Paying Church Musicians

The RSCM is not a professional organisation for church musicians. It is, however, a body which tries to assist churches with their music – and that includes advice on remuneration for musicians.

The advice is intended to help ministers or incumbents, church committees or councils and church musicians to discuss and negotiate appropriate levels for remuneration. Revised guidance from the Church of England and a model contract for church musicians are now available here.

In the United Kingdom, there are no standard expectations, duties or qualifications for church musicians. (This is in marked contrast to some Scandinavian countries and Germany.) Therefore, every church has to consider what is appropriate in their particular circumstances. In doing so, it is important to consider:

Demands and expectations

There are significant differences between a choir director conducting a programme of vocal training and rehearsals, and an organist who can arrive just before a service. A choir director has responsibilities for recruitment, preparation, administration and pastoral care (especially where young people are involved).

Experience, qualifications and circumstances

Degrees and diplomas in music or church music certificates and diplomas all provide guidance about a church musician’s skills and abilities. However, there are also very experienced and able church musicians without specific qualifications in music or church music.

Circumstances also vary greatly. For some professional musicians, their church work may be a part of a portfolio of full-time work. For both professional and amateur musicians, such work may represent a significant additional responsibility undertaken in ‘family’ time in evenings and weekends. In both cases, realistic remuneration should be considered, ratified through a formal contract or letter of agreement.

Some musicians are very happy to ‘gift’ their skills and time to the church – in which case a modest honorarium may be the most that is expected. If this is the case, it is still important to draw up an agreement, so that both church and musician are clear about expectations and levels of commitment.

Resources of the church

Ultimately a church can only pay for what it can afford. When a church musician is paid significantly less than a recommended rate there is a risk that such a person can feel taken for granted when things go less well. It is also important that a church should feel they can expect standards of commitment and service from a musician. When a church musician is paid significantly less than a recommended rate there is a risk that the church can feel ‘in debt’ to such a person even when his or her conduct (musically or personally) is felt to be inappropriate.

RSCM recommended rates

For many years, the RSCM has published recommended minimum rates for salaries, hourly rates, and fees for church musicians. The rates are no more than a starting point for discussion between the minister or incumbent, the church’s committee or council, and the church musician or musicians. These rates are provided to affiliate and individual members of the RSCM and RSCM volunteers only. You can download the document from our webshop if you’re logged in as an affiliate or individual member. The rates are not available to non-members.

Contracts, agreements and disagreement

The RSCM advises all churches and all church musicians to draw up a contract or formal letter of agreement as part of the process of settling remuneration. This is as important when a church musician is engaged on a voluntary basis or for a small honorarium as it is when employing a church musician as a salaried professional – and for all the different modes of engagement in between. A model contract can be found here.

Tax for church musicians

Download advice from HMRC here