Getting Caught Up On Detroit

It has been a few weeks since we’ve examined the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) work stoppage but all in all, we haven’t really missed very much. As of today, the DSO musicians have been on strike for 26 days and the last public dust up occurred in conjunction with a musician sponsored concert event on October 24th…

A few weeks before the scheduled concert date, WADL-TV came to an agreement with the musicians to broadcast the 3:00pm ET concert. According to a 10/23/2010 Detroit News report by Lawrence B. Johnson, the television station received a letter from a law firm hired by the DSO which “ominously suggest[ed] that the station might end up with liability in connection with the broadcast.”

Apparently, the television station did not take kindly to the letter and issued the following statement:

“We are disappointed that the management of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra should seek to instruct us on how we are to fulfill our responsibilities to our viewing public and that they should be expending scarce resources to hire an expensive New York law firm in a misguided attempt to create obstacles to the public’s being able to view and hear a performance by an illustrious group of musicians.”

Johnson reports that the DSO issued a subsequent statement to clarify the intent of the letter sent by their legal representation.

“The DSO recognizes and does not wish to interfere with its musicians’ right to publicize their grievances, nor does it intend to interfere with what WADL chooses to broadcast.

Our sole concern is with the misleading use of the DSO name and mark to solicit funds and suggest that actions taken by striking musicians somehow support the DSO, when they are in fact adverse.”

Beyond all of the high school style drama, is a fascinating study in the value of an orchestra’s brand. More to the point, what is it that comprises an orchestra’s brand? Is it merely the name and logo or is it something else?

Consider what would happen if an orchestra with a long and well established history, like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), with an inarguably distinct sound cultivated over decades and codified in a multitude of broadcasts and recordings suddenly disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle.

What would happen to the CSO brand?

Certainly, if the musicians were never located, the organization could hire an entirely new orchestra but would it still be the same CSO that was identified by its traditional brand? Consequently, the DSO situation becomes a fascinating study, albeit academic, on the value of an orchestra’s brand.

Is the brand restricted solely to the name and any registered trademarks? Is the value of an orchestra’s brand defined in any part by a history of musical accomplishment? Does the brand transcend the musicians to stand entirely on its own regardless of artistic components? What do you think?

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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51 thoughts on “Getting Caught Up On Detroit”

  1. Where does orchestra brand value come from?

    In the long term, it is primarily the assembled musicians and their history of performance that bring value to the brand.

    While the brand may bring some value to the musicians (a player moving from a regional orchestra to a major orchestra is still the same musician, but perhaps more “valued” by the outside world) this is a short-term effect.

    While administration has a very important role in maintaining and protecting brand value, does it really add value on its own? Take Honolulu Symphony Orchestra (please) as an example, where it has been recently proposed that management direction remains (holding on to the HSO brand) while the resident players are cut loose, in favor of presenting itinerant Asian ensembles.

    Perhaps this is an over-simplification, but what long-term community purpose is served by an orchestra administration without an orchestra? It would seem the local venue management already in place could achieve the same ends by booking orchestras without duplication of effort.

    • I think Honolulu is a superb example Chris. In fact, I wonder aloud here from time to time about why so many radical ideas are attempted in established, multi-million dollar budget orchestras as opposed to simply starting up an ensemble to see how the ideas fare. To a large degree, I think there’s an inherent value to an established orchestra’s brand that people want to hang onto for the added support and clout that is attached to the brand.

      What comes into conflict during some of these efforts is when ideas and direction aren’t met with sufficient buy-in from the musician stakeholders of that brand. To a degree, I think that’s at least part of what we’re watching unfold in Detroit.

    • And let’s not forget that no matter how intertwined or not the brand is from the product, it usually does describe the product itself. Can’t call it milk and put orange juice in the carton. (Well, maybe you could, but pretty soon people would catch on and go buy another brand.) And likewise, you can’t call it a symphony orchestra when it’s a brass quintet up there…or even a string orchestra…

  2. The brand is a marketing term which can be affected by the reality of the product. Great orchestras have traditions which evolve over years; this is part of what marketers present as a brand, as they attempt to create a mystique about the orchestra.

