Advertise on ChoralNet 
ChoralNet logo
The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

organist pay

Finding an organist/contemporary band leader all in one if possible..... and what to pay:  I wonder if AGO salary guidelines are changing because of the economy and also because of taste in music changing. Young persons are attracted to contemporary rather than organ (in my denomination- Presbyt), in my experience. I have been a singer at my church for a while, but am also involved in an organist search for them. We have this set-up:  with one traditional (organ and choir) service at 9, and one contemporary at 11. We hope to find one person for both- the question is, can we? and what do we pay?  This would include two nights per week- one contemp band rehearsal and one traditional choir rehearsal, plus the two worship services Sun. How long does it take for such a person to prepare, find music, etc.....   I know some of you our there are seasoned organists- Can you shed light on the reality of your time spent, for fair comp planning?  So, the job is choir director, band director, and organist/keyboardist....    Not sure how to do the $ package. Oh, and when do we use the title "Music minister"? (another discussion item on our committee!)  I appreciate any insight or help with this from those who have walked this path. Thanks!
Replies (16): Threaded | Chronological
on February 18, 2012 4:36pm
Ralph:  Your most realistic approach would seem to be finding out what any similar jobs are paying IN YOUR AREA, since that's going to be a pretty broad variable.  But what you really want is a starting point for negotiations, so why not use the AGO gudelines for 2 rehearsals and 2 services per week as your starting point.  After that it will truly be a matter of negotiation, but since you're looking for a single person to do two very different jobs and two very different preparations I would think you'll need to pay MORE than the going rate for just an organist, not LESS.  (And where does Choir Director fit into all this?)
"Minister of Music" will vary from one denomination to another, but what it SHOULD indicate is special training in theology or church mangement because it IS a ministry job and it IS a management job.  In most cases it would also be considered a full-time job rather than part-time.  Others may disagree.  I'm sure that there are college degrees offered in Music Ministry, but having the degree doesn't necessarily make you an effective one. 
The title "Director of Choral Activities" is another one that is sometimes an actual position title at some colleges, and a self-assumed one at others.  We all know that, and it doesn't really bother us much.
All the best,
on February 19, 2012 5:24am
Just a question - have you considered two separate positions?  Each one has a different skill set - yes, you may find an organist who can play keyboard on contemporary pieces, but leading a band is a different animal.  You have to be able to arrange/find music and lead sheets, lead rehearsals and know a bit about sound systems - experience with playing guitar really helps a band leader, in addition to keyboard skills. 
Until the school systems realize that church musicians need to be more versatile and start incorporating these types of classes into their traditional organ curriculum, a classically trained organist would have a difficult time handling both jobs.   Another option is to find someone to run/play the contemporary rehearsals and lead the choir - and have a college student be the organist/choir accompanist.   Your two job titles would be Music Director (or Minister of Music) and Organist.
As for the time spent, a rule of thumb is that each hour of rehearsal/service time takes another 2 hours office/prep work.  So if you have 2 services (a) 90 mins each, 2 rehearsals at 120 mins each  = 7 hours x 3 = 21 hours.  I'm in Washington DC/Northern VA where the salaries are a little higher -  so we figure $1000/per hour, so 21 hours is $21,000 per year.   You should check your local churches to find out what they are paying their musicians.
Hope this help - Debby
on February 19, 2012 6:28am
Hi Ralph - 
This doesn't answer your questions, but why do you say young persons are attracted to contemporary rather than organ?  My friends in their 20s/early 30s (I am in that age group) do not really like contemporary music.
