2006 Compensation Report: ROPA Music Directors

Much like their administrative counterparts, music directors serve as a sort of executive manager for nearly all things regarding artistic planning within an orchestra. As such, they should be subject to the same amount of scrutiny as executive administrators regarding their level of performance and if they are adequately fulfilling the duties of their post.

Where The Numbers Come From
All data presented in these reports coincide with the corresponding documentation from the 2003-2004 season. In order to provide information that is as accurate as possible, data is gathered from the following sources:

  • Music Director Compensation figures were obtained from their respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2003-2004 concert season.
  • Total Ensemble Expenditures were also obtained from each respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2003-2004 concert season.
  • Musician Base Salary figures were obtained from compensation records collected by the American Federation of Musicians and IGSOBM (Tucson) for the 2003-2004 concert season.

The Music Director Compensation figures include the combined amounts reported as what the IRS classifies as “compensation” and “contributions to employee benefit plans & deferred compensation”. However, each orchestra does not always report figures for the latter category. Additionally, some organizations list music director compensation among the five highest paid private contractors as opposed to employee compensation. In these instances, no information about benefits or deferred compensation is available.

The Musician Base Salary figures collected by the AFM for ROPA ensembles are done so on an annual basis and reported in a booklet entitled Wage Scales & Conditions in the Symphony Orchestra. However, the majority of “Musician Base Salary” figures are not salary figures at all since only nine of the ensembles pay a fixed salary to a portion of their musicians. The remaining musicians are all paid on a sliding “per service” scale.

Adaptistration makes no claim to the accuracy of information from documents compiled or reported by external sources. If you have reason to believe any of the information is inaccurate or has changed since reported in any of the above sources and you can provide documentation to such effect, please feel free to send in a notice.

What The Numbers Don’t Show
It is important to remember that the numbers shown do not always convey a complete compensation picture. For example, a music director may have had a large increase in salary because they were leaving a position and per terms of their contract they may have received a sizeable severance or deferred compensation package. As such, the cumulative compensation may artificially inflate their annual earnings.

Furthermore, these figures may not reflect bonuses or other incentive payments, therefore underreporting what conductors may actually earn. Also missing from the figures are expense accounts and other perks, which are rarely reported on the IRS Form 990’s. As such, the cumulative compensation for music directors may or may not be more than what is listed.

Additionally, although there are indications noting when individuals were not employed for a full season, the documents used to gather data do not indicate how much of the season an individual received a salary. As such, excessive adjustments in the percentage change from the previous season’s compensation may be artificially exaggerated.

Unlike the vast majority of their peers in ICSOM ensembles who all earn no less than the “Musician Base Salary”, all ROPA ensembles use a tiered system of salary and/or per service payments. For example, although the Richmond Symphony may list a base musician salary of $28, 837, only 36 out of 85 musicians are covered by that base salary figure. The remaining players are paid using the sliding per service tier system and may earn as little as a few thousand dollars per season.

In the per service ensembles (19 out of 31), the figures listed in the “Musician Base Salary” are actually the average annual income earned by section string players (or section wind players if no information for the string players was available). This figure is reported by the AFM because it best represents annual earnings for the musicians who perform the greatest number of services in any per service orchestra; string musicians. However, those compensation figures are not guaranteed.

Additionally, the “Musician Base Salary” figures do not include any additional payments offered by some organizations such as voluntary outreach services, and minimum overscale payments.

Finally, these figures do not include any of the opera or ballet organizations which are members of ROPA or IGSOBM.

Top Men

How Things Compare To Last Year

  • According to these figures, the average ROPA music director earns 806% more than an average ROPA base salary musician and 10% more than the average ROPA executive director.
  • For the first time in the history of ROPA music directors, one individual’s compensation exceeded the $300,000 mark.

