Salary vs. Location for Orchestra Players

Discussion in 'Orchestral Auditions [DB]' started by Maestro, Jul 27, 2004.

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  1. Maestro

    Maestro banned

    May 16, 2004
    San Jose, CA
    I have moved this over to Orchestra Auditions, because I think not only is this an eye opener, but I wanted to point something out about cost of living and locations we all select to live in.

    Last week ChrisF pointed out that in Louisville people have to pay the same amount for a new car as they do NY, or CA. While this might not be completely true (some areas require extra smog or other work to become licensed), it is for the most part and I would agree.

    However, the real kicker is the cost of real estate. I live in Silicon Valley, and I just got a flyer in the mail with recent home sales in my area, these are actual prices that homes have sold for, and not only are they all listed as to what was being asked, but the actual sale price as well.

    The cheapest homes in my area are $700k, and that's for a 1320 sq. ft. 3 bedroom home. Any homes over 2000 sq.ft. are priced over $1,000,000.

    This is why I was saying, it would be difficult to buy a home in this area if you were making less than $90k/year, and that would be pushing it IMO.

    The averages for my area (south bay, around Cupertino) are:

    3 bedrooms, 1563 sq.ft., stayed on market 12 days, Listed at $785k, sold at $815k, and on average sale prices goes up $30k.

    For fun, let's say you bought one of these average homes with 20% down, so we'll say you put $200k down. Your mortgage is based on $585k, which means you'll have a mortgage of about $6k/mo for the average home. You'll pay about $8k/year in taxes. You're still living in a 1563 sq.ft. home, which is not big by any means...

    Now, it would be possible if you owned your home already and had bought it when the market was not as high as it is, and might be able to squeeze it on $98k/year that they were offering for the principal bassist in SF (filled recentely).
  2. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    San Francisco, CA
    Mortgage of $6k/Month? That sounds about right... which explains why some people are scrimping big time even with a $100K salary. Even with double income you still have a hard time. A guy I know at work happened to buy a home in Alameda and eats Cup O' Noodle soup often for lunch cuz he can't afford to eat normal lunches. I don't call that living, and buying a home is just senseless to me in this area.

    Recently, I met a high-school art teacher who joked that people were low income if they made under $80K. Sad, but I think it's becoming true.

    Life is certainly a beatch.
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I have no quibble with the notion that real estate prices are higher in and around the bigger cities. Hell, even here, the starter homes in the "desirable" neighborhoods start at around $300K, which I find insane. Myself, I live in a 120 year-old Victorian brick 3200 square foot house in what many (myself included) would describe as a "sketchy" neighborhood. Without telling what we paid for it, I can mention that the assessment for tax purposes is under $150K. But take the same house and move it into the 'burbs, and we're talking $400-500K easy, even here.

    My point in the earlier thread was simply that places like Louisville and cities of roughly 1 million or so like it are not exactly BFE, and that real-estate is about the only thing that comes to mind that's noticeably cheaper here than elsewhere. Except maybe parking. :D I've discussed this with my wife, who lived in NY for 5 years, and that conversation plus my own experience living in Boston back this up. My wife's main frustration living in NY was that she was working in Manhattan and living on Staten Island...she said that the commute basically made having a real life basically damn near impossible.

    The point in the previous thread that I took exception to was the following:

    "Given the cost of living in Kentucky, that might be a pretty comfortable gig. Yeah, if you were in NY, CA, or WA it would be tough to survive on $42k/yr salary, but in Kentucky?'

