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Music to Their Ears: Salaries for Orchestral Musicians

Updated on January 9, 2012

Orchestral musicians play stringed, percussion, brass and woodwind instruments under a conductor, typically for a live audience in concert halls and theaters. Their music typically blends in with that of the entire orchestra, though they may sometimes stand out with solo parts. They may also perform for movies, TV or radio. Their salaries depend on the orchestra that hires them.


Orchestral musicians need extensive training and practice in order to reach their positions. Many begin their musical knowledge as children and continue with formal training at colleges, universities or musical conservatories. Degrees from associate to doctoral are available in musical performance with a particular instrument. Musicians typically obtain their position through audition. They must then display poise, creativity, versatility, good stage presence and musical talent. Constant study and practice is necessary to advance their skills.

West Coast

The salaries of the Los Angeles Philharmonic are an example of the salaries for orchestral musicians on the West Coast. It was ratified in September 2009, by the musicians, and defines working conditions until the 2012-13 season. Salaries for 2011-12 are $2,755 per week or $143,260 per year. In 2012, pay jumps to $2,860 per week or $148,720 per year. The contract also puts the orchestra size at 103 instrumentalist plus a personnel manager, and two librarians. Three medical insurance options are offered, including two HMOs and one PPO

East Coast

On the East Coast, the New York Philharmonic ratified its contract in 2007, with conditions defined until September 2011. Pay runs $2,595 per week or $134,940 per year, with a pension of $70,000 per year. In addition, players receive weekly additions based on seniority. This ranges from $92.13 for those with five to nine years of service up to $214.95 for 25 or more years. Health insurance is covered by one PPO and retirees receive $2,000 per year for the purchase of a Medicare supplement. Per diems for domestic travel is $116 per day.


The contract ratified by the Phoenix Symphony shows the rates for orchestral musicians in a small city. It defines pay for the 2010-11 season at $875 per week of $35,000 per year, and for the 2011-12 season, it’s $921 per week of $35,010 per year. The season is reduced to 38 weeks from 40, and any extra or substitute musicians are compensated at $700 per week, which is 80 percent of the minimum for the 2009 season. The contract does not cover revenue sharing, musician commitment or committee for any fund-raising performance. This is covered in a separate agreement.


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