Per Service calls

May 27, 2007 at 02:53 PM · I've been taking a look at some auditions for US orchestras (not that i'm looking to audition, just interested in what's being asked for, and also what you can expect to be paid). I took a notice of these "Per Service" jobs, with some orchestras offering $50 per service for Tutti strings.

Now, I was also able to lay my hands on a rehearsal schedule for one of these orchestras, which had 22 calls (5 concerts, 17 2 and a half hour rehearsals), and just wondered if that would constitute 22 "services".

It just seems to me that it's extremely poor pay for musicians - $20/hour. Now I hope that I'm reading this incorrectly, or that there's extra information that I don't know about.

Can anyone please shed some light?

Replies (24)

May 27, 2007 at 02:59 PM · A service is either a rehearsal or a concert.

The per-service orchestras I have subbed in do not withhold any taxes, so the stated pay is a bit misleading.

Some per-service gigs also provide mileage.

May 28, 2007 at 08:42 AM · Not much money in the symphony, eh? I would also assume that the per service pay is what you get for each rehearsal or concert.

May 28, 2007 at 01:46 PM · Hi,

Per service usually implies a three hour rehearsal or one concert (although two half-concerts can count). There are varying pay scales based on the clause used by the AFM.

But essentially, it is true the pay is not that high considering how much practice is involved in playing sometimes a lot of difficult music.

Cheers!

May 28, 2007 at 03:22 PM · Scale varies from Local to Local.

Also, sometimes Locals and orchestras work out deals to pay musicians, either contracted player, or sub, less than local scale.

On the flip side, for-profit gigs (weddings, rock concerts, etc.) can pay over local scale.

For example:

One of the pay-under-scale orchestra gigs around here (not my gig) pays $240.00 for three 3-hour rehearsals, and one concert. The mileage, for me, would come to $62.00. Total = $302.00. Let us do the math...

9 hours rehearsal +

2 hour concert +

4 hours in the car +

5 hours prep* practice =

20 hours.

*Prep time varies. Also, I didn't count time spent twiddling thumbs in between services.

$302.00 divided by 20 hours = $15.10 an hour, pre tax, and union dues.

May 28, 2007 at 04:00 PM · Also, a really great blog that covers these type of gigs is Jason Heath's web site at http://jasonheath.blogspot.com/ . He is a freelance bass player, and a divine writer.

May 28, 2007 at 10:00 PM · Ben wrote:

"It just seems to me that it's extremely poor pay for musicians - $20/hour. Now I hope that I'm reading this incorrectly, or that there's extra information that I don't know about."

Tja - you know, we certainly don't go into music for the money...

May 28, 2007 at 11:11 PM · Yes, but you'd think that you should be able to survive on it. I'm not sure what the situation is in America, but $15/hour is something I'd expect to earn working at McDonalds, not playing in an orchestra. Here in Australia, freelance musicians are charging around AUD$50/hour (equates to about US$40).

May 29, 2007 at 02:05 AM · I charge a lot more per hour than I get with my Symphony gigs. If you sign a conracted season with a Symphony, you are at least guaranteed that work, and then you can charge what you are worth for all the days in between concerts and rehearsals that you want or are able to work.

It really depends on what the competition for gigs is, and how many gigs your area offers. If you are resourcefull, you can earn enough gigging to supplement the underpay of the orchestra. Sometimes being in the orchestra gets you on-the-side gigs. Sort of like a mechanic...

Jennifer Warren

May 29, 2007 at 02:18 AM · U.S. Federal Minimum Wage will go up to $5.85 per hour this summer.

In 2008 it will go up to $6.55, and then $7.25 in 2009. (Current minimum wage is $5.15).

Some individual states have recently passed higher minimum wages.

May 29, 2007 at 02:31 AM · Yeah, I was going to say, it would be awesome to get $15 an hour at MacDonald's...

So, I looked at a currency converter. I thought there would be a big difference, but there really isn't. $1 American is $1.22 Australian. Given this information is correct, $15 in Australia is $12.28 in America. And given that the minimum starting wage is currently around $6 in most places, I would be happy with $12.28 at MacDonalds.

Are our countries really that different? Really interesting...

May 29, 2007 at 07:06 AM · Apparently we are all that different. Just took a look at the WASO Musicians Agreement which lists the Casual call rate at AUD$114.78 - equivalent to about US$94/call. Salaried musicians call rates start at AUD$95.65/call and head up to AUD$120.90/call for a tutti player with 8 years in the orchestra.

