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The violin is one of the most expressive, well-known and versatile instruments you can play. Although many violinists concentrate on the classical repertoire, you also can play folk, jazz and even rock music. A superb violinist will enjoy national or international acclaim. However, one problem with being a professional violinist is that, like other people in the arts, wages often aren't enough to cover all of your living expenses.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't provide statistical data just for violinists, but it does have data for all musicians, singers and related workers. These figures are a good guide for violinist earnings, although violinists may make more or less. According to 2009 BLS data, as a musician, a violinist earns an average of $29.10 per hour. (Hourly figures are more appropriate for assessing earnings because most musicians are not salaried and gigs are not consistent.) However, violinists may make anywhere from $8.04 to $58.90 per hour. These figures represent a wage increase of 2.7 percent from 2008 to 2009.
Some employers pay considerably more than others. The BLS reports that, according to 2009 information, the best options for musicians such as violinists are with employment services, promoters of performing arts, sports and similar events, independent artists, writers and performers and local government agencies. By working in these industries, violinists may earn roughly between $4 and $20 more per hour than the industry average.
Pay for violinists varies according to geographical location. The best places for a violinist to work are California, Arizona, West Virginia, New York and Connecticut. These states pay at least 13 percent more than average.
Unions and Affiliations
Like other artists, violinists often are members of professional organizations. For example, they may belong to the American Federation of Musicians, American Guild of Musical Artists and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. These organizations set minimum pay rates for their members, which gives violinists some income stability. Violinists of course can negotiate with employers for higher rates than guaranteed by the professional organization(s) to which the violinists belong.
Consistency of Work
Violinists rarely have consistent work unless they are talented and fortunate enough to land a salaried position with a major orchestra or other group. For this reason, many violinists and other musicians supplement their income by teaching, freelancing outside of their regular venues and working in other jobs. Because violinists can work in any profession they choose outside of music, and because no two musicians necessarily teach or freelance the same amount for the same fee, it is not possible to determine exactly how much a violinist can earn through supplemental employment.
Importantly, inconsistent work means that most violinists have to provide their own benefits like health insurance. This reduces how much of a violinist's income is readily available for other everyday expenses.
In general, the more education and experience a violinist has, the better the quality of his playing will be. This means that amateur violinists usually don't make as much as professional violinists. Top violinists who compete for spots in top groups may compete with hundreds of other violinists for top pay, and only the best violinists earn well above what most musicians make. Striving for one of these positions is financially well-worth it despite the competition--data from the Salary List website shows that, as of 2009, a violinist with the New York Philharmonic can earn $102,960, while a violinist for the Thayer Symphony Orchestra may pull in $154,835 a year.
Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and editor based in Eagan, Minn. She has been published in both print and Web publications and has written on everything from fly fishing to parenting. She currently works through her business website, Takingdictation.com, which functions globally and welcomes new clients.