Professional instrumentalists have a wide range of options presented to them outside of solo work, orchestral work, and church music work, which all were covered in separate topics in my careers/salaries section. Musicians are, obviously, frequently needed in commercial music spaces, as well as in live venues – it is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon to see classical musicians playing in club gigs, either as back-ups to a popular music act or on their own as a classical music act, especially in New York City.
Here is a listing of various instrumental performance opportunities with their salaries. Note that some of these numbers are more concrete than others; being in a military concert band will often give you access to a stable salary and even a great deal of tax exemptions, while performing as a studio musician can give you highly varied salaries. Some studio musicians can command high six figures, while most make much less than that.
Professional chamber music musician: If you are fortunate enough to play in a major chamber ensemble, such as the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center or the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, your salary could be in the range of $65,000 – $70,000. Otherwise, if you are joining an emerging group or are starting your own chamber ensemble, your salary will vary wildly based on your performance schedule, your revenue options, etc.
Studio Musician: The American Federation of Musicians, a musicians labor union, has a guideline for studio musician fees. However, these fees are not always easy to enforce and even followed by musicians who are in the union. They are most applicable to professional projects that have big budgets. Many musicians do not participate in the union, and therefore are subject to different fees. If you are a skilled musician with excellent sight-reading skills, I would probably charge no less than $50-$75 per hour while working in the studio, especially if it is for a commercial purpose that you are confident will make substantial income (like a television show or movie). If you are working on a medium-budget or high-budget project, you could certainly ask for $250 per hour or more. Some studio musicians do actually make six figures a year, setting a lucrative name for themselves playing in well-paid, high-budget productions.
Military Concert Bands: The most famous examples of these would be military bands, such as the United States Air Force Band and the “President’s Own” marine band. The pay for these particular ensembles is in the range of $50,000 per year, however, a great deal of that income is non-taxable, so you are pocketing much more than most people in the salary range. A commitment of several years is typically required.
Clubs and Venues: When performing in a club, it is best to either have a performance fee set beforehand, an agreement in place where you take a percentage of the revenue generated from ticket sales or even both options, if you can swing it. Per gig, you should individually ask for $100 – $300, and use that same number per musician in the band. Certainly, if you are able to draw a large audience, you can ask for more.
Pit Musician: Broadway pit musicians are able to generate a good amount of income for their performances and services. According to New York Magazine, for playing in eight shows a week, a Broadway pit musician can take in about $1,220 per week, good for an income of $63,000+ per year. Off-Broadway, the pit musician salary is far more varied, and can typically range anywhere from $50 – $150 per show.
Other instrumental categories covered in greater depth elsewhere on the website include playing in an orchestra, accompanying, playing in a church, and performing as a soloist.
For a thorough list of unconventional opportunities to perform in as a solo musician, check out my article on being a solo musician here.