The Average Salary of an Orchestra Musician

by Karen Farnen; Updated September 26, 2017
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Musicians for major symphony orchestras usually have year-long contracts and receive wages under agreements with the American Federation of Musicians. Local, regional and other orchestras usually pay less than big-city organizations. They often perform for shorter seasons or provide only part-time employment. The earnings of the many freelance musicians vary with the number of work hours and their skill. On average, orchestra musicians earn more than $30 an hour.

Average Hourly Wage

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2009 the average musician working for a performing arts company earned $31.37 per hour. This figure includes singers as well as instrumentalists. The government does not provide an annual income figure, since most musicians work for hourly pay rather than a salary. As of 2008, half of the musicians in the United States were self-employed, and 43 percent worked part time.

Average and Range of Wages for All Industries

In 2009, musicians in all industries averaged $29.10 per hour for 47,260 jobs nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.04 per hour, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $58.90 per hour. Performing arts, the largest employer in the field, accounted for 28,420 jobs or 60 percent of the total.

Highest-Paying States and Cities

California had both the highest state pay and the highest-paying cities for musicians in 2009, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The overall pay for musicians in all industries came to $35.02 per hour in California for 8,890 jobs. The highest-paying metropolitan area nationwide, the Santa Barbara-Goleta region, had an average pay of $60.03 per hour. The Greater San Francisco area had average pay of $46.72, and the Oakland-Fremont area had $45.28 per hour on average. The Oxnard-Thousand Oaks area paid musicians $41.84 per hour. The highest-paying city outside California was Nashville, Tennessee, with average earnings of $41.47 per hour.

Training and Qualifications for Musicians

Musicians need many years of study to prepare for a professional performance career. They study through private lessons, in college, at conservatories of music or a combination of these. In addition to talent and preparation, they need stage presence, discipline and good health to withstand the rigors of touring.

Job Outlook for Orchestra Musicians

Jobs for musicians will increase as fast as the average profession, but competition for full-time jobs will remain high, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Religious organizations will have the largest increase in full-time jobs. Small or local performing arts groups will also have openings for performers. Instrumentalists who can play several instruments in a variety of styles will have the best chances of finding work, as will those willing to freelance.

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