brothers and etc.

Another parallel might be teacher's salaries, and the post 1900 trend to make teaching a professional profession. It comes down to values, valued, and valuing.

January 16, 2007 at 03:52 AM · p.s. I do start to play well someday.

January 16, 2007 at 05:50 AM · Well one thing I do know, in regards to solo violinists is that they more than likely make a lot more money than teachers or concert violinists. Considering that Josh bell bought his violin (a Strad) at a "mere" 4 milllion, it would have to be a darn good deal more.

January 16, 2007 at 11:12 AM · ...Musicians in those days were little better than servants--they had to go in the back door for everything!!...

We often are still viewed that way and still do go in and out the back- not much has changed since Haydn's day.

January 16, 2007 at 01:42 PM · Hi Emily,

I would never ask for someone's personal salary, just because it's, well, personal! That being said, I'm interested in ballpark figures, so I know what to expect when I apply for bigger jobs in a year or so. For instance, what's considered reasonable, and when do I know that I can do better than I'm being offered? Perhaps it all depends on supply and demand and where one lives...


January 16, 2007 at 01:42 PM · might have some salary information that you are looking for.

You also might want to search the local newspapers for salary information. During my time in Memphis and Alabama symphonies, the local Birdcage Liners took it upon themselves to publish musician salaries during contract negotiations. Naturally, Conductor salaries were not presented to the general public by said Birdcage Liners. One of my non-musician friends said "You make WHAT? That's IT?" LOL...

The AFM paper "The International Musician" has salaries posted with most of the help wanted ads. Keep in mind that not all orchestras are affiliated with the AFM.

January 16, 2007 at 02:20 PM · I read several years ago that Leonard Slatkin was making almost $900000 as National Symphony Music Director and Nurit Bar-Josef, the concertmaster, was making $300000 and change. I assume that NSO salaries for the regular musicians are somewhere in the low six figures.

January 16, 2007 at 03:06 PM · I guess what you also need to take into consideration is how many hours a week you work. If you're earning 70k a year, but have to work 70 hours a week, you're only getting about $19/hour. Where as if you're getting 70k a year, but only working 35 hours a week, then that's not so bad.

Where musicians get stiffed is that on top of all the rehearsals and concerts, we are expected to keep up our own practice regime - and that isn't paid work. We may work 35 paid hours, but end up working for 70 when you add in practice and preparation.

I'm not sure what the situation in America is like, but in australia, rank and file permanent players are looking at 40-60k, section leaders would be 60-80k, assoc. concert master probably 80-90k, and concert master definitely over 100k. You might get celli secion leader up near the 80-90k mark as well. They're guaranteed at least one day off (for my local symphony, it's a monday) in which they can seek out teaching opportunities, to supplement their income.

If you look at job adverts, they will usually give you an idea of how much you can expect to earn.

There's a site around that lists a large number of the advertised positions, for free. MyAuditions is one, but you do need to register (free) - or you can just take a look at the orchestras with vacancies, then check it out at their websites.

January 17, 2007 at 01:29 AM · Did you hear the one about the musician who won the lottery?

Of course a bunch of reporters gathered round. One of them asked: "What are you going to do now that you have all this money?"

The answer: "I guess I'll keep playing until it's gone."

January 17, 2007 at 01:36 AM · Daniel,

The info is available on the net, guidestar actually.

There's a number of very well paying orchestras out there right now, obviously the old guard, as well as Seattle and Pittsburg, which now pays pretty decently.

I saw a table somewhere of like, the top 8 or 9 CMs in north america... I'm telling you, in addition to their teaching salaries, solo options with their orchestra, and their executive level pay, there are a few violinists making some very respectable money.

A teacher who really knows how to market themself can also earn a lot. In fact, one of my violin teachers (from a few years ago) lived in an up scale neighborhood in a very nice house, and travelled often, in addition to having an impressive collection of instruments. Why? He charged a decent sum, his house is tax detuctable, so is his car (since he teaches at the Royal Conservatory) and all sorts of other things.

It's possible to make a great living in music, but the point is, if you're doing what you love, I really believe that you need less discretionary income since your passion is your career.

January 17, 2007 at 02:39 AM · becoming a musician has benefits, in that a lot of what we buy can be counted as business expenses. Computers, INstruments of course, but even CD's, MP3 players, stereos, sheet music. (I only just clued into the fact that sheet music is a capital purchase, which means it can be taken out of my income tax. Now if only I was earning enough to have tax to deduct it from)

January 17, 2007 at 02:42 AM · Ben's right. In fact, I know of an accountant who specializes in dealing with musician's tax returns. I think he's a symphony player. I think if you keep receipts for stuff, you can claim them later on.