    Assuming that, in your example, the society hired a new group of musicians. Maybe there would be some thought to continuing the musical traditions of the CSO, but the new band would develop its own sound, and eventually affect the brand. Good marketers would attempt to highlight the strengths of the new product, which would alter the nature and strength of the brand.

  3. Brand and product are inextricably intertwined, whether you’re talking about consumer electronics, fine wines or symphony orchestras. I like the wine analogy because I think both wines and orchestras are organic and thus evolve. Both the CSO and Chateau Petrus have their trademarks and logos/labelling. But what makes people (aside from status-seekers) buy tickets/bottles is the particulars of what emanates from the stage/bottle, not what the sign out front/label says. What makes each distinctive is something that has been cultivated over time–a certain sound on the one hand, a certain oenologic style on the other. If all of Chateau Petrus’ historic vineyards were wiped out by a natural disaster, the winemaker could still put something in the bottles and sell it, but it would not be Chateau Petrus, exactly. It would not have precisely the same terroir, for one thing. Perhaps in time the distinctive Petrus characteristics could be nearly replicated, assuming the winemaker remained and held the same vision. But even so, it would only replicate a snapshot of what Petrus once was–not what Petrus would have been had its evolution continued unabated, drawing from the same vineyards, carefully cultivated over time. Likewise your CSO/Bermuda Triangle hypo. This is why, if we care about the integrity of the organism that is an established symphony orchestra, we must tend carefully to the growing conditions that allow each orchestra to nurture and fully express its unique characteristics–chief among them, pay and benefits!

  4. This is part of why DSO management is damaging its brand (and its band!) so badly: they are treating the musicians as if the musical traditions and history there don’t matter.

    I fear I missed an opportunity in my previous response to mention that any recovery of an orchestra like the CSO that lost all its musicians would take a very, very long time, if it were to approximate the quality of what was already in place. It would never be the same, and would take a long time to achieve any equivalence of quality. Let’s hope we never have to find out how long!

  5. Interesting to me is over my 30 years as a member of the Detroit Symphony I have had quite a few conductors comment about the “Detroit sound”. To be honest,I never really thought much about it because I was a part of that sound.

    Recently I had the opportunity
    of playing a couple weeks with another major orchestra and was immediately struck with how different the sound and style was, however equally beautiful. Much like comparing Heifetz to Milstein, very different but both great.

    So I do believe there is an individual “brand” that can only come from years and years of mutual collaboration of musicians sharing a stage and a life together.

    Perhaps “brand” is a legal term for lawyers, and the word “soul” instead should be used. Orchestras do have souls, created over many years of life experience…

  6. Orchestra brands have, in the past, been linked to conductors because of the style, and musical direction they brought to the orchestra. Berlin/Karajan and Solti/Chicago are just two examples. These personalities were also easy figure heads for fund-raising and other public relations efforts. In today’s environment with shorter conductor contracts the link to an orchestra’s brand through a conductor almost doesn’t exist anymore. The era of the 10-20 year principal conductor is over, and subsequently this means that orchestras have more difficulty in presenting an image to the general public. Capturing public interest has never been more difficult, and generating support for a brand without a “pitch-man” (ie Michael Jordan) as a figure-head make an orchestra’s job all the more difficult.

  7. I find it very interesting that the discussion above about branding has almost no discussion of the mind of the audience. Without the audience, there is no brand. So what are the patrons saying right now about the DSO brand, the musicians, the management, the longevity of the brand, what it means to them? I suspect that while there is a core of patrons that could identify the Detroit “soul” as it were, that most of the people in Detroit are outsiders to that sound and could benefit from more televised concerts and many of the other work rule changes that the management at DSO seems to be proposing.

