August 2006


Due to the ongoing church musician crisis, especially in Detroit, MI and surrounding areas, the following observations, concerns, and suggestions are provided for the reader’s prayerful consideration and further inquiry.



Churches seeking spiritual, qualified, dedicated, and affordable musicians are plagued with high salaries, low skill level, and difficulty in bridging the communication gap due to mutual misunderstandings and mis-education.  Many musicians are just in the business to get a check and some churches are not interested in the spiritual welfare of the musician – they just want them to play and enhance the service.



Generally speaking, a musician who can read music, play by ear, has above average keyboard skills on organ and piano, and can adequately teach a choir and administrate a music department can command an average of $500 - $800 per week on the low side and $850 - $1200 on the high side.  The weekly salary could include from 1-5 rehearsals depending upon the church.   Additional services and special events normally incur an additional charge for those musicians who have not agreed to a salaried position.


Gospel musicians usually make MORE money than classical musicians.  The salary guidebooks for classical musicians generally would not hold true for gospel musicians.  For example, a classical musician working 40 hours may make the same amount of money a gospel musician gets for less than 4 hours (Sunday service and rehearsal).


In order to secure and retain a good musician, a competitive salary package is needed.  A musician making $800-$1200 a week with health benefits, vacation, and paid tuition for continuing education and music conventions/workshops is much more likely to stay on the job than a musician who makes less than what they are worth.


It should be noted that musicians MUST practice many hours to master their music and maintain their skills.  These hours may not be seen by the church but are necessary for a competent musician.  For every choir, a serious musician may spend 10-15 hours in practice and research.  Many churches inadvertently OVERWORK a musician by multiple rehearsals and associated time constraints.



A common misconception in many churches is that the music director (in some cases having limited skills or no skills) should supervise the more highly skilled musician.  This results in very poor rehearsals, wasted time in trying to learn new songs, and an overall poor music department.  The most ‘musically skilled’ individual should generally be in charge of the song selection, teaching, and education.


Another popular misconception is that all musicians can play together – e.g. a band with an organ, piano, bass, and drums.  This could very well be true if ALL the musicians are skilled and know how to play together and for a service, but many times each musician is doing their own thing.  This results in poor sounding music for the worship service.


An additional misconception is that choir members can just SING and do not have to learn music theory (proper pitch, rhythm, and terminology).  If choir members, directors and musicians are not willing to learn the ‘alphabet’ and basics of music theory, they may want to move into another less demanding area of ministry.



Many churches lack good music administration.  For example, every choir should have a list of all songs performed, performance keys, score music if available, and an original recording for listening and learning by the music department.  In addition, all music departments should have all music scheduled at LEAST 1 month in advance.  This leads to a more structured rehearsal and more time to perfect the performance by both musicians and singers.


The music department should have a computer system where ALL songs sung are tracked in a database for future reference and ongoing music planning.

The music department should have continual benchmarks of progress in areas of performance, singing, and music education.  For example, every choir member should be in process of learning to sight read, play their notes, develop their ear, and master related areas of music ministry such as learning to play, administrate, plan a service, research new music, and investigate areas for growth.



Each musician’s interview should include someone who has some knowledge of music.  The interview process should be mutual – the musician should also interview the interviewers to see if the church is an acceptable place for employment.  A musician being considered should attend or listen to a service and/or choir rehearsal.  The musician should be given the opportunity to teach or play something familiar to them.   Churches sometimes just ‘dump’ a lot of music on the musician and don’t know the key, don’t have the sheet music, and may have a customized version that no one sings but them.  This is frustrating for the musician and does not clearly indicate the musician’s ability to perform the job.



Numerous ‘good’ musicians play for multiple churches.  THE PRIME TIME in Detroit is the 11am – 1:30pm hour.  During this time, almost EVERY competent musician is gainfully employed making or planning to make the salaries listed above.  Churches having services off of this schedule or overlapping this prime time schedule, can easily acquire, retain, and utilize competent musicians by allowing them to leave the service prior to benediction.  For example, a 9:45am service could do all the music except the closing song by 10:30am – the musicians could be excused to go to another job and a church member or choir member could be trained to perform the closing song OR a cd could be utilized.  This allows the church to benefit from having a competent music staff and yet does not hinder the music staff from participating in further music ministry.



For  more musical resources consult the website:  www.adbrown.com under the musical resources section.