Does PAM (Presybterian Association of Musicians) have guidelines?
on February 19, 2012 7:52am
My sense is that for something like this, especially if there is any interaction expected between the new-to-be-hired music minister and the staff in terms of meetings, recruitment, coordinating sermons and seasonal stuff with music, and/or any additional activities, you are not looking for a per-service person, you're looking for a salaried Director of Music Ministries which would be at least a half-time job. I don't know how your church negotiates the space between one and the other (especially in terms of benefitis and stuff!), but it might be worth thinking about.  I mean, that's probably a good 10 hours per week just on the ground time (assuming arriving a little before rehearsals to prep, staying a little after to clear up, and being there probably a good 5 hours every Sunday), without even considering repertoire selection and purchase, personnel management, staff meetings, extra rehearsals, and myriad gajillion life-sucking tasks that make music ministry a giant and holy time vampire.  
(Okay, yes, I have issues!:-)
As John H says, yes, you'll want to check AGO and what others in your area pay.
That said, IF YOU CAN FIND someone with solid skills in both areas--a seasoned trained organist/choirleader who is also comfortable in the contemporary genre and sounds like a fish out of water in neither, AND who has a solid theological grounding, grab him or her up as quickly as possible and pay her or him whatever they require, because such creatures are rare as hen's teeth! 
Best of luck!
p.s. re John's comment also--I don't know that I've ever heard "Director of Choral Activities" outside an academic setting; it would certainly make me blink if I saw it in a church, but YMMV. I've seen "Music Minister,"  "Director of Music" or "Music Director" often for jobs where there's only one paid staff member who does most of the directing and leading, and things like "Director of Music Ministries" when there are several different groups and genres and especially multiple people running various parts of the show...again, YMMV. Technically, everyone who sings or plays in one of the groups would be a "music minister," which is why I've never been as comfortable with that term for the director of the whole program of music ministers...
on February 20, 2012 5:50am
Hi Austen,
I am so happy to read your comment!   There is an unfortunate misperception that young people naturally like inferior contemporary music.  I have seen that people of every age prefer intelligent, satisfying music, both contemporary and historic. 
I am the director of a community children's chorus, where I offer kids only top quality fare.  They love it all !  Music leaders often choose the worst music for the young people, missing an imortant opportunity to help them develop a taste for high quality art.  When the musical diet consists solely of pop tunes, which go in and out of syle by the month, there is no chance to build deeply meaningful relationship with music throughout life.  We are doing our young poeple no favors by assuming they can live on pop alone.
Please Austen, continue to speak out, and make every effort to help your generation and your chldren's generation reap the spiritual, emotional, intellectual, social, and physical benefits of including great music in their lives. 
on February 20, 2012 11:04am
I agree with what has been written here: your salary will be a result of consulting AGO, PAM and other denominational guidelines (they are only guidelines, a reference, a starting point) for compensation, researching the comparable pay in your region, considering the good information you’ve received on ChoralNet, and negotiating with the individual.  Since your job description has enormous expectations of specialization in two distinctly different styles and skill sets you should consider a premium to your final salary figure.
I also agree with Debby’s rule of thumb for compensation and I am in a suburb of Seattle.
“Contemporary” is an outdated term.  In my mind it references to the Marantha praise songs of the 70’s and 80’s.  But since the 90’s the best of “contemporary” worship music has evolved with bands doing “covers” of hymns and some great “modern” hymns being written (think Stuart Townend and Kristin and Keith Getty).  “Modern” is the preferred term, at least in my neck of the woods. 
I’ve been in full time church music for over thirty years and have served my colleagues as the state, division and national chair of Music in Worship for ACDA for half of those years.  I really can’t imagine finding someone who has a balanced passion, knowledge, skill set and experience in both genres (traditional and modern worship) let alone have the capacity and knowledge of choral music and leading a worship band.  (If you do, treat them like gold, and make the position full time because that is what it will take to get the four jobs [organist, choir director, worship band leader, and coordinator/administrator] done.)  You are bound to suffer in one area or the other so I’d strongly encourage you to consider two, or possibly three positions. 
A Director of Music Ministries (the best term in my opinion) who is the organist, choir director, administrator and coordinator, and an Associate who is a specialist in Modern Worship who leads and provides the best the genre has to offer is my recommendation.  To be sure, the Director must respect the Modern genre to support it, not feel threatened or intimidated by it and those who prefer the style over traditional.  (Perhaps the director even plays keyboard in the band.)   
