SLNA Pay Guidelines for Song Leaders

Background to these guidelines
At the annual national gathering of SLNA in June 2019, a forum took place where we began to discuss how we get paid for this work we do. The conversation flowed far and wide – the subject affected us all, and there are many aspects to it. There was general agreement that song leading is often not recognised as 'real work', by others (the singing community, but also a larger, social attitude towards artistic/creative work) and often by ourselves as we feel uncomfortable about fundraising efforts on our behalf, or negotiate low or no-pay deals in order to 'prove ourselves/our profession' (“hope labour”) or reflective of low self-esteem, or despair at trying to work within a commercial model. There were also really helpful ideas and tips that came out of that forum, some of which have found their way into this preamble to our pay guidelines. What emerged most strongly from that meeting was the need to survey our members, to gain a better understanding of how much work people were doing, and how much they were getting paid for it. And a clear call (carried forward and established as a resolution at our subsequent AGM) that SLNA, as a professional body representative of song leaders, should provide some guidelines for fair pay for those who do this work.
“There is a culture of user pays nowadays. But I’ve also noticed that if something is free, its is perceived as being without value.” – SLNA member
As the SLNA committee prepared to survey our members, two things became apparent. The first was that the pay rates for song leaders were greatly influenced by the availability of funds to pay them rather than their professional worth or the length of time they put into their work. However, instead of surveying models of funding song leaders, we focused at this stage on discovering how many hours work song leaders were doing, what type of work, and how much they were currently being paid. Some song leaders (and the singing groups or committees who support them) have been more successful than others in structuring a fair rate of pay for their work, and our subsequent guidelines reflect these successful models. The means by which these rates get funded is a separate area of discussion, and our initial thoughts are published HERE.
“If I were to get paid what I should, the choir wouldn’t survive…” – SLNA member
The second thing that came to our attention was that there was a section of our membership for whom these pay guidelines would not be a helpful fit. That is, those who use song leading in their day-to-day work as part of a larger body of work: music therapists, for instance, and schoolteachers. Pay rates for these professions are already established, and they have their own professional bodies and unions to advocate and negotiate on their behalf for fair pay. SLNA welcomes music therapists and teachers as members, recognising that many of the practical skills that we are sharing in our network are useful for therapy or in the classroom, but these pay guidelines are aimed at those who primarily identify as song leaders for their profession, or who clearly define song leading work as part of a portfolio of contracts.
Independently from our song leading discussions and survey, the wider creative community in Aotearoa is exploring the same kinds of issues. In 2018 Creative New Zealand and NZ On Air surveyed a range of creative professionals about sustainable careers for artists and arts practitioners. A great deal of data was gathered, and the results have been published and are accessible on the Creative New Zealand website. For the purposes of our pay guidelines, a significant statement from this is:
            “most (63 percent [of respondents]) don’t feel that their remuneration is fair, and consider $26 per hour as the level from which they would start to feel that it’s fair.”
At the time of writing (November 2019) they have established six draft principles to inform further discussion. Many of these speak directly to the work SLNA is doing in establishing pay guidelines. The six draft principles are:
 that artists and arts practitioners:
  • feel their creative practice is valued and regarded as ‘real work’
  • are remunerated fairly for their work
  • are well positioned to adopt a portfolio approach to achieving a sustainable career
  • are prepared for a career in the arts and cultural sector
  • can access support to grow and develop a sustainable career
In mid-2019 SLNA asked song leaders from throughout Aotearoa to respond to a questionnaire about the pay they received from leading singing groups. The questions were designed to find out how many hours a person was working for one specific group, and so they were invited to complete a questionnaire for each choir/group that they led.
You can read the SLNA Guidelines For Remunerating Song Leaders by following this link: GUIDELINES