Who Earns The Most?
Much like executive directors, music directors at the top of the compensation pyramid. However, unlike their administrative counterparts most conductors earn much more throughout the course of a season. Many rarely conduct more than 12 weeks at their respective ensemble; as such, they maintain regular guest conducting schedules and several even serve as resident conductors in more than one ensemble. In effect, they can easily double, triple, or even quadruple the annual compensation figures listed above (Such as Jeffrey Kahane below).

Nine conductors earned more than $120,000 in compensation for the 2003-2004 season. Additionally, four of the nine ensembles below do not offer musicians any guaranteed annual compensation.

  1. Pacific Symphony’s Carl St. Clair earned $314,930
  2. Hartford Symphony’s Edward Cumming earned $165,732
  3. Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s Edvard Tchivzhel earned $154,199
  4. Dayton Philharmonic’s Neal Gittleman earned $145,000
  5. Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s Jeffrey Kahane earned $142,150
  6. Omaha Symphony’s Victor Yampolsky $137,328
  7. Santa Rosa Symphony’s Jeffrey Kahane earned $134,000
  8. Chattanooga Symphony’s Robert Bernhardt earned $123,332
  9. Richmond Symphony’s Mark Russell Smith earned $120,804

Who Gained The Most?
The following ROPA ensembles increased their music director’s annual compensation by no less than four times the average ROPA music director increase of 2%:

  1. Canton Symphony increased music director compensation by 20.27%.
  2. West Virginia Symphony increased music director compensation by 18.55%.
  3. Richmond Symphony increased music director compensation by 17.64%.
  4. Pacific Symphony increased music director compensation by 14.70%.
  5. Chattanooga Symphony increased music director compensation by 13.14%.
  6. California Symphony increased music director compensation by 12.68%.
  7. Hartford Philharmonic increased music director compensation by 12.48%.
  8. South Bend Symphony increased music director compensation by 9.76%.

Where Are The Concertmaster Figures?
There are two reasons why the concertmaster compensation figures are not listed in this installment.

First, the IRS only requires nonprofit organizations to list the top five employees and private contractors paid over $50,000 on Form 990.

Second, because ROPA musicians earn so much less than their ICSOM peers, there is only one ROPA ensemble that pays their concertmaster enough to warrant including that individual on the Form 990. Furthermore, concertmasters in other ensembles who do earn over $50,000 may not earn enough to be considered in the top five paid employees.
The only ensemble who reported concertmaster compensation figures for the 2003-2004 season was the Toledo Symphony; their concertmaster earned $105,041, 6.44% more than the 2002-2003 season.

The music director Percentage Change category for the 2003-2004 season was thrown off a bit by a few music directors that did not conduct complete seasons. For example, in Spokane and Knoxville the music directors earned significantly less than their predecessors from the 2002-2003 season due to their reduced conducting duties. If you remove those figures from the overall Percentage Change average, the average rate of increase for the 2003-2004 season moves from 2.00% to 3.16%, only slightly higher than the average increase in ROPA base musician compensation yet well below the average 5.86% increase for ROPA executive director compensation.

Nevertheless, ROPA music directors continue to earn a significantly higher level of compensation compared to average ROPA base musicians. Even the lowest paid ROPA music director in the 2003-2004 season still earned 345% (or $42, 666) more than the Poverty Threshold for a two person family unit. Compared that figure to the average ROPA Base Musician Compensation which came in at $28 below that same Poverty Threshold, and it is evident that music directors are compensated at a comfortable level.

In the end, all of the same discussions presented in the concluding section of the 2006 ROPA Executive Director Compensation Report are equally applicable for ROPA music directors. However, one significant difference between how music directors and their administrative peers finalize their compensation boils down to representation. For instance, the vast majority of music directors employ highly skilled professional talent agents to negotiate their contracts.

These agents generally earn a percentage of their client’s overall compensation and it doesn’t take long to realize that the higher music directors are compensated, the more their agents earn. As such, it would be prudent for those responsible in the music director contract negotiations to consider this when it comes time to negotiate/renew a music director’s contract.

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.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment