I've read numerous articles on how major philarmonics and orchestras in the US have their musicians on quite a high pay wage so why are orchestral musicians in the UK given such low wages? I think it was the detroit symphony who went on strike to not get paid less than $100,000...while UK musicians are earning way less. Musicians in major UK orchestras are averagely earning £20,000-£30,000 and those players are in major orchestras nonetheless. Its quite sad how musicians who have fought fierce competition and worked so hard to get into these positions and have a job doing the thing they love, be paid such a salary, and having to find other work to survive on like freelance or teaching...Why is this so? Why do musicians typically get paid more in the US? Also, is it better to teach violin than play in an orchestra, wage wise?
Here, the Ulster Orchestra has always been lowest paid of any full-time orchestra in the U.K.
I know...and its such a shame since they've worked so hard and gone through so much to get to where they are.
To answer in two words: Margaret Thatcher.
To answer in two words: Margaret Thatcher.
Because the UK is in its twilight years after a century of decline?
Only roughly the top 20 full-time orchestras in the United States pay salaries of over $50,000 a year (that's base pay for a 52-week season; i.e. what section players can expect to make).
Sticking to the math and the last question because that's all I know...my student's parent was asking related questions and our local professional symphony (US, high population area) conveniently has section violin positions open and information posted. The dollars come out to 45k for a partial year although total compensation package would include paid vacation, health insurance, and others. It's like with school teachers, who typically don't get a salary during summer months or can have less per paycheck spread out over more paychecks. Unless you were planning to live on 45k/year, you would be doing something else too.
People play the violin because they WANT to do it. Much of the compensation comes from playing music.
What does "major UK orchestras" mean? If it includes all the full-time orchestras in the UK, then, no, American orchestras don't typically pay more.
Work with low pay generally has one of two qualities. Either it is absolutely necessary (e.g. bus driver, postal clerk) OR it is enjoyable (English professor, musician). With a few exceptions, the types of work that are consistently highly paid are unnecessary/destructive (financier, CEO) and/or not that much fun. ;)
The IT, medical, legal, and finance professions tend to be necessary, highly paid and a fair amount of fun. There's certainly an element of finance which is destructive, but it's hard to argue that a modern economy could function without a financial services sector. And one could probably make the argument that we do not need as big of a legal sector as we have, but certainly some of those jobs are necessary.
I think the major UK orchestras would include the big 5 in London, plus Covent Garden and a few others sprinkled over the country. The regional BBC orchestras, perhaps, and the Halle. I don't have first-hand info, but I'd be surprised if any of that batch paid as well as the top 10 or 20 US orchestras. Unless by "all of the full-time UK orchestras" you mean playing in all, concurrently. Remember, starting salaries for the US are not too far from $100K in the top tier, and principals often get 3 or 4 times that.
What I mean is: are we comparing two different tiers of orchestras? If all the full-time orchestras in the UK are "major" then the point of comparison should be top-50 US orchestras, not top-10 or top-20. And that makes average US wages for that category of orchestra much lower than $100k.
I'm not a professional musician but I know many of them here in the NY Metro region of the USA. Orchestral pay is basically function of just how popular and well-subscribed the orchestra is maintained. The top orchestras pay well and have good benefit packages. Obviously when a chair opens, the competition if fierce. Each tier has less money and eventually you reach the community orchestras that may pay the conductor and a few key musicians (generally those most difficult to find) while everyone else is a volunteer.
"FREEWAY PHILHARMONIC" - an hour-long documentary movie of a decade or so ago, portrayed some of the SF Bay Area musicians who comprise the half-dozen or so full-symphony orchestras ("REGIONAL ORCHESTRAS") within "commuting distance" of San Francisco. Most highlighted in the film is a cellist who performs with a half-dozen of these orchestras. Some, including him, are members of the world renowned New Century Chamber Orchestra and play frequently with the SF opera and ballet orchestras).
OK, so as far as I know the full time UK orchestras are:
What does an average ticket cost in the UK if you want to go and see a pro orchestra perform? A night out at Tanglewood to see the Boston Symphony Orchestra isn't cheap!
Take an entry-level IT job in most major cities in the US, by contrast, and first-year pay is likely to be over $100,000/year.
Sure. If you're counting the H1-B farms as an "average" new-college-grad IT job, the pay will be decently professional but not six figures on graduation. Or if you're thinking about the technician jobs of people getting degrees from DeVry or other for-profit diploma mills. Or if a kid insists in staying in Iowa where he grew up and gets a tech support job in a call center.
Since I'm following this discussion, I got the feeling that 100.000 USD per year are next to nothing.
One thing to be aware of: in the US, maybe half of an orchestra’s revenue will be earned through ticket sales. We don’t have the state subsidies that are considered normal in Europe, so need to get private donations (or, for the largest groups, get investment income from endowments that are funded with private donations.)
Nuuska: $100k is well above median income nationally, although less so in the major metropolitan areas. Still, we are talking about the very top of the iceberg in terms of salaries performing positions. Go one or two tiers down and you get a very different picture.
Jeffrey - I don't know about the average but in my own recent experience you can walk into a concert by one of the "top five" London Orchestras in the Royal Festival Hall with a soloist of international standing and pay as little as £10. The simple economic conclusion is that in the London area we are oversupplied, but of course that isn't necessarily the case in the regions
Speaking of pay, I once come across an article:
Nice work if you can get it! In recent years the BBCSO has probably been on a par with the LSO in terms of performance excellence, and I gather the atmosphere is better. The only downside would be the commuting.
Back in th 70's, my teacher was worried about the UK joining the (then) European Common Market as we would be flooded with excellent European musicians. It never happened, as the pay is so poor!
Some good information in the link below, which suggests that the starting wages offered by Lydia's husband's company in the DC area is are not representative nationally. Note that the DC area is very expensive.
Paul makes an excellent point re location, and also about double income families. The BBCSO want a number 3 to earn mid £50k in London;the RLPO want a number 4 first fiddle for £40k(ish). One could live quite comfortably on 40k in one of the regional/northern cities (though admittedly one wouldn't be rich). 57k in London would not go as far relatively speaking.
US IT salaries are very high, and you could argue there is an opportunity cost to doing nearly ANYTHING but IT at the elite level in the US (including medical practice, since an entry-level primary care physician at an HMO will make only a modest amount above the starting salaries Lydia quotes for fresh college grads in IT, and they've spent at least seven years out of college not earning anything, and likely obtaining debt).
It is worth noting that not only musicians are underpaid in the UK. University professors are in the same situation at least compared to their colleagues on the continent.
Great point by Paul about the differences in costs of living by location.
$24250 for a family of four is the poverty threshold in the US.
Both musicians and fiddlemakers have chosen a very difficult, challenging, and economically dangerous "row to hoe".
"Are those number and trend look realistic? I know that these are more like top-end of the pay scale, but sadly no one publish how little an entry a musician playing full time in an orchestra can get."
@David Burgess, you're absolutely right, but did you really have no Plan B?
If anyone's interested, these are the orchestral musician rates of pay in the UK agreed by the Musicians' Union. I don't know how many orchestras have many musicians on full-time contracts rather than paying day-rates...
Paul, I have always had various "plan B's".
While we're discussing the salary range we are ignoring the fact that making a career out of playing music is a "Vocation" in the strictest sense of the word is what the religious mean when they say: "Calling." To be "called" is to have the sense that this is something that you cannot avoid, dance around, ignore,... it is something deep inside you that you must do or you will never be satisfied.
My wife makes scads of cash (?) in the automotive business, and that's how I can afford to be a fiddlemaker. LOL
As is mentioned: Lydia's numbers are skewed in favor of metropolitan area salaries, where the cost of living is considerably higher than other areas of the country. Living on $100k in NYC is different than living on $100k a year in Phoenix or Portland, ME. And the workloads/working hours for those big companies are not standard 9-5pm hours.
Some of the top US orchestras pay very very well, and that is in part how they attract some of the top talent from all over the world during auditions.
Where do movie studio orchestras come in the scheme of things, bearing in mind that this is a type of playing where your sight reading presumably has to be at the 110% level at performance speed with zero mistakes?, or so I've been told.
