Who’s Who In Orchestra Administration

So does the department director report to the jr. vice president? Or should they report to the general manager?  How about the orchestra manager, do they have authority over the box office customer service representatives?  Is the general manager also a vice president?  Can an executive director report to a CFO?

Confusing, isn’t it?  Go to your local orchestra web site and look up the administrative staff.  Assuming you’re even able to locate a staff directory, you’ll probably have difficulty deciphering all of the titles and positions.  Don’t worry, you’re not alone.  Many orchestras give very different titles for very similar positions and sometimes two organizations will have the same position title but it will indicate a different administrative level.  Then add to that the host of specialized positions with their own titles such as librarians, personnel managers, and stage managers.  Are they director level managers or vice presidents?

I took a look at the Utah and Baltimore Symphonies.  At Utah the person in charge of their entire marketing and public relations department has the title “Director”.  But in Baltimore the same position is titled “Chief Marketing Officer” and an individual one tier down has the title “Assistant Director of Marketing”.

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I doubt orchestras will ever settle on a uniform system of position titles; but in general, here’s how things break down:

This chart only presents a small portion of the Tier Thee and Tier Four positions that usually exist in most orchestras, but it gives you a good general idea.

There are four basic levels of bureaucracy in an orchestra’s administration along with a basic number of specialized positions:

  1. Tier one: This is the primary executive that oversees the entire administration.  When I write for this column I almost always use the first of the titles listed below, even though nearly all of the bigger orchestras use the latter two.  Titles include:
    a. Executive Director
    b. President
    c. Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
  2. Tier two: These are the individuals that report directly to the Tier One administrator.  They typically oversee one or two specific departments in the organization, which are detailed in the manager’s essay located in the Orchestra Leadership section.  Titles include:
    a. Director
    b. Sr. Vice President
    c. General Manager
    d. Manager
    e. Anything with the word “chief” preceding it and ending in “Officer”, such as Chief financial Officer or Chief Marketing Officer, etc. (except CEO, which is reserved for tier one administrators
  3. Tier three: These individuals typically exist in larger organizations; they are “middle managers” that focus on specific sections of a particular department. Many recent college graduates with arts administration degrees fill these positions.  Titles include:
    a. Assistant Director
    b. Jr. Vice President
    c. Manager
  4. Tier four: these are the individuals that do most of the actual hands on work in an organization.  They are typically entry level positions and are sometimes filled by local residents or recent college graduates. Titles include:
    a. Coordinator
    b. Representative
    c. Administrators
    d. Assistant
    e. Specialists
  5. Special skills positions:  these are very unique positions within an orchestra.  They are filled by individuals with unique training and/or skills and are usually pigeonholed into that position for the remainder of their career.  Depending on the organization, they can be highly compensated and report to only one boss. They also have much greater daily contact with the actual musicians.  These positions include:
    a. Librarians
    b. Personnel Managers
    c. Stage Managers and stage crew

When writing for this column, I typically use the generic terms of executives and staffers.  Staffers populate the Tier Four positions, and the executives are in charge of things, they hang out in Tier One and Tier Two.  Most of the Tier Three positions don’t exist in orchestras with annual budgets below $10,000,000 but their ranks are jam packed in the big budget orchestras.

I hope this little primer helps you to better understand the organizational structure of a typical orchestra.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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