I should have gone to truck-drivin’ school

While doing the dishes today, I overheard a report on the BBC about this weekend’s four day strike by truck drivers for Shell.

I know it is bad form to pit the interests of unions against each other, but my ears did pick up when I heard that the base salary for the striking drivers is 32,000 pounds/year.

By comparison, in the latest Musician’s Union study, orchestral musicians salaries trailed far, far behind those of lorry drivers. Here are some stat’s for UK regional orchestras (excluding London), courtesy of Hilary Burrage’s blog-

Who gets paid what?

Section Principals: BBC Regional ~ £32,118 per annum  through to CBSO ~ £45,205 p.a.
Principals: RLPO ~ £28,298 pa through to CBSO ~£33,159 p.a.
Tutti: RLPO ~ £24,024 p.a. through to CBSO ~ £27,348 p.a.
In some cases there are increments and / or long service awards which take experienced players above these levels, but these additional sums, usually only a very few thousand per annum, rarely raise salaries significantly above the starting point. Likewise, some, but not all, orchestras pay musicians an additional fee for recordings, media relays etc.

So- British orchestral musicians, among the very best in the world, undergo years of study and make huge investments in instruments and equipment, yet they make less than unskilled workers. That a section principal, having won their position in highly competitive auditions and trials, at a BBC Regional orchestra (that includes the BBC Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Symphony and BBC National Orchestra of Wales)  makes less than the starting salary for a Shell lorry driver seems worse than obscene to me. According to the Guardian, Shell claims average pay for lorry drivers is “more than £36,000 and would have increased to around £39,000 under an offer rejected by the union.”

Sadly, I don’t see the situation improving anytime soon, as the Arts Council’s funding has been cut significantly to free up funds for the Olympics. Several well-established UK orchestras have lost their funding altogether, including the London Mozart Players.

Lorry drivers cite long working hours as a reason for needing an increase in compensation, but UK orchestral musicians work the longest and most grueling schedules in the world, often working twice as many services per year as their counterparts in America or Germany.

As a point of comparison, here are some numbers lifted from Drew McManus’ Adaptistration 2008 Compensation Report. Look at the salaries of the top 10 orchestras in the US

1- Boston $112, 840
2- Los Angeles $112,840
3- Philadelphia $109,200
4- San Francisco $107,120
5- Chicago $107,120
6- New York $107,120
7- Cleveland $105,620
8- Pittsburgh $97,101
9- Detroit- $96,850
10- Minnesota- $88,348

Given that the ICSOM pay structure means nobody actually earns base salary in American orchestras, the base salary or the no 10 orchestra in the us is on a par with the principal salary for the no 1 non-London orchestra in the UK ($88,348 for Minnesota compared to $$90,000 for the CBSO). (The concertmaster salary at the San Francisco Symphony at $426,000 is about five times section principal pay at the CBSO). Base salary at the CBSO converts to about $54,000 p.a., which would well out of the top 15 US orchestras.

What strikes one about Drew’s listing of ICSOM salaries is the gap between rich and poor among American musicians. Base salary in Honolulu is only $24,000 or 12,000 pounds, barely more than a third of base salary for Shell lorry drivers in the UK, and we’re talking here about elite orchestral  musicians who have won their jobs through nationally competitive auditions, generally after at least 6 years of conservatory and post-graduate training. Musicians in the Oregon Symphony make less than 2/3rds the base salary of a lorry driver, and even members of the St Paul Chamber Orchestra, the most prestigious chamber orchestra in North America make less than an entry level lorry driver. A musician in the Spokane Symphony, a fine orchestra with a busy schedule, makes $10,000/year if they play everything (most ROPA musicians earn less than base salary)…..

Never mind the thousands of freelancers in the UK and US, who not only make only a tiny fraction of these amounts, but spend their lives on the highways our nations being cut off by truck drivers making many times what they make…..

And then there is Columbus….

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

All material in these pages is protected by copyright.

14 comments on “I should have gone to truck-drivin’ school”

  1. Daniel

    And further to continue the poor-funding rant, Northern Ireland has just *one* proper orchestra. The UK sees fit to turn a blind eye to the dire state of affairs because only 1,800,000 people live here. But with just one orchestra then, you’d think they’d be happy enough to provide proper funding for it, right? Apparently not right, as funding for the Ulster Orchestra keeps falling behind that of mainland orchestras.

  2. ComposerBastard

    err…what about the 100K they are earning in teaching on the side?

    Or the people in the good ol USA who never had a chance at an orchestra seat yet are good enough in training to have one up front?

    Anyone heard of supply and demand?

    But really…just remember, once you make the decision to change careers, or compromise yourself in a position in say…software engineering or…Software QA testing or the like…the golden handcuffs will never allow you to mentally go back to what you value most. Eat your onion soup, and crusty bread and never doubt….

    As for truckers, they are being killed by gas prices – which I understand right now is caused by an over-saturation of capital via lower interest rates and thank you Mr Bush admin which is driving up futures (todays dollar will be worth more in the future) and inflation. ad infinitum based on your country code…and chinese demand…and Composerbastard rambling to himself at $5.00 per gallon

  3. Gert

    I’m glad you’ve written this. We were watching on the news and were completely outraged. My partner used to deliver paraffin door-to-door, so he didn’t just have to drive tankers but also run a business, including customer service, which in that sort of business can come quite close to social work,but as far as he is concerned it is unskilled labour – at most, requiring a short course for an HGV licence.