    Given that the orchestra principal in question is my friend, peer at the University, and bass teacher , I simply wanted to point out that his gig is far from "comfortable", and that he works his @$$ off doing all kinds of other things to make a living just like the rest of us. He works a lot harder than most folks I see around, and is one of the best human beings I know. But I'm pretty sure that he'd have a good laugh at having his orchestra salary called "comfortable". Just FYI. :)
  4. Maestro

    Maestro banned

    May 16, 2004
    San Jose, CA
    You're home would fetch over $1M and more like $1.5M in my neck of the woods. I live in almost the opposite situation, I have an 1850 sq.ft. home, but live in a very desirable area. Why desirable you ask? Schools, plain and simple. Cupertino is noted for having some of the best schools.
    I understand, but seriously he's better off in Louisville at $42k/year than he would be in San Francisco at $98k, by far. He would still teach in SF, only it would pay that much less into the overall picture. It's not that any job is easy or hard, it's that when you're obligated to such high monthly living costs, there is a lot less freedom, flexibility in your life, and in most cases happiness to enjoy it. There are a lot of people in the Bay area that would be happier going to play in the Louisville Symphony at $42k/year, and let me tell you...they're hard workers also!(wink!)
  5. Maestro

    Maestro banned

    May 16, 2004
    San Jose, CA
    Ponder on this for a minute...just think if he was living in Charleston? The Salary is half of Louisville!!!! And DonH made a valid point in the other thread, that it still requires a great deal of skill to qualify and pass the audition for those jobs, even though they don't pay much.

    It would be interesting to know how long most positions stay open without being filled, because that seems to happen a lot, where a symphony will have a position open for 1-2 years before hiring someone.
  6. matt macgown

    matt macgown Guest

    Dec 1, 2003
    Chattanooga, TN
    A few years ago I was going to join a particular S.O. but the salary was too low. I asked. They said they expected the person to make the other half of his salary teaching. I think several orchestras do this also to favor husband - wife teams. You see a good bit of that, at least. AND - to get European associates over here from troubled countries. That too. Good foreign musicians will often come over for a smaller salary simply to get a foothold. (As with numerous collegiates).

    Your $42K would do ok here in Chattanooga, though, for a working husband - wife team. And real estate is a big factor right now.
  7. Nuno A.

    Nuno A. Velvet Strings Customer Service

    Jul 9, 2001
    And they say life in Switzerland is expensive.... :D

  8. G-force


    Jul 1, 2004
    oslo Norway
    As a american in a european orchestra maybe I can add a bit of perspective to this situation.
    First the 3 most important things about buying home are???....location...location...location. Ok we got that under control. Now the 3 most important details about a job/career??? Yeah maybe the sme thing. What SF is for someone, KY is for another.
    I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world-Oslo, forgive me my Swiss and Japanese colleagues, you still win by numbers but in Norway the salaries are not so high.
    Here the average tutti musician starts at around $35,000 per year. Gross income. I have some tenure and a slightly higher position and after 10 years make 50k. I own an apartment with my wife( freelanceer), 2br in a nice part of town 80 sq/m sorry don't know the conversion now for ft-meters. It cost roughly 300k. I can afford this because someone told me years ago to buy as soon as I got my tenure. I am grateful for that. I had no money when I bought it so I had to borrow 100%. Then prices were 1200 dollars /sq.meter, today it is up around 5000. So A tutti bassist with a student loan and no cash saved up can maybe afford a one room flat in a decent part of town. The sketchyness factor here is no where near the US of course so anywhere will do it is all a matter of ego and what you are willing to put up with. THOUGH if you are willing to commute for 40 minutes on a train you can of course buy a wonderful Ward and June Cleaver estate in the pristine country farmland of rural Norway.
    Ok what's my point`? Well I moved to europe much like the eastern europeans aforementioned have moved to the USA. I was an economic refugee. OK a bit overstated but in 91 when I graduated Curtis gig all over started folding, I had friends who would win jobs only to find themselves in worse economic situations then when they were "poor" freelancers.
    I too bithched and moaned and so I went to Spain, Sorry for the recap-when I got to Oslo I was totally bummed, I made squat, and was always poor, playing in one of the best european orchestras. Why was I poor? well I learned very well in the USA that I must have things, things that apreciate in value so I will not wind up on the street with no things. No health insurance or care for my old age. Wake up folks! Who really cares how much you make...The more you have the more you spend. I also know wealthy spendthrifts. Well that''s one way. What happenned to me was something mind boggling. I found out that I didn't need to spend, own a car(which btw, are so exoensive it is not even funny, a new hummer costs well over 175k, gas is 6bucks a gallon, smokes 7.50 a pack and of course skis are cheap). BUT I work 2 concerts a week only, rarely past 2pm for rehearsals and have 7 weeks paid summer holiday+6 more for holidays and personal weeks.College is free!!! Think about it become anMD for free?!!?? And even here people kvetch (get your yiddish books out sonny) about working conditions. We of course want mo money. we want it all. Then we can spend more. That feeling of uselessness will somehow not dissappear. Fear of economic difficulties do not always dissapear , unless we work for them. ( nice quote huh?)God I now we orchestra musicians deserve it all but I believe that ther is a lot of kvetching about salaries and conditions and 401k etc. What about why we play the bass, what about how ¤&/)%)ing grateful we should be that we even are allowed to own an instrument or learn an insrtument. Isn't that why we bombed the crap out of Iraq and Afghanistan to free them up to spend money on american products and control. A bit of a tangent.My 85$ a cup starbucks is wearing off.
    Some of my bass colleagues whom are very talented know nothing about good basses, why? no one has the scratch to buy one. Sound familiar?
    Anyway friends, I too have lamented the fall of $ buying power to the ever rising salaries of the modern day roman empire. I love the USA and most of what it stands for but please don't misunderstand me as a bitter older fart who didn't get his big 5 gig before he was 22. I miss the USA and would love have the opportunity to move back. I have it now but I too am pained about the false security. How does one have to make before one is truly safe? If you haven't aready switched me off, here is one last note. First I thought that I made no money here in europe and that the usa was cheap. No I realize that in order to have near the same style of life I have now and the same level of security ( which is false anyhow) I would have to earn at least 2 times what I earn here. A thought I would never come to. I wonder what happenned...
    In closing I offer only that happiness come from within my brothers and sisters, I try every day. Only each one of us can maek choices where these numbers and symbols mean nothing.
    Thanks all for letting me share.
  9. matt macgown

