Friday, June 20, 2008

Poll Results: Should Accompanists Charge Clients For Practice Time?

A big thanks to everyone that both voted and commented on the previous posting on the question of whether or not accompanists should charge clients for practice time.

The Results of the Vote

Yes: 28 (52%)
No: 26 (48%)

My Thoughts on the Subject

I'm all in favor of pianists being reimbursed for their time, effort, and collaboration with others. In the freelance market, pianists often have to pick and choose what type of work they would like to do based on experience, preference, timing, and personality of potential clients. However, I don't think charging for practice time is a good idea. Here's why:
  • There are works that require a lot of preparation before rehearsals, and there are those that don't. Charging for practice time makes difficult projects more lucrative, often to the detriment of soloists who are preparing standard but equally important important (ie. Mozart violin concertos).
  • How are a pianist's potential clients to know truthfully if the pianist is actually practicing in the time that they have charged for? Under this system, an experienced violin specialist may hypothetically charge for several hours of practice in order to relearn the Franck Sonata when in fact they could probably pick it up and play it without any practicing at all.
  • This ironically makes inexperienced pianists more expensive to hire than experienced ones. I like to think that I can perform most difficult violin sonatas with minimal preparation in the event of an emergency (this might be wishful thinking on my part). This would differ from a pianist who has to learn the work from scratch, thus being able to charge more.
  • I feel kinda iffy about telling my clients how much I practice for their engagements. On the one hand, there are pieces that I can sight-read, but there are also pieces that require an incredible investment of time on my part in order to play at a competent level. Either way, my practice time is my business and mine alone.
  • Most of all, this type of practice tends to label accompanists/collaborative pianists as a kind of skilled tradesperson working for a service industry. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that billing for practice time may give that perception to what we do. I want nothing more for the profession of the pianist in ensemble to be comprised of people who care about great playing, great music, the art of collaboration, and optimal professional conduct.
Readers' Thoughts on the Subject

Opinions were mixed in the comments of the previous post. Some hybrid approaches to billing practice were suggested by some. Helen Hou sez:
In the end, I have general figures that I work from depending on the amount/difficulty/newness of repertoire that includes a specific number of rehearsals/lessons depending on the purpose. I also charge more when it is a last minute request. For example, your average 10 minute jury would include 1-2 rehearsals and be one fee, provided you ask enough ahead of time. A jury involving a complete work that is new for me would be more. A jury being asked about less than a week before would also be more.
KB brings up the issue of transparency in her support of the idea:
Yes they should :)At least those who are trying to do it for living.
More interesting to me is how that should be presented to the "client". Should it be some kind of hidden charge or "fair"?
Liz sez:
In general though, I'd say no. All musicians have to practise, that's part of the deal. However, if it's some crazy-ass plink-plonk new music thing that's totally complicated that involves a click-track thingie in your ear and complex rhythms....and involves extra rehearsal time with the soloist...then yes.

But in general, no. Practise is part of the collaborative pianist's deal, and I'm sure some of the practise time involved is part of the fee overall.
Gerrit brings up the issue of hiring vs. partnership and how pianists should wish to be perceived in this respect:
As a singer my inclination would be that, if you're involved in the artistic process, want recognition for the work as an artistic partner, or are interested in billing of any sort, then I don't know if charging for this kind of practice time is appropriate.
I would also like to mention the limitations of my question, which mentioned the word "accompanist" rather than "pianist" or "collaborative pianist". I wished to have a question as direct as possible (my choice did prove to be provocative, as the comments show!), although the question seemed a little service-industry-oriented the way I worded it.

The Last Word

I would hope this poll and the ensuing discussion give a wide spectrum of choices of how a freelance collaborative pianist/accompanist can bill for one's time with a view towards fairness and transparency, at the same time making sure that they are fairly compensated for their work in a project. Look for more questions of best billing practices in the upcoming Collaborative Piano Forums 08.


  1. As a "newcomer" to the field, this is very interesting to me. And very helpful information.

  2. just a clarification (why don't I read my responses before I post...), my "billing" term was of the artistic, not monetary variety.

  3. Glad to be able to provide some useful information, Rebecca!

    Gerrit, if the soloist and pianist are "billed" artistically, hopefully they will both be paid by the presenting venue. Although too often these days the soloist ends up paying the pianist out of their own fee...