Paying our musicians…

Our concerts at St Mary’s Perivale and St Barnabas are all ‘free admission, with a retiring collection’.   We receive no sponsorship from any source, and no grants from any funding bodies.   Yet our musicians are always paid for their services.   On principle, we wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise.   They are invariably professional musicians, and one wouldn’t expect to employ the services of a plumber for nothing.  However, this contrasts sharply with lunchtime concerts held at prominent church venues in Central London, and some well-known private venues as well, where the musicians are expected to provide their services free of charge.   Whatever the justification for this – supposedly because the concerts are raising money for other more worthy causes – this would seems like blatant exploitation.

It is worth detailing the financial arrangements for musicians at the two venues where my concerts are held.  At St Mary’s Perivale, we attract an audience of around 50-60, and the average sum donated at the end of a concert is usually around £7 per head, with a wide range from £1 or less to £20 or more, reflecting the different circumstances of members of the audience.   With the extra funds from Gift Aid, this provides about £8-9 per audience member, or a total of around £450.  We pay around £300-£350 to the musicians, split proportionately, and use the residual £100-150 to cover expenses, such as the free wine and crisps (costing about £30 per concert) and all the usual overheads such as insurance, heating and lighting, and piano maintenance.  So if a concert comprises a first half  piano recital (45 minutes) and a piano trio in the second half, we might give £120 to the pianist, and a total of £210 to the piano trio.   If the whole concert comprises one ensemble, say a piano trio, they will receive around £300, or £100 each.  This is admittedly a paltry sum when one considers the calibre of most of our musicians, but at least it is something, and is much appreciated.  They also receive a free high-quality video recording of their performance, many of which can be seen on our Youtube  channel (www.youtube.com/user/StMarysPerivale/ .  Certainly, virtually all our musicians are keen to return for future concerts.   For the Friday lunchtime concerts at St Barnabas we have adopted a fixed scheme whereby soloists receive £100 for their 45 minute performance, duos receive a total of £120, trios receive £150 and quartets receive £160 (usually increased to £200).

This financial model seems fairly unusual – hence this blog – and contrasts with that of many music clubs which hold a limited number (say 6-10 per year) of high-profile concerts, charging £15 or more for tickets, to listen to more established musicians who will accordingly receive considerably more than the sums we offer.    Often these clubs have to pay steep hiring sums for the venue, and may have to bring in a piano for the concert, and the cost of the musicians will usually be closer to £1000 than £300 .They may then have to rely on sponsorship to cover their costs.  We are fortunate in avoiding many of these problems, and I think that our policy of picking the very best young musicians in London, usually in the age range 23-33,  provides a similar quality of music-making to that achieved by employing older, more established musicians with bigger reputations. It also contrasts sharply with those lunchtime recitals and evening recitals in private venues in Central London, where no payment is given or expected.   In my opinion, this is simply unacceptable.

Author: hmather@btopenworld.com

Organizer of classical concerts at St Mary’s Perivale and St Barnabas Ealing. Pianist, organist and retired physician

20 thoughts on “Paying our musicians…”

  1. Agree with this well reasoned post. Though you discreetly don’t name any villains, gigs like stMITF make a shedload & don’t pay their artists, whereas others like Munster can’t afford to IMHO. Case by case.

  2. Thank you – I am a professional violinist and also Festival Director who battles with the issues challenges on which you are touching. I am delighted to read of your enlightenment and opportunity you are creating for musicians who are supporting such worthwhile charity. Thank you for your care of the arts, music and artists.

