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how/when to initiate singer pay

Greetings to all my colleagues here,
 
This was posted to the general ChoralNet community, but I was asked to post it here, as well.
 
If you have a professional chorus or ensemble in which the singers are paid, might I possibly ask you a few questions? Our 1-year-old organization has always had as one of its goals that we would eventually, as soon as was feasible, pay our singers for their expertise and hard work. We anticipated being able to do this by the 3-year mark. However, a singer has stepped forward to ask for pay for performances now, and so this question is a new one for us to grapple with. I would LOVE for us to be able to pay our singers if it could be somehow possible. Here is what we would like to find out; please answer as many or as few questions as you are interested to respond to, as I realize that answering all of these questions is a lot to ask:
 
 
* At what point in your organization's history did you begin paying your singers for performances and gigs? (If you were present at the start of this process and remember.)
* How did you know you were ready to do this? What were your benchmarks? Or was this led by a request from the singers?
* How did you set the level of pay? Do you continue to use this method/formula today? Do you pay the organization a percentage of the proceeds, then distribute the rest among your singers?
* If you pay your singers for rehearsals, when and how did you know you were ready to do this? What were your benchmarks?
* How did you set the level of pay for rehearsals? Do you continue to use this method/formula today?
* Did you consciously increase fundraising activity to make it possible to pay your singers and still provide for the needs of the organization? 
* Did/do you require each paid singer to participate in your fundraising activities?
* Did your expectations change of your singers, in terms of rehearsal preparedness, punctuality, rehearsal/concert attendance, when you began to pay your singers? Has paying your singers translated into greater ownership of the music and better performances?
* Do you offer your singers a commission for finding gigs for the ensemble?
* Do you expect your singers to make themselves available for concerts that the organization schedules because they are paid, or do you take "gigs" only after checking with singers to see that they're available and scheduling around their schedules? In other words, do you dictate for them the year's concert/performances dates well in advance, and simply expect them to be there?
* Do you pay your singers as "independent contractors" or as "employees"?
* If you are the founding director of the chorus, did you begin to receive a salary at the same time that you began to offer pay to your singers? Before? After?
* How did your organization change, in general, when you began to pay your singers?
* Any potential pitfalls or sticky points that we should be aware of as we contemplate when and how to initiate singer pay? Anything you might have chosen to do differently than you did?
 
 
I would also be interested to learn the dollar amounts that you pay your singers for rehearsals and performances, but if any of you are willing to share this information with me, it might be best to respond privately regarding this matter (but publicly regarding all of the above questions, if at all possible, to benefit the ChoralNet community), as I don't think it's probably good practice to shout out to the world what our pay rates are.
 
I did not contemplate we would be grappling with these important questions at this point in our ensemble's history. Our organization still needs to get some professional photography done, and create professionally-designed publicity materials; we're saving up for the purchase of wireless headset microphones because we add movement to some of our singing and sometimes sing outdoors, etc....So there is a need for the organization's bank balance to grow to accommodate these needs at the same time as we contemplate paying our singers. I would like to find out what are the norms for a still-new organization to establish pay for its singers. I do believe it will ultimately serve the organization when we do get to the point of being able to pay our singers, and is a worthy investment. It is also, ultimately, the ONLY right thing to do for our professional and professional-level singers, the very moment that the feasibility exists to do so.
 
We do have a 7-member board of directors who will be discussing this matter at upcoming board meetings, and my hope is to be able to provide for our board members a compilation of your shared experiences/suggestions to help guide us into this aspect of our organization's future.
 
Thank you very much, and I look forward to your enlightening and practical suggestions. I hope everyone's having a great summer!
 
Sincerely,
Cherwyn Ambuter
Founding Director
Zephyr Vocal Ensemble
 
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