The Realities of Orchestral Life

Next Monday, September 27th I have the honor of serving as a guest speaker at the Eastman School of Music’s Institute for Music Leadership.  The class, taught by Professor Ray Ricker, is titled "The Realities of Orchestral Life" and explores changing attitudes and the ways musicians can become more pro-active in shaping their workplace; my topic for that evening’s class is "Negotiating Your Future".

I actually wrote an article about this course and the Institute for Music Leadership last February during an examination of how conservatories are preparing their students for the non artistic issues of being a professional orchestra musician.

Preparing music students for the non artistic realties of this industry is a critical component to how well they will shape their future workplace landscape.  I remember my own conservatory training was completely deficient in these issues so it feels good to know I’m able to do something about the situation in the here and now for these students.  And it feels good to know that there’s a school out there providing a class like this for their students.

The highlight of the two hour class will be a mock contract negotiation.  The students, who represent the orchestra members, have already elected a negotiation committee from among their peers while I will serve as the management’s negotiation "team". 

The negotiation committee has been responsible for distributing questionnaires to their fellow students about which issues are most important to them during the upcoming negotiations.  How well they carry through on this part of the project before next Monday will determine how effective they’ll be for the negotiations and creating a contract that their peers will vote in favor for.

To help the students out, I’ve created a seven year financial history for the fictional "Sim Orchestra" which allows them know where the orchestra’s been and how things currently stand. The orchestra structure parallels a typical $3million – $5 million annual budget ROPA ensemble   not unlike the type of ensembles some of them may be joining at some point in their career. 

The following chart details the financial history (each column color represents the length and terms of pervious contacts):

 

Sim Orchestra

97-98

98-99

99-00

00-01

01-02

02-03

03-04 Projected

Full Time Players (A contract)

25

32

33

34

48

48

50

Per Service Players (B contract)

no guarantee

no guarantee

no guarantee

no guarantee

25

25

25

Full Time Base Salary

$14,588

$17,026

$17,285

$17,548

$21,542

$22,208

$22,895

Per Service Base Salary

$1,584

$5,870

$5,870

$5,870

$12,000

$12,371

$12,754

Season Length – A Contract

28 weeks

28 weeks

28 weeks

29 weeks

35 weeks

35 weeks

35 weeks

Guaranteed Services Per Year

no guarantee

no guarantee

no guarantee

no guarantee

189

189

189

Medical Insurance Paid By Employer

n/a

50%

50%

50%

80%

80%

80%

Dental Insurance Paid By Employer

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

50%

50%

50%

Pension Plan Employer Matching contributions

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

2%

3%

4%

Annual Budget

$3,303,918

$4,029,169

$4,103,023

$4,144,468

$4,875,845

$5,187,632

$5,684,588

Annual Revenue

$3,301,764

$4,079,901

$4,126,599

$4,164,603

$4,856,870

$5,003,044

$5,750,000

% Of Budget Derived From Earned Income

62%

58%

54%

54%

48%

45%

48%

Annual Surplus/Deficit

$2,154

$50,732

$23,576

$20,315

($18,975)

($184,828)

$65,412

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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