American Guild of Organists Agrees to Eliminate Rules that Restrict Competition among Members

It’s official now – read about it here.

So this will drive down prices through enhanced competition, I guess. And organists won’t be the overpaid wealth-hoarders we all know they’be been until now.



  1. Here’s a crazy idea: parishes would treat organ playing/performance as a profession by paying its organists a true living wage rather than paying them a poverty-level wage which organists are expected to supplement via “piece-work” (i.e. charging by the wedding or funeral).

    I’m setting aside my instinctive exasperation that this is the sort of thing our tax dollars are paying for. Thank goodness the FTC has cracked the fiendish organist ring. Maybe they should pursue RICO charges while they’re at it.

  2. If I am reading it correctly, this ruling only applies to the policies of the AGO and perhaps by extension to the NPM. They can no longer recommend bench fees or publish salary guidelines or model contracts.

    But if you consider the larger point, that of maximizing consumer freedom and increasing competition among musicians, there could be larger implications. Might the FTC next go after churches who require that all weddings and funerals use their organist on staff or choose from a list of approved musicians? If someone can find a cheaper musician, even if it’s his cousin who plays keyboard in a rock band or his uncle who plays accordion in a polka band, perhaps they should be free to hire whomever they wish… the customer is always right!

  3. AGO has (and never has had) binding authority over its members and certainly not over their employers – the agreement, as it was explained at the Houston convention session I attended, is that as a national organization, AGO was agreeing not to set guidelines or employment principles, and would stop publishing the names of churches that were not in compliance with AGO guidelines.
    This does not mean that an individual parish/church/congregation cannot establish such principles or guidelines.

  4. Here’s another crazy idea: Professional organizations like the AGO are subject to antitrust law, and hence the agreement with the FTC.

    Labor unions are exempt from those legal provisions.

    The solution, then, should be obvious.

  5. All well and good for the FTC to try to regulate this, but there are certain considerations which the FTC will not be able to control. My employer entrusts to me the responsibility for making certain that prospective alternative musicians are suitably qualified to perform at liturgies in our parish. Only the Pastor and, by extension, the Bishop can order me to approve a musician I have otherwise disqualified. Among the requirements we employ, the person in question must be a practicing Catholic in good standing (and must be able to prove that) and must demonstrate acceptable familiarity with Roman Catholic liturgy. In the unlikely event that we would permit a person who does not meet those criteria to perform at a liturgy, my supervision would be required and I would still have to be paid. Assuming that a properly qualified Catholic musician is approved, my responsibilities extend to use of the sound system and technology. I would still have to be there and would still be paid. I gave up my AGO membership years back and, while our parish and I are members of NPM, the FTC would still play hell trying to enforce rules against our restrictions on grounds which are either religious or technical or both. In our services in my parish, something that is less expensive is not immediately acceptable for liturgy, no matter who wants it. Standards are required and will be adhered to and maintained. Sacred liturgy deserves nothing less and no one is going to change that.

  6. The whole “issue” never made sense to me, since everything put out by the AGO was simply a suggestion – it was never binding on employers or employees in any way, as Alan noted. It seems bizarre to me that an organization cannot even suggest a salary range for professionals with a certain skill set.

    The FTC also apparently does not understand that it’s up to the church who gets to be in the loft (church property) and play on the organ (expensive, breakable property of the church). All the language of “increasing competition” is FTC bureaucratic speak that actually changes nothing (aside from muzzling the AGO). Churches are still free to make whatever provisions they want on this issue.

    Aside from the bizarre nature of this whole prosecution and ruling, I am sad to see the AGO salary scale disappear (and by association the NPM scale). Church music is not a “mainstream” profession, and it has always been very helpful in my jobs to at least have some kind of national-level suggestions to help start the salary conversation. I wonder – is anyone allowed to set up a similar scale, as long as they are not a dues-based organization? What would be very helpful is some intensive research into salaries, which could establish, if not suggestions, simply averages cross-referenced by region, hours per week, level of education, and experience. The research could all be confidential, but at least you would end up with an accurate picture of what is currently being paid. In fact, such information might be more helpful and practical than salary suggestions anyway. BUT – that would be a lot of work. Who would do something like that? Without any suggestions or information, my worry is that church music will revert to pastors and musicians pulling numbers out of thin air. There is no way to even frame the salary conversation properly without any information or national suggestions…

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