The money question again!

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Hey, how's it going? I'm doing a school career report on concert pianists (and yes, I did find this site through googling 'how much money does a concert pianist make') and WAS wondering how much a concert pianist makes /year and/or /concert, but only for the report information. My teacher is making us find this, and I cand find it anywhere else. I really am interested in pursuing this as a career, but not for the money, as you said, but for the joy and experience it brings you Thanks so much...and sorry about the inconvenience!
 - Jill

Dear Jill,

Uh-huh. Here we go again. :-) For the sake of stray visitors, I'm going to do a little re-posting so that all readers are on the same page. After a reader asked me "how much money does a concert pianist make" (it wasn't the first time someone asked this), I provided a long response. My original posting is indented below:

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.


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!

(Jan. 14, 2009)

Now your teacher wants hard, cold facts. Numbers. I get it. Exactly how much money does a concert pianist make? Try asking your teacher how much he or she makes.

Actually, just tell your teacher that the question simply does not apply to pianists. It's like jamming a square block through a round hole.

Pianists don't have fixed incomes like doctors, plumbers, teachers, or astronauts do. The variety of incomes among pianists is enormous -- and for that matter, a single pianist's income fluctuates wildly from year to year. Ask yourself, "how much money does an actor make?" The answer is not so different from how much money concert pianists make. The answer is case-specific, year-specific, event-specific! If you insist upon numbers, try an annual income range of $-1,000,000 to $1,000,000. I'm not trying to be difficult; it's just that there is no straightforward answer.

From my perspective, it's a bizarre question because I hardly know any pianists who make their entire income purely through performance. I listed my multiple avenues of income in the post I pasted above. Many, many performers teach, some compose, others write, organize, accompany, conduct, direct, analyze, collaborate, etc.. It seems that a well-rounded artist can't bring him or herself to reside purely on the concert stage. It's a bizarre question because many pianists make huge financial investments into their own career -- publicity materials are expensive; so are videos, recordings, pianos, and practice spaces. Many pianists I know are severely in the red, even if they make a healthy income through performances. It's a bizarre question because many pianists are sponsored by generous individuals. Does this count as income? Sponsors allow musicians to share their talents with low-income audiences; sponsors make classical recordings possible (most classical CDs are expensive to produce, but do not sell well!); sponsors keep classical music alive. See that "Donate" button on the right? That button helps make my projects possible -- videos, writings, recordings, and more.

Okay, so how much does a pianist make per concert? Again, the answer is hugely variable. Many concerts are pro bono (performed free of charge), and some performances earn their performer as much as $100,000. This fee may or may not be in addition to the cost of travel and accommodations. Most large concert organizations can't afford to pay more than $5,000 - $15,000 in artist fees per event, and many have much, much smaller budgets.

All in all, I'm inclined to repeat my initial post. The successful pianists I know are not in it for the money, but they all find a way to survive.

One final note: before you go hammering out an hourly wage, please consider the incredible number of hours pianists spend practicing for their concerts... the time they spend on planes and waiting in security lines... the time they spend away from their families. It's a 24/7 job we love.

- Greg (March 6, 2010)