Seven Reasons You Do Not Need an Orchestral Job to Make a Great Salary As a Musician

Without question, many music performance majors pursue a music degree to attain the lofty, lucrative, ultimate classical music employment prize – a position within a top orchestra in the world.

Look, if you are absolutely born to play orchestral music, then follow your efforts and work for it – although incredibly competitive, it can be a rewarding career. Trust me, I absolutely love orchestras, have subscribed with season passes to the BSO, and believe that an incredible amount of orchestral repertoire, from Beethoven to Adams, is masterful and worth playing until the end of time.

However, to make a great living as a musician and to be happy, you absolutely do not need an orchestra job and may not even want one. Here are seven reasons why.

7. Some Orchestras Pay Well, and Some Do Not

The Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, New York Phil, San Francisco Symphony, and a few others pay extraordinarily well. Then there’s a tier of orchestras below them that also pay well. Orchestras below that tier can pay well in conjunction to other careers.

Again, I want to reiterate: If this is your dream, don’t let this stop you. Something that I tell young musicians all the time is that while a living in music certainly can be lucrative, there is more to it all than a simple salary.

Which leads me to my next point…

6. You Live In An Unprecedented Time to “Make It” As an Entrepreneurial Musician

I want you to open up the music section of the New York Times and tell me that you aren’t finding young, entrepreneurial musicians who are really working their degrees and talents.

As a trained musician, you have the unprecedented ability to start something new, to establish your brand, to network with musicians and audiences, and most importantly, to create a career for yourself in an unparalleled space – online. My good friend David Bloom, conductor of the young new music ensemble Contemporaneous, is one of my favorite examples of this – in just 2010, he started an ensemble at his school out of sheer passion for modern classical music – less than four years later, he has now conducted at the Carnegie and Merkin Halls (he’s only 22 or 23) not to mention he has released a CD on a Grammy-nominated label.

5. A Study Was Done That Showed This One Really Weird Thing

In 1998 a study was done that seemed to demonstrate prison guards (Yes, prison guards) had greater job satisfaction in their profession than orchestral musicians. Can you even believe this statistic? Musicians work 4-6 hours a day to obtain the most hallowed position in classical music, only to be outdone by prison guards (also: flight attendants) in terms of general overall job satisfaction.

I am not sure how this study was made, how they assessed happiness, etc. Also, it was conducted almost 20 years ago. That said, I think this strikes the core theme of this article – for those whose dream and passion is going to perform in an orchestra, then don’t let anything stop you. For those who simply think there are no other options and are unsure what to do with their talents, keep reading…


  1. Andrew Chilcote October 4, 2014
    • L. November 15, 2016
  2. Dana October 4, 2014
    • Bill Zuckerman October 4, 2014
      • Dana October 7, 2014
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    • Bill Zuckerman October 4, 2014
  4. Eric October 5, 2014
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  6. Jon December 29, 2014
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  8. Hannah James-Carlisle September 4, 2016

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