The Hidden Costs of Being a Musician

by Cheri Ann Egbers

The costs incidental to life as a professional musician come in different sizes and styles. For every musician, there are two inevitable costs — time and money.

In addition to the training required of orchestral musicians [please see The Path to the Orchestra], professionals continue to learn as they ply their trade. Some enhance their musicianship by experiencing the subtleties of art, drama and literature,while others continue their training in workshops, private coaching, and ensemble playing.

Beside the time and money for training, tangible assets are required.

  1. The cost of instruments. For some, the primary instrument is an enormous investment, and many orchestral musicians own more than one. String players often use less expensive instruments when faced with environmental hazards such as extreme variations in temperature or playing indirect sunlight outside. Wind and percussion players must own more than one instrument;for example, flute/piccolo, oboe/English Horn, Bb clarinet/A clarinet/Eb clarinet/bass clarinet, bassoon/contrabassoon, trumpet/flugelhorn, or tuba/tenor tuba.
  2. Accessories. To the general public, the on-going expense for accessories is not visible. For the string players, for instance, such accessories include bows, strings, rosin and mutes; for woodwind players, there are mouth pieces, reeds and reed-making equipment and other supplies. For brass players, there are mutes and valve and slide oil. Percussionists require special effect traps, specialty cymbals and drums, and a variety of sticks and other "noise-making" equipment, ranging from bird whistles to locomotive bells.
  3. Maintenance. Maintaining our instruments is another constant cost. It includes rehairing bows; repadding flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons; replating brass mouthpieces; and adjusting springs, keys, slides, valves, and drum heads. Insurance for musical instruments which are used for income-producing purposes is not sold at the same rate as one's homeowner policy. The fact that orchestral instruments are not easily repaired/replaced makes insurance coverage costly and necessary.
  4. Sheet Music. While the Orchestra itself provides the printed music from which the players read at concerts, each musician invests a significant amount of money in his own music library. Most orchestra musicians also own books containing difficult orchestral passages for their own instruments or invest in the orchestral parts themselves when such are available for purchase. In addition to printed music, it is necessary for musicians to maintain tape and record libraries which are essential in preparing for performance.
  5. Professional Dues and Publications. In the "pursuit of excellence," many musicians belong to associations of their colleagues such as the American String Teachers' Association, the Oregon Cello Society, the Flute Society, the International Clarinet Society, the Double-reed Society, and a variety of bras sand percussion organizations. In addition to the payment of dues, these organizations usually hold conferences and conventions at various locations at regular intervals at a cost to the individual participant.
  6. The “Practice Room.” Every musician must have a place in which to practice. Optimally, that place is found in a player’s residence — an endeavor which proves to be easier for some than others. Finding a place where a musician is “comfortable” — free to repeat difficult phrases endlessly without disturbing others — can become an expensive project.
  7. Clothing. Then, there is also the matter of the “uniform.” What might be considered optional formal dress for the public becomes “overalls” for the musicians — tuxedo, tails, white coat, black and white vests, bow ties in black and white for the men; long and short black, long-sleeved clothes, as well as white shirts and jackets for the women.

Education and training are obvious essentials in the music profession. Be mindful, however, that incidental “hidden costs” constitute a major investment in the course of a professional’s career.

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