The Director naturally must have a professional, collegial, and supportive relationship as the supervisor to Modern Worship.  This arrangement will also refrain from the possibility of a destructive worship war with the Pastor being left to mediate. This, I believe, would be the best situation and will be challenging enough to find, as well as the additional funds to support it.
Best of luck!
Scott Dean
Director of Music and Worship
First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue, WA
on February 20, 2012 11:22am
Hi Denise - 
Thank you very much for the encouragement!
I have to admit that many years ago before I worked in church music, I did attend a worship service that used only Christian Contemporary Music.  For me, it's primarily the theology behind much of the music that bothers me, and then the musical style.
on February 20, 2012 6:28pm
Austen  - Excellent thoughts  -  I love relating theology to the music.  Even though most of my choir doesn't read a note of music, we always notice how the text is enhanced when the composer uses a particular chord, or rhythm to support the message.  Last week, when the choir was trying to master a particularly discordant passage about Christ's suffering, I found myself saying "don't be afraid of that note - it's only death."
Since most of the contemporary pop music is so formulaic, the words often have no relation to the musical structure.  The wrong words in the sentence are accentuated, and the words themselves are frequently twisted in order to fit the rhythms.  There does seem to be a lot of contemporary music with no obvious theology.  A lot of it is purely personal, emotional.  In my church, we do it all.
We've started a thread within a thread  - 
on February 20, 2012 6:54pm
Scott:  "Contemporary" may be an outdated term, and may not in fact be accurate since there's plenty of "contemporary" music that is NOT pop or praise music in style (Eric Whitaker and John Tavener come immediately to mind).  But "Modern" isn't much better, and has been worked to death with "Modern," "Post-Modern," and other super-vague terms applied to 20th century experimental "art" music.  (Perhaps things are different in Seattle; wouldn't be the first time!)
But the bottom line is that a great many churches--and a lot of posts here on ChoralNet--do use the term "Contemporary," and in their contexts it's easily understood.  Perhaps "Praise" would be better.  And exactly how would one define the genre of music we heard at Whitney Houston's funeral service?  The term they were using on air was "Gospel," but there are a lot of different kinds of "gospel" music as well.
Good luck on trying to impose order on as free-wheeling an art form as music!
All the best,
on February 21, 2012 5:31am
Hi John,
Thanks for your thoughts.  If you can shoot over any more names of centemporary composers who do not use pop style techniques, I'd love to learn of them. 
As for the term "praise music"  -  I love to present a piece that is, say, maybe six or eight hundred years old and point out how full of praise it is.  I do not like one style of music claiming the central purpose of liturgical music as their own.  Praise, as presented in music, is as old as humanity itself.
on February 21, 2012 8:40am
Denise:  If we can agree that "contemporary" means currently living, breathing, and composing, you're right here in a hotbed of them on ChoralNet right now!  And they're really anxious to make you aware of their work, so at least two different attempts to create a Marketplace to do exactly that are under way.
And I agree completely about the term "praise," and find plenty of praise in the oldest pre-Gregorian chant (although not in the shouting style some prefer today), but our culture is very good at preempting terms with specific meanings and imposing new menaings on them.  Politicians do it every day, and twice on Sundays!!!  And I have to be very carefuly to help my students understand the multiple, changing meanings of simple musical terms like "motet," "descant" (or "discant"), and even "cadence," never mind that the term "alto" means "high" and used to mean a high man's voice, the Contratenor Altus (High Voice against the Tenor)!
All the best,
on February 21, 2012 8:56am
Thanks John.  Terminology is an interesting subject isn’t it?  So vague yet so viral
Of course I know “contemporary” is the norm de riguer for commercial, pop, Christian praise music in our world.  I don’t have any agenda to try to evolve much less impose a different terminology.  Sorry if it sounded that way.
Maybe my statement was too strong and general. 