January 17, 2007 at 05:30 AM · But of course it is a serious question when it comes to one’s career planning -- future earning is a big component of it and it’ll be foolish not to explore it. It’s not hard to quickly figure out the reasonably achievable number and if looks good to you, will it be good enough down the road? If it’s really good, are you willing to have this factor to be part of the ‘carrots’ that get you going? Assuming you have so far been chiefly motivated by your passion for violin, do you know what it means to add this ‘carrot’ to your motivational bank? End is relatively easy to accomplish if one wants it real bad, but if the carrots are wrongly chosen, the ends that we have achieved are just not all that sweet. I hope I'm making sense, Daniel.

January 17, 2007 at 10:42 AM · Daniel, seriously, I'm reluctant to put forth figures for the reason that when I was younger, I was told that musicians earned a pitiful amount of money. Subsequently, I worried myself out of even heading that direction. For the longest time.

Yes, it's logical to look at averages and probabilities, but in reality, people find all sorts of crazy ways to make do, and if you're flexible enough and creative enough, you shouldn't have to worry about starving to death in this country. Yes, you may have to do without sometimes, but I'm of the opinion that not having everything you want is actually good for you. Half of living is having something to look forward to.

Do the thing that keeps you looking forward.

January 17, 2007 at 11:55 AM · Hi guys,

Thanks so much for the info. I like the prevailing attitude of "follow your passion and the rest will follow". I think that's the most important thing in life too...not settling for anything less than happiness in life. The money comes when you find your niche.

I'm coming from the position that I want all the above, but being idealistic isn't enough for me. I need to be realistic in the sense that one day I want to support a family! There are plenty of musicians who do this, though, and I'm just trying to see where and how music fits into my career plans. The passion is certainly there...It's just a matter of channeling it


January 17, 2007 at 01:54 PM · the usual rule is that never ask a man of his money or a woman of her age. so lady violinists, better fe$$ up!:)

January 17, 2007 at 03:51 PM · Those top tier conductors make far more than $1mil annually. They may make $1.5-2 mil a year working TWELVE weeks a year at their home orchestra, and then rake in $100,000 every weekend they guest conduct.

I believe their are about nine orchestras with starting salaries of 100k or more: New York, Cleveland, Philly, Boston, Chicago, San Fran, LA, Houston, the Met, and maybe one or two others. Of course, 100k goes much further in Cleveland than it does in San Francisco.

Soloists? Depending on how much they work and how in demand they are...average it out to about $10-12k a concert.

Of course, there are many musicians who pull in a respectable income by combining teaching/solo gigs/orchestras/studio work, etc.

January 17, 2007 at 05:03 PM · I think the cost of living factor that Andrew mentions is important.

Mr. Ku, I am 36 (smiley face here).

Daniel, didn't your Mother ever tell you that it is just as easy to love a rich girl as it is to love a poor girl? (second smiley face here).

January 17, 2007 at 06:02 PM · Hi,

Daniel, making life plans in music is quite difficult. Music is not a normal life. I have to say that the transition was a shock for me.

At this point, I have I guess the typical life of a musician: A full time teaching position, summer festivals and about 35 concerts (orchestra, chamber, solo) a year. Finances are OK. Not easy, but OK. Still, I see many in other middle-class professions doing far better at my age.

I do OK. I have a nice house, good fiddle, and happy life. I work many evenings a week, mornings are reserved as much as possible for practice and exercise.

As for the rest, if it comes great, then not. Things to consider I think:

- On family life - if it's for you great, if not no. But music is a way of life, if you want to succeed that factors in. Music is a commitment; really.

- "Rich or poor girl" - The South-Americans have a great saying: It is better to be alone than in bad company. Very true. Above all be happy, whether alone or not. Being unhappy or lonely in a relationship is far worst than by yourself.

- And also, RICH OR POOR IN MUSIC, never ever ever sacrifice integrity.


P.S. Andrew Sords - thanks for those figures.

January 17, 2007 at 07:31 PM · Daniel,

A few weeks back there was this discussion on another forum

Thoughts on choosing to become a professional musician

I think there were a lot of depressing and positive stories in there...some figures were also mentioned if you look through all the posts

What I found interesting was that a lot of them thought that violinists and strings had it much easier on the whole i.e. there was a greater demand for them as teachers, musicians, etc.

January 17, 2007 at 10:32 PM · I believe that the base rate for a musician in the Atlanta Symphony is $77K a year. Plus, you have the potential money made from teaching. I know that more well known orchestras pay better, but the competition is much greater as well.

January 17, 2007 at 11:11 PM · $10,000 a week with a requirement to work only twelve weeks is the most lucrative thing I've ever heard of. No wonder fiddles get so expensive.

January 18, 2007 at 12:18 AM · Parmeeta,

That thread is depressing!! I couldn't finish reading it because it was so negative!

And Christian, I agree with you that music is not your "typical" 9-5 job. However, sacrificing a family for my art is not something I chose to do. That being said, working evenings is not a problem for me, as long as it's not every evening. I guess we all have different priorities on here. What you say about being miserable with the wrong girl is more than true. I'm glad I don't have that problem - and her being rich or poor makes no difference!