    Andrew Bernardi

  3. I agree

    I totally agree with this article as I am in a similar situation
    Music at Woodhouse a non profi tmaking charity with very reasonable ticket prices was created by me in 2000 relying on low ticket prices and quite large overheads
    every musician gets paid well within my means and often by my personal financial input if audience numbers are a bit low
    I work very very hard , singlehandedly and give of my time and often my own money freely to make these concert possible the audience enjoy their free drinks and refreshments during intervals
    I like helping these young musicians who live on a very low wage sometimes , and most are appreciative not all of course
    Woodhouse does baroque and big operas, recitals ,chamber music ,baroque academies on two stages and venues near Dorking

    1. Thank you for your supportive email. It’s always hard work running concerts, and in particular building and retaining an audience, but I find that the feedback from the musicians, as well as the audience, makes it all worthwhile. I hope to document my experience over the past decade in this blog over the next few months, to pool ideas among people like us who are promoting concerts. I also try to support all the young musicians as much as possible, which is why I tend to rail against those who seem to exploit them !

  4. Thank you for this Hugh – I’ve put a link on my Severn Muses website on the “for promoters” page as it will be of interest to the music societies around here. (We met quite a number of years ago, you might just remember, when Julia Gooding came to give one of your concerts).

    1. Dear Jill

      Thank you for your note. I hope to post various other items relating to the problems of running concerts, to pool ideas with other concert promoters. Thanks for spreading the word !

  5. You have rightly opened a very important discussion. As a performer, I think it little short of disgraceful that so many venues – even including a well known cathedral! – have a policy of not paying their recitalists anything at all. If a collection is taken, there should at the very least be an attempt to split the takings in some suitable proportion between the performers and the venue (or the cause the venue wishes to support).

    As a concert organiser myself, curating two different series at present, I am happy to share our own payment policies. Music-at-Hill operates from a Wren church in the City and it is our policy to pay all performers at least some modest expenses. This is a set sum (£15 per performer, with a ceiling of £60). We would like to be in a position to pay more, but with audiences presently averaging around 30 (and average per capita giving proving remarkably constant over time, at usually a little over £2.50 a head, although we encourage our punters to consider giving £5 each!), we actually make a loss of around £100 per concert, once we have paid a substantial hire charge for the building. This funding model is unsustainable, as we are now eating into our society reserves, and for this reason we are currently looking to move out of the Square Mile – albeit with some reluctance, as that has been our location for over 40 years. We like to regard ourselves as the friendliest recital series in the City of London, and the coffee & biscuits (and sometimes doughnuts and other goodies!) on offer before and after the concert, and the chance to mingle with fellow punters and the artists, is an integral part of our ethos.

    Meanwhile, Music on the Green at Esher Parish Church (launched January 2012) runs a monthly lunchtime recital series which, like yours in Ealing, has managed to create something of a virtuous circle, because from modest beginnings (audiences of 20-30) we now regularly get attendances of 70-80 or more, and this enables us to plough some of the profits back into the series; pay the artists a sufficiently attractive amount to entice them to come; and, where necessary, cross-subsidise other aspects of our music outreach ministry. The fact we have a magnificent volunteer catering team allows us to offer a snack lunch as part of the package, which is a big part of the draw for our mainly middle-aged and elderly audience. Concerts are free with retiring collection, and average giving tends to be between £5 and £6 a head, enhanced in some cases with Gift Aid. We have a fixed funding protocol for visiting artists, whereby all performers receive an automatic £15 allowance for travel expenses (which is occasionally redonated to us), plus a modest fee depending on the number of performers. A soloist or duo will receive £50 (+ £15) each, a trio £40 (+£15) each, a quartet £30 (+£15) each and a quintet £25 (+£15) each. Hence our total outlay for musicians will vary, for each concert, as follows: £65 (soloist), £130 (duo), £165 (trio), £180 (quartet) or £200 (quintet). However, this wide cost range tends to even itself out when spread over a whole accounting year.

    Any concert series organiser will have a nexus of issues to grapple with in trying to make their finances stack up, and these issues are often inter-related. The key variables will include – on the income side – audience size; charging model (tickets? admission by programme? retiring collection?); sponsorship/patronage/subscription schemes (if any); and the catering/refreshments operation (if any) – this latter may provide a net profit or, conversely, be a useful loss leader. On the expenses side, key variables will include building hire costs; publicity costs; and performer fees & expenses. Hopefully this latter will form a key part of the equation and not be regarded as an optional extra!

