Pianists have been populating concert halls, churches, bars, hotel lobbies and other performance venues for decades. If you’ve seen a pianist performing, and thought to yourself, “I could do that, I wonder how much it pays…” you are in luck.
In this guide, we’ll discuss what pianists are making on a variety of gigs you could get for yourself.
Of course, there are outliers on either side. Some pianists are making thousands of dollars per engagement and others are grinding away for a buck.
Let’s look at how much pianists in various categories can expect to make.
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How Concert Pianists Make Money
Concert pianists are glamorous, highly educated and extremely proficient musicians who can command a substantial salary, if they have a successful career.
The average concert pianist is pulling in around $50,000 per year, gross. This does not include travel, food, equipment, education, insurance or other costs related to their profession.
Some of the world’s most famous and celebrated concert pianists make between $25,000 and $75,000 per engagement.
This seems like a lot, but these are normal rates for artists who can sell tickets and put on an incredible show. There are many, many bands and artists in the world who start their asking price at these levels.
How much an average pianist can make depends on several factors:
How Many Gigs Can You Secure?
A pianist with a busy touring schedule can make a lot more than a pianist who plays a few times a year with select groups. Securing lots of dates is not easy, but the more you have, the more likely you are to increase your income.
What Types Of Gigs Can You Secure?
While there are certainly fewer opportunities for concert pianists and classical musicians in general than there once was, there are still lots out there. You just need to look in the right places.
Countries, states, provinces, cities and towns all have Arts Councils that usually have funding and support for classical music. There are opportunities to secure funding to bring high-level music to small towns around the world.
There are lots of gigs that can pay a good guarantee. You just need to be able to find them and get booked. It’s helpful to have representation.
Do You Have Representation?
When you start playing a lot or getting offers to play for more substantial amounts of money, it may be time to hire an agent. Agents are the middle men between promoters (people booking shows) and the artist.
Agents can help you secure more shows, tours, more money and will represent you at promoter’s conferences. They will play a key role in your team.
All this to say: a successful concert pianist can pull in an average of $50,000 a year, which is already impressive. A rare few make it further than this and can pull in the kind of money that celebrated musicians across genres make.
Classical Or Concert Pianist Gigs & Fees
There are many opportunities available to concert pianists. Here are a few potential gigs and what they pay.
Solo recitals are solo piano performances and many pianists dream of playing these types of gigs full time.
Solo recitals are high-pressure and high reward. The spotlight is all on you, for better or worse.
The average concert pianist can earn $200 to $5,000 per gig. But this will depend on how many tickets are sold. The more tickets you can sell, the more money you will make.
If you get paid directly from the tickets, the more you sell, the more you make. If you are getting a guarantee, the same rule applies; the more tickets you are expected to sell, the more the promoter will pay.
Chamber Music Recitals
Chamber music is performed by a group of musicians – usually two to eight. These groups consistently rehearse, play and curate shows.
A professional chamber music group can make between $2,000 and $5,000. There is potential for negotiating depending on how many tickets the group can sell and how many performances the group will be playing.
Then, individuals are paid out of the lump sum. If all goes well, everyone will make about $1000 each.
Concerto engagements involve performing a 25- to 35-minute piece with an orchestra. These are usually invite-only performances.
The pay will vary widely – oo widely to even mention an average.
At the top end, famous pianists will demand $50,000 for a concerto engagement. Smaller orchestras and local groups may pay a few hundred dollars per performance.
Concert pianists commonly compete in piano competitions. These competitions offer large performance prizes and cash prizes to the winners.
These can pay anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000 depending on the competition. Of course, you must win, and there’s a lot of competition!
Corporate performances are usually booked through an agent, so if you do not have representation, you may not have access to these opportunities. These gigs will pay thousands of dollars.
How Church Pianists Earn An Income
Playing for churches is a common way for professional pianists to earn an income. The money is regular, and there is the potential for work outside of regular Sunday services.
There are many types of church gigs available, and pay scale varies. On average, a church gig will pay $50 to $200 per engagement. Weddings can sometimes pay more than $200.
Here are a few types of church gigs and what they pay. These numbers were taken from the American Guild of Organists.
A single service should pay between $100 and $225 but many churches will pay between $50 to $100, depending on what they can afford.
Single Service & Directing The Choir
Pianists and organists often end up directing the church choir in addition to accompanying them. A single service in this role should pay $150 to $275.
Rehearsal fees range from $25 to $100. In large, wealthy churches, you may be paid by the hour, but in most cases you will be paid per rehearsal.