For me, what's most important in life is raising a family, spending time with your kids, earning enough for your family, and being happy working with what you love. All of these have equal priority. Who could ask for more?


January 18, 2007 at 01:24 AM · daniel, keep in mind that no planning now can really prepare you for the future to come. be prepared to compromise, that is, mix what you love to do with what you have to do which often is not necessarily what you love to do. the ones who can mix them well imo are the ones who have lived well. those chasing their dreams at the expense of everything else are imo naive. for family and kids, chances are you will have to suck it in and sacrifice. you will be tired, stressed, pissed, wish you are home when you cannot afford to,,,,all bearable if what you do have meaning.

that is to say, forget about the dream combo: happily playing violin, spending quality time with family and kids, making great money...

lower your expectation, not being pessimistic, but realistic. chances are you will not starve for food, but you will at times long for acknowledgement, understanding and may be, sleep.

January 18, 2007 at 11:16 AM · If you have a family, how everything shakes out depends on the goals and needs of everyone. (Camilla Wicks gave up her career for awhile when she was raising her family AND sold her Strad to help her husband's business-then her husband ran off with the babysitter). Balances between your career goals and your spouse's, who earns what, who takes care of the kids (major $$ here if you need childcare), etc. will change depending on circumstance and that may definitely impact the type of performing/teaching you do.

January 18, 2007 at 02:31 PM · There was a similar discussion last year (I would guess early last year) and Ilya Gringolts gave an illustrative break-down of the economics of a solo gig in Europe. You may find it interesting. Best of luck.


January 18, 2007 at 02:53 PM · sarah chang, when much younger, compared her career in classical music with the pop career of brittney spears:)

chang was saying that the classical carrer is much longer than the pop career. i agree with that, for the most part, although some rockers in their 60's are still jumping up and down after hip replacement:)

classical career is long but does not really allow you to retire early (not that you want to, but if you do, you can't afford to).

so, to play the odds, since you may not make great money fast in classical music, your other priorities might as well be also on the front burners. to go in with a leveled head just in case...

what you don't want to see is when/if ever you are bored playing the violin in an environment you prefer not to be in, you do not have much in life to look forward to...

music, serving as an escape, is a cold dish.

January 19, 2007 at 09:45 AM · Daniel,

¡I thought so to! But some people did give a positive report, and also what "adequate" standard of living means to each person.

But there were people with really depressing experiences in there who obviously loved music: makes you think. Especially when the talk of the numbers of music degree graduates that qualify every year.

January 19, 2007 at 01:29 PM · Hi,

All of my colleagues that are in my age group (not far from yours...) - early to late 30's face the same issue of balance between family life and musical life. In almost all cases, all tell me that practice time suffers with family life, and they do their teaching jobs but have cut back on performing. Look, realistically, that balance is difficult. Even just balancing teaching with rehearsals, etc. and duties from a teaching job can make finding enough practice time difficult. I don't know...

Realities to consider also at this point to those entering professional life. Real Estate has gone way up (at least here in Canada). The result: even with low interest rates mortgage payments are pretty high.

Salaries are OK but still not great for most in the music teaching profession, even in universities and conservatories. You will need to perform to make ends meet. Amazing to me still is that college and conservatory professors with doctorate degrees still on average make way less than many other professions.

Standards of living is an interesting thing... Depends what you want (what you need is different).

In anything, there is something that people forget. You will continue to learn and grow as a musician and player once you graduate if you choose to. People forget this. Constant adaptation is a requirement of this profession.

But, I still find in the end that making a life that one really wants in music is making a commitment to that way of life. It all depends on what makes you feel good.


January 19, 2007 at 04:33 PM · It is hard to say. I don't get paid much for any of the orchestras I play in. About $60.00 per rehearsal and performance, give or take some. They pay good mileage, so I make money driving back and forth. They put us up in hotels, which makes the gig worth while. But I manage and survive, and many in this area do as well...because we play in several groups. It means we end up working every weekend just about, and have performances often. But not with the same orchestra, so it is hard to say what the standard is for salary. Depends on how many local symphonies and orchestras and gigs you are willing to take on. And how far you are willing to drive, and how often, for your gigs.

Playing weddings and such gigs are very lucritive. It isn't usually that hard to market yourself as long as you have a handful of quartet musicians who can play at your call.

I could probably make more money here, teaching. But I dedicate all my time to performing right now. Yes, people do forget that the job is not just rehearsal and performances. It is learning the music during the week. :).

p.s. I'm happy, which is the most important. We are definately in poverty level statistically, but I feel very rich. I have a wonderful marriage, and part of the reason it is wonderful is because I am happy with my playing life, am donig what I love, and have lots of room for advancement. Sometimes it feels too much like a job (pops concerts etc.), but overall, i get paid for doing what I love. If I am happy with myself, everything else in my life is very rich indeed.



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