Getting Your Contract Squared Away:

May 22, 2010



Department Chair: Will you music direct the musical in addition to your regular teaching duties?

Me: Sounds great!

3 Months Later:

Me: When should I expect my stipend?

Department Chair: Stipend?


I signed the contract for ¼ less than my normal rate because the director of the arts school only scheduled me for 3 hours a day. Unfortunately, the rest of each day was scheduled with a director who needed to run scenes with music and a choreographer who needed music to dance to. The pianist? Me. My daily hours? 6


The whole hired staff of a show refused to return for another year at a badly run High School Music Program. But I liked the kids, so when the new director called me and offered me the job, I gave him my list of conflicts, which, it turned out, included the entire run of the show. Fine, the new director said; just hire someone else to play the show. So I subcontracted the best pianist I could find and offered him half my fee. I began to suspect they had not budgeted for me about a week before the show, when I saw the custom made costumes they had bought for the BOWS. I sent some e-mails just checking to see if in fact I was being paid, and when they were cutting that check. No response. When the show rolled around, I paid my sub $1500. But I didn’t get my fee until months later, after I had contacted administrators and been passed up the food chain.


Please, please, pretty please. Never agree to music direct a show unless you know when, how, and how much you’re being paid. If your pay is part of a stipend for activities from your school, be sure everyone who needs to know knows that you’re being paid. If you are being contracted, and you don’t work for the school, get it in writing. You deserve to be paid. In this industry, you normally get paid the DAY you complete the work. Some districts have Byzantine budget rules that require you to submit for checks only after the work has been completed, and sometimes those things have to get past a school board before anyone signs a check. You’ll have to decide whether you want to work for that kind of an outfit. But if you do, bother everyone who might have anything to do with you getting paid and ask if there’s anything you have to fill out, any blood test or criminal background check you’ll need to get through to get paid. Your contract or agreement should also very clearly spell out your responsibilities, including hours. It’s part of respecting yourself enough to be sure you’re taken care of. And it should never cost you $1500 to music direct a show.



  1. Great article! I like the anecdotes, and your advice is applicable to many other areas as well.

  2. I see some people are reaching this site by googling to try and find out how much a music director stipend should be. I think music directing a school show should be worth in the neighborhood of $2000, depending on where you are located and how much experience you have. That’s about the average I’ve seen for the last 10 years. Hope that’s helpful.

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