The going rate for funerals is $100 to $150. Typically, you will only be required to perform standard hymns at the beginning and the end of the funeral. You may be asked to accompany a singer as well.
These rates can go up depending on the extra work required.
Hymns and piano music are an integral part of many weddings. You’ll be pleased to hear that weddings often pay well.
A wedding pianist should get paid between $200 to $1,000 depending on the type of wedding, the songs you're asked to play, and the budget of the wedding overall.
Additional Notes About Churches
Pay at churches can vary widely. The above numbers are probably high for some churches and low for others. Many pianists practice their faith by volunteer their time.
How Much Does The Gigging Pianist Make?
For the sake of this guide, I am putting the rest of us pianists under the “gigging pianist” title. These are pianists playing as hired musicians, pit band musicians, background musicians and so on.
I know how much these people make, because I’m one of them!
A working pianist is usually making between $20,000 to $60,000 a year. And the truth is, even getting to the 20k mark is hard.
That’s because gigs just don’t pay well, and depending on where you’re living, there aren’t many gigs.
I would say that the average gig I’m playing pays me $150. Some pay $500, others pay $50. But on average, it’s $100.
If I play five nights a week, which is a lot, and does not include practice and rehearsal, I’m still only making $500/week or $26,000/year. Now, a few of these gigs are going to pay more, so let’s say $32,000 a year.
That doesn’t count equipment costs, travel costs, food, health insurance or taxes. It is not easy but it is 100% possible to make a living doing this.
My main gig pays $200 to $400 per show. I play about 60 of these shows every year. This makes me $12,000 annually, and accounts for half of my income. The rest comes from other gigs and freelance side hustles.
On the upper end, I have peers that play with some of the biggest touring bands in the country (Canada) and are making $1,000 per show. On their busiest years, they can make $80,000. On their off-years it can be as little as $20,000.
Basically, it varies. But here is how much these gigs pay, on average.
Gigging Pianist Gigs & Fees
As with concert and church pianists, there are many types of gigs available for the working pianist.
And, sometimes thinking outside the box can help you tap into opportunities others struggle to find.
But these are the main types of gigs available and how much you can expect to be paid for each.
Pit Band Musician
For seasoned pianists, pit band gigs are great. They provide you with consistent income. These gigs are often unionized, and you only have to learn the music once.
Smaller theater productions will pay around $150 per show and $50 per rehearsal.
Larger theater productions will pay $350 to $500 per show and $50 to $100 per rehearsal.
The average pit band musician on Broadway makes $1,500 per week.
On Broadway, you play six nights per week, with a couple matinees as well. Smaller productions usually have shorter run times, but you are often playing six nights per week as well.
You can sometimes get gigs subbing in for other musicians, because pit band musicians have lives and can’t always play six nights per week.
If you'd like to be a pit band pianist, you must be an extremely proficient sight-reader and have a working knowledge of stage pianos. You must be able to play piano, organ, electric piano, clav and anything else you are required to.
Side Musician Work
Getting hired to play in local and touring bands is a common way to make money as a pianist. This is what I do.
These gigs will usually play no less than $80 per show. On average, the gigs will pay between $100 to $500 per show.
The average touring band, cover band or local band will pay $100 to $200 per show depending on the gig. Wedding bands and corporate cover bands will pay $400 to $500 per show.
Larger touring acts will pay $500 per show and the largest touring acts will pay up to $1,000 per show.
Session Musician Work
Session musicians are studio musicians. They are hired either for their proficiency or for their unique playing style and creative input on the songs.
$150 per song is a standard rate for studio musicians.
That said, it is becoming more common to pay session musicians a day rate. Day rates are usually $150 to $500 per day.
With day rates, the artist can get more songs out of the musicians, but the musician still gets a reasonable rate for their time and effort.
Solo Piano Background Gigs
The working pianist will play many a hotel lobby, airport or bar. It’s may be an old tradition but this type of work still exists!
These gigs usually pay between $100 to $300 per show. On average, they pay $150 per show.
Some pianists make the bulk of their living doing this kind of work. You can easily play two background gigs in a day and you can get weekend gigs too.
Conclusion: It All Depends On How Much You Play
The more you play, the more you’ll get paid. When you start out, you should take every gig that comes your way.
As you prove yourself, you’ll get more work. Eventually, you’ll be required to ditch the lower paying or less fulfilling gigs.
Hopefully, you end up with a busy schedule full of music you enjoy playing, with people you enjoy playing with.
But you must kick start your career. Whether you’re a concert pianist or working musician, you must work your butt off and keep at it.