Out of interest, the Concertmaster earns AUD$155.04/call for the first year, and AUD$158.76/call in the second (and future) years. They have a maximum of 315 calls per year (get paid extra if it exceeds this)

May 29, 2007 at 09:02 AM · Ben, the difference with wedding gigs and private engagements is that you aren't paid for rehearsal time (same goes for concerts too), so even if you do charge $100 per person per hour, the real hourly wage, so to speak, is much less than this. A concert where you are paid several hundred dollars is the same thing - factor in the time you've spent preparing and it really isn't that much.

For comparison: my academy position in Germany paid by the day: about 80€ for a rehearsal day, and about 100€ for one with concerts - travel days (on tour) were included, even if you didn't do any playing work.

And the extra work I've done here also has its own scale - different rates for different rehearsal lengths (from 2 hours), a production rate, concert fee and dress rehearsal fee. It's all complicated...

May 29, 2007 at 01:15 PM · Ben,

Here in Canada, we get about the same as you per call. However, I still find it sometimes underpaid as some of the symphonic repertoire programmed requires huge amounts of practice (at least for me). The AFM also has these other clauses whereas the scale gets lower if amateurs are involved. Then, it gets quite low (like 1/3 less).

However Ben, the WASO seems more like full-time to me instead of per service if there are 315 calls (no orchestra here with that many services is per service). The salaries of full-time orchestral players is annual and quite good in many places.

I don't know, that's life I guess...

Cheers!

P.S. Plus the AFM is cracking down on anyone taking non-union gigs here (or not declaring them)...

May 29, 2007 at 01:26 PM · Christian, my AFM Wage Scale book doesn't have anything about lower scales for amateur involvement.

We have eight wage scales listed, and Scales 2 and 8 are a bit lower than the others, (for chamber music, lecture/demonstration, and contemporary music), and these need "approval from the local secretary" to be used. But all of these locals are different...

As for wedding gigs, I have found that there are different local pay customs. One city I used to live in, I would get local scale for a wedding, about $60.00. That isn't a lot, but there were tons of weddings to play. It was not unusual to play 6-10 a month!

Where I live now, local wedding scale is $41.00. However, contractors pay at least $200.00, on up to about $250.00 per musician, for small ensemble. I charge more for solo. That's really good money, for less than an hour's work, but I don't do 6-10 a month. I wish!

Generally, around here, commercial work (weddings, pop recordings, rock concerts) pays better than orchestral classical work.

May 29, 2007 at 02:45 PM · Christian - the first rate I quoted - AUD$114.78 - was for a casual musician, one that is called up for one concert only, so they wouldn't be getting the 315 calls per year. They could be lucky to play in 3 concerts for the year... depends on what big repertoire is being played, and whether there are any players sick/injured.

May 29, 2007 at 03:04 PM · Hi,

Ben - I see.

Anne - I think that there are various clauses within clause 4 with is the usual one for us here in freelance gigs. I remember that the scale clause for pros cannot be used if there is amateur involvement, which translates to a lower pay. Has happened a lot here to the frustration of many (especially when the entire orchestra is pro and some of the singers are not!).

Cheers!

May 29, 2007 at 03:15 PM · Christian, that is so unfortunate. That clause isn't in the union book here, and through the years I have been a member in the Memphis, Louisville, and now Birmingham. locals. That must be really problematic for church gigs too!

May 29, 2007 at 03:30 PM · I'm not in the union and have run into the problem of people not being able to hire me because of this issue of having an non-union player in the ensemble affecting the pay. That would be in Nashville. Makes an issue out of forming pick-up quartets for weddings. You kind of have to keep tabs on who is union and who isn't. But then again, if you charge union scale for everyone and it isn't a declared "union gig"...something like a wedding or party or church concert...then can the union members not use it as a union gig regardless...because the pay is the same?

It does all seem quite complicated.

Since we are talking about unions and per-call-pay vs. orchestral...

What makes being in the union a better financial decision than gobbling up any gig you can get and setting your own price. Is it primarily for orchestras who want only union players?

Is it for self-employed musicians who need insurance and a set way to do taxes?

I play in symphonic groups that union members also play in. THe symphony has a contract with the union. But I'm not a union member and I get paid the same amount.

I looked into joining several times, but the dues and fees and tax witholdings were more than I could afford. I make more without joining.

What is the benefit of joining the union?

p.s. I'm very greatful to the union because it does set the scale for all musicians in the area. WIthout them, we would not get the adequate breaks, mileage, hotel pay, and per-service amount. We'd get paid pennies and have to play long days and long rehearsals.