    1. Dear Stuart

      Thanks for your long and comprehensive email. We can chat about it next time we meet ! Sounds as though your series in Esher is doing very well indeed, and is broadly similar in design to our concerts at St Barnabas. Our scale is slightly different – £100 soloist/ £120 duo (£60 each) / £150 for trio and £200 for a quartet. Your average donation of £5-6 is quite good for a lunchtime concert, and you should be making a decent surplus, presumably for church funds. As for your experience with lunchtime concerts in the City, it is difficult with so much competition from other churches, but your problem seems to be the hire fee which the church charges. Anyway, we can compare notes in detail when we next meet ! Very best wishes

  6. Which music venues in central London do not pay the musicians who perform at free lunchtime concerts please? I would prefer not to support them.

    1. I don’t think I should say, but why not ask the musician directly when you attend them ? Suffice to say that they are among the most prestigious venues for lunchtime concerts, and I am only aware of it because countless musicians have been telling me about it for the past decade. They would say in their defence that the surplus is used to fund other good works, which is doubtless true, but it should not be at the expense of the professional musician who has to make a living from his or her expertise.

    2. Bob Boas. Mansfield 22 concert series. They charge 20 £ without dinner and 45£ with! !!! They have around 100 capasity and yet musicians are paid nothing!

  7. A timely article Hugh. Your point about the exploitation (and I choose my words carefully) of musicians by many of the churches in London is quite unacceptable. St James, Picadilly pays nothing to the musicians who play for their lunch-time series and yet there is a retiring collection and the church boasts a fine Fazioli concert grand. St Martin’s in the Fields, the same (though with a Steinway concert grand) – not even expenses as I remember from my performing days there. The model you have adopted at Perivale is ideal; no ticket charge for the audience and a reasonable fee for the performer, the size of which is determined by a retiring collection. Essentially the audience paying what they think the performer is worth – a novel idea! Over and above that is the pleasure of playing to a packed church with an intimate ambience on a decent piano. Looking forward to our concert on 10th July!

    1. Absolutely. Thank you. Can’t understand how the failure of these prestigious venues to pay their musicians is allowed to continue. And the model of a retiring collection works very well, and certainly helps audience numbers. Best wishes

  8. My gripe is not so much with venues and well-known big music organisations. Although it would be good for the artists to be paid at least for their expenses. There are some valid excuses…only some. Churches well established as concert venues get cited on the biographies of the musicians as halls where they have performed. This has some value for the musicians. They also need to keep the place going, do the repairs and employ staff etc. Sometimes the value of the exposure far exceeds the sums the artists are likely to get and this is something the musicians are acutely aware of. Music professionals, agents or managers are more likely to come across the musicians at free concerts than if they have to pay £20+.

    What really irritates me are individuals or organisations, corporate bodies which contact me for an artist or an ensemble to play as background music or when the guests are arriving and then do not wish to pay for the musicians. One of them had the audacity to say to me, “Why should I pay for the musicians, you are a charity!” I had to explain to this person that my charity was set up just to help musicians and not the entire world. To those who feign ignorance of the fact that musicians need to eat too, I say,”Will you be paying the waiters?” The reply invariably is in the affirmative. Then I say, “In that case also pay the musicians, please!” I have to do the haggling instead of the musicians.

    I pay the musicians a modest sum for the concerts for which we sell tickets. Modest though it might be individually, when there are many of them, it runs into thousands. In such cases we sometimes lose money, we are very happy if we break even and we rejoice if we do make
    any money.

    There are some cases when our musicians refuse to accept any sums because they know others who are being helped by the charity are in greater need of support than they are. This is very laudable of them of course.

    We do not have very strict rules as to payment but try to do our best for our musicians. I see the entire brood as a family.

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