    matt macgown Guest

    Dec 1, 2003
    Chattanooga, TN
    Switch you off? No. I will read carefully again, too. Thanks for sharing.
  10. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY


    And that, folks, is the real bottom line.
  11. G-force


    Jul 1, 2004
    oslo Norway
    Thanks guys. Sorry for the spastic style, I don't write no english so lots anymore.
  12. T Sony

    T Sony

    Mar 5, 2004
    Anyone have any figures for S.O in Canada and salaries?
  13. G-force

    You said it. I would gladly give up all my worldly possessions and financial security if I could trade all that for a low paying position in a decent symphony. An oboe playing friend of mine was always complaining about being tight on cash. I had to remind her that she had a job where she did what she loved and would be doing in her spare time anyway. Not many people are so lucky.

  14. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Well, that's the whole point, innit? This whole discussion started cause somebody made the suggestion that you would make a "better living" being a classical musician. The whole point is, if you're making a decision based an what's going to make you a better living, musician anything ain't really the way to fly. Or join a military band.

    If you have to play music, then you deal with whatever amount of **** OR gravy that comes your way. Buddy of mine is perfectly happy doing clubdates, subbing Broadway (and off) alla that stuff, doing about $60K a year. But that **** would drive me crazy. I'm perfectly happy working my day job (which pays less, but has benefit packages and retirement etc) and doing the playing I'm doing.

    Local is OK, depending on locality. down in Augusta, the one nice jazz club in town, the house quartet is pulling in about $39K a year. And they been there since the joint opened 4 or so years ago. I doubt that any of the section players in the local symphony are making more than $18K.
  15. Maestro

    Maestro banned

    May 16, 2004
    San Jose, CA
    Not least not intended as such. I originally made a comment that as my teacher told me when I left to study electric bass, one day you'll be sorry...and yes, when I saw the SF Principal Bass slot for $98k, I was very sorry. Let me put this in context for you. I've been a computer consultant since '82 and have specialized in microcomputers (PCs). It wasn't until the bubble burst that I couldn't find work. Luckily I had some severence, used all the unemployment the state would give me, and was forced to sell about half my stock (obtained at a startup which was acquired for our product). I couldn't find any work, for close to 2 years.

