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Orchestra Salary Facts

The International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) is comprised of 52 American orchestras.  These orchestras comprise virtually all of the American orchestras that pay a full-time living wage.[1]  There have been several stories in major American newspapers recently that may have led to misperceptions about orchestral salaries by noting that “no orchestra member is paid the minimum scale” and then citing the salaries of the handful of highest paid musicians using data obtained from orchestras’ federal tax forms.  In order to clarify this, we offer the following analysis.

  • There are 52 ICSOM orchestras employing a total of about 4,200 musicians.[2]
  • During the academic year 2002-2003, American colleges, universities and conservatories graduated 14,601 students with degrees in music.[3]
  • During the 2003 calendar year there were 159 openings for musicians in ICSOM orchestras.[4]
  • The average minimum salary for the 2003-2004 season for musicians in ICSOM orchestras was $57,370.[5]
  • The lowest minimum salary was $23,000; the highest was $104,000.[6]
  • The average seniority pay for an ICSOM musician with 10 years seniority was 2.8% above minimum scale.  The average seniority pay for an ICSOM musician with 20 years seniority was 5% above minimum scale.[7]
  • The lowest seniority pay for a musician with 10 years seniority was 0.8%; the highest was 6.8%.  The lowest seniority pay for a musician with 20 years seniority was 1.3%; the highest was 15.5%.

Concertmasters, first-chair players and other players with key responsibilities receive salaries above the minimum scale.  Extensive data about individual contracts are not available, but orchestras’ federal tax forms are publicly available and reveal the following:

  • Approximately 24 musicians in 11 ICSOM orchestras earn more than $200,000.  This equals 0.6% of ICSOM musicians.
  • Around 100 musicians in 19 orchestras earn more than $150,000.  This equals 2.4% of ICSOM musicians.
  • 5 musicians, or 0.1% of ICSOM musicians, earn more than $300,000.[8]
  • According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average salary as of May 2003 for a lawyer was $107,000.[9]  The average salary for a doctor was $139,640.[10]  The average salary for a financial manager was $87,190.[11]
  • The 75th percentile for salaries in each profession is:

                        Lawyers                      $139,130

                        Doctors                       *

                        Financial managers      $106,490

                        ICSOM musicians       approx. $100,000

            * The Dept. of Labor does not compute percentile for salaries above $145,600, which is only $12,260 above the median salary (50th percentile) for family doctors and general practitioners.

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