Fee recommendation
  • I’m glad this forum exists and I’ve enjoyed reading the comments. Looking for some advice.

    I’m an organist in the northeast USA who’s classically trained. I’ve been playing in Catholic and Protestant churches for 25 years but do not have music degrees. My instruction was private lessons with professional church organists who also happened to teach at local conservatories. My vocal training has been largely by participating in choirs over the years and accompanying countless rehearsals.

    I’ve been asked to both play and sing for a standard NO Catholic Mass on Sundays. It’s not an arrangement I’m used to, as I typically have done one or the other. What would a reasonable fee be to ask? I realize I’m taking a shot in the dark here but I’m not sure where else to ask. The AGO did away with salary recommendations which didn’t help. Thanks for any advice.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,031
    At least $200 per Mass, but you'll probably be lucky to get that.

    With inflation the way it's going, I'd say $250 per Mass starting in 2024.
  • Thanks, Mark B. The parish originally floated the rate of $175 which seemed a little low to me. If it helps the discussion here, I would be committing to a 90 minute commute round trip.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    figure ALL of the time it takes to prepare, practice, and perform and show an itemized invoice... it's going to be approx. $300 and up. Include travel time and mileage.
    Thanked by 1Diapason84
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,031
    Oh, the 45-minute commute time each way is now a factor; I had thought it was a local parish. Realistically, though, an employer does not need to compensate a hire for commute time, only for work time. But if you are being asked specifically to do this, and the pastor knows it would be a long commute for you, then you can request more money due to the travel time, cost of gas, and wear and tear on your vehicle. I'd say that Francis' suggested fee of $300 applies here. If it were a church within a fifteen-minute drive, then I'd go with my lower amount.
    Thanked by 2Diapason84 tomjaw
  • Incredible. Many parishes in my diocese struggle to justify paying $100 per Mass...
    Thanked by 1hilluminar
  • Incredible how?
  • to justify


    here's the problem!
    Thanked by 2tomjaw LauraKaz
  • $300/Mass seems pretty steep. That’s more than what the RCCO pay grid specifies for organists with a formal music education. Demand too much and you’ll be shown the door. I’m all about paying musicians a fair wage, but demanding getting paid for your commute to work? No.
    Thanked by 1hilluminar
  • I have on occasion cantored and played as a substitute at area Catholic parishes. The most I've been paid as a substitute organist is $175 per mass. Cantors in my area get about $75 per mass. $250 to do both seems fair. I would not be expected to be compensated for commuting time, though one very generous Lutheran church pays me mileage.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    I would not be expected to be compensated for commuting time, though one very generous Lutheran church pays me mileage.
    … and this is why many musicians struggle to make a living. I’ve heard the excuse that “I’m doing this because it’s a ministry”, or “I don’t have a degree” or other similar reasons. Could it be that this is low self-esteem, or lack of dignity for self and ultimately God himself?

    You are a valuable, no, INVALUABLE asset to the worship of the Almighty. If musicians stood up for what they were worth, getting fair due would not be a problem. (PS… read about the Levitical order in the Bible.)

    It’s sorry to say that the protestants understand and pay for the value that they receive and the Catholics don’t but it is very true.

    This attitude is also reflected in what we are willing to spend on the Almighty himself when it comes to furnishings, vestments, art, etc. We should be lavishing everything we have on the worship of God before anything else. Iconoclasm is alive and kicking.
    The primacy of the Eucharist does not in any way justify arbitrarily stripping church-established worship of the sacral and aesthetic forms that surround it and present it to the people of God. Such a course would do more than cast aside the elements of art gracing divine worship; it would trivialize the meaning of the mystery celebrated, undermine the principles of community prayer, and could lead ultimately to doubt or even denial of the reality of the sacrament of the Eucharist.
    Pope Paul VI; Address to an Italian congress of diocesan liturgical commissions, January 4, 1967

    more

    https://adoremus.org/2007/12/after-iconoclasm/

    The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 112). The composition and singing of inspired psalms, often accompanied by musical instruments, were already closely linked to the liturgical celebrations of the Old Covenant. The Church continues and develops this tradition: "Address . . . one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart." "He who sings prays twice" (Eph 5:19; St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 72,1:PL 36,914; cf. Col 3:16).
    – Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1156
    Thanked by 1Reval
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,756
    Fees also depend on the area. We offer a $150 sub fee, and could hardly justify more. We aren’t in a large city, and the parish is relatively modest. If you’re in a metropolitan area it’s a different story, and larger parishes can afford to pay better.

    As for mileage, it depends. I used to commute an hour one-way for a regular job, so I was given a separate stipend to cover gas and wear & tear. But for one-off or occasional gigs, receiving mileage is not a given.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,031
    It's crucial in this particular scenario to give due weight to the circumstance that the original poster was asked to do this. He isn't applying to fill a generally advertised opening for a combination accompanist/cantor. The pastor sought him out, it seems. It has to be worth the musician's while. I myself wouldn't drive 45-minutes each way to do a weekly playing & singing Mass gig for less than $300 per Mass. I would have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude: I don't need the parish and didn't seek out the parish; the parish needs me and sought out me.