Yeah, but Paul, even at a 30% wage discount, NY, LA, Chicago, SF or whoever major symphony orchestra would be paying a significantly higher salary than all the other major full-time orchestras, plus their generous tenure policies.
Trevor, movie studio orchestras are gigs filled with freelancers.
Question for you guys: where on the profesional-community orchestra spectrum would you put an orchestra that pays all chairs a small amount per rehearsal/performance, with the principals being paid more?
There’s a difference between a “per-service” orchestra that pays by the rehearsal or performance, and a full-time salaried orchestra, or even a smaller orchestra that pays a salary to a full-time core and then pays per service to the extras who fill out the orchestra for their subscription concerts. Per-service orchestras typically do not play many concerts in a season and rank very low on the professional orchestra spectrum.
Thank you Mary Ellen for your explanation of the movie studio orchestra situation. I was a little puzzled, but freelancing makes sense in that context.
Helen, there is a difference between union-scale per-service and not. Union scale per service locally is $75 or more for a service (rehearsal or performance). But there are "pro" orchestras, who, for the sake of saying all players are paid professionals, where it's $15.
$75 per service? That seems very low. Do the freeway phils in your area pay at the union floor? I mean, if I were offered $75 to play with RSO, that would be a one-hour drive for me (each way) and the service is going to be, what, a two-hour affair? And I'd have to wear a tux?? I would just stay in Blacksburg and play another jazz gig. Most of the decent venues are paying at least $100 per person for a three-hour gig with two 15-minute breaks. I have given up entirely on "paid" gigs that are below scale -- it would have to be some kind of very special exposure opportunity. I generally won't drive to Roanoke for a guarantee of less than $150, which means I don't play very many gigs there.
Well, you don't wear a tux for rehearsals... and most per service orchestras also pay a union-negotiated per mile rate for commuting distance. In any case, playing in orchestras pays less than teaching for most freelancers, but many seem to do it because it boosts demand for their services as a teacher.
Paul: Yes. And quite a few do not have a union CBA and do not pay union scale minimum.
In response to Helen's question, and to go with Lydia's comment:
I'm from the UK and living in USA. You need to earn a lot more here to pay for the extortionate health insurance!!!
My takeaway from all the discussions so far is that, except at the very top of the food chain ( that is, 52-week orchestras and so on), it is impossible to live the middle class life by performing alone. And that is true for graduates of many top conservatories.
My mariachi pays me $60/ hour, more than any of my orchestra jobs. The suit is special ordered, and I do have to sing and memorize everything.
In Hollywood, the movie soundtrack musicians are essentially full time musicians. I wouldn’t really consider them ‘per service’ freelance musicians in terms of pay. Many of these outstanding musicians play in the 20th Century Fox Orchestra, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and other such groups. I know a few violinists there making $500,000 a year just in royalties, for appearing on numerous top soundtracks. It’s a great job! You go there, make a recording, get paid for the session, and then get royalties on top of that. Ever wonder how actors survive without actually working for 5 years between films? Royalties are a nice passive income stream.
Nate - in the unlikely event that any LSO members are reading this they'll be choking over their breakfast coffee. I guess orchestral musicians have never been in it for love of the music so it warms my heart to know a violist who plays sub-principal for the BBCSO, moonlights for the LSO and is also a great enthusiast for obscure chamber music
I never said the movie studio orchestra musicians weren’t full-time musicians, but they are freelancers. There is no set orchestra with a CBA and a roster. And of course they can make a lot of money. That is not the dividing line between freelancers and contract players. There are plenty of full-time freelancers in New York whose income exceeds my salary by quite a large margin.
I guess I might have been unnecessarily biased all along. I was thinking "full time" meant the same as "salaried" but of course that's not true.
