Harris Sockel was wondering how to make extra money for rent when a friend passed along a surprisingly simple and intriguing money-making opportunity.
An Episcopalian church in New York City was looking for new singers, and they paid cash for church performances. Though he’s Jewish, Sockel took a chance and auditioned — and it turns out there’s good money to be made singing in church choirs, no matter your religion.
Sockel, 23, made $100 for singing each Sunday, and $200 on holidays like Easter and Christmas. He joked that he was receiving the “Direct Deposit of God.”
Like him, most of the other paid choir members had other jobs too, and used the church gig to supplement their incomes.
“We sang classical music, mostly in Latin or German, and rehearsed for an hour before each service,” Sockel wrote in a post on Medium. “Most of us were semi-employed musicians, actors and designers.”
Would you consider adding “paid church choir member” to your list of ways to make money on the side?
Yes, Some Churches Pay Singers and Musicians
It’s fairly common for churches to hire and pay musicians. Religious leaders are looking to create a meaningful experience for their parishioners, and high-quality music helps with that.
There’s an ongoing debate about whether churches should pay their musicians. Some people feel that paying singers with no affiliation to the church or to a specific religion leads to a less genuine musical experience.
Others believe that offering some form of compensation brings in the best musicians who will work hard and create a powerful, moving experience, regardless of their motivation or affiliation.
Adam Podd, music director at First Unitarian Church in Brooklyn, said most churches value the arts — especially music — as part of worship. He said about 70% of the church’s hour-long service is music. Though the choir guides the way, church members are encouraged to join in, too, he said.
“They get a lot of out hearing performed music in addition to music they get to participate in,” Podd said. “We help ensure a certain level of quality and ensure a level of spirituality and an experience for them, that it’s going to be moving to them and it’s going to reach people. They pay for that.”
Make $100 for Three Hours of Work
Many of the choir-members at Podd’s church sing on a volunteer basis, but he pays four professional singers to perform each week. They each get $100 per Sunday, which includes two hours of rehearsal before the service and an hour of singing in church.
Though it may not sound like a lot if you’re a professional singer, it’s a guaranteed $100 for showing up each week. For up-and-coming musicians trying to make it in the Big Apple, regular gigs are hard to come by, Podd said.
Beyond those performers who want to someday sing at the Metropolitan Opera, there are also singing hobbyists who get paid to perform. One paid singer at First Unitarian Church is a high school guidance counselor who simply loves to sing.
If they can really belt it out, those “regular Joes” are often better hires than aspiring Broadway stars because they’re not always running off to auditions or taking time off for festivals and other performances, Podd said.
How to Get Paid to Sing in Church
Want to find a paying church-choir job? Here are a few tips:
If you already attend a church regularly, the easiest option is to check the bulletin board for any opportunities. In addition, introduce yourself to the music director. Find out if your church pays musicians and ask about the audition process. Show up an hour or so before the service starts and chances are you’ll bump into choir practice and can make some introductions.
If you want to branch out or you don’t go to church, a good place to start looking for singing work is in the classified section of ChoralNet, a website set up by the American Choral Directors Association. There you’ll find a Craigslist-like assortment of job openings, many at churches.
Many church music directors post their jobs in the classified sections of newspapers, arts guides and more, so check those out, too. Others rely on current performers for help, so it pays to network.
“I advertise in various publications when a position opens in the choir,” said Ryan Jackson, director of music at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. “Instrumentalists are invited largely through networking and word of mouth.”
Once you’ve scored an audition, prepare at least two solo pieces that showcase different music styles. That will let the music director know you’re versatile and up for anything. You’ll also probably be asked to sing scales and sight-read music, or sing something on the fly at the director’s discretion.
Just like in any job interview, be personable — believe it or not, you aren’t just there to sing. While you may be in it just for the cash, at many churches the choir includes unpaid performers who are there for their love of worship or music. You’re more likely to get hired if you appear friendly and helpful, because many choirs aim for a sense of community.
Kristina Seleshanko, a performer and director who spent 15 years in professional theatres and nightclubs, suggests keeping the audition short, sweet and fun.
“Smile and be personable,” she recommends. “The director wants to know he’ll be spending the next few months with people that are easy to get along with.”
Your Turn: Would you sing in a church for cash?
Sarah Kuta is an education reporter in Boulder, Colo., with a penchant for weekend thrifting, furniture refurbishment and good deals. Find her on Twitter: @sarahkuta.