I get lots of queries from readers regarding my opinion on what collaborative pianists and piano teachers should charge in various locales. While I'm honored that people regard my opinion on these matters, I have to honestly say that it's none of my business recommending to people what they should charge for either teaching or playing.
But as time goes on, I've been noticing that there are several factors that come into play when setting rates, so here is a list of 3 important ones I've noticed in the profession. This post is not the result of any research or scholarly work, but from watching the freelance scenes in a number of places over many years. After some thought, I've also decided to make no distinction between collaborative pianists and piano teachers, both of whom seem to make their choices based on these criteria.
1. Your Education, Background, and Reputation. What kind of degree do you have? Have you done graduate work in piano performance, piano pedagogy, or collaborative piano? Do you belong to professional organizations such as NATS and MTNA? Do you have significant experience teaching piano or playing the violin sonata repertoire? Are you recognized as an authority in your field? The more experience and reputation you have, the greater credibility you'll have charging a higher fee. On the other hand, if you've only got Grade 10 piano and are just starting to play for festivals and competitions, you might not want to charge top dollar...yet.
2. Your geographic location. The myriad different geographic regions a pianist could choose to work from are not alike economically, demographically or in the level of cultural infrastructure. An area's supply/demand and cost of living (as well as how they are faring during the recession) can also largely determine how much one should charge for services.
For example, collaborative pianists in New York City are known to charge much higher for the same services than they would in the Midwest, because of both the level of pianists working there and the amount of money needed to make a living in Manhattan. An area's reputation in the arts can also determine how much hourly rates can fluctuate. Vancouver is recognized as one of the top breeding grounds on the continent for young pianists. There is tremendous demand for the top piano teachers there, thus the hourly rate for top piano teachers in Vancouver (often above $100 per hour) reflects that.
3. Where you want your price to lie in relation to others in your area. If you're new to an area, you might want to price yourself below the hourly average so you can get more entry level work. Beware: lots of new clients don't necessarily mean good clients. There also may be a perception that you're not qualified enough and might miss out on the best collaborative partners or students.
On the other hand, pricing yourself above the average might automatically advertise you as an authority in your field and bring you quality if not quantity. But just be prepared for the potential clients who hang up on you as soon as you tell them how much you charge.
A few thoughts...
Not every pianist or piano teacher actually gets to set their own rate. Institutional teachers usually have little or no control over their rates when teaching at a school. The reasoning behind this is that teachers in a music school (who are in effect retail workers) are there to deliver a product, not price it, and have their rates either set by the employer, negotiated, or have their rate pre-set on a pay grid.
Schools that hire collaborative pianists for occasional work and pay them usually have fixed rates. I've also heard of schools that cap rates for pianists freelancing there.
At the end of the day, a freelance pianist or piano teacher can literally charge whatever they want, whether ridiculously low or insanely high. A combination of the market in which they work and their own professionalism will determine eventual success or failure.
Do these three factors ring true with your own experience? What other factors can you think of that would influence hourly rates?
[Update] Here's another resource you might want to check out: Freelance Switch's Hourly Rate Calculator.
Previously on the Collaborative Piano Blog:
Martin Katz's The Complete Collaborator: The Pianist as Partner
How To Get Work as a Freelance Collaborative Pianist
How To Charge For Festival Accompanying
10+1 Ways to Advertise Your Services as a Collaborative Pianist
9 Categories of Excuses for Missed Rehearsals and Coachings
Singers: How Do You Choose a Coach/Pianist?