What's the market value of professional singers?
  • I'm wondering what any of you here pay for professional singers in liturgy. Currently I have a volunteer-only program and only pay an organist on occasion, but would like to establish a "choral scholar" program by employing SATB choral section leaders, cantors, and core schola singers. There would be on average 2 rehearsals and 2.5 liturgies per week.

    My thought going into this was that payment would be made for rehearsals and liturgies, at about a 1 to 2 ratio, with the amount commensurate with experience.

    So I was imagining a scenario where I could pay, for example (rehearsal/liturgy):

    -An undergraduate who is pursuing a voice degree (or similar experience) $25/$50.
    -Undergrad degree in voice (or similar experience) $30/$60 to $35/$70.
    -Masters degree in voice or choral music (or similar experience) $40/$80 to $45/$90.
    -Doctorate in voice or choral music (or similar experience) $50/$100.

    Is this the market? Is this reasonable? More or less? What has been your experience?
  • I inherited two paid singers (one soprano and one alto) at $50 a Mass for three Masses a weekend (the 5 on Sat. and 9 and 11:15 on Sun.).
    I plan on giving them the summer off (saving my boss $300/wk. - I can sing from the console). My plan, if I can build the choir I'm hoping to build this fall, is to get three paid singers (one soprano, one alto, one tenor - I sing bass) to serve as "section leaders" for the 11:15 choir, give one singer the 5 on Saturday as a cantor and another the 9 on Sunday as a cantor, still saving Father fitty a week.
    The cantor will remain in the gallery. Thankfully my predecessor kept it that way as well. No need for arm-flapping up front, nor trying to out-sing the choir.
    Further, starting this summer, the microphone will be put away. No need for one in this fairly small church.
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 781
    I assume that your prices are for a regular singer? I pay a bit more than that (up to double?) for seasonal or one-time gigs.
  • These are regular singers, yes, Mara.
    The soprano often sings along for funerals for $125. Again, I'll be looking to save families money by offering to sing at the console for $150 instead of paying $250 (total price for organist and singer separate). If a separate singer is requested, then I'll fulfill the request. Otherwise, save your bucks.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,870
    It's in the ballpark. I was getting $45 per rehearsal and Mass at St. James in Cleveland. I would suspect that in places where the cost of living is higher, you might have to pay more. I'm also rather dubious about your scale based on paper credentials. If you're paying singers, merely as singers, then you will expect from them pleasing and technically proficient voices allied with great reading ability. Those are the only people you should be hiring, and I'm not convinced that, within that group, experience is such a factor. OTOH, if you want them to be true section leaders, then vocal teaching experience is relevant and should command a premium. At the Cathedral here, starting pay is fairly modest, but there's a dollar-per-service bump for every year you're with the choir. And they do extremely well.
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 781
    I just checked with a friend of mine who sings at a very wealthy church in a Detroit suburb, and she makes $50/$50.
  • TCJ
    Posts: 836
    Around here it's a depressed area so the fees are on the low end. I know that the NPM issues a list of suggested fees, and that includes orgaqnists, musicians, singers and for various events. But what you have listed as potential pay amounts seems reasonable.

    What would you pay someone who doesn't (and isn't pursuing) a voice degree but can sing well? Or is that not an option at all?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,921
    Maybe I'm looking at things differently, now that I'm in school studying voice, but it's sad to read that my buddy Brian is treating singers as an expense to be avoided.

    When an average funeral costs $8,000, saving $100 by cutting out a singer may not lead to the most beautiful results. I've heard various organists sing from the console before, and they are rarely as good as having a dedicated singer. After all, few people sing really well when seated.

    I hope that at least Brian can give the bereaved families some audio samples, so that they can compare the options before choosing.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,067
    "Market price" here in St. Louis is lower...unless we're talking seafood!

    $40-50 a "call" is standard around here. I am unfamiliar with a sliding scale for rehearsal vs. liturgy. I don't think I'd want to go there.

    I don't have money in my budget for section leaders; one of the conditions of my job is that I continue paying a contemporary group to play at our Sunday evening Mass...that would be a wonderful "choral scholar" budget.

