Case Study: Professional Orchestra Player

Posted on March 15th, 2012 by Kristin Thomson in Financial Case Studies, Participant Data. 3 Comments

Previous: Gross Revenue Time Series

Income v Expenses
One of the very few, but unavoidable expenses of classically trained professional string players is their instruments. The cost is often in the tens of thousands of dollars, and can sometimes exceed ten times that amount.
The two pie charts below show aggregate gross income, and the related expenses, for 2001-2011.

The pie chart for expenses has been scaled visually to represent that expenses consume about 25% of gross income. The table below provides details about expenses from 2002-2011.

Expense Category



Musical Equipment 48.3% Purchase and upkeep of concert level musical instruments
Education 22.1% Education costs and student loan payments
Travel Expense 17.3% Work-related travel (usually reimbursed for these costs)
Rehearsal Expenses 3.2% Purchasing sheet music and recorded music to learn new pieces
Performance Expenses 2.7% Stage clothing
Other players/accompanists 2.5% Paying other players for freelance gigs, accompanists for auditions, etc
Member Dues 2.4% AFM
Overhead 1.5% Application fees for competitions, auditions, minimal printing and promotional expenses
The chart below shows income versus expenses on a year to year basis. The grey line indicates net income from year to year.
What is really interesting about this artist – and with professional orchestra players in general – is the relationship between income and expenses. For this artist, there are only two significant costs in this time span: his education (including student loans, which were paid off in 2009), and his instruments.


One of the significant expenses for orchestral players is the cost of instruments. Student-level string instruments can cost tens of thousands of dollars. String instruments for professional classical orchestral, chamber players and soloists can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes millions. Even bows can be in the tens of thousands of dollars range.

Valuable fine string instruments and bows are often owned by non-musicians and treated as investments, as the value of these instruments usually appreciates considerably over time. Instruments owned by non-musicians, however, need to be played to maintain their value. Pairing a fine instrument with an excellent and famous player can increase the market value of the instrument as well. For that reason, it is very common for professional string players to play on borrowed or loaned instruments. Many of the most famous string players connect with patrons who can help them buy or borrow fine instruments to play. It is not uncommon for musicians who are fortunate enough to own a rare and valuable instrument to bequeath it to a protégé who is a good match for the instrument in order to ensure the instrument will be well cared for and will be used in the best way.

These are unavoidable expenses; it is highly unlikely that he would have a position in a major orchestra without an undergraduate and a conservatory degree (not to mention years of practice and performance). And, his job requires that he play on the best instruments, which are not only expensive, but also require insurance, upkeep, and special care while traveling.

Clearly, his investment in career development – education, freelance work, teaching, touring – has served him well. As of late 2009, he has been in a position with an orchestra that provides a salary, health insurance and pension payments, but offers him enough flexibility that he can pick up the odd freelance gig or studio session. With student loans paid off and work-related travel covered through reimbursement and per diems, career-related expenses are minimal. Beyond instrument upkeep, his only expenses now are buying sheet music and recorded music in order to learn new pieces, stage clothing like tuxedos and formal wear, and paying annual dues to the AFM.

Next: Income by Role

About the Case Studies

Graphs do not have a Y-axis dollar value in order to observe the conditions of our privacy policy. In addition, graphs and visuals in case studies are not comparable within or between case studies. For more details about this, read about our financial case study protocol.

Information detailed in case studies is based on data received directly from the artist or their authorized representative. The data analysis and lessons learned here are based on individual experience, and do not necessarily reflect the experiences of all musicians in genre or roles.

Case studies are one of three ways this project is looking at music creator income.

3 responses to “Case Study: Professional Orchestra Player”

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