I've got mixed feelings about these groups that pay $20-30 per service. Since I play a lot of gigs in a semi-rural area, I've seen quite a range of pay scales and pay-distribution formulas. I have a day job. I don't need anyone to pay me $20 per rehearsal. But as soon as they start paying, people who need that money will be showing up. And then I feel like a wretch accepting $20 that will disappear into the sofa cushions, whereas if I got paid nothing and some other player got $40, that would make more of a difference to them. You can't just give it to them (I've tried) because nobody wants to feel like a charity case. What to do? Maybe those orchestras could say, "Show us your Federal 1040. Pay here is need-based." Or you could say, "We only pay AFM members and they get scale." Or they could say, "We're paying everyone the same, but if $20 means absolutely nothing to you, please consider donating it back," but I'll bet very few actually will.
Some collective bargaining agreements forbid soliciting contributions from musicians. For the obvious reason-- if there are 40 flutists who can do the gig, you don't want to be putting financial pressure on the one whom you decide to hire.
"But as soon as they start paying, people who need that money will be showing up. "
I agree with Scott.
“essentially a community orchestra that pays a small honorarium.“
I am honestly shocked to learn that “professional” orchestras would pay $ 15 per rehearsal/performance!
In response to two unrelated comments by Paul Deck:
“Or you could say, "We only pay AFM members.”
Yes -- these kinds of things are the whole point of unionizing.
It is perfectly fine for AFM members to accept gigs as "ringers". Some community orchestras in this area (i.e. regular players are unpaid) will pay ringers, often for hard-to-find instruments -- my orchestra often ends up playing harpists, for instance, and sometimes instruments that aren't normally found in an orchestra (we needed a banjo player for a work, for example). We usually pay union scale to ringers (indeed, above scale in many cases).
$20 per rehearsal is not even minimum wage in many states. I wonder if California's freelancer law will affect some of these orchestras.
I've done reasonable rate per service (>$100) work as well as worked pro bono. I once played free in a pit orchestra for a local theater group because I liked the musical. I'll occasionally play with my quartet at fundraising events we support free of charge as well.
If it is not thrown out by a judge, Cal. AB 5 will have a big, negative effect on orchestras that are less than fully-professional, and on a lot of other professions where people usually work self-employed, freelance, starting right now.
Most community orchestras I've encountered don't have 3 hour rehearsals. Again, my sense is that the $15-30 per service orchestras aren't really professional orchestras in any sense; the one I know of has similar personnel to a typical auditioned community orchestra. Exactly zero of the names I recognize in that orchestra make more than a small fraction of their income from music. (Also, I don't know the exact per-service rate or rehearsal length; there's a good chance it's set up to pay minimum wage or very close to it.)
A good big orchestra is about 100 people.
Not the state!!! That would be
An orchestra with a $10M budget is not going to have 90 staff musicians making $90K, not even close. Our budget is around $8M and we have 72 staff musicians making less than half that (at least for the section players), for a season of 30 weeks. Typical concertmaster pay is at least double section pay, and other titled players also get premium pay above scale. Orchestras also have a great deal of expenses beyond staff musicians' salaries--administrative staff, for one; also library expenses, hall costs, marketing, benefits, not to mention the highly paid music director plus at least one assistant conductor.
In the UK there simply isn't a "culture" of major cultural donors such as you have in the US. The major one today is probably Jonathan Moulds who supports the LSO and also loans out his Strads to top players including Nicola Benedetti.
The “culture” of private donations in the US is driven by the tax code. People in general respond to incentives.
I don't know about that. There are many causes to donate to--people generally donate to classical music because they want to support it. Tax write-offs may be part of it, but I think it's not the prime motivator.
K Ch, you're basing this on an audience size of 500. That's a tiny audience for a professional orchestra in any city of substantial size. 2,000-3,000 is more typical, so you can divide your ticket price by 5, give or take some.
The biggest paychecks:
1. Concertmaster pay is relative to section player pay. In an orchestra where section players make $80K, I would expect the concertmaster to be paid close to $200K. This can vary based on the concertmaster and the orchestra. The biggest names get the biggest checks. In my orchestra, section pay is just under $40K, so double that for a reasonable concertmaster salary. (I actually have no idea how much our concertmaster is paid.)
