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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 8, No. 6

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 wide variation

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 symphony.

Symphony players

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 evenings.

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 May.

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 country.

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 sold.

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 Holliston.

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 to work.


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 15

(c) La Scena Musicale