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Musician: Salary and conditions

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  • Starting salaries vary enormously depending on whether a musician is working freelance or as part of an orchestra. 
  • According to a survey for solo instrumentalists by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) , typical performance fees range from £100 to £250. Most music teachers charged between £25 and £36 per hour across the UK, although this fee can be much higher in London. See the ISM Fees Surveys  for details of other musician fees.
  • Many singers take unpaid bookings in order to add the experience/role to their CV and also to be heard by the public and influential people.
  • According to the Musicians' Union (MU) , rates for orchestral rank-and-file musicians range from £92.25 to £132 upwards for concert performances. Rates for salaried musicians vary from orchestra to orchestra but range from approximately £26,000 to £37,000 (in London).
  • For salaried musicians, extra payments can be made for overtime, concert fees, recordings, porterage of large instruments and travel expenses.
  • It takes time, skill, practice and dedication to develop a reputation as a musician. It is expected that learning music or an operatic role is done in your own time. This can include practising another language or developing technique.
  • Opera companies offering short contracts may expect their singers to make their own travel arrangements to venues, and contracts are likely to be strictly adhered to.
  • Royalties may be additionally paid if the music has been registered with the PPL  or PRS for Music .
  • Working hours for musicians are unsociable, with rehearsals or recordings usually during the day, and performances in the evenings, though this can vary. Musicians do not have a regular Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm existence and private practice can take place any time of the day or night.
  • A limited number of orchestral posts are available and tend to be in the larger cities. The number of opera companies is increasing, with strong competition for roles. Globalisation has led to singers and instrumentalists applying to audition throughout Europe and beyond.
  • Casual clothes are the norm for rehearsals and recordings but dress code is usually formal for classical performances.
  • Performing and auditioning can be stressful for some musicians, and performance-related psychology can be helpful. Repetitive strain injuries are not uncommon.
  • Time spent away from home, sometimes for long periods, both in the UK and abroad, is common. This goes hand in hand with touring companies. Musicians need to be flexible and travel where the work takes them, whether this is freelance or contract work. Having a driving licence is useful.

Salary data from the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) . Figures are intended as a guide only.

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Written by Katherine Saracino, Bournemouth University
April 2014

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