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