When the standard deduction was increased, my wife and I did not change our basic annual charitable-giving platform, but we stopped itemizing. That's not to say we were necessarily donating enough to be itemizing on that basis alone, but we don't have a mortgage. So Uncle Sam is contributing less to our donations, and the result is that we have less to put into our local economy, but we never considered scaling back because of the change in the tax incentive. One nice thing about not itemizing any more is that you don't need to ask for a receipt when you drop off reusable goods at Goodwill or the YMCA, because you know that doing so is pointless. Having said that, we don't donate to the Roanoke Symphony. There is a lot of poverty in our area and we feel compelled to direct our charitable-giving budget toward that.
I don't see charitable giving to mitigate poverty and charitable giving to the arts as an either/or. The one feeds bodies, the other, souls.
A useful paper on whether professional orchestras make any profits through ticket sales. At first glance I think it's pretty much what Mary Ellen said.
As US orchestras are tax-exempt entities, their Form 990 tax filings are publicly available on sites like this one:
Frieda, Thanks for the link. This is interesting.
Mary Ellen, you make good points. Our feeling is that we're spending a lot on the local music profession as it is, by hiring private teachers for our kids and the like. Is that a cop-out? Well maybe. But in the end, when it comes to charitable giving, once you decide how much you can budget, then the pie chart reflects a zero-sum game. We look at organizations like the local women's shelter, and we see a situation where a few hundred dollars makes a different in people's basic health and safety. At the same time, I'm definitely not faulting anyone who would squeeze some of that out in favor of supporting the local orchestra. There are emotional factors too. Take Habitat for Humanity for instance. Normally we would not donate to a cause that reflects any sort of religious affiliation, but we just have so much admiration for Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter that we can't exclude Habitat from our list, even though it's such a huge organization that our measly few hundred dollars isn't really making a dent. But maybe individual impact is the wrong way to be thinking about it. Who knows. Likewise we have a special place in our hearts for a small, local charity that helps families through the financially challenging holiday season, whose leader donated an organ to one of our best friends. I have endless opportunities to donate to the university where I work, but I always think, "I donated $20 last week when I bought a few tools for my lab and didn't bother to process a reimbursement," or "I contribute to the university by working there for much less pay than I would have earned in the private sector." Generally speaking, do people who play in orchestras and who are counting on their orchestra income to help make ends meet -- do they donate back to the orchestra (more than the minimal amount needed to have one's name printed in the program)?
I am already donating a significant amount of money to the orchestra by virtue of being willing to work for an insultingly low salary. And in fact when we first came back after the bankruptcy, all of the musicians were listed in the program as major donors due to the size of the pay cut we had accepted. Collectively, the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony are one of the biggest donors— Every time we agree to renegotiate our contract for a lower wage, that is a donation from us to our orchestra.
Sounds like we're on the same general wavelength then.
This morning, I spent hours reading 990 filings for our local orchestras (community and below-ROPA-level freeway philharmonics) on ProPublica, as part of some research I'm doing as a board member of my community orchestra. It's pretty fascinating. If you're interested in how an orchestra gains and spends money, it's worth trawling through.
"Sounds like we're on the same general wavelength then."
I seem to have offended you. I didn't mean to do that. I apologize.
Not offended and no apology necessary though I do appreciate the kind thought. I'm just very surprised and trying to work out some cognitive dissonance.
Is there a ballpark figure for what a soloist could earn? I read on a website somewhere ( May have been Wikipedia) that Hilary Hahns estimated net worth was 6 million. ( which is a lot of money to me)
It will always be disproportionate. The highest-paid player on the San Antonio Spurs is guaranteed $28M. That's for *this season.*
Vengerov reportedly charges $40k per concert, and was playing 100 - 130 concerts per year prior to his injury. That'd be somewhere in the vicinity of $4m - $5.2m a year, and he is reputed to have been the highest paid solo violinist. I don't know if concert engagement fees typically also have travel-and-expenses covered; I suspect maybe not, so the fees represent gross pay not net income.
I know what you mean about salary. With adjustment for inflation, my salary is lower than it was when I started in 1995 as an assistant professor. That's why I said I thought our reasoning was along similar lines. (In my case, I will admit that my salary has flat-lined largely because I am not a research star.) As I said earlier, I don't usually donate to my university because I feel that already "contribute" by working there for much less than I could earn in the private sector. What's more, I have even converted some of my grant-based summer salary into stipends for undergrads to work in my lab over the summer.
