A classical musician plays an instrument solo or as part of an orchestra or musical ensemble. They can either record music or perform live to the audience. Working as a classical musician means being able to do what you love and earn a living doing it, it’s what most of us strive to do!
Working as a classical musician – the options
- Playing in a small group or in an orchestra, or as a soloist – with the direction of a conductor.
- Performing live from time to time after hours and hours of rehearsing – the performances per se take a small percentage of your time, as you’ll be mostly in the studio at recording sessions
- Practicing often in order to keep up the skills and learn some new music – need to know how much practice you really need? Then check out this blog post
- Tuning and looking after your instrument and equipment
- Often playing with multiple groups or orchestras at a time in order to make your living
- Taking part in outreach programmes that take music into a community or working on education
- Going on tour, performing across the world or the country and getting help from your agent to find auditions and work.
How Much You’ll Be Paid Working As A Classical Musician?
Pay rates vary depending on many different factors:
- Whether you’re working freelance as a classical musician or have a permanent position
- What sort of organisation or company you’re working for
- What orchestra or venue you’ll perform at (club, regional theater, London theater, TV, pub, recording studio etc.)
The Musicians’ Union has some agreements regarding freelance rates with organizations such as the BPI (the British Recorded Music Industry) and BBC. They cover live performances as well as recorded sessions – you can find more information on it at the Equity website.Working as a classical musician is all about being paid a fair, industry rate and this can and does differ from country to country so check your local details.
For instance, a salaried orchestra musician working with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra could earn about £29,000 (circa $55000) per year, all the way to £40,500 (circa $75000) per year or more at principal level. You can get extra for overnight trips, concert tours, overtime, or if you play multiple instruments.
In other orchestras based in London, you should earn around £29,000 to £52,500 per year, around twice as much as you’d get working at a major American orchestra.
Freelance rates are a bit different – they vary a lot according to experience and skills. According to research findings from 2012 by the ISM (Incorporated Society of Music) the average fee for each engagement (a performance or rehearsal) is £90-150 for orchestra players and £100-250 for solo instrumentalists.
Recording artists, on the other hand, might earn a lot more. The few soloists who become big names get very, very high earnings.
The salary for full-time musicians working as classical musicians in the armed services will vary according to service. The RAF advertised musician pay in 2016 at £24,913 and benefits, after basic trainers.
Working Conditions For Classical Musicians
- A working classical musician performs in many different places – from restaurants and hotels to churches, concert halls, theatres and opera houses.
- If you’re part of a military band, you’ll need to commit to the armed services in return for a regular job and study bursaries.
- You might need to go on tour abroad or in the UK and be away from your home for long periods from time to time.
- You might need to work long and/or unsocial hours, including weekends and evenings.
- A lot of musicians get employed on short-term contracts, taking on a few extra jobs in order to support themselves, like giving private tuition.
Getting Started Working and Earning As A Classical Musician
Usually, classical musicians begin learning at least one of the instruments they play when they’re very young. In order to become a professional classical musician, you need to reach high standards of performance in the instrument. The majority will have studied at a conservatoire (Music College) or at a university.
There are a few degree courses in music performance, music, and performing arts, too: The NC (National Certificate), as well as HNC and HND (Higher National Certificate and Diploma). Entry qualifications will vary according to the level of the course.
For most courses, there is an interview and audition, too.
Entry for a degree course is very competitive. Not only you’ll need the academic qualifications, you’ll need qualifications in music as well, most of the time. For a degree course in Scotland, you’ll probably need 3 to 4 Higher, preferably with music and Grade 7-8 on the main instrument you play from a body like the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music
For certain courses, you’ll need to be able to play two instruments, which may include singing.
You’ll usually need to show that you have some amateur experience.
You may get involved with a community or youth orchestra.
What Do You Need?
Basically, you have to be:
- Particularly talented in music
- Confident in your skills to perform in front of the audience
- Capable of sight-reading – that is, being able to read and then play a musical piece without needing to see it before
- Determined to improve your performance and succeed
- Capable of taking criticism
- Disciplined and motivated, able to spend hours and hours practicing
- Good at working with others
- Able to adapt t different musical styles
- Able to deal with financial and business matters if working freelance
Classical musicians will often continue with private classes throughout their entire careers in order to improve or maintain performance.
Getting Started With Your Classical Musician Career
Working as a classical musician is a very competitive career, so you can expect little job security.
You’ll need dedication, talent, and luck in order to be successful.
For musicians that are on the permanent staff of the orchestra, there’s a promotion structure that’s very competitive. It begins at tutti – the rank and file players – then principal, and section principal.
Some classical musicians conduct or compose music, too.
Some musicians will go on to train for other careers such as teaching or music therapy.