Like many people who choose careers in the arts, a classical musician faces significant challenges when it comes to earning a living from his or her craft. In 2009, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median hourly wage of $21.24 for all musicians, with those employed by production or performance companies earning a median of $23.68. This might not seem too bad at first glance, but the BLS also cautions that 43 percent of people in this field work only part time, and only 12 percent work for performance companies. Classical musicians also face heavy competition, and many deal with long periods of unemployment and hardship. In fact, it's rare for these professionals to find long-term jobs lasting more than six months [source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics].
Classical musicians who secure positions with major orchestras or symphonies have the best chances to support their families with their music. Unfortunately, these positions are extremely difficult to obtain. More than 3,500 students who have majored in performance of a classical instrument graduate each year in the U.S., but only about two to four positions open up at the average symphony in any given year. With around 100 major classical performance groups operating in the U.S., this means that only 200 to 400 musicians find stable, long-term positions [source: Flanagan].
Even the select few who make it into these groups aren't necessarily guaranteed major paydays. Sure, musicians with the Cleveland Symphony earn an average of $115,400 and those in Baltimore earn $76,500 [sources: Service, MacMillan]. Other organizations pay much less, however. For example, musicians with the Alabama Symphony earn an average starting salary of $33,218 per year, and those at small, regional orchestras such as the one in Denver earn an average of $47,000 [sources: Berklee Career Development Center, MacMillan]. The average earnings for all top 100 symphonies in the U.S. fall between $20,000 and $80,000, depending on tenure, experience and location [source: Chronicle Guidance Publications].
Classical musicians committed to their craft often are forced to support themselves and their families by combining musical performance with other jobs. Many teach music, either in schools or to private-lesson students, and others work in outside fields such as health care or real estate. Some also may supplement their incomes with added performance work on a freelance basis. Those who score jobs as Broadway pit musicians can earn up to $1,000 per week, and wedding gigs pay $150 to $300 per person. A standard church service pays about $100, and performing in night clubs or restaurants nets musicians between $75 and $125 per night on average [source: Berklee Career Development Center].
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