    That being said, you inspired me, Drew, and I hope you don’t mind that I referenced you in my latest post on ArtsAppeal. Thanks!

    • Thank you for the kind words David, I’m glad you found the topic intriguing. I would like to point out, however, that work rule items that are currently unresolved in the DSO dispute have such mutually exclusive related it is dangerous to associate something like broadcast fees and “other” items as though they have equal value and impact.

      Certainly, broadcast related work rules are certainly a high priority item but it would be better to be as specific as possible when referencing other work rule issues.

      On a broader issue, your point about consumer/listener input into brand value is interesting but I do think they are a bit more mutually exclusive from one another than you might be suggesting. Ultimately, the organization determines it’s brand and consumers dictate their success. Vehicles such as broadcasts can help promote and distribute the brand and they will have a reciprocal effect but perhaps not as much as you’re suggesting. But feel free to correct me if I’m misinterpreting your points.

  8. It is not just a brand – it is an organization. You can’t have “ABC” orchestra without it’s managment nor without it’s musicians.

    With out the managment the musicians are nothing more than a group of players. With out the musicians the managment is nothing put a presenter.

    Put togehter the two – musicians to play, managment to bring in guest artists and promote and you have ABC Symphony Orchestra.

    So, I find it very offensive that the musicans can still market themselves in a way that still signifies they are the Detriot Symphony Orchestra. Managment does not have the option to present another group of musicians. So the ability of the group of musicans to present themselves as Musicians of Detriot Symphony, in my opinion just as divisive as the DSO managment wanting to present Ms. Chang on her own.

    The musicians take advantage (and in some cases rightfully so) of their ability to be a ABC musician. They use to get other gigs and teaching; yet ABC gets no share of the musicians self enrichment of the ABC name.

    So in short without the organization the Detriot musicians are nothing but musicians living in Detriot, and the Assocation is nothing but an office.

    So stop calling yourselfs Musicians of ABC orchestra and thinking you can enrich yourselves on the back of the assocation name. If your on strike be on strike!

    • Although the thread of responses to this comment are scattered below (don’t forget to use the ‘reply” link when responding to a specific comment folks!) and much of the relevant points have been covered I think it is worth pointing out that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the musicians using the name “Musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra” when promoting concerts regardless if it is in conjunction with a strike or not.

      Likewise, issues of brand composition aside, the DSO board has full rights and ownership to logos and trademarks and can use and enforce those rights as deemed fit.

      Historically, it isn’t the least bit unusual for musicians to present concerts during work stoppages although it has become more common for those concerts to be promoted with language stating that any funds raised will be deposited to a musicians’ health and welfare fund that is in conjunction with a 501c3 organization.

  9. The musicians ARE the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The musicians HAVE done their respective jobs hence the quality as a world-class orchestra. Management have not done their jobs. That is the entire story; anything else is empty rhetoric.

  10. I, too, have heard many other orchestra perform. Our orchestra has a unique sound that I and other patrons appreciate. It is different from Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Our great orchestra has continued to maintain its excellence while successive management teams have failed to do what is necessary to maintain this excellence. If our musicians contracts were terminated and all new musicians hired the result would be on a par with the Detroit Lions–lots of mediocre professionals led by incompetent management.

  11. I respectfully disagree with Wm Will. The musicians are simply using a description to call themselves exactly what they are. I suppose they could call themselves “the musicians formerly known as the musicians of the DSO”, but that does seem a bit long winded, yes?

    Also, DSO management is aggressively using the DSO brand name to promote and present concerts, just look at the DSO website:

    • You are correct they are advertising DSO concerts in future hopes that this will be resolved. Anything less until cancelled would be negligent in their duties.

      While “musicians formerly known” is long winded, it is a little more acurate. Although, that should only be used if DSO assoc. folds.

