It’s About Bloody Time

Unless your internet service has been down over the past 24 hours, you’ve probably read the piece in the 7/8/2009 edition of the Times Online (UK) by Richard Morrison that reports on a patron suing a The Wizard of Oz production for failing to use live music. In essence, the patron turned plaintiff was miffed over the fact that the production was billed as a “magical family musical” but failed to mention that the singers were performing to a recorded instrumental soundtrack. Although these events have transpired across the Atlantic, US ballet and opera companies should take heed…

Beware the artistic bait and switch scam
Beware the artistic bait and switch scam

Over the past several years, a number of US ballet and opera companies that used live instrumental music have made the decision to classify that segment as a frill and subsequently cut it out of stressed budgets. As recent as February, 2009 I published an article that examines these issues among smaller budget ballet and opera companies in the Milwaukee-Madison-Chicago region. At that time, one of the four groups examined made the decision to eliminate live music from their 2009/10 season.

In situations where the ballet or opera company uses musicians employed under a collective bargaining agreement, decisions to eliminate live music aren’t as cut and dry. During the 2005/06 season, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater endured a public and nasty labor dispute over the decision to forgo live music (we examined that situation in detail as it unfolded). Ultimately, live music made it back into productions but not long after that incident, a similar situation erupted in Atlanta.

Even if you remove the artistic argument, the UK situation should provide some valuable guidance with regard to proper marketing: If you’re producing a performing arts product that uses recorded or entirely synthesized music to replace what was originally written for live instrumental accompaniment, you had best make it painfully clear in all advertisements lest your profits suffer the wrath of patrons scorned.

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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2 thoughts on “It’s About Bloody Time”

  1. I totally agree. It happened here in Shreveport, LA last Spring when the SS(O)decided to be a “presenter” with programs such as The Beatles and Five By Design without the musicians of the Orchestra who are currently on strike. These concerts were not well attended and many of the concert-goers did not realise that we would not be on stage. Yet, I am told the ticket PRICE was the same. Sounds deceptive to me as well. Live music is best.

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