2007 Compensation Report: ICSOM Music Directors

Following a season where the average International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) music director saw a slight dip in average income, 2004-2005 increases more than made up for those small losses…

Where The Numbers Come From

All data presented in these reports coincide with the corresponding documentation from the 2004-2005 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 2004-2005 concert season.
  • Total Ensemble Expenditures were also obtained from each respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2004-2005 concert season.
  • Musician Base Salary figures were obtained from compensation records collected by the American Federation of Musicians and International Guild of Symphonic, Opera, and Ballet Musicians (IGSOBM) for the 2004-2005 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. Furthermore, some individuals have compensation listed separately for conducting and non conducting duties (such as Seattle’s Gerard Schwarz and Chicago’s Daniel Barenboim).

The Musician Base Salary figures collected by the AFM for ICSOM ensembles are done so on an annual basis and reported in a booklet entitled Wage Scales & Conditions in the Symphony Orchestra.  Figures for the IGSOBM ensemble (Seattle) come directly from their respective orchestra chairperson.

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 or reduce their annual earnings.

Furthermore, these figures may not reflect bonuses or other incentive payments, therefore underreporting what executives 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, even though 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.

The “Musician Base Salary” figures do not include any additional payments offered by some organizations such as voluntary outreach services, and minimum overscale and/or seniority payments, all of which are more common for ICSOM musicians as opposed to their ROPA peers. Finally, these figures do not include any of the opera, ballet, or festival orchestras which are members of ICSOM or IGSOBM.

Top Men

How Things Compare To Last Year

Unlike the previous season where it was difficult to establish a reasonable percentage change in annual compensation, the 2004-2005 season witnessed some stability among conducting positions. As a result, it became much easier to determine that compensation levels improved a great deal for the average ICSOM music director:

  • Compared to the figures from the 2004-2005 season, the average ICOSM music director’s increase in compensation came to 13.87 percent; this is the single largest increase since the 1999-2000 season.
  • For the first time in the history of ICSOM ensembles, two music directors earned more than $2 million in annual compensation during the 2004-2005 season.
  • Although improved over the previous season, the 1.82 percent average increase in Base Musician Compensation was still below the rate of inflation and less than half of the increases from the 00/01 through 02/03 seasons.
  • 2004-2005 was the first season since the Adaptistration Compensation Reports started which witnessed musician compensation at one orchestra (St. Louis) slide considerably due to a work stoppage.

Who Earns The Most?

More so than executive directors, music directors are 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 the primary conductor in more than one ensemble. As a result, these conductors can easily double, triple, or even quadruple the annual compensation figures listed in this report.

Here are all of the ICSOM music directors who earned no less than $1 million during the 2004-2005 season:

  1. New York Philharmonic’s Lorin Maazel earned $2,638,940
  2. Chicago Symphony’s Daniel Barenboim earned $2,044,679
  3. San Francisco Symphony’s Michael Tilson Thomas earned $1,636,218
  4. Boston Symphony’s James Levine earned $1,592,000
  5. Philadelphia Orchestra’s Christoph Eschenbach earned $1,546,000
  6. Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Esa-Pekka Salonen earned $1,339,500
  7. Cleveland Orchestra’s Franz Welser-Most earned $1,232,515

Cash Cow

Arturo never had it so good.
Blinganini? Arturo never had it so good.

An outsider looking into this business might have a hard time believing that a number of orchestras are struggling financially given that more than 15% of ICSOM music directors are paid in excess of $1 million for the 2004-2005 season. In fact, an average American might imagine that most music directors walk around looking like the photo to your left (click to enlarge).

Nevertheless, the reality is that the vast majority of musicians, ticket buyers, board members, and managers are content to pay these fees provided the music director is capable of accomplishing these critical components:

  • Serve as a catalyst for the group to become artistically greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Leave musicians and listeners alike artistically satisfied and excited to experience the next concert together.
  • Play their part in helping to secure and maintain funding sources.
  • Interact with administrative and artistic personnel in a respectful, productive manner.
  • Leave their ego on the stage.

Historically, a music director’s value is whatever an organization and their community decide. At the same time, whenever the business observes sizeable increases in music director compensation, such as the gains experienced throughout the 2004-2005 season, it should serve as a good reminder to re-evaluate the value of their organization’s music director lest compensation levels rocket upward unchecked. Once a proper evaluation takes place, they will be well equipped to take appropriate action.

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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3 thoughts on “2007 Compensation Report: ICSOM Music Directors”

  1. Clearly, there’s no rhyme nor reason to compensation across the board for either music directors or executive directors. No correlation between compensation and quality, not even between compensation and budget size (or financial stability and growth). Things like longevity (as in the case of Monder) are a relatively rare skewing factor, and it would be hard to say that “market forces” apply.

    My own theory has to do with boards. Managers and conductors (or conductors’ managers) are variously skilled at negotiation and boards are, for the most part, sitting ducks. The tougher the negotiator, the more boards cough up, regardless of performance.

    Thanks for your comment and I agree that your comments points out a number of distinct problems in this business and only gets worse when you consider the source most board members turn for knowledge and understanding is an organization managed and almost entirely comprised of former managers, head hunters, and private agents. It would likely be good for the entire business if there were somewhere board members could turn for some impartial oversight. ~ Drew McManus

  2. Actually, there is some correlation between executive and music directors’ compensation and ensemble budget. I’ve been doing some number-crunching with this data, and I hope to be able to offer some results in a few days. But I can tell you now that if you chart Executive Director, Music Director, or Musician Base Salary against ensemble budget you do get an obvious, if somewhat fuzzy, trajectory. And if you plot them on a chart that’s logarhythmic on both axes you get even straighter and clearer lines.

    I’ve also done some looking at the data-set of Executive Director compensation as a percentage of total ensemble budget. Among ICSOM ensembles, excluding LA because of the artificially high number, I looked at the standard deviation and distribution of Executive Director Compensation, and found:

    The standard deviation is .62%, and the mean is 1.45%

    31 executive directors are within one standard deviation of the mean.

    10 are more than one but less than two standard deviations from the mean

    1 is more than two standard deviations from the mean, but that’s Buffalo which is actually the total of two directors.

    These patterns point toward a sort of industry standard which at least in part ties executive compensation to the total budget of the organization. Whether that standard is appropriate, and how far from the standard a given ensemble should be allowed to go, are entirely separate questions.

    These numbers are all preliminary, and I have more on the way.

    Fascinating stuff Galen, thanks for sharing and I’m looking forward to your continued results. ~ Drew McManus

  3. Unfortunately, a lot of boards also look to Board Source, a well-intentioned, process-driven consulting firm that tends to do more demage than good. The notion that you can affect positive change with a survey and retreat, then walk away and exoect the organization to reform itself, is inherently flawed.

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