    I would charge more to provide music at a wedding or funeral that involved a long commute than I do for liturgies at my own parish or would charge to do so at another nearby parish. I would factor the commute into the equation for what to charge and what would be worthwhile.

    In most circumstances, I agree that the employer is not responsible to compensate for a hire's commute expenses nor commute time. Yet an employee has to factor into account whether the remuneration is worth accepting a job and its salary or stipend, considering the real costs and the opportunity costs of commuting, and the impact on quality of life. That's just smart for personal finances, for respect for your personal dignity, and for avoiding being burdened by stress.

    For me, spending 90 minutes driving to and from the parish each Sunday, working two hours at the Mass both playing and singing, plus practice and preparation time on my own, wouldn't be worth less than $300 per Mass. If the commute weren't as long, less remuneration would be acceptable. That's just how I would assess the attractiveness of the job and the value of the pay.

    Consider, too, that taxes as an independent contractor will eat into a large percentage of the stipend per Mass because an independent contractor is responsible for paying both the employee and the employer's share of Social Security and Medicare taxes (called "self-employment tax" for independent contractors), as well as income taxes on the amount earned. The self-employment tax adds 15.3% of each Mass stipend onto taxes that are owed besides federal and state income taxes on the stipend. In some states, the money earned as an independent contractor can be taxed at over 45%. Sure, you can deduct commute expenses and mileage as an independent contractor, but the tax burden will still be something and it will be significant. The full tax costs of a job need to be considered as well in a value assessment of whether it is worthwhile. Parishes that pay musicians as independent contractors are passing a significant portion of the employment tax burden and paperwork (adding more costs in time and money for personal record-keeping) onto the musician instead of having the parish pay that.

    Factoring the tax burden and associated time and costs as an independent contractor into account might make $350 or even $400 a more reasonable fee per Mass because the net income after taxes and record-keeping costs would be much less than that. You might only net $120 from a $200 stipend, for example. Would that be worth it? Not to me.
    Thanked by 3CharlesW LauraKaz Reval
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,949
    Incredible. Many parishes in my diocese struggle to justify paying $100 per Mass...


    Yes, but you can bet they can find the money to pay for the latest hair-brained scheme Father comes up with.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    I agree Mark and IMHO there needs to be a paradigm shift in the attitude of church musicians about receiving compensation.

    another significant piece of this is are you a father supporting a family of a wife and children?
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • another significant piece of this is are you a father supporting a family of a wife and children?


    Unmarried, but supporting an aging parent.

    Yes, but you can bet they can find the money to pay for the latest hair-brained scheme Father comes up with.


    I can attest to this. In a previous church music position, my benefits were removed due to “financial restructuring” across the region. I noticed multiple expenses incurred in other areas of diocesan life that made me question the theory behind the decisions.
  • DavidOLGCDavidOLGC
    Posts: 75
    https://forum.musicasacra.com/forum/profile/155/francis

    "You are a valuable, no, INVALUABLE asset to the worship of the Almighty. If musicians stood up for what they were worth, getting fair due would not be a problem."

    I certainly understand what you and all the other members say in your posts.

    However, our tiny, poor, rural parish is already deeply in debt, and there is just no budget for paying any musicians. If we had to pay musicians and singers, we would have NO music at all.

    So I consider it an honor and a privilege to offer my musical talents to the church. I spent a lot of my life playing secular music professionally, mostly in jazz, rock, and folk and ethnic situations, and fortunately am in a financial position where I can afford to play gratis. I feel like the Lord gave me these talents and it's only fair that I give back in some small way. I also live just minutes away from the church, so travel is not a problem. I also consider offering my services at no charge to be a part of my financial contribution to the parish.

    Now, I certainly respect all of you that deservedly get paid for your worthy service and skills.

    I just want to offer an alternative opinion and share our circumstances.

    Finally, about a year ago, after I had been playing organ at church on various keyboards and the free version of Hauptwerk on my Macbook, some anonymous donors presented the church with a Viscount Cantorum Duo with full pedalboard and a decent sound system. So not only do I get to be part of the musical service to the Lord, I also get to have fun playing a better digital organ than I own myself.

    Finally, thanks to all of you who have posted on this forum - I've learned a lot from all of you.



  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 690
    If you are interested in being invited back or interested in repeat business, then take what you can get and count your blessings. I don't mean that you should under value your own abilities only that you should take a practical and sensible approach.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    DavidOLGC

    Personally, I see your situation as similar to mine. I am not saying EVERY musician needs to get paid... it depends on the person and their financial status, etc. (as you have mentioned).

    I am speaking more in generalities... Many musicians have a 'grab and go attitude' that can undercut the ability of full time, part time or contractual professionals to make a half decent living at being a church musician.

