Making a Living as a Pianist

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Greg,
how much money does a concert pianist make?
- Ty

Dear Ty,

Really? Really? Are you asking me that? I'm going to do a little copy and paste (a big one, actually) -- for your convenience, I'm pasting a long reply I wrote to someone who asked me about my financial situation:

I'm not in it for the money, and it bothers me when people become preoccupied with this facet of the profession. Every time I check this website's Google stats, I see dozens of people finding the site through some variant of the following search: "How much money do concert pianists make?" I mean, really?! For real?! If you care about money, please don't become a pianist. You may or may not make a significant amount (my income fluctuates wildly from year to year -- there's no way I could tell you my "salary"), but that's definitely not what it's about.

When a pianist seeks the fame and glory of the concert stage, he or she is probably on a path to disappointment; when a pianist is motivated by the genuine love of music, he or she will certainly find a satisfying musical career. There are countless fulfilling ways to make money as a pianist, not all of which are limited to performing on the concert stage. (Please view the "Ask Greg Archives: Career" for examples.) Yes, teaching music is one, but there are many more possibilities.

"What is it you do to support yourself financially?" The answer: I play the piano and compose.

Seriously.

I keep a busy concert schedule, both as a soloist and a duo pianist. My recordings are self-produced and selling well, so I actually make money when you buy one. Please buy one. I'm a YouTube partner, so YouTube pays me when you watch my videos on YouTube. Do it. Click on those ads next to the videos! :-) I receive commissions and royalties from the works I compose for The 5 Browns. Liz and I sell my piano duo scores to the public; you can buy them on the scores page. That's most of it -- performing and composing! -- although I do give lectures here and there, I'll publish my book someday (someday!), and I have other surprising plans for the future in the works. At the moment, I don't pursue any financial gain through teaching, web design, video editing, or accompanying -- with everything that excites and consumes me, I simply don't have time.

Some people think I'm savvy, but I'm doing what feels obvious to me. I'm following my mission ("to make classical piano music a relevant and powerful force in society") in every avenue of my professional life, from my performances, compositions, concert programs, and recordings to my websites, videos, and book. My mission is ever present in what I do because I believe in it so passionately. It's not like the things I do are creative, random ideas; they are born from an innate necessity -- from a desire to make what I love relevant and powerful to others.

I really believe that if you are doing what you truly love, you'll find a way to survive. I'm not prancing about in piles of cash, but I manage to find enough doing what I do to pay my bills. I wish I had more (it would go right into recordings, videos, and websites!), but really, when it comes to money, my only concern is that I have enough to keep doing what I love. If it really matters to you how much money a concert pianist makes, I recommend another profession!

- Greg