    I would be wary of paying too much attention to the sheepskin. My wife has a masters' in voice from UT-Austin and is a beautiful singer, but I have some very good cantors here that could be almost as good if they had the time to spend on it.

    Finally, for what it's worth, it is hard to find good, dependable singers around here who will do church gigs, especially if you need men. This is frustrating, since men are usually what we need! I am fortunate to have a volunteer singer with a voice degree in my tenor section, but one is always worried about sickness if you're depending on one person...
  • TCJ
    Posts: 836
    Chonak describe me: an organist who sings, but not as well because he's seated. I wish I didn't have to, but such is the case!

    Back to paying singers, why not pay them for their ability rather than their degree? Like BruceL, I've heard some singers who sound pretty much professional who haven't a bit of training in music. I've heard some people who have had training who don't sound as good. The way I look at it is if the person can do the job and do it well, they deserve as much pay as the next person.
  • It might be prudent not to change the current cantor arrangement at funerals...or cutting the summer singers.

    I understand that I, as a hired director of music of a parish, was accused to "trying to make a living off the church" (!) by busybodies.

    While you are trying to save money for the family, seeing you singing from the console at the funeral for their dad/mom and knowing that a month ago Sheila sang the Ave Maria for the neighbor's aunt's funeral, can cause tongues to wag, especially among those that love to hear Sheila sing.

    I hate to say this, but it is always better to leave things at a parish as they are and add to what it going on, rather than cutting things out. No one is going to complain if you sing a duet with Sheila at the funeral.

    But if Sheila's not there...tongues will wag. You are only making $25 more by getting rid of Sheila...but it could end up costing you.

    The only way that it might work would be if you charged nothing extra for singing from the console.

    But remember, they've just spent more for a wooden box that, after admiring it for a day or two, is going into the ground to rot, more than they spent for any furniture in their home that they intend to pass down to their children!

    "Oh, it's too bad Sheila couldn't be there to sing. Is she sick?" - "No, we decided to save $100!"

    And...saving the church money over the summer by cutting the paid singers can have the same effect.

    Now, if your priest has asked to you make cuts and save money, go for it. If he has not...

    Thoughts, friends?
  • Issues to consider:
    [1] Prevailing wage: in a lot of places, there's an actual labor market for paid choristers. It's not all about money--conditions, quality of music, etc. count--but it often is.
    [2] Make up of the choir: I pay my singers $85 per week, but we rehearse only for 90 minutes before Mass. They like the compact schedule. This doesn't work well with a predominantly volunteer choir that needs a weeknight rehearsal (although I've done it and *made* it work).
    [3] Pastors can be persuaded (through entirely honorable means) that choral programs can almost pay for themselves in increased Mass attendance, in direct financial support (tricky, but possible), and in greater choir participation, which often cements whole families more tightly to the parish.
    [4] Catholic parishes tend to be cheapskates in this area: a bit of strategic comparison with patterns in other ecclesial entities (even when adjusted for real [as opposed to perceived] personal/family income differences) can be persuasive.
    [5] Saving money in the choir budget through absences allows for doing extra things for big days.
  • Dove
    Posts: 16
    Frogman, I agree with you totally. Unless and until you know the politics in the parish, and are in the ruling party, you could be shooting yourself in the foot. Personally, I would rather teach an all-volunteer schola than hire any professionals. As soon as you hire professionals you are giving your schola the message that they are not good enough. If you rehearse with your schola twice a week they will improve very quickly. As they get better you will attract more advanced singers. Maybe you won't be able to do 2 liturgies a week at first, but proceed brick by brick.
    There is a paid group that sings about once a month at our parish and I think they are paid $400 per mass. They sing polyphony and chant. They sing on special occasions too, such as Christmas Midnight Mass and this does in fact send the message that our choirs are not up to the job.
    Thanked by 1hilluminar
  • OlbashOlbash
    Posts: 311
    @BMP- I echo the sentiments of Chonak, Noel, et al., in cautioning you to consider carefully how you reconfigure things at your new parish. You must balance good stewardship of parish funds against treating employees, who often depend on even these small amoutns of money for their livelihood, with fairness and compassion. Make sure you're "up front" with them about what you want to do, and ask for their input. They might surprise you, and actually *want* to help you improve the program!

