Looking Back At The Money Drug

Back in March I published an article entitled The Money Drug which examines a very real problem in the industry that deals with musicians and managers.  The article examines how musicians in the mid and top level orchestras compensate unhappy working conditions and artistic dissatisfaction with an ever increasing need for added compensation.

Another dangerous side effect of this syndrome is apathy and a revengeful nature.  I predicted that the best place to break the cycle of counter productiveness is in the lower 80% of orchestras:

For established players in some orchestras, however, there isn’t an easy answer.  By already receiving a high salary at the expense of low job satisfaction, they are accustomed to life as they know it.   It’s almost like a fatal dose of radiation, once it’s happened there isn’t anything you can do but wait for it to end.  The orchestras that are in the best position to break this cycle are the middle league orchestras those in that bottom 80%.  Regrettably, many of these orchestras are in such financial trouble (due to poor management) they are in the process of dismantling themselves. So whether or not they can realize this new model is, at best, subject.

This is where the symbiotic relationship between managers and musicians come into play; this cycle will begin to change for the better with initiatives taken by managers.

Musicians are reactive by nature, any control they have in an orchestra is protective.  They don’t have any ability to enact proactive changes in an institution, all they can do is decide to go along with an idea or fight against it.

The real power in an organization rests with managers, who by their nature are more conducive to change.  The cycle needs to be broken by managers taking the first steps toward a simple philosophy; treat musicians like professionals and they will do the same in return.  Eliminate contractual loopholes and the fuzzy language that allow for abuse and games.

The old parable “good fences make good neighbors” can be applied in a number of ways to the orchestra industry.  Managers and musicians have to live side by side and work together.  They don’t have to like each other but they have to respect each other and eliminate the opportunities for abuse, apathy, and retaliation.

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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