I agree our lives are richer because of our local professional musicians and we should support them in anyway we could.
I agree with David in that regard, although the situation with troubled arts organizations like the SAS is a bit different, in that the musicians are essentially being asked to shoulder the financial issues that the board and the institution are responsible for.
No one does classical violins to get rich. Some can get rich, but one is never expected to get rich when starting to go down this path. It's my personal opinion that a classical musician, much like a linguist working to save a nearly extinct language, or a cultural heritage conservationist, at least deserve some sort of recognition for their sacrifice and contribution, especially if their capabilities allow them to earn more working in a different field.
Lydia - there are a handful of soloists who have actually exceeded the $100,000/concert benchmark, and in some arenas (Porsche sponsored events or a celebrity engagement) earn far more than that.
I am not talking about considering as a donation the difference between what I think I am worth and what I am actually paid. I am talking about money that was actually promised to me, that I signed a contract for, and that then I agreed not to accept in order to keep the organization afloat.
Andrew, that's interesting. The FT article from which I drew that information stated that Vengerov's fee was significantly higher than that of other instrumental soloists at the time. (The NYT, back in the 1990s, quoted a fee of $45k+ for Perlman, suggesting that either soloist fees have declined or the FT was misinformed.)
Mary Ellen, yes that's a different situation. I did get absolutely everything the university was contractually obligated to give me. And I agree with David about about tenure. (But I did have an offer from the private sector in the past, so I do know what the difference is --
Mary Ellen, what you described is not unique in classical music. During the subprime crisis(2008-2009), my university instituted the so called "furlough" in which all administrators took a 15% pay cut and all tenured/tenure track faculty took a 10% paycut (while our workload remained unchanged) so that we can carry on with our mission. It was either that or the university would go dark. There was no money.
David at our place it was not as severe but the university is now "officially" closed between X-mas and New Year, and the staff are compelled to use their paid leave during this period, so it's kind of a "soft furlough." It's important to understand that a state university's budget is enormous -- nothing like a regional orchestra. Private donations certainly can help by providing "greener" money that is not tied down by red tape, so that Departments can do some things that are hard to fund in other ways, like student travel to conferences (almost the only way to fund that is with a grant -- when I have been "between grants" I have helped my students finance their conference trips out of my wallet). But anyone who proposes that private donations will compete with state allocations, or Federal research grants, or tuition-and-fees, is totally nuts. Once in a way there will be a donation of several million from a high roller who wants to get his name onto a new building, and believe me, those gifts are very warmly appreciated. But I often wonder if the same donations would be better spent lobbying the legislature to increase state allocations. Right now the state legislatures are wringing their hands over annual tuition increases when they should be considering the role they play in offsetting them. You can call me a socialist if you wish, but it's just really simple that very wealthy people should pay more tax. Even with my income -- which I've mentioned is not stunning -- plus my wife's income -- which is comparable to mine -- we should definitely be paying more income tax at both the Federal and state level.
There is a large difference in scale between England and America. The English writer, Martin Amis, in his collection of essays on America entitled "The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America", wrote that "America is more a world than a country: you could as well write a book about people, or about life". In this world, big business runs supreme in fields as diverse as technology, music, health care, and higher education. In fact a New Englander and former President, Calvin Coolidge, once remarked that the business of America was business. I suppose if that's still true, then Donald Trump himself must be its personification!
IBM has sponsored community music throughout its history: https://www.ibm.com/ibm/history/exhibits/music/music_CH1.html
Similarly, a friend of mine in the Seattle area plays in a community orchestra that was called the Microsoft Orchestra and composed exclusively of Microsoft employees until five years ago. It is no longer affiliated with Microsoft, but Microsoft employees are still a slight majority of the musicians.
Raymond wrote, "The business of America was business. I suppose if that's still true, then Donald Trump himself must be its personification!"
Interesting data on the biggest arts donors: https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2012/02/chronicle-philanthropy-top-arts-donors.html
No. 1 on the list is a woman. How about that.
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