The Value Of An Involved Music Director

In mid-February of 2008, conductor Bill Eddins posted an excellent article at Sticks and Drones which examines a common disconnect between artistic planning and strategic marketing efforts inside professional orchestras. Bill used an example from his own orchestra, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, to illustrate his point: the title selected by the marketing department for a concert series he designed was inherently counterintuitive to the artistic intention…

This situation isn’t unique to Edmonton and the reasons for a
disconnect between artistic and marketing efforts defined in Bill’s article are the result of a host of variables (stovepiping,
unresponsive music directors, lack of adequate planning time, etc.).
Nevertheless, that disconnect can have an adverse impact on marketing
efforts and a patron’s concert experience, not to mention the
organization’s revenue stream.

To help underscore just how important a music director’s input
is on designing effective marketing material, The Detroit Free Press
published an article
by Mark Stryker which examines Leonard Slatkin’s efforts as Detroit
Symphony music director designate to help make his inaugural season as
successful as possible. Mark’s article opened with a fantastic section
focused on Slatkin’s participation during a marketing meeting about the
orchestra’s website.

If we’re going to play music on the home page, we need to
say what it is and why it’s there," said Slatkin, dressed casually in
plaid shirt and slacks. "This morning I got the Beethoven Violin
Concerto, and I thought, ‘Why is that there? We’re not playing it this

This is a benchmark example for demonstrating the value of
including artistic decision makers in strategic planning sessions which
focus on major points of contact between the organization and patrons.
Without a doubt, getting music directors involved to a greater degree
with these efforts isn’t an easy task but the rewards are well worth
the effort. The sooner managers start facilitating meaningful ways for
conductors to participate in these efforts, the sooner future
generations of conductors will wonder how the business ever got along

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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The Value Of An Involved Music Director