    I pondered what I might do, and turned down a position at Sony for the exact amount which the above symphony positions pays, just as the dot-bomb era started winding down. Very few jobs pay over $100k/year, so it's not easy to change your career in Silicon Valley.

    I'll be the first to admit, Symphony music is quite square and grows old on me, so it might turn into being a job more than fun. But given the choice I wish I had woodshedded a bit more so that I had been good enough to audition for that...
    And I think it was my comments about it being "clean" was something you took exception to. Hey, sorry if that bothers you but after hanging around the jazz scene in L.A. for quite a while, and knowing many musicians that have killed themselves with alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, etc...all I can say is I'm sorry.
    I could be happy playing in the Symphony, teaching, and doing whatever I could to make extra $$$s. And if you get in with a decent symphony, you'll get to travel to nice venues, get a chance to see many other countries, and get to play while you do it.
    $18K ain't a very pretty picture...:-(
  16. I thought I could leave this alone, but his stroh strikes again.
    And this is why you are beyond delusional with this whole line of thinking. If this is your attitude, you needn't bother considering the audition because you'll never make it to the audition. An orchestra has the right to reject your application based on lack of experience, and my guess is a S.O. of San Francisco's calibre exercises that right regularly.

    People who are in the classical world do not think that Symphony music is "quite square". They live, eat, breathe, sleep the stuff. It is all consuming. They don't practice 10 hours a day, fly all over the country at their own expense to audition, only to be rejected time after time, because they think it might "turn into being a job more than fun." They don't study with the best teachers, buy expensive instruments, attend workshops and camps, get degrees from conservatories, participate in competitions, etc. because the music is QUITE SQUARE and grows old on them. The more I think about this, the more absurd it sounds.
    Yeah. That's like me saying I wish I had spent more time in the batting cage so I had been good enough to try out for the Yankees. You can't get there from here.

    I don't know how else to say it. IT AIN'T ABOUT THE MONEY, CUZ. It's about having a burning desire within yourself to pursue beauty for it's own sake.
  17. G-force


    Jul 1, 2004
    oslo Norway
    Hey Hey Hey, PLease gentlepeople, please don't make me open up a can of whoop"#¤&&/ on you all.
    You're both right. Yes symphony music CAN be square. Glass, Adams, Nyman etc But so can Picasso , Braque and Mondian not to mention Klee. I agree that making a comment that says ALL of "symphony music" IS something. Is a bit square don't you think. If I mae blanket comments about the IT industry as being all about money I am sure one would yell" but no, we are creative artists.." See my point.
    I play in a symphony because I made choices which brought me to where I am today. I once thought I had a call, Yes symphonic music has made me cry with joy but it has also made me very angry and disillusioned, Hey that sounds like my life , hmmm, I wonder whats up with that? Teh symphony pays my bills, It is bringing this to you now. It will hopefully do it a bit more. I personally believe that in 30 years , the symphony will be a mere museum piece, IF we don't do anything about it. And all you jazzers and rock dudes will soon follow, mark my words. You all know that most,(notice , i didn't say all) rock harmonies as well as jazz ( being an offshoot) come from 17th and 18th century harmonic practices. Very square music. Of course jazz has the added element of slave and new new world inhabitant influence, making it a form of real american melting pot music. Old jazz is square. But the square is important. E=mc hammer no e=mc2 right that's it.
    I auditioned for a SFO position in 92, I had my tape accepted and made the trip from phillly. I had a great time and walked. Now would I have been happy there. I don't know but I must say that it is a sad state of affairs when a near 6 figure salary is turned down. There are other powers at play here. It's scares me.
    Enough preaching.
  18. The merits of a particular genre or lack thereof are not relevant to my argument. My point is, if YOU think what you're doing is square, then you should step aside. If you don't enjoy your "job", EVERYONE is the worse for it - you, your ensemble mates, the audience - and we are one step closer to the museum.
  19. T-Bal-
    Do you or any other TBassers know what the rules are pertaining to major orchestra auditions and degree (or lack thereof)? i.e. is there any way for a great player to land a postion with out having gone to Conservatory if they have real world orchestra experience? -Jon

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