Musician Tax Questions

Original Question: Adam Franklin, Posted March 7, 2010 at 4:37 PM


My wife works full time for an orchestra and receives all the benefits of such – predictable schedule, a contract for the year, insurance, etc. She receives a W-2 from them every January. She is for all intents an employee.

However, she also subbed for another much larger orchestra in another state this past year for about 12 weeks. These were anywhere from 1 to 3 week engagements. When she worked there, she was responsible for her expenses of travel, lodging, food. This added up to about 2500 miles round trip, a couple of flights, and around 70 days of meals. She received a W-2 from this group, even though she really didn’t enjoy any of the benefits of being an actual employee – she had no guarantees of work, no contract beyond 3 weeks, and definitely no benefits package. She did have taxes taken out and I believe pension contributions under the groups’ CBA.

What I am wondering is if she can treat this work and its expenses as any kind of self-employment and take above line deductions rather than fall under the unreimbursed employee business expense category, which creates a much more complicated situation – we would have to itemize her travel and costs for every ensemble rather than just the one she subbed with and a festival.


Unfortunately, if you receive a W-2, you are generally considered  an employee for tax purposes.  There are some exceptions; for  example, taxable scholarships are frequently reported on form W-2 with no  Social Security or Medicare taxes withheld.  Statutory employees  receive a W-2, but their income is reported on Schedule C allowing them to  take deductions directly off income.  To be considered a statutory  employee, box 13 must be checked next to “Statutory Employee” on form  W-2.  The only Statutory Employees I’ve worked with are insurance agents  and sales people, not musicians.  To be an employee, length of  engagement, benefits package, work guarantees, etc. are not really a  factor.  Many part-time employees do not receive any of these benefits,  but are still considered “employees”.  I assume your wife did have one  benefit: the employer probably paid into her Social Security and Medicare  accounts (if there is an amount in boxes 4 and 6 of the W-2, these  amounts were withheld from your wife’s paycheck and also matched by the  employer).

As  an employee, expenses are reported either as miscellaneous itemized deductions  on Schedule A or on form 2106 (Employee Business Expenses) which then flows to  miscellaneous itemized deductions on Schedule A; form 2106 would be required  with the mileage deduction you mentioned.  There is one category of  musician (or other artist) that can take expenses directly off income as an  adjustment on page one of form 1040; this is a special category  called “Qualified Performing Artist” (see my article about this on, but one test to qualify for this status is that  adjusted gross income (total of both spouses) must be less than $16,000, a  difficult test to meet.  If you cannot file as a qualified performing  artist, I think you have little choice other than claim the expenses as  unreimbursed employee business expenses.

Thank you for your question, but I doubt this is the answer you were  looking for.

Bill  Hunt

About the author

William Hunt
William Hunt

Bill Hunt has been a professional tax accountant since 1993. His tax preparation career began with H&R Block, where he prepared individual tax returns for ten years. He now manages his own tax practice, preparing individual as well as corporate tax returns, and specializing in tax returns for musicians. He is an Enrolled Agent with the Internal Revenue Service, allowing him to represent clients before the IRS. Bill holds a Master of Business Administration degree with concentrations in Finance and Corporate Accounting from the Simon School of Business Administration at the University of Rochester.

In addition to his tax career, Mr. Hunt has been a member of the First Violin section of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra since 1975, and also serves as Concertmaster for the Penfield Symphony. He has been guest soloist with the Penfield Symphony, Fredonia Chamber Players, Cincinnati Community Orchestra, and The Society for Chamber Music in Rochester. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Cincinnati and a Master of Music degree from the University of Michigan.

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