    Really quite galling for people who have spent several years studying Higher Education and Professional or post-grad vocational qualifications to discover they would have been better off dropping out of school with no qualifications. Nor would I like to run this one past the squaddies in Iraq and Afghanistan who earn considerably less (they appear to be earning what an Army Captain earns)

    Truckers who are employed, (as opposed to self-employed), as these striking drivers are, are no more affected by oil prices than anybody else who is employed for a salary and whose employer meets the costs of doing the work.

  4. Kenneth Woods

    Hi Gert- Welcome and thanks for writing, I’ve always enjoyed your blog. On a non-musical note, you reminded me that soldiers in the US armed forces generally earn far less than the mysterious “contractors” who are supposedly there as a cost-saving/outsourcing measure…

    To CB- I slightly choked on my corn flakes at the mention of truckers choking on gas prices. I can’t think of anyone more hard hit than freelance musicians by gas prices, and on top of this, we’re expected to pay for an maintain hugely expensive instruments…

    I highly, highly recommend Jason Heath’s series Road Warrior Without an Expense Account which begins here
    http://doublebassblog.org/2006/12/road-warrior-without-expense-account.html
    On the other hand, CB is quite right that thousands of excellent musicians are forced in to low earning freelance work despite playing as well or better as their colleagues in the majors simply because of lack of opportunity. When you look at the subsidies our government provides to sport, you can’t help but see that the arts are woefully undersupported, especially considering they do more to drive the economy than sports.

  5. ComposerBastard

    Sorry ladies and gents, I’m all for the lorry drivers side. Its grueling, and dangerous work to be on the road all the time with a giant gin bottle full of flammable liquid strapped to your back instead of a violin. And though these drivers are ’employed”, I believe its probably an issue of large demand pushing them to take more unnecessary risks. Moreover, transportation of goods has always paid pretty good historically. Think of the “merchies”…oh hell think of being a camel driver to China in 1300..

    I might value an education, but I certainly don’t think it should be a guarantee on how much money you make. In fact, I think some “uneducated” professions should get more – such as the friendly garbage men that take away my stale cabbages on Thursday. Its surprising they don’t pass out or get cancer. Or if you really want to complain, you dont have to bother with the fair trucker who lives in the woods near you. Look for those that are NOT on strike or complaining – such as that CEO at your major corporation on the corner. Thats where the real problem is, and they are just as diplomaless and more – ignorant selfish baboons.

    Ok, you all…quit slacking (or making me slack). Get back to work. You there, Wales dude…start waving that white stick thing a bit…maybe more loopy this time around…work on that forehand…the percussion wont see you – they are all ex-Lorry drivers btw. As for Gert…haven’t figured out your instrument from your blog, but you might try singing something for us? As for me, this bloody violin thing needs stitching, and I have a turkey that needs attending in the garden.

  6. John Wilson

    [CB: “…work on that forehand…the percussion wont see you – they are all ex-Lorry drivers btw…”]

    AM NOT!!! Never drove a lorry before! Or a truck, either! Well….not for pay, anyway. And not far, either….only a moving van for my own household goods. And a few times for friends/family …. does a good BBQ meal & beer count as pay?? All of my ex band mates were not drivers either….well except for Joe, and Craig……hmmm, also Billie…and Julie (the roughest of all!) And they never could see the conductor ’cause they never remembered to look up… OK – Never Mind!

    US drivers at a good company can get paid reasonable well….if 200 days away from home is of no consequence…one can earn (assuming averages from Taylor Truck Lines info: 3000miles/wk, $0.43/mi ave depending on experience) over $67,000. More if you own your own truck ($.88/mi X 3000mi = $137,280).

    Maybe that is why I play music whenever I can in organizations/groups that I enjoy….and climb mountains fixing police radio sites and microwave communications systems all week to pay the bills. At least my day job beats work!!!!

  7. ComposerBastard

    “More if you own your own truck ($.88/mi X 3000mi = $137,280).”

    Except that darn truck cost over $250,000 dollars + maintenance. Although I considered putting a piano in one and traveling around the country

  8. Kenneth Woods

    Hi John-

    Thanks for the note. 200 days a year on the road- not unusual for many freelancers. Certainly many of my colleagues in Columbus did that between trips there, Dayton, Louisville, Toledo, Indy, Canton, Western Ohio….

    CB- I’m afraid you’re argument sounds a little looney to my ears. I can’t tell you how many people I know with $100,000 violins making 10k a year. Violins don’t maintain themselves either. Then there’s the bow. And insurance. And you’re still driving your car into the ground- I’ve done as much as 30k miles in one year. And I was working on a freaking double doctorate at the time, not that I’m bitter. I just think that if all the Columbus musicians went and blockaded a refinery or two, they’d be making a good salary in no time. Maybe the UK regional players should steal a page from the lorry drivers playbook. RIght now, they can’t get petrol to get to work, how cool would it be if the musicians stopped the lorry drivers from getting to work….

    K

  9. Kenneth Woods

    I wouldn’t say I’m not bitter- that’s a stretch for most non-Sideshow Bob conductors, but sadly, my union membership wouldn’t help me as a stick waiver…. Conductors get dressing rooms, but we have absolutely no CBA-based rights.

  10. Reid

    I think HNL principals make a little more now, but could be wrong. Still, making 30k in the islands is pretty low, especially since there aren’t as many side or regional gigs. Most of the musicians in Hawaii teach at schools for a living and play on the side. Or not. I haven’t lived there for a while.

    RKK

  11. Pingback: Orchestral Salaries In The UK | Dreaming Realist

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