Ordinary Time 2017

02 January 2017
AGO Salary Guide and other documents

The American Guild of Organists (AGO) recently took several documents related to "Employment" off of their website.

I have been a member of the AGO since I was a young organist, and I've always appreciated belonging to a professional organization that has a salary guide that I and other members can share with prospective employers. Late last year, however, the AGO made the decision to stop making these documents available.

Since 1896 the AGO has been the largest professional organization for organists in the United States. In recent years, however, members have witnessed the elimination of the guild's official grievance procedures (in which AGO member organists were not permitted to offer professional services until the grievance was resolved). With the discontinuation of the salary guide, members now have even less professional support from the guild.

Here are the last published versions of the documents no longer offered by the AGO:

How to Use the AGO Salary Guide Documents

To obtain the greatest benefit from the AGO salary guide, it is important to utilize the AGO model contract provisions and the time requirements worksheet in a three-step process:

STEP 1. First, ascertain the scope of the position and the specific responsibilities of the church musician. For this step, the AGO has model contract provisions which address most areas of concern for sacred musicians and their employing institutions. A similar document is provided with sample provisions for musicians hired for part-time positions, the Sample Contract for Musicians in Part-time Employment.

STEP 2. Next, calculate the necessary time required to perform the responsibilities of the position. For this, complete the time requirements worksheet. Be aware that recognizing the behind-the-scenes preparation and practice time is often the most challenging step for churches: the face-time at worship services is often viewed by congregants as something that “just happens” and the real extent of the preparation time is rarely known by anyone but the musician!

STEP 3. Once the hours necessary to perform the duties of the position have been calculated, the salary guide chart can be usefully consulted for the recommended salary, based on the hours the job requires and the educational and experience levels of the employee. However, please note: one of the most important features of the salary guide chart is that the amounts on the chart are at a median level for the U.S.A. based on the cost of living for Fort Worth, Texas. (Fort Worth was used because of its average cost-of-living levels.) Consequently, adjustments to the salary numbers must be made for every other location. The relevant paragraph in the salary chart document explains:
The above guide is intended to represent an average. To accommodate regional differences in the standard of living, consult the website:, using the above figures as “Moving from Fort Worth TX” (identified by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics as a city with the same average professional income as the national average) and entering your own location as “Moving to.”

The salary figures arrived at with this guide will always be questionable unless the entire three-step procedure outlined above is adhered to. In order to be fair to both the musician and the employer, both parties must address all parts of the equation in order to come up with a fair salary—one that takes account of the work expected, the employee’s background, and the job location.

Other Fees

The range of fees is for musicians with degrees in organ or church music or AGO certification.
Fees vary regionally. The lowest figures reflect smaller, rural areas of the country.
Fees will also vary based on training, experience, availability, responsibility, and dates required.

Substitute Musicians

Single service (organist only or director only, no separate rehearsal), $100-$225
Additional services (organist or director only) not requiring additional preparation, $50-$125
Single service (organist-director combination, no separate rehearsal), $150-$275
Additional services (organist-director combination) not requiring additional preparation, $75-$175
Rehearsal fees range from $25-$100/hour, depending on whether the substitute is organist only, director only, or organist-director combination and the preparation required
The current, federally approved business standard mileage rate for reimbursement of business travel is charged if visits to church for practice, rehearsal, and service exceed 20 miles per round trip.
The charge for contracting singers/instrumentalists is $15-$35/person hired.


Service fees are $100-$350 (service only)
Wedding rehearsal with bridal party is $50-$100/hour.
Additional rehearsals are $30-$50/hour.
The current, federally approved business standard mileage rate for reimbursement of business travel is charged if visits to church for practice, rehearsal, and service exceed 20 miles per round trip.
The charge for contracting singers/instrumentalists is $15-$35/person hired.


Churches which provide funeral services at no cost to the family of the deceased are also expected to compensate the performing musician, whether full- or part-time, as recommended below:
Service fees are $100-$225 (service only)
Rehearsals $25-$100/hour, depending on the difficulty of the music and the participation of choirs, soloists, or instrumentalists.
The current, federally approved business standard mileage rate for reimbursement of business travel is charged if visits to church for practice, rehearsal, and service exceed 20 miles per round trip.
The charge for contracting singers/instrumentalists is $15-$35/person hired.

NOTE: Occasionally churches or synagogues will hire musicians as independent contractors instead of employees. According to the IRS, workers are generally considered employees if they:

Must comply with the employers instructions about the work.
Receive training from or at the direction of the employer.
Provide services that are integrated into the business.
Provide services that must be rendered personally.
Are aided by assistants who are hired, supervised, and paid by the employer.
Have a continuing working relationship with the employer.
Must follow set hours of work.
Work full-time for an employer.
Do their work on the employers premises.
Must do their work in a sequence set by the employer.
Must submit regular reports to the employer.
Receive payments of regular amounts at set intervals.
Receive payments for business travel expenses.
Rely on the employer to furnish tools and materials.
Lack a major investment in the facilities or equipment used to perform the services.
Cannot make a profit or suffer a loss from their services.
Work for one employer at a time.
Do not offer their services to the general public.
Can be fired by the employer.
May quit work at any time without incurring liability.
According to these guidelines, the majority of church and synagogue musicians are employees.


I was surprised they've stopped posting these documents--they were useful, especially the time requirements worksheet for churches to reference. But it seems related to the FTC settlement.

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