How Much Do Musicians Get Paid?

Now that ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Money for nothin’ get your chicks for free

Dire Straits

While it may seem to some that musicians “ain’t workin’,” those of us in the trenches know too well just how hard the work is. And there are times when we wonder if we’re being paid what we’re really worth. (I’ve wondered that in the middle of a gig!) We have our own idea as to what we’re worth, but it’s the market that determine’s our value. It makes sense, then, to find out if what we’re earning is in line with what other musicians across the country make.

As far as musicians’ salaries go, the range is wide: reports it as between $14,000 and $168,000 per year, with the 2010 median hourly rate of just over $22. Average hourly figures were slightly better at $30.43. It may be disheartening to look at the average, but you must remember that musicians playing non-salaried jobs (club dates) are figured in right along with whatever John Williams and Gustavo Dudamel earn.

Below is a salary range chart compiled from data published by Berklee University.

Cruise ship musician $65/day
Orchestra musician $28,000 to $115,000/year
Broadway musician $1,000/week for duration of show
Club dates (NY and Boston) $75 – $125/musician. In 2010, union scale in Atlanta was $120/musician for a 4-hour show, with additional pay for doubling on another instrument.
Church organist/pianist $100/service; $70,000/year for full-time, salaried music directors
Conductor, symphony orchestra $15,000 to $275,000/year
Jingle composer $300 – $20,000/commerical
Film score composer $2,000 to $500,000/film
Piano tuner $95/hour
Piano teacher $20 to $100/lesson; $28,000 to $42,000/year; more, depending on the demand for a particular teacher
Music dealer, sales $13,000 to $50,000
Session musician Varies – hourly rates set by the American Federation of Musicians (AMF); rates generally depend on location.

The cruise ship figure came from a great post by David J. Hahn, who notes that what you earn as a cruise ship musician almost doesn’t matter, as there will always be folks who want to travel, eat, and sleep, and play music while saving money.

As with any salary comparison chart, use this information as a guide. For example, a piano teacher with no experience cannot expect to command the same rate as someone else with a doctorate, a steady performance schedule, and 20 years experience. Nor should you undercharge, as I learned when I started a business a few years ago. No one takes you seriously if you aren’t charging at least what your competitors are. The bottom line is this: do your homework before you discuss compensation.

And, just in case you’re wondering, here’s a look at how some of the folks at the top of the food chain are roughing it:

Elton John $80 million
Bruce Springsteen $70 million
Paul McCartney $58 million
Justin Bieber $55 million
Lady Gaga $52 million
Jay-Z $38 million
Adele $35 million
Kanye West $35 million
Mariah Carey $18 million

The Importance of Knowing About Creativity

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

– Robert F. Kennedy

Remember Phillip Reis? Probably not. How about Alexander Graham Bell? Oh, the telephone guy? Sure!

But what most folks may not realize is that in 1860, Reis was the first to invent the telephone. So why is he relegated to an obscure footnote in history when Bell’s invention made him immortal, at least with respect to telecommunication? The answer, according to Michael Michalko, is that everyone Reis approached in Germany dissuaded him from continuing his work. The telegraph is good enough, they said. Who would buy a telephone?

The lesson on creativity here, Michalko says, is not to stop with your first good idea. In an excellent article from Psychology Today, he goes on to list eleven other things about creativity that aren’t taught in school. Some of these lessons include the following:

  • Everyone is creative. If you believe you are, then you are.
  • There isn’t just one right answer. Reality is ambiguous.
  • Trust your instincts. Don’t let yourself get discouraged.
  • Approach problems from multiple perspectives. Even though you should trust your instincts, it’s better to not trust your first reaction to a problem, as it is only lockstep with your usual way of thinking.

While Michalko’s message to educators isn’t spelled out in his article, it is nonetheless clear: teach these lessons to your students. Tell them that they are creative, and tell them often. Remind them when they don’t succeed at something that there is no such thing as failure. Educators of music and the arts have a special responsibility to avoid getting bogged down in theory and technique, as students “must have knowledge but forget the knowledge” to create.

Performer, composer, and educator Ross Crockett wonders why such valuable lessons aren’t taught in schools. “Somewhere along the line, as we get older,” he writes in The Committed Sardine blog, “it’s like we’re refused permission to be creative. We’re steered away from it and we never really know why.” It may be easy to reply to Crockett’s musings with something about today’s teach-to-the-test culture in our schools. But such an answer would assume that there was just one right answer.

And since we’re all creative, we know that there must be more.

Teaching Empathy and Empowerment Through Music

In a time when boards of education try to make dwindling budgets work by cutting staff and eliminating programs, music programs sometimes become budget targets, presumably because their perceived value isn’t as high as that of a core course. Yet recent research at the University of Cambridge suggests that scaling back or eliminating group music activities for students could negatively affect their social development.

According to an article by Edward Ortiz in the San Francisco Classical Voice, a recent study showed that children who participate in group music activities are more likely to develop empathy, one of the highest orders of social skills. The year-long study involved students aged 8 – 11 and found that the control group of students (those who did not participate in group music activities) did not score as well on tests measuring empathy as those students in the experimental group. In such settings, children learn musical concepts (such as rhythm) from one another; one child imitates another’s actions, then another child imitates him, and so on. The children must be in tune with everyone else in the group.

Ortiz also notes that other research supports the conclusion that group music participation facilitates empathy development. Lisa Koops, assistant professor of music education at Case Western Reserve University, studied children aged 4 – 6 in both the United States and the African country of Gambia. She found that students in both groups who participated in musical play developed a sense of empowerment, an attitude that fosters academic success.

It isn’t hard to imagine the value a well-educated, empathetic, and empowered person could bring to the world. But by scaling back or eliminating music programs in the schools, are we sacrificing the education of the whole child by focusing on just that part of him or her that can boost achievement test scores? Joe Landon, of the California Alliance for Arts Education, seems to think that we are. “In the intense focus on academic performance and test scores,” he observed, “we can lose sight of the social and emotional dimensions of learning and child development.”


Special thanks to Ted Gioia, who posted this story on Twitter. Follow him at @tedgioia.

Post-Op Opera: Music Helps Surgery Patients Recover

My second post on the relationship between music and the mind deals with how music can speed up the healing process after surgery. This article by Tom Jacobs describes two separate studies that suggest that patients recover from surgery faster if they are allowed to listen to relaxing music.

Cardiac bypass patients who listened to soft piano music got out of ICU about 5 hours faster than those in the control group, and hip replacement patients experienced less confusion if they were allowed to listen to 4 hours of music per day during their recovery. Both groups initially listened to soft piano music but were allowed to select a different genre once they were awake and alert.

Jacobs also notes (and I heartily concur) that these findings suggest new opportunities for musicians in terms of music CDs directed at this market.