When you’re starting out in the profession, one of the best ways to get a footing in a music school or community is to play as a studio pianist for voice lessons. There’s no surer method of meeting a lot of singers, learning rep, developing coaching techniques, and maintaining professional relationships that might lead to further work opportunities.
There are several ways that you can get paid for this type of work:
1. Salaried studio pianist paid by school (best)
2. Hourly, paid by the department
3. Hourly, paid by the voice teacher
4. Hourly, paid by the student
The problem is this: most lessons are 60 minutes long but as a pianist you’re only needed for 30. In a busy music school, you might realistically waste half your work time hanging out in hallways or in the student lounge. What’s worse, if the pay from the school is pro-rated, you might be offered a technically decent hourly wage, but only in half-hour increments every hour. If students are paying for their studio pianists, you might be competing with other pianists who are gladly willing to undercut your rate in order to get more work.
As a professional pianist, how do you deal with this? It’s great to get the experience playing for excellent young singers in the studio of an experienced voice teacher, but if you’re only making 30 minutes on the hour for pay, it might not be a viable long-term professional option. If the department or voice teacher setting the hourly rate lowballs you, you could either:
1. Accept the wage
2. Counter-offer and run the risk of being perceived as being greedy or (even worse) unprofessional
3. Decline and walk away
This is an issue that I’ve been getting some questions about for a while and is something that is on the minds of many working pianists. As always, your comments are welcome, and be aware that the conversation will be unfolding both in the comments here and on Facebook. If you wish to remain anonymous, comments on the blog are best.