    As for funerals, a separate organist and cantor is *always* preferable, with very rare exception, for all of the reasons stated. (Incidentally, if you need a cantor or organist to work with, call me! Warwick is closer to me than Beverly, MA, where I do lots of funerals...)

    Finally, to answer the original question of this post, I believe the rate for singers at first-rate music programs in the Boston area are around $80 per call. In Boston, churches (esp. those located in places easily accessible by public transit) are able to keep rates low due to the huge number of music students in the area. When I work as a cantor, I get anywhere from $75-$125 for a regular Mass, $100-$200 for funerals, $150-$250 for weddings. The rates fluctuate greatly by neighborhood, quality of music program, whim of priest, etc.
  • Mark P.
    Posts: 248
    I'd echo Olbash's post on human relations. The Catholic church has a miserable reputation in its dealings with church musicians. Moreover, I wouldn't be trying to save the Pastor money unless he's specifically asked you to. Standard management practice is to do your job and do it well and not try to fix up the whole company.
  • Thank you all for your responses to this thread. They have offered much food for thought.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,536
    Hi Adam,

    Your original post didnt specify locality, which is a big factor. The Oakland diocese sets the minimum fee for cantors at $55 per call, whether rehearsal or mass, while substitutes at San Francisco churches can expect $70-100. These are both lower than AGMA rates which start at $75/hour.

    Like BruceL, I can't see an upside to the proposed sliding scale, which will either greatly irk undergraduate hotshots or price out willing doctors, and suggest that you pay according to proven ability instead.
  • I am a choral scholar and was paid $25 per call before receiving my degree and $50 after. Keep in mind this is the south (south and north Carolina) where there is little support for programs that pay core professional singers.
  • I, like Franny, am in the South, and my church job is for Anglicans. I inherited 8 section leaders who, 10 years ago, were paid $30 per service (the choir rehearsal is on Sunday mornings before the one sung liturgy, which is high-church Anglican out the wazoo--plainsong, Anglican chant, 1 or 2 motets, a different "Communion Service" each season, two sung Passions and an orchestral Mass at Christmas Eve and Easter). For various reasons unrelated to their ability and unrelated to me, four of them left soon after my predecessor left, and while the vestry wanted to cut the music budget, I argued for raises. We're up to $40/call and double pay on holydays for the veterans (all 50+, lovely singers with no training but tons of experience) and $50 for the soprano, of which we've had three different undergrad voice majors. They sing from Holy Cross Sunday to Pentecost; the summer is all volunteers. (There are 8-10 members of the church who sing in the choir, depending on job/family/school situations.) That level of pay is on the low end for the local Protestants, some of whom pay both singers and instrumentalists for an 'orchestra'; and considered exorbitant by the Catholic parishes, who mostly don't pay people except for the organist. I am a volunteer schola director and get no monetary support from the diocese or the two parishes which have Sunday-obligation EFs where my schola assists (not because the pastors don't want to, but both parishes are pretty small and not rich).

    I am presently seeking a new soprano section leader and am having a terrible time of it, as finding one who can sightread well and then take the time to learn the music, sing with a lovely tone in both choral and solo contexts, and be friendly and supportive with the choir members, is quite difficult.

    If anyone knows of a good soprano in the South looking for a job, message me privately and I'll give the particulars.
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 653
    Richard Mix hit what I saw as the first problem with your scale: I'd go for a basic rate for anyone, and more as and if you realize that a particular singer helps the overall music in your program. And as another factoid, my daughter, a good natural singer (studied violin since she was 2, sung since 9) but mostly an untrained singer, 2d year college, is content to get $30 a service but has been paid up to $100 a service in Virginia and Delaware. To me, 30 seems low (roughly 4-5 hours time counting travel) and 100 high.