As the Detroit Symphony continues to strike I have become over time more aware just how important this event is pertaining to my future aspirations. While I understand that many of my fellow colleagues of dreams and aspiration of becoming a touring solo artist or chamber music musician, I would like nothing more than the life of a orchestral musician. To be an orchestral and freelance musician along with teaching is what I would see myself happiest doing. I am always warned of just how difficult it is to become a musician and even if this goal is obtained how little still musicians are payed. Many of us joke of living a boxes or such because of the career we have chosen. The current situation with the DSO has inspired me to look into just what the situation on average for a musician is financially and I became pleasantly surprised.
While investigating about the stream of online resource pertaining to this subject, I came across articles both promising and demising. What I would have guessed, and found to be correct, is that there are orchestral musicians that are being paid on average about 22k per year in certain areas. What I would have not guessed and learned was that this is indeed not the norm. While musicians are not the best payed professionals in the world, they are not the worst. The best symphonies of the country are paying most section players 6 figure salaries if not close to it. I was very amazed by this fact, as the general out look on the salary of a musician is not a particularly pleasant one.
I do realize however that jobs paying as such are very few and far between, however the fact that they even exist gave me some hope. After conducting further research on this matter, I found that on average most full-time symphonies pay their musician somewhere between 40,000 to 60,000 a year. This is not much, but when you consider that even full-time orchestral musicians really only work about 25 hours a week, this not that bad. Most orchestral musicians do not see themselves as more than just that. We are often told of the dream of being a soloist or touring chamber musician and taught by many people who have done just that at conservatories and lose sight of the realistic world. We begin to think that because we are 20 something years old and have not toured around the world or won international competitions we are failures or third-rate musicians, which is far from the case!
Just because we are not the in the 1% population of intentionally recognized classical musicians, does not mean we can not be productive, appreciated and financially stable citizens of the world. Using my personal educational background as reference one can easily see this statement to be true. Having graduated from James Madison University, a widely-respected and top scholarly university of Virginia, I already have gained the credibility to work jobs in fields both related and non-related to music effectively and the ability to climb the professional ladder faster than many of my peers. During my time at JMU I was required to take two years of piano and a Keyboard Proficiency Exam at the end of it all making me a credible piano teacher for beginners. Once I have completed the Master of Music program at Longy, my credibility as many other professions will open. I will have the knowledge to teach alongside piano, violin, viola and even music theory and can do all of these things privately or within an institution.
With a good combination of confidence and marketing skill I can create a profitable lifestyle for myself. I have found that this is just what most musicians are lacking. Very few orchestral musicians actually have bios and even fewer still have a website. What the reason for this is I am sure can vary, but I am also sure that it is probably because most of them don't see themselves as important or good enough to have such things. I certainly felt that way for a very long time and am just now trying to break that habit. If that habit is broken, I gain new access to doors I never even knew existed. Doors of a more well-rounded life, both professionally and financially. A life that I must say I am very attracted to.
Here are a couple of sources I used as I explored this topic:
Berklee School of Music Statistics
Children's Music Workshop - Pros and Cons to a Career in Orchestral Music