Guidelines for Remunerating Song Leaders

The following information is meant as a guide for song leaders, and those who negotiate with them regarding how much they are paid for the work they do in leading a choir or singing group. Song leaders, and the groups they lead, have a wide variety of methods of remuneration, some of which we'll outline below, as well as sources of funding to enable the song leader to be paid – information about the latter is a separate body of work which we’ve begun HERE. All this discussion is an up-to-date version of work-in-progress, and we are sure that it will be added to over time, providing a more complete picture of the ways and means that song leaders are paid for their work in Aotearoa. We welcome your reflection and comments on this as on all matters SLNA, so please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you have something to add to this issue.
The kind of work that members of our organisation do varies greatly, and many of these variations play a part in negotiating how much a song leader should be paid. Inevitably, the activity of song leading itself is only a small, highly visible and quantifiable part of a process which includes research, arranging, learning, and preparation beforehand, as well as a period of self-reflection and reception analysis after leading the singing group. Creative projects such as concerts could involve additional planning, as well as collaboration with other performers, instrumentalists and creatives such as lighting or sound engineers, as well as group debrief and wrap-up. In addition, song leaders undertake a number of non-creative administrational tasks, both group-specific (such as sending an email newsletter or attending a committee meeting) and as part of a wider 'portfolio' of work (self-promotion, organising workshops for visiting song leaders etc).
It is often hard to quantify the number of hours that song leaders spend in creative and administrational work away from their time 'in front of the choir' even in the simplest of situations where a person leads only one singing group. This difficulty is compounded by many of us having 'portfolio' careers, collating a number of small song-leading and other jobs, and often spending short periods on each project throughout our working day. Layer on top of this additional portfolio work outside of the song leading sphere, or domestic work (often both) and it becomes even harder to establish just how many hours are being dedicated to a specific singing group – and therefore to be paid fairly for the work we do.
Our survey respondents generally worked with each choir or singing group they led for around 2 hours every week, and a common trait was to work roughly to the school calendar year, thus having 4 x 10-week terms. In addition to time in front of the choir, song leaders spent a considerable amount of time either in preparation or administration work for the group – this varied widely, from 1 to 3 or more hours a week, with an average of an extra 2 hours per choir. The total number of hours worked should be considered when setting a fair rate of pay, as well as investment in equipment, costs for professional development, travel and license payments to teach/perform songs. Paying for some of these other costs, is another way that the group/choir can reduce the financial burden on the song leader. 
It is unusual for song leaders to be paid the same hourly rate for teaching and prep/admin hours. All too often, there is no pay at all for hours spent away from the choir, and the practise has come to be that their rates of pay for choir hours are relatively high, in recognition of this. Neither of the two pay guidelines below reflect this scenario. Instead, SLNA advocates that song leaders get paid for every hour that they work, and so these guidelines suggest either a flat rate for all hours worked, or else different rates for teaching and for preparation/admin (a model already successfully used by a number of members). In either case, when deciding on remuneration the total hours worked should be taken into consideration.
  • Overall hourly rate (song leading, prep, admin) ie, "flat rate" $25-$70 or
  • Song leading (teaching) rate $50-$175 plus
  • Prep/admin rate $25-45
” It’s a good rule of thumb to make sure you charge enough that you can fairly pay someone else to step in for you” – SLNA member
We've shown these rates on a sliding scale. Some of the things that might affect how much song leaders charge are:
  • The professional level of the song leader: how long have they been song leading (this or other choirs), professional development undertaken, cultural and educational experience, and how much the song leader has been (or is) paid for similar work.
  • GST and tax obligations
  • The amount of regular (rehearsals) and occasional (concerts, events) work the group undertakes
  • The size of the group[1]: large (50+) or small (less than 15) groups are equally challenging to work with, and both require additional and careful prep/admin
  • How long the group has been established[2]: a younger group requires more prep and admin work than one that has been going for a few years
  • How much prep/admin time really needs to be done by the song leader – if some tasks can be done by volunteers within the group, the amount of hours that the song leader has to be paid for admin can be reduced, and therefore in real terms their hourly rate is better.
  • Whether the workload of the song leader includes sourcing, transcribing, arranging or even composing original material for the choir. Sometimes this work is included in the hours’ remuneration, other times (particularly for original compositions) a separate fee or commission is negotiated. Rates for arranging/composing and other creative work are often different from regular week-to-week work, and SLNA may suggest rates in future for this kind of work. Meanwhile, we would recommend visiting the Composers Association of New Zealand Commissioning Guidelines.
Occasional work such as concerts or extra rehearsals should be charged separately, at a pre-agreed rate.
Consideration should be given to other benefits song leaders can negotiate to help balance their contributions – payment for PD workshops, SLNA membership, a percentage of the profit from performances, travel allowance, etc.
Rates should be reviewed regularly (suggest annually) as song leaders develop professionally, and singing groups become more established, change size or alter their recreational/performance balance.

[1] Variations in income from subs are not being considered in setting fair pay rates for song leaders. SLNA has deliberately set these guidelines separately from the matter of sourcing funding for song leading work, which is a part of ongoing discussion about successful financial models for singing groups. Although the two have been historically linked, this has led to unsustainable financial circumstances for song leaders, some of whom are expected to work completely voluntarily or for as little as $5/hr. You can read some information that we've compiled about funding singing groups HERE
[2] Groups that are in the early days of being established require more preparation and administration work by the song leader, in addition to more agility and professionalism in dealing with early fluctuations in membership and developing vocal experience in the group. This unfortunately comes at a time when it is unlikely that there will be strong choir management (other than the song leader themselves), nor a legal entity established that can apply for funding from sources outside of their membership – the result is that song leaders can often work for little or no pay at the beginning of a job – something reflected in the CNZ/NZ On Air survey results which identified a growing trend for creatives to be expected to work unpaid during the establishment phase of their career.