      • Mr. Will,

        The management is promoting all kinds of concerts that have nothing to do with the musicians. Dee Dee Bridgewater, the Vienna Boys Choir, and the Canadian Brass to name just a few. These concerts are being presented under the banner “The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin, Conductor”

        Do you feel it is ok for management to do this, or should they change their name to “The former management of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra”, or “The temporarily suspended manage……”I think you get my point.

        The musicians are simply using a descriptive adjective to describe who they are. No one is confused by either management’s or the musician’s use of these descriptive monikers.

        As a side note, I find it ironic (and sickening) that management is presenting concerts in a beautiful hall that was saved by the wrecking ball by the musicians in the 1990s, while the musicians are playing in less than acoustically wonderful churches and synagogues in the area.

      • DSO is not “presenting” any of those concerts. They own the Max and presenters are renting the Max or whatever hall.

        How do you pay off a debt on a hall? By renting it. You can buy tickets from the DSO website because they OWN the hall.

        If you notice all concerts presented by DSO say to call for more information.

        So I don’t get your point. Because if you were correct the musicians would try to sink the concerts just like they did Sarah Chang.

        Your right no one is confused. I’m not confused that the musicians are competing with their own employer.

        They are presenting concerts because they need to pay off the debt. Because concerts by the musicians are cutting it. And its the same debt that the musicians are complaining about having.

  12. “Mr. Will”, your comments are like saying Fritos are nothing without their brand manager. Yes, you need a manager to sell Fritos, but the snack is the product just like the musicians of the Detroit Symphony, as a group, are the product. The job of our brand manager is to promote the orchestra, just as the job of the Fritos brand manager is to promote Fritos. The musicians are not just “musicians living in Detroit”, but a cohesive group with its own sound and signature and fans.

    • Laurie, lets explore your “fritos” analogy. First, I doubt Frito Lay would say they are nothing more than a brand manager. They work to develop the recipe, packaging, marketing, distribution and profits. The chips sit in the bag. But if someone were to come along and take the chips out of the bag, put them in a bag labled “chips from a fritos bag” and gain profits from that would be liable for unjust enrichment.

      They may taste the same, but propoters are unjustly enriching themselves underfalse pretense.

      So if the Musicians of the DSO want to go off and start their own group, go for it. If they think it is so poorly run and they could do better, then by all means. But don’t try to pirate a name that it took more than just musicians to develope.

      • An interesting analogy but I think it assumes that the final product in the form of a corn chip and orchestra musicians who create a product are comparable. In this sense, I would say that the musicians are closer to the those who refine the recipe and create the actual corn chips and the corn chips are more akin to the music being produced.

        Of course, you can place contractual restrictions on orchestra musicians preventing them from creating music outside the auspices of concert events presented by their employer but that isn’t really in anyone’s best interests.

        Based on your final sentence, you might find something I published a few years ago related to a mock negotiation exercise I conducted with a group of arts administration students interesting It’s available in two parts: here and here. If you have some time, I’d be interested to hear your reactions after you have time to thoroughly read through both installments.

