Long ago in the innocent days of pregnancy I agreed to play a concert in October with the thought that I should have life with a three-month-old down well enough to see how working as a musician might work with kids.  Well, the date changed to September and the organization has been complicated, but I successfully performed the concert on Saturday.  The jury is still out on whether it’s worth it or not.  I enjoyed having a reason to practice (though moments at home that can be used for focused work are few andfar between) and I enjoyed rehearsing with the musicians.  It is quite an ordeal to get the whole family to Strasbourg (about 2 hours of travel time door to door) and I’m not sure what I would have had to pay a babysitter for an all-day affair three weekends in a row.  Joseph and Stephan were happy to have some father-son time, but it wasn’t easy on any of us.  It’s hard for me to concentrate these days, and concentrating on rehearsal when you can hear your baby screaming is no easy, nor pleasant task.  That said, it all went rather better than I expected, but the whole system trusts chance a bit too much for my comfort level – even with faith in a good God.  What if my son got sick when I had to play the concert?  Would I abandon my son or abandon the concert?  It’s not a happy thought.  As it was, I was sick and terribly exhausted from a night of less than three hours of sleep and having had no nap all week.  I was up at 5am with Joseph feeling like calling in sick, but that’s not possible for a musician.  The show must go on.  You have to be ON at a certain time and date, and that’s that.  That’s why they pay us the big bucks.

So, about those big bucks.  It’s always so hard to justify them to myself and others.  In high school professional pay was great, but I always thought it must be hard to live off.  I’ve long wondered just how much I get an hour for a gig if I factored in all my expenses and time.  The question is even more important now that I have a patron (my husband) and a dependant and it’s possible that my time is more important than the cash.  I determined to take meticulous notes of the hours and dimes I spent for this gig so I could evaluate it rationally after the fact.  I don’t know how to factor in the cost of my husband’s time (two Saturdays and a Sunday gone) or the stress of playing a concert half dead.  I’d like to add a couple hundred Euro for that, but musicians don’t get sick leave or maternity time or any benefits at all, and I don’t know how to factor those costs in either.  Nor do I know how much amortization of the expense of my harp to factor in or how much of the cost of the fives strings I had to replace while preparing for the gig (at 10 Francs a pop).  So, I’ll just give the bare numbers and we can know it’s actually a bit worse than that.  Fortunately, Europe pays musicians better than the US does so my hourly rate turned out to be a whopping 9.03 Euro an hour.  That doesn’t include the commute or lunch break.  If I include the commute, because as a musician without regular work, the place a concert is means time away from practice and other gigs and is not consistent, then the sum is a voluminous 7.06 Euro an hour.  For those not in the know the Euro is dropping now so those numbers correspond to 12.11USD (11.89CHF) and 9.47USD (9.29CHF).  I think I’d have to pay a babysitter more than that.  It’s a good thing Switzerland doesn’t have a minimum wage or I’d risk making less than it.

Is it fun? Yes and no.  Is it worth it?  Hm, I wonder how long it would take me to recover the cost of music school at that rate?
Posted by harp on Monday, September 27, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Edit
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It is not so much that the Euro is dropping as that the Franc is strengthening. That will make microscopes harder to export, but imports a bit easier to afford.
As to paying off a musical education - that was always unlikely unless full time work was in the cards. In fact paying off any education monetarily is only in the cards if full time work happens. However, how can you put a price on a music education that led you to Basel and all the great things that are happening there?

Posted by Dad-o on Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 4:16 am

Excellent points, and there's more to life than money. The money calculations will help me not to be intimidated into charging less, though. I also learned a great deal more than how to play music while in school and some of those lessons are priceless.

Posted by IrishOboe on Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 10:29 am

GREAT post, Janet! I've face similar issues a few times since Lily was born. In fact, just recently turned down the opportunity to audition for a community orchestra around here -- could have been a perfect fit and "fun" for me, but the commute time, time spent practicing (and the subsequent pain in my back), and mainly time away from my family (even with Hubby as a wonderful, free babysitter) just didn't add up to be worth what they offered in money. :) I have gotten some gigs that were ideal situations, though, where we were glad I could just show up, play violin for an hour on a weekend, and make a couple hundred bucks for the family! It's kind of hit and miss! In some ways it seems teaching out of your home is the ideal situation, but it can be hard (at least around here) to build up students if you're not associated with a school. And not every musician likes to teach. Anyway, great post. :)

Posted by Sarah on Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 10:50 pm

We had two repeat performances this weekend that upped the average hourly rate by 2.30 Francs. And how do you calculate this sort of potential for more gigs? It's hard to know what one is worth and what's worth it. Stephan and Joseph had fun in Strasboug, and traveling with a four-month-old is much easier than with a three-month-old!

Posted by IrishOboe on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 6:10 pm
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