Paying church musicians

News, September 2017: information on revised guidance from the Church of England and a model contract for church musicians are now available here.

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.

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:

  • the demands made on each church musician, in terms of both time and responsibility
  • the experience, qualifications and circumstances of each church musician
  • the resources of the church

Demands and expectations

There are significant differences between a choir director conducting a programme of vocal training and rehearsals in addition to services, 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. This can be a sensitive matter. It is important that a musician should feel valued. 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 remuneration of church musicians

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. As we have indicated above, every situation is different and has to be negotiated.

These rates are provided to affiliate and individual members of the RSCM and RSCM volunteers only, and are updated annually. You can download the document from our webshop, if you’re logged in as an affiliate or individual member. Please contact 01722 424848, or e-mail for login queries.

These 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.

There is, of course, little apparent need for an agreement when all is going well. But when there are difficulties they can provide a basis for discussion and resolution. Boundaries of responsibility, normal patterns and expectations, and processes for dealing with the exceptional all need to be set out, so that everyone knows where they stand from the outset. Such an agreement also provides a basis for regular review of how things are going, as well as for review of remuneration if responsibilities or duties change.

  • A model contract can be found here.

Tax for church musicians

HMRC changed the regulations in April 2013 about how employees are paid through PAYE. HMRC has provided us with advice on how these changes affect the payment of church musicians.

Download advice from HMRC here