Contracts and payment for choir members?
  • Hi, everyone. I'm looking for information regarding paid choir members, especially in very large parishes, even on the cathedral level... Can you share any information about what you include in your contracts? Also, does anyone pay choir members just the same IF their services are not needed on a particular Sunday?
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,241
    I don't have paid choir members anymore, but back when I did, I treated this all fairly informally. We had a simple, verbal agreement of $x per call, and I kept track of all the times they were present. If they couldn't (or just didn't) show up, then they didn't get paid.

    Back when I was in college and I was a paid choir member, we also had a verbal agreement for $x per call. If I couldn't make it, then I didn't get paid.
  • Irish, what about if the music director has a paid choir and the pastor, for example, deems it unnecessary to have this choir sing for, let's say, Ash Wednesday services....i.e. he wants only the organist and cantor. Would the choir still get paid for not even needing to come??
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,241
    Well, I'm not sure what the agreement was between the institution and the paid choir members, but I would say that they would probably not be paid for Ash Wednesday if they don't come and sing. They will still sing on the Sundays preceding and following, right?
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,678
    My paid members are paid when they're here and not paid when they're not here. They're given a schedule of dates at the beginning of the year and we try to stick by it.

    If they're going to be absent, they give me notice. If they get sick and can't fake not being sick, they send me a text message by 5:30am on Sunday. If they're sick often, they don't last long.

    If I decide randomly I don't want them to be there one weekend, I tell them that. I try to give them at least one month's notice so they can get other gigs. If I'm going on vacation, I usually just hire the men of the choir (what a sexist jerk that matthewj is) and I tell them that and they abide by it.

    Throughout the year there are a dozen or more dates that get "added" - they're not required to be present at these events (but if they want to stay on my good side, they make every attempt to be there), but if they are they get paid for it.

    They keep their own time-sheet with the list of dates they have sung. They don't dare make errors on their time sheets, because they know what happens if I have to think too much or go searching through TV Mass archives to find out if they were there.

    The whole relationship is based on mutual respect and their extreme desires to keep me from being unhappy - which would cause me to make everyone, everywhere unhappy also.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,703
    I would think that the desire to get paid accordingly is also a part of it, matthewj. :)

    That seems like a really reasonable system.
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,138
    Good grief..the answers received thus far show a level of flippancy that will not wash in tax circles and administrative circles.

    1) Are they paid as a salary or contract worker....that determines tax status.
    2) Contract states dates of presence...all Sundays,etc.
    3) policy on absence....no show, no pay....etc.
    4) Extra dates such as Holy Week, Christmas,etc.
    5) Securing substitute in absence...some places allow this. I never did

    Expectations for singer including late policy, decorum (correct clothing,etc) and declaration of release of position.

    Diocesan governance will enter into contract versus salary system. Time sheets are a variable...I maintained them by having singers notate on the board their presence.

    Written memos of agreement are very good ideas. Also, the last question: who can fire and hire. Can Pastor remove without consent of MD or can MD fire without consent of Pastor. A recent event around here brings that into mind.

    As my father would say: stop being a musician and start being an administrator. Music has to be managed or there will be no music.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,674
    If you are using church funds, you need to do as Kevin says, or repent with the IRS and the diocesan finance gurus. If you have an independent source of funds, you can keep it under the table as long as no one rats on you. That may be a risk not worth taking.
  • Kevin,

    I don't think Matthew was being flippant. He doesn't work (by the sound of it) on a strictly contractual basis -- the contract is an oral one, and is subject to the "you don't want to upset me" principle.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,678
    Of course my singers have a signed written agreement and job description that includes all sorts of things about conduct, etc, and all sorts of language that I'm required to use. The necessary taxes, etc. are taken out of their pay by the folks who work the payroll side of things. My post was, as most of my posts are, typed with a slight smirk and wink - though it generally does describe how things work. I've only once had a singer make a large error on a time sheet and caught it before it went to payroll - it was a month when there were a million events and he/she forgot that they were sick one weekend. I believed it was a legitimate mistake and they seemed sincere when they apologized so nothing came of it, other than those dates being removed from their time sheet.
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,138
    And that is the point that people need to know....there are administrative aspects to this business of managing musicians and singers.

    The OP needed to know this. The kind of oral agreements and side handshakes are what got us into trouble in many ways.

    Many a MD has gotten into trouble because of a lack of administrative understanding. And then there's the clergy...my own pastor when I was growing up managed to "spend" $500,000 of the parish's money on a house in Florida because no one was watching over him. He got caught 10 years later.

    Thankfully, those days are gone, but the administration aspects still need to be noted.

    Off my soapbox.
    Thanked by 1MatthewRoth
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,067
    FYI in Alabama, since we're at-will, this is all very academic...even for full-time positions such as my own... *teeth chattering*
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 1,081
    How large a church do you need to be able to afford paid singers & organists? Mine has around 1000 families and all but the DOM are volunteers
  • I worked as a musician (instrumentalist, not singer) in the 80s and 90s and never signed a single piece of paper, except to endorse a check. I was told where and when to show up. I did so and was paid at the end of the session (mostly recording sessions, some live).

    I imagine that there were abuses, and consequently some people who suffered from this 'system' (i.e., lack of a system). I also wonder whether we are all, collectively, better off in the age of 20-page contracts and 'professionalism'. I honestly don't know. I'm not making a case here one way or the other.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,241
    I've had paid singers at two parishes where I was DM. They had approx. 500 and 1,100 families, respectively.

    When I was a paid singer, it was at a parish with approx. 1,300 families.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,703
    Fr. Pasley raises money for the choral Masses, which are published for the year. They pay those singers. So, it can be done.
  • I think that size, and, even to an extent, wealth, is not always a determining factor. Rather, it is a matter of what the money available will be spent on. Some parishes will spend it on liturgy and music, whilst (most) others will spend it on carpeting or some 'pet project'- anything but music. Except in the most genuinely impecunious situations a parish can generally provide, or raise, the money for whatever it wishes. It's priorities, not number of families and wealth. Plus, some 'small' parishes are blessed with deep pocketed parishioners, so, as always, it's priorities and values. And, there is no dearth of parishes that can easily raise two or three or more million dollars at the drop of a hat... and the thing that they would never do it for would be an organ.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,703
    And, a little from each family goes a long way...
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,241
    So true, MJO. The money is there for what the pastor deems to be truly important. He can reallocate funds at a whim in most cases. He simply chooses not to spend those funds on music or musicians.
  • I worked as a musician (instrumentalist, not singer) in the 80s and 90s and never signed a single piece of paper, except to endorse a check. I was told where and when to show up. I did so and was paid at the end of the session (mostly recording sessions, some live).


    Are these recordings still in use? Are you receiving royalties for your performances? Are you entitled to them - how can you possibly know, without having signed a contract specifying exactly you were being paid for?