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!