Why are choir leaders embarrassed about money? Part 1

It's a phenomenon that I've come across too many times to dismiss - choir leaders are embarrassed about money! If you're immediately thinking that you're not at all coy about things financial, well done you. I think you're probably in a minority. You can feel duly smug as you read the rest of this article.

There are two main areas that seem to cause problems, judging by the emails we receive. The first is the remuneration of choir leaders by choirs. The second is the remuneration of choirs by event organisers. In this article, and my next one, I want to look at both of these issues and see if I can come up with strategies for getting comfortable with the financial side of choirs.

Being paid for your work as a choir leader

There are tons of reasons that people lead choirs, and some of them involve working for nothing, for example as part of belonging to a church, or in a larger role as a teacher. However, many choirs that operate for the enjoyment and entertainment of their members will pay their choir leader. It's all pretty straightforward when there's a salary or stipend involved. If you're offered a position and told what the remuneration will be, you either accept it or you don't.

A choir as a business

Where people seem to come a bit unstuck is when they want to run a choir as a business, like Christine and I do. Many, I would say most, choir leaders in the Total Choir Resources audience have come to the role via other careers, be they musical or not. One effect of a tangential move into choir-leading seems to be the imposter syndrome we've talked about before. Many of us seem to drastically under-estimate our value to our choirs and assume that if we charge fees that make the work financially worthwhile for us, no one will join.

Do the sums

Enjoyable though it is to lead a choir, it's vital that we don't bankrupt ourselves in the process. If you're running a choir as a business, you have to work out what you need to take home each year by way of profit (effectively your salary). Work backwards from that figure, and decide what each member of the choir will have to pay. Always be conservative in your calculations about likely income from performances, and likely recruitment and retention of singers. Conversely, be generous in your estimates of overheads and costs.

When you've crunched all the numbers, if you can't make the venture financially viable, you'll need to think seriously about whether it's worth doing at all. Few of us are sufficiently wealthy to dabble in professional roles that lose money.

The value of your work

Another issue worth considering is the value placed on your work by the choir. You have skills that help to make your choir enjoyable and inspiring for your singers. You do a huge amount of preparation and behind-the-scenes work. You should be paid! And if you choose not to be, for whatever laudable reason, you should at least be paid expenses so that you're not out of pocket.

When Christine and I started our choirs, we pitched the fees very low because we were worried that no one would want to join and we felt that what we were offering wasn't worth very much. When it came time to raise the fees, we panicked like crazy and spent a ridiculous amount of time worrying about how to announce the increase. You know what? No one left, and no one minded. The only comments we had were that the choir was worth it and was cheap at twice the price!
How to arrange a song medley - with Ed Blunt: Part 2
How to stop choir admin becoming a massive headache

5 comments

Victoria Hopkins Staff

Hi Shirley. I like the idea of helping people with choir fees, but I've always feared it would be a minefield to try to determine who should qualify for help. How do you manage the system?
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Victoria Hopkins Staff

Personally, Fiona, I would stop indulging this person. When I started out as a choir leader, I probably would have said differently, but these days I wouldn't put up with the hassle. When you're running your choirs on a business footing, your choir members are your customers and, of course, you want to please most of them, most of the time. However, it works the other way too. You are quite entitled not to deal with people you don't want to deal with. I would ditch all the reminding and explaining, assuming that you've made your rules and expectations clear to everyone. If this person fails to pay in time again, in accordance with rules of which he is fully aware and with which he has agreed to comply by being in the choir, I'd give him a final warning and say that if he does it again, you'd like him to leave the choir. After all, when he fails to pay, he's expecting his fellow choir members, and you, to subsidise him.
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Victoria Hopkins Staff

Good tactic!
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Victoria Hopkins Staff

That sounds like a fair way of doing things. When you have a very small choir, late payment by one member would be disastrous.
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Victoria Hopkins Staff

Hi Tebogo. You'll find lots of articles and podcasts on this site about how to plan great performances for your choir. Best of luck.
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