But why is it that a freelance or symphonic player can then not afford to be in the union?

Jennifer Warren

May 29, 2007 at 07:02 PM · I think the WASO compares more to an ICSOM orchestra than to a per-service orchestra. I think of a per-service orchestra as one that has no salaried/tenured players and a very limited schedule. The salaried orchestras will still have a per-service or hourly rate for subs and extras who don't play every concert. If you check the settlement bulletins posted at http://www.icsom.org/settlement.html, you can see what's typical for salaried orchestras here in the U.S.

May 29, 2007 at 06:41 PM · Jennifer wrote:

"What is the benefit of joining the union?

p.s. I'm very greatful to the union because it does set the scale for all musicians in the area. WIthout them, we would not get the adequate breaks, mileage, hotel pay, and per-service amount. We'd get paid pennies and have to play long days and long rehearsals."

Haven't you just answered your own question? The union is worth joining because it ensures (or at least fights for) certain standards: of professionalism, of minimum fees, etc. Do you support minimum wage? Regulated playing time? Overtime?

Other benefits include the pension, which freelancers wouldn't necessarily have otherwise. And for some reason, I think (correct me if I'm wrong) employers are required to pay work dues and pension contributions on top of normal salary - so it's not like you're losing that much. MPTF (Music Performance Trust Fund) is also a good benefit - it sponsors free concerts, where performers are paid for their work, and is often a source of summer gigs.

I joined the union when I was 17 because I wanted to sub with the symphony. Stayed in it because I got recording benefits for concerts with our university orchestra (anything CBC gives you benefits, but that's only in Canada). It got me work visas for gigs across the border, and put me in the directory (easy contact for gigs). Even though I'm now in Europe, I've stayed a member, partly because I believe in what it stands for, and partly because it keeps me in touch with music in North America - nice to know I can do sub gigs when I go back for the summer holidays, if need be.

For us, dues were never that much, although I know they do vary quite a bit from local to local - I pay CDN$120 annually, and in Victoria, where I started out, they were even less.

(By the way, *don't tell*, I think people are pretty lax about doing non-union gigs on the side, especially if it's a matter of two noodles or five at the end of the month...)

May 29, 2007 at 08:21 PM · Hi Jennifer,

To answer some of your questions...

What makes being in the union a better financial decision than gobbling up any gig you can get and setting your own price. Is it primarily for orchestras who want only union players?

It helps the union mostly, and doesn't involve the orchestras getting harrassed by the AFM.

Is it for self-employed musicians who need insurance and a set way to do taxes?

No. But in truth, as self-employed you pay the employer's tax in the U.S.. This saves the orchestra having to pay it, though taking deductions is of course helpful.

I play in symphonic groups that union members also play in. THe symphony has a contract with the union. But I'm not a union member and I get paid the same amount.

That is changing. The AFM would like that all ensembles and its members belong to the union.

I looked into joining several times, but the dues and fees and tax witholdings were more than I could afford. I make more without joining.

Possibly...

What is the benefit of joining the union?

Actually, you're answering your own question below...

Namely - adequate breaks, mileage (sometimes), hotel set salaries. It prevents abuse like free extra rehearsals and no breaks.

But why is it that a freelance or symphonic player can then not afford to be in the union?

Because a lot of places don't hire unless you belong to the union and not being in good standing with the AFM can get you blacklisted in some locals.

P.S. Megan, in some places in Canada like Ottawa, musicians are less and less lax as the AFM is cracking down on members doing non-union work and not declaring it.

May 29, 2007 at 08:21 PM · Jennifer,

Isn't TN a right-to-work state? I wonder if being shut out of work with union players would hold up in court. I also wonder (having played in the Nashville Symphony) whether it's legal for the orchestra to force players to join the union and pay dues.

In my opinion, the AFM is fairly useless, and now that jobs ads are online, we don't even need the IM. The least the union could do for us is to get decent group health insurance rates. Last time I checked with the nearest local, they haven't. I think that the AFM actually keeps scale down in many cities because their version of scale the the "official" one and the one people are used to paying.

Scott

May 29, 2007 at 08:39 PM · An orchestral player can opt of the AFM. There are a handful of members of the Indianapolis Symphony who have opted out of the union. The downside is that if you are not an AFM member, you can no longer vote when the orchestra contract is renegotiated (since contract negotiation is part of the AFM collective bargaining agreement).

May 29, 2007 at 08:44 PM · Christian, good to know. I haven't been working in Canada for 4-5 years now, but back when I was in college, wedding gigs were often overlooked.

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