    I laud you for your ability to contribute gratis.
    Thanked by 1DavidOLGC
  • DavidOLGCDavidOLGC
    Posts: 75
    Francis, I wish our parish had a music budget - but rather than get paid, I'd love to see us be able to hire professional vocalists first.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    Yes, paid section leaders... Top of The list!l
    Thanked by 1DavidOLGC
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 1,152
    [Purple on]But, volunteer musicians are free! Why would a pastor pay good money for something he can get for free? [Purple off]
  • Diapason84
    Posts: 75
    Your comment is apt, bhcordova. I agree with earlier commenters about the blessing we have to offer our abilities to the service of the Mass and the faithful. Unfortunately many clergy construe that with the idea that such provisions of musical services should be free of charge.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    Note: Section leaders should first set example as faithful Catholics. Just sayin.
    Thanked by 1hilluminar
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 1,152
    @Diapason. Its not just music they expect for free (or a greatly reduced cost). My company built my parish's church, religious education building, gymnasium, and rectory. My former pastor acted as if warranty work should be perpetual.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,397
    At least two of the churches built on the Isle of Man at the end of the 19th century were constructed by a company based in Liverpool owned by Quakers who built them at cost taking no profit for the company. Just sayin;
  • Magdalene
    Posts: 10
    I am also in the Northeast, have no music degree, and both sing and play the organ. I'm salaried, so I can't give you a set stipend per Sunday Mass, but I get $150 for funerals and $350 for weddings. For funerals, I sight-read at this point because they rarely deviate from my list of suggested music. For new music every Sunday, $200 sounds reasonable.
    At that distance, I agree with factoring in mileage. Maybe build in a set "fee" per day/week, rather than Mass. I do something similar to the following with piano students where I'm teaching multiple kids in the family (I go to their house). First Mass of the day: $200, each Mass after: $175, or whatever you choose.
  • Hawkins,

    Were they building Quaker meeting halls, or actual Church buildings?
  • PolskaPiano
    Posts: 255
    Midwest here is $125 per mass in my area. How many masses are you playing in a row?
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,397
    Chris G-Z : these were for the Church of England diocese of Sodor and Man. I am fairly sure they, or other Quaker companies, built Catholic churches on the same terms.
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 1,152
    At least two of the churches built on the Isle of Man at the end of the 19th century were constructed by a company based in Liverpool owned by Quakers who built them at cost taking no profit for the company. Just sayin;


    Well, the 'profit' from building the church was enough for us to pay for a concrete parking lot rather than asphalt. The 'profit' from building the gymnasium was enough for us to air-condition the building (one of the few gyms in the area that has A/C). I don't remember what we bought with the 'profits' from the religious education building or the sacristy. Just sayin
  • Reval
    Posts: 181
    To the OP - I would say for the commute, just add the federal standard mileage rate and charge them that. It's what other musicians get if they have a long commute, and that they way it's based on something concrete.
    Thanked by 2francis CharlesW
  • Earl_GreyEarl_Grey
    Posts: 892
    Musician's compensations are all over the board. There are no standards even within the same diocese. I know some parishes in my area that pay the cantor next to nothing and pay the organist quite well. Other places pay close the to the same fee for both. Some parishes offer more that twice the stipend for the same work at another nearby parish (or less than half, depending on how you look at it).

    I often get asked to sing and play at the same time. While I do feel that I should be paid more for this service (since I can do it) I don't think I should automatically get the same amount as two people doing the same job individually. I'm a better singer if I'm not playing and better organist if I'm not singing. Obviously some repertoire requires separate people while other stuff can easily be done alone. It's actually more work (and time) for me to have to rehearse with (or teach!) an incapable cantor to sing On Eagle's Wings or a simple psalm setting that to just to it alone, when I could just sightread.

    Ditto for weddings. Some are so simple, standard rep, etc. Others require a lot more time and energy, dealing with picky brides or their mothers or the cousin who can't read music but loves to sing, etc. Perhaps an itemized price list is the way to go.

    I think a one time gig is different than a regular one. I'm willing to accept a lesser stipend for a weekly Mass due to the stability. Though in those cases, I think the musician should be considered an employee (even if only part time) and not considered an independent contractor.

    So while the region and situation details can vary vastly, I find the biggest problem is with the clergy who don't understand the required work that goes into preparing and executing good music. Some are willing to pay a lot of money for an amateur singing and playing junk that doesn't belong at Mass in the first place and then those who expect perfectly executed chant, polyphony and concert level organ rep and assume that it doesn't requite any time or energy and should be free.

    I don't expect this will ever change and we need to decide for ourselves what we're willing to accept or not. I certainly took every possible playing gig when I was younger because I was more desperate. Now I can politely refuse if I know it's something I won't enjoy doing, but that line can easily change without warning.

    Thanked by 2Elmar ServiamScores