People Are Attracted To Winners

That’s precisely what I told Jeff Karoub from the Associated Press yesterday when we were talking about the differences between for profit and nonprofit business strategies for dealing with a tough economy. One substantial difference is related to what I call the Fragile Powerhouse concept, which dictates that not only do performing arts organizations fail to benefit from laying off workers during down periods, but that course of action has a prolonged negative impact on overall artistic quality and institutional prowess…

If you were to rephrase this from the for profit perspective, it would go something like this: whereas the time between when a factory hires back skilled workers to when it reaches optimum production output is relatively short, a professional orchestra can take a decade or more to regain lost artistic excellence.

I coined the Fragile Powerhouse concept back in 2007 and in an ironic twist, when I went back through Adaptistration’s archives to review that post, I discovered that it was connected to a situation at none other than the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO). Here’s the original description:

Creating a destination orchestra takes decades to accomplish and is ultimately the result of several board and administration regimes successfully building on one series of accomplishments after another. Conversely, it only takes a season or two to tear much of that progress down and more often than not, you don’t notice the cycle has even started until it is too late.

As such, destination level orchestras are not unlike a Faberge Egg: it takes an enormous amount of time and dedication to craft but only a few seconds to cause irreparable damage – the Fragile Powerhouse.

You can read more about what Karoub and I discussed in his AP article that went out on 8/30/2010. There’s another good article in the 8/30/2010 edition of the Detroit News by Michael Hodges that includes some additional perspective from me as someone who spent a number of formative early childhood years growing up in Michigan. Hodges’ article also presents an as-of-yet unseen look at the labor strife from the perspective of Detroit area business service organizations. All in all, both articles present some fresh angles on events and are worth your time.

On a positive note, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra unveiled a new website yesterday and although I have yet to conduct the 2010 orchestra website reviews, the homepage alone tells me that this looks like a big improvement over their previous user interface. The DSO players’ (unfortunately clunky) website is located here. I’ll offer some free advice for the latter: having the homepage automatically play a music file fell out of design best practice long ago. As such, you may want to tweak the design a bit and think about using a better publishing platform. If you do, I highly recommend using a local install version of WordPress along with one of the hundreds of easy to use, designer premium themes (like the type available here, here, and here). Since it looks like things may not wrap up any time soon, there’s no better time than the present to implement the updates.

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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17 thoughts on “People Are Attracted To Winners”

  1. On the plus side, I do like how their navigation is setup. In plain English, a visitor can at-a-glance understand and navigate to pages of interest. That aspect of their site I like a lot.

    I do agree 100% about music on web sites. At least provide a clear OFF switch if music must absolutely be playing. Without one the site can end up looking very ego-centric to the end-user, not to mention extremely annoying. The sentiment ends up being no different than those annoying pop-up advertisements.

    That is not a good impression for a musician’s site to have.

  2. Do keep in mind that DSO musicians were trained as musicians-not as website authors, or pr. release experts. It is still a shock to me after spending years perfecting my craft that I/we should also have to develop these other skills to survive.
    I thank you Mr. McManus and Bruce for your terrific perspective’s and we will try to do better-though playing great music is really our forte-not website design.

    • Hi Geof, I’m going to have to disagree with you here. The excuse that musicians aren’t PR professionals, developers, or designers simply doesn’t fly. you belong to a national union and they have more than enough resources to provide their members with adequate assistance to build and maintain player association websites. If they aren’t providing that support, I suggest the musicians start asking “why?”. Moreover, in addition to the union support, I would be surprised if the DSO players association doesn’t maintain an independent fund for the purposes of engaging negotiators, legal counsel, PR professionals, etc. beyond that which is provided by their union. This is typical for players associations in 52 week orchestras.

      So please take this with the good intentions it is delivered but there simply is no excuse for the DSO musicians to have an inadequate players association website. The situation hasn’t exactly popped up out of the blue and there have been numerous examples of well designed musician websites over the years.

    • In my experience as a developer and musician I see lots of parallels between music and design. The sensibilities are very similar. A foggy interpretation is confusing in either case.

      Musicians aren’t a lot of things – we are not trained bankers, marketers, negotiators, entrepreneurs, etc – but these are all roles that we play at one time or another. We must wear many hats in order to be successful.

      I would echo Drew’s comment that in this day and age it is pretty easy to have a slick musician’s site with minimal expense or effort. There is a baseline standard for design that is pretty much built into most WordPress templates for example, that consumers have grown to expect.

      Please take my comments and criticism in the constructive spirit they are intended, but saying that musicians are smart enough to figure out how an effective web site is laid out is a rationalization and is frankly, lazy thinking.

      I have done it here –

  3. I am very glad for the critics and the perspective you all bring to the situation on this page.

    I agree we have to wear many hats to survive-especially lately. It is a shame that one is not taught or prepared for that while at music school.

    I am curious about the music “off” switch. I have one in the lower left hand corner of every page except the home page-is that not appearing for some?

    I will pass on your comments to the person who manages it-which as far as I know is a fellow musician.

  4. Seems to be being removed as we cyberspeak per recommendations..

    I at least am a little confused-is great music being played on a website by the orchestra that is being destroyed a negative?
    At age 52 perhaps I am out of touch -but I am not sure I get it.. 🙂

  5. Not to sound like an old timer which I don’t feel I am-but if one has to apologize for great music what kind of a world are we in now? There is the mute button to hit if it offends some. The musak in public places I bet would muffle anything off any website.

  6. P.S. I am probably just cranky because the last time I went to a restaurant for a meal there were 10 different wide screen tv’s playing, musak was playing loudly in the background, and most adults were either texting or talking on their iphones while the kids were playing some type of video game.

    • The Internet is all about instant choices. If I go to a restaurant and I’m hungry, I will most likely grab a table even if there are televisions blasting away.

      On the Internet, I would just go somewhere else if my choices were limited, even if I were ‘hungry’ for knowledge. 🙂

      It is not about great music playing so much as it is about choice. Netizens are a fickle bunch, and if they feel like they are being forced to do something, they will just go somewhere else. They need to feel in control and not put upon.

      It is much easier to click a mouse than hop back in your car, or take a different elevator. Yes, no doubt this is great music (I am a fan) but having it play by default can make visitors feel put upon and uninvolved.

      It can actually backfire and drive interest away rather than pulling it in.

  7. Oh my goodness Geoff. I’m older than you and can tell you that not using music immediately on your musician website will not dilute your message of your fantastic orchestra. You should be able to search via Google, as I did, to find this on aspects of using music on websites:

    “you should be aware that background music that automatically starts playing when a web page is loaded may not be appreciated by a large number of your visitors. Some of them, when greeted with the sudden blaring of music from their speakers, may immediately hit the BACK button of their browsers. This may occur even if you’re playing a piece of music that you think is well loved by everyone: remember, there are people who surf the Internet in public libraries, at work, or in the dead of the night when others are asleep. Others may already have their favourite piece of music playing on their computer speakers, and your auto-playing music file will only cause them to be annoyed.”

    I found it at

  8. I understand the point and thanks for the link-I was completely unaware of this.

    I just find it strange that in a world where you can not enter a restaurant,elevator, or even pump gas without some form of music/media blaring at you that someone visiting a site which is about music would be offended by music!
    Philosophically speaking of course-I understand the practical aspect.
    Can we start working on removing it likewise from the above mentioned places lol!

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