Six-figure salaries are nothing new to orchestral musicians, especially when it comes to those playing for the most celebrated orchestras in the nation. The high salaries are a reflection of the years it takes for a professional musician to master his or her instrument. Tuba players are no different, and earn the same levels of pay as cellists, violinists and trombonists.
In 2012, musicians earned an average of $31.94 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those working for performing arts companies, such as orchestras, earn closer to $35.14 an hour. Assuming salaries are based on a 40-hour workweek, the yearly income for a professional musician works out to $73,091. But a survey by Berklee College of Music sets annual salaries at anywhere from $28,000 to $115,000 a year.
The large disparity in earnings has a lot to do with location and varying degrees of prestige of the orchestras. For example, musicians, including tuba players, in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra earned the highest salaries in the nation, at an average of $144,040 a year. Those playing for the Los Angeles Philharmonic also fared better than most, averaging $143,260, while musicians in the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra averaged of $141,700 annually. But musicians in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra earned just $62,920 a year during the same season.
Off-season, tuba players and other musicians can earn additional income teaching. As of 2010, rates were anywhere from $30 to $120 an hour, according to Berklee College of Music. If teaching isn’t an option, tuba players can play “pick-up” gigs for corporate functions, fundraising balls and other events. In 2010, general business musicians could earn over $300 a gig.
The BLS expects employment for musicians to grow by as much as 10 percent through 2020. This is slower than the national average for all U.S. occupations, an estimated 14 percent. With roughly 22,500 musicians working for performing arts companies, the 10-percent growth works out to the creation of just 2,250 new jobs. Few will be for tuba players, as many orchestras only staff one or two at a time. Additional opportunities may develop from tuba players retiring or moving on to other orchestras.