Supply & Demand or Supplying the Demand?

In December, 2005 I published an article at the Partial Observer which examined the impact Yale School of Music’s decision to go tuition-free for graduate students would have on the classical music business…

Although Yale’s new policy won’t change the landscape of classical music all that much, it does draw attention to an undeniable fact that conservatories and schools of music are accepting and graduating more music majors than ever before. As stated in my previous article, this will likely lead to more students of higher quality graduating from college which creates increased competition for fewer positions; in turn, this produces a need for more musicians to find other outlets to generate income.

Increasingly, recent music performance graduates must face a difficult dilemma created by fewer performance opportunities: how do they pay the bills and keep food in their stomachs while simultaneously spending large sums of money to take expensive auditions for a decreasing pool of positions. Traditionally, they either obtain non-performance related jobs which slowly pull them out of the music business, they establish hand-to-mouth chamber ensembles, or establish large private teaching studios.

It’s that final option which has really established itself over the recent decade as an option which allows musicians to earn a living wage while remaining steeped in the culture of classical music. Of all the playing related commercial endeavors younger players can dive into, establishing a private teaching studio is one of the best-paying. Compared to public school teaching, it allows much greater flexibility with time management so the individual can continue to take auditions and participate in ad hoc performance work (known in the business as “gigging”). With low overhead expenses and the ability to earn anywhere from $20 to $75 per hour, it also provides an opportunity to earn a living wage.

This is where problems begin to enter the equation. One of the unforeseen outcomes from the increase in availability of quality private teachers is an increase in the number of high school age students who decide to pursue a career in music performance. The ensuing vicious cycle is beginning to have an unintentional negative impact on several aspects of the business, not the least of which is a decrease in overall artistic accomplishment and economic stability of orchestras via increased labor tensions.

Nevertheless, there’s another possibility that only a dynamic examination will illuminate: the overall increase in the amount of direct exposure to classical music via private instruction can create a wave of increased participation in live orchestral concert events. This increased participation will provide amplified financial support and community interaction which will allow more performing arts organizations to increase their artistic expenditures, thus increasing the number of performance positions which pay a living wage.

In the end, you have to begin making connections between all of these separate parts in order for the latter idea to work. Dynamic managers will view this landscape as field littered with money simply waiting to be picked up. Static managers won’t even see the field.

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 “Supply & Demand or Supplying the Demand?”

  1. I think I alluded to this idea a while back, but never followed up. I do think that instrumental music education is key to a flourishing “nonpop” musical culture. All my non-professional {music) friends attend non-pop concerts, and ALL played in school bands and orchestras! I’ve always wondered if anyone has bothered to to do surveys to see what musical backgrounds audiences of orchestal, chamber music etc. have. This might inform how educational outreach is being done.

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