How about this? “’Contemporary’” may be an outdated term and is sometimes negatively associated with the Maranatha ‘praise’ choruses of the 1970’s and 1980’s.  For reasons, beyond the focus of this discussion, ‘Modern’ seems to be a preferred term, at least in my neighborhood.”
Now back to the thread and Ralph’s question.
Kind regards
on February 21, 2012 9:01am
I apologize for veering off the main thread, but I really wish to applaud Denise R.'s response re: the term "praise music" - it is another of the unfortunate sort of "catch terms" adopted by our pop culture.  In the 90's my pastor asked me if I knew/ would do some "praise music".  While I was familiar with what he meant, I said, "What music would not fit that category?"  He smiled, chuckled, and really had no answer, because there is not one.  Everything from Bach's "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" to "Awesome God" is , in some manner and form, praise.  Even a song which might express anger with God is, in a sense, praiseful, because when we express anger (as long as it is done in a reasonably controlled, mature, and non-violent fashion) we show that we care enough to make the relationship better.
Let's keep educating our communities with words like "rhythmic", "sustained", "lively" , "calm/placid", "reverent", "dance-like"  (my daughter, at 3, said, "dancey" :)...which can apply to chosen songs from any decade...and encourage these unfortunate, inaccurate, confusing terms like "modern"..."contemporary"...(maybe even "pop' and "rock" !?! :) to fall into disuse.
'Contemporary" ,"rock", etc. do not mean inferior - if the music and text are well-written,  well-done, and sensitively sound-engineered.  And, yes,  there is growing evidence that age does not affect taste - we took our youth group to a large conference.  They experienced highly-amplified Kirk Franklin sessions, and Taize services - they loved the Taize.  When the Franklin session returned to the schedule, one boy (about 15) asked, "Mrs. Lucy, do we have to go back to the 'Arena of Pain'?"  I promise - those were his exact words! :)
on February 21, 2012 10:29am
As ChoralNet's Moderator du Jour, I've watched this thread wander pretty far away from the original query about organist pay and an appropriate job title. Most of the discussion now has left that arena and has become a discussion about the merits of differing styles in music and worship.
I don't want to stifle the discussion, but it is time for it to move. Please feel free to start a new thread. If you include a phrase like "moved from 'organist pay' thread" or words to that effect in the new subject heading, readers will be able to make the connection. Anyone interested in continuing the discussion, can easily make this happen.
Future messages that arrive that don't speak directly to the original query will not be approved.
Thanks for your assistance.
on February 22, 2012 1:56pm
I'm sorry to say I skimmed past the other responses, but want to respond myself because I AM a "Minister of Music" who leads both contemporary and traditional worship services.  My church has 2 services, one being contemporary and one being traditional.  I lead 4 different music ensembles (youth choir, contemporary vocal/instrumental ensemble, handbell choir, and adult vocal choir); I also oversee a children's choir and its volunteer leadership.  I do all of the music planning and selection for all services, and play the organ and/or piano for all services along with directing the ensembles.  I also administer an annual concert series.  Mine is a full-time job (i.e. 40 hours per week) and I am paid a full-time salary and benefits which is not to AGO standard, but the "going rate" in my area is probably not quite up to AGO standard either, based on what I know from experience and from speaking with colleagues.  My church has ~300 families.  I do think that the AGO suggestions are a very good starting point.  I would also point out that the Presbyterian Association of Musicians also publishes its own salary guidelines.
on February 22, 2012 9:08pm
Keeping to the subject of pay:  it is interesting to note that on this date a position for organist has been advertised on ChoralNet at $150 per service, wihile also mentioning that an 8-10 work week is expected.  That equals about $15-19 an hour.  In this day and age, finding a competent organist is hard enough.  Shouldn't we pay them at least the going rate?  I have always appreciated (and been marvelously blessed) by those marvelous organists with whom I have had the privilege to serve: Marynell, Daniel and Dorothea!
  • You must log in or register to be able to reply to this message.