Making Money in the Music Business by Jen Mitchell
/ March 2, 2003
You're probably familiar with the image of a
musician sitting in a bare attic, wearing a sweater and fingerless gloves,
writing music, or the image of a concert performer teaching a wealthy child just
to be able to buy a loaf of bread. Fortunately, these stereotypes are not true
in the Canadian musical community today. And while music is a very competitive
field, it is possible to make a decent living as a musician.
For example, a piano teacher can
earn between $10 and $65 an hour, depending on experience and the city in which
he or she lives. In Victoria, British Columbia, the common rate for an
experienced student music teacher is $30 an hour, but in some parts of Nova
Scotia teachers who have many years experience, or who have a university degree,
can only charge the same amount. The B.C. Registered Music Teachers Association
recommends that teachers with a degree or diploma and five years experience
start at $35 an hour.
A musician's income varies
widely, depending on the cost of living in a particular place and the size of
the community, and while it is possible to amass more money in a place like
Toronto, living costs there are also greater than in a smaller city. A music
professor at a university can earn approximately $70,000 per year, plus pension
and medical and dental benefits. However, the range may vary between $40,000 and
$100,000, depending on the university seniority.
Unlike a professor, a sessional
instructor is hired on a per term basis only and doesn't have the same kind of
job security or other benefits. According to the University of Victoria
Department of Human Resources, a sessional instructor at a university makes a
base rate of about $2,085 per month, but can be as high as $2,640, depending on
how long the instructor has worked or how famous he or she may be.
"Professor emeritus" is an
honorary term given to a professor who is past retirement age. He or she doesn't
receive a professor's salary, but may work as a sessional instructor. University
music professors and sessional instructors often do other things, such as
composing music, teaching private students out of their homes, adjudicating
festivals, performing as soloists or chamber musicians, or playing with a
The life of a symphony player is
much easier now than in the past. During the 1920s, Toronto Symphony concerts
were held at 5 o'clock so that the musicians could play in the theatres,
accompanying silent movies, which usually started at seven. When silent movies
fell out of fashion in the 1930s, concerts were moved to the
A typical work week for a
symphony player today is six to ten services. A service is a rehearsal or
concert that usually lasts for two and a half hours. The Victoria Symphony
averages six services per week in a typical season, which runs from September to
The average core member of a
symphony earns approximately $25,000 per year. However, this figure may be as
much as $56,000 in a place like Toronto or as low as $9,000 in Prince George,
B.C. A principal player makes 20 percent more than a core player, but in some
orchestras this percentage might be slightly higher.
A conductor earns anywhere from
$40,000 to well into six figures per year, depending on how famous he or she may
be. Many conductors work with several orchestras in a year, living in different
places for two to three months at a time.
All symphony players receive a
pension, and some receive medical and dental benefits. The majority of symphony
players also have other jobs, such as teaching or making or repairing musical
instruments. Some even work at other professions as well.
The musician's union
Most symphony players are
members of the AF of M, or American Federation of Musicians, a union that was
formed in the United States in 1896 to ensure that musicians in the work force
are treated and paid fairly. Musicians who become members of the AF of M pay an
annual membership fee of $115 and a small percentage of all musical earnings
throughout the year. There are twenty orchestras in Canada that are members of
the AF of M as well as many individual classical performers throughout the
A world-famous soloist can make
upwards of $20,000 for an appearance with an orchestra, but more typically, a
soloist who performs with a symphony makes between $500 and $6,000 for two
rehearsals and two concerts. A performer giving a solo recital can make between
$100 and $6,000, depending on such variables as expenses and number of tickets
A competent pianist can
supplement his or her income by accompanying singers and instrumentalists. An
accompanist can charge anywhere between $25 to $100 an hour, although some like
to keep their rates lower and occasionally even work for free just to perform
with a talented artist. "Accompanying is a field in which you never stop being a
student yourself," says renowned accompanist and opera coach Robert
If you get to know the standard
vocal repertoire, you can work as an opera coach. A well-known coach like Stuart
Hamilton can charge between $80 and $120 an hour and choose with whom he wants
A piano technician earns between
$75 and $180 for a tuning. The cost of the tuning largely depends on where the
technician has to travel. In addition, the cost of tuning a piano is higher in a
place like Prince George than in a larger community.
A piano technician can mark up a
rebuilt or repaired instrument by 50 %. Technicians who work on other
instruments such as cellos, flutes, or violins can charge between $25 and $60 an
hour, although some famous technicians charge $100 an hour.
The field of radio broadcasting
can be another source of employment. A good classical music radio announcer on a
prominent radio station can earn between $40,000 and $50,000 a year for a
regular radio show, but these figures vary depending on experience and the time
of the show. Announcers usually get paid more for a morning show compared to the
afternoon or evening because of higher listenership. In addition, most radio
announcers receive a pension and medical and dental benefits.
An executive producer (a high
management position) working for a prominent radio station can earn between
$60,000 to $80,000 a year. A radio engineer can earn between $45,000 and $65,000
depending on the quality of his work, and executive engineers can earn
approximately $75,000 a year. Engineers can also earn additional income
recording classical music CDs.
As a music student myself, I'm
very fortunate to be able to support myself and pay for school by working less
than 20 hours a week, while gaining valuable work experience teaching music.
Students in other fields aren't necessarily able to work in their disciplines
and are forced to take minimum-wage jobs to pay bills.
To live your life fulfilling a
dream--and to get gold for it--represents success and happiness to the fullest.
How many rich musicians do you know? Probably more than you realize.
Jen Mitchell is the winner of our annual student writing
contest (English category) last year. Deadline for this year's contest is May