A part-time church music director's salary varies widely, but it depends primarily on the job requirements and expectations of the church, as well as its size, location and resources. Besides the money paid directly by the church, a music director -- particularly one who also is church organist -- can earn stipends for ceremonial services, such as weddings and funerals.
Church Size and Location
Unless a benefactor endows the job, a church's size and financial resources govern the salary it pays a music director and what it expects in responsibilities and time commitment. However, a small church might put a premium on music and budget compensation for a music director out of proportion to the congregation's size. Conversely, a large church -- 1,000 or more in attendance each weekend -- might forego a full-time music director or split the job between an organist and a choral director. Compensation also varies geographically. For example, the American Guild of Organists, which is based in New York City, lists pay in the Minneapolis area at 8 percent above the national average; in Oklahoma City, it's 8 percent below.
Job Qualifications and Compensation
A majority of churches that pay music directors require at least some form of college degree in music -- for example, music education, organ, vocal or sacred music. For more advanced and specific degrees, you can expect higher compensation. For example, the Presbyterian Association of Musicians' guidelines range from $31 to $37 an hour for a doctorate down to $14.50 to $17 for a person with no degree. The organization also suggests that every 10 years of church experience is worth one educational level. See Resources for salary charts prepared by the American Guild of Organists and Presbyterian Association of Musicians.
In most liturgical churches, such as Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran, the music director is both organist and choral director. In other Protestant churches, the job often is split, as is the job of cantor and instrumental musician in Jewish congregations. With split jobs, the choral director most often carries music director title. The American Guild of Organists recommends that for every hour of "visible" service -- weekly services and regular rehearsals -- a church musician should be paid for 2½ to 3 hours of behind-the-scenes work. But, that depends on the assigned responsibilities. Will your job entail selecting all hymns as well as service music? Recruiting and hiring vocalists and instrumental musicians? For how many choirs will you be responsible? Sometimes clergy or music committees handle some of these duties.
Particularly in large and liturgical churches, persons using the church for ceremonial services will be charged a stipend to use the music facilities and employees. For example, the organist's guild suggests $100 to $350 for a wedding with another $50 to $100 an hour for rehearsal. If the music director selects the music or hires soloists and instrumentalists, there could be an added fee, including a flat fee for each person contracted. The organists guild suggests a mileage charge for rehearsals. There are similar fees for funerals and other specific-purpose services, such as christenings.
Because most church music directors' services must be provided personally, at the time and choosing of the church and primarily on church premises, IRS guidelines identify them as employees, not independent contractors. That means their salary is subject to withholding for income and social security taxes.
As a regular employee, the music director should be eligible for benefits the church offers to any employee, including paid vacation time, medical benefits and inclusion in employee retirement plans.
Dale Bye has spent more than 40 years in journalism, including 25 supervising reporters and editors at metropolitan newspapers and eight years as senior managing editor at a national sports magazine. He directed five newspaper-sponsored personal finance fairs. His fields of expertise include business and personal finance, sports, fitness and theater. Bye holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.