Artificial Barriers

Last week, everyone’s favorite purveyor of doom and gloom, Norman Lebrecht, published a year end review of problems in the orchestra world and regardless of the fact that Norman appears to enjoy toeing the line of pessimism, he does have some very good points…

In particular, I was glad to read Norman suggested that in order to cure some of the critical problems currently plaguing orchestras, they needed to begin thinking a little more dynamically. For example, he suggested that in order to help treat the problems of limited exposure, orchestra managers will need to secure a “buy-out agreement” with the musicians in order to loosen up broadcast restrictions.

Of course, the recording issue is filled with devilish details and there’s no silver bullet answer, but the thrust of the argument is sound; instead of one side attempting to force the other into an “all or nothing” position, smart solutions will include measures which replace one revenue stream with another. I don’t pretend to know exactly what Norman implies buy the term “buy-out” but I’m assuming it has something to do with the notion of replacing revenue instead of simply downsizing.

Finding the replacement revenue stream won’t be an easy task, but more importantly, that task will likely be unique to each orchestra. Of course, forward-thinking managers and musicians are already coming up with some creative solutions which don’t result in embittered attitudes. They work within the current set of rules or find ways to take advantage of recent adjustments (as opposed to being taken advantage of), such as the AFM Internet Agreement.

The most important thing orchestras should be doing at this point is defining a way to work out a process they can use to identify possible solutions. At the conclusion of his article Norman writes “The end of 2005 finds orchestras huddled behind artificial barriers.”, the good news is that artificial barriers are nothing more than a tribute to the stupidity of man; anything created by man can be overcome by man (even in the orchestra business).

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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1 thought on “Artificial Barriers”

  1. To the Mr. Kevin Shea who submitted comment earlier: I’ll be happy to post your comment so long as you can provide some additional detail regarding what exactly your comment was referring to.

    I attempted to contact your you with the email address you provided but that address appears to be invalid.


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