2010 Compensation Reports: ROPA Executives

Although they didn’t enjoy nearly as large of an increase in compensation as their ROPA peers, the average ROPA executive still managed to outpace inflation by a healthy margin. Comparatively, the 2007/08 season produced the highest percent increase in average compensation since the 2002/03 season…


In order to provide information that is as accurate as possible, data from the 2007/08 season is gathered from the following sources:

  • Executive compensation figures were obtained from their respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2007/08 concert season.
  • Total Expenditures were also obtained from each respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the2007/08 concert season.
  • Base Musician compensation figures were obtained from records collected by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) for the 2007/08 concert season.

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 submit a notice.


It is important to remember that the numbers shown do not always convey a complete compensation picture. For example, an orchestra executive may have had a large increase in salary due to a contractually mandatory severance or deferred compensation package. Additionally, if any executive was not employed for a full season, the documents used to gather this data do not indicate how much of the season the individual received a salary. As such, the cumulative compensation may artificially inflate annual earnings. Conversely, reported figures may not reflect bonuses or other incentive payments and may therefore underreport what executives actually earn; therefore, the cumulative compensation for executive directors may or may not be more than what is listed.

As for Regional Orchestra Player Association (ROPA) musicians, unlike the vast majority of their peers in International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (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 $29,415, more than 60 percent of the musicians earn less than that base salary figure. Those players are paid via sliding per service tier system and may earn as little as a few thousand dollars per season.

In the strictly per service ensembles, the figures listed in the Base Musician compensation column 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 always guaranteed. Additionally, the Base Musician figures do not include any additional payments offered by some organizations such as voluntary outreach services, and minimum overscale payments. Finally, opera or ballet organizations are not included in these reports, only symphonic and chamber orchestra ensembles.

Top Men


In order to obtain a clearer picture of changes in average compensation, compensation data from orchestras that did not pay an executive for an entire season or paid an incoming and outgoing executive in the same season are factored into a “real average.” Although this is not a definitive figure, it does assist in proving a more comprehensive picture of compensation. When applied to this year’s data the average change in executive compensation increased from 6.56 to 7.16 percent.


Top Men

  • For the first time in the history of the orchestra compensation reports, the Toledo Symphony CEO was not the highest paid executive in this category. That position is now occupied by the executive from the Pacific Symphony who, in turn, set a new all time high compensation level.
  • Nine of the Top 10 highest paid ROPA executives for the 2007/08 season are men.
  • The average annual compensation for the Top 10 highest paid executives for the 2007/08 season was $171,455.


Although average ROPA executives didn’t enjoy as large of an increase as their ICSOM peers, they still managed to outpace other stakeholders in this category by sizeable margins. As was mentioned in the onset of this report, executive compensation levels for the 2007/08 season are representative of attitudes dominating the height of the economic bubble. At the same time and shortly after the economic downturn, a number of executives voluntarily implemented cuts to their own compensation as a first step toward enacting pay cuts throughout the entire organization.

A common approach in that cost control practice has been to espouse a policy of shared pain, meaning all stakeholders should absorb equal percentage cuts. So if the CEO takes a 10 percent pay cut, so should the majority of staff and artistic stakeholders. That very notion was presented here at Adaptistration as a recommend practice in an article from January, 2009 entitled A Meaningful Approach To Concessions.

At the same time, it is beneficial to consider cuts in a dynamic perspective. For instance, if an orchestra’s CEO and musicians agree to accept matching reductions in compensation, it is fair to examine the past several years of changes in compensation in order to compensate for spikes in either direction.

Ultimately, an organization’s stakeholders will need to determine if this historical perspective has any impact on whether or not the purported equal pay cut is indeed, equal. Likewise, executive board members would benefit from taking these variables into consideration not only during annual executive reviews but during the initial stages of the planning process associated with sudden economic adjustments.

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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