      • Wm.Will, I am sorry, but your concept of what a Symphony Orchestra is and does is ill informed.The management is
        dispensable, especially, one that fails in their jobs and, worse, is actively working to destroy this orchestra.The only indispensable
        aspect of this situation are the Musicians.Period. There is no point in arguing this.I am, merely, taking the time to explain to you, you have no idea of what you speak.If you are on the Board, or Staff, it would not surprise me.
        Let me further try to explain something to you. First, is the Music. That is it. If one is aware of what these works are and loves them, everything else falls into place.
        The extraordinary creative human minds that wrote these with a pen, or pencil, on paper, wrote them to be performed by the finest musicians possible.Many of these compositions
        are written for an ensemble that is termed an orchestra- not a brand.There are no gimmicks here, just a few select, exceptionally talented,individuals who have spent a lifetime studying, practicing, thinking, rethinking these works and how best to perform them to realize, to the best of their abilities, the intent of what the composer is saying. They perform as an ensemble to communicate to the audience at the highest level what the composer is communicating.It is an extremely complex process. To understand all that occurs is to sit in awe of what a human being can concieve and realize, and then, to hear a proscribed number of musicians required, perform together
        an interpretation of the concepts on the paper the composer wrote, is one of those gifts life affords us.
        However, all of this is done for an audience to hear – to receive, which in turn, reacts to what is being played,giving feedback, effecting the performing Musicians on stage.
        You see, Mr. Will, this is not just pressing a few buttons and downloading an ITune, or a digital recording done on pro-tools.
        Part of the problem is the lack of education and knowledge even on the most fundamental bases of too many in Management, Board members, staff employed, and obviously, in Detroit’s case, that of the CEO’s, who are running a non-profit not a corporation.This is not only extant with orchestra organizations but throughout arts and cultural entities.Without hard knowledge nothing can be competently,properly, efficiently, or effectively done.
        Apparently, Mr. Will, you are not familiar with the fact of other orchestras, which function beautifully, at the highest standard, and with integrity without a Management.The Musicians, themselves, manage the orchestra, the daily responsibilities, fundraising, budgets, programming, booking artists, tours,etc.
        What is happening, today, is a power grab by those without talent, or sufficient talent to be able even to read a score, understand a score,
        know what is required to perform a
        composition by any fine composer,
        or arranger.Boards should consist of at least half, if not a majority of
        musicians. Detroit’s board is down to two musicians. In fact, the number of musicians, or percentage,
        on the Board of musicians, should be stipulated in the Bylaws to be, at least, half.Currently,ignorance and jealousy are
        the problem as revealed by the actions and rhetoric to which the public has access.It is obvious as well that no one in a decision making position even loves the music.If they did, none of this would be happening. It is a gut-turning and embarrassing situation, but the actions of these few and whoever formulated these plans,strategies, and tactics, do not even know enough to understand that.
        Are the responsibilities of these
        positions delineated to include diminishing, or destroying, the orchestra and/or, fazing out Classical Music concerts? Was Ms. Parsons hired to faze out this orchestra? Was that her job description? Why did the Board agree to hire her in the first place? What was its understanding of their role and her
        It’s time, the public start weighing in and insist Ms. Parsons,
        Mr. Nicholson, Cummings, and Frankel,
        are confronted. It’s time to tell them it does not behoove them to think they can diminish the number of Classical Music concerts to 18 weeks,while featuring the Civic Youth Orchestra for 17 weeks in its stead.Are these children being payed, or are they being used, at this time, as scabs? Is there a Union agreement of any kind in regards to the student Civic Youth Orchestras?
        Why would patrons come downtown to hear children try to play beyond three, or four concerts, maybe, and not a Major orchestra that performs to standard? Jazz and Pops have their place, but they are not a substitute for Classical Music. If these leaders want to claim the ‘brand’ and the logo, then, they have to present at least forty weeks of Classical Music concerts. This isn’t the Detroit Jazz Group, or the Detroit Music Students organization. It is the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. These great compositions, written to be played live,and which cannot be performed
        by inferior ensembles in many cases,
        is the sole purpose of this non-profit organization. Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Chopin, Mahler, Ravel, Debussy, Bach, deserve the appropriate number of musicians as required. In fact, it is time the orchestra has the full compliment of musicians needed on a continual basis. It is a symphonic ensemble.
        No one has more power than their music.None of leadership factions own the music, or possess the talent to recreate it.The legacies they are creating are now part of the historic record of Music, of America, and Detroit. They are writing another black mark on the City of Detroit.
        Why, one wonders, are these few
        in these positions of CEO, Board member,or President, if they don’t love the music? No one is forcing them to do this? Why are they demanding the musicians be their partners to destroy their
        careers and the orchestra? How do they expect these musicians to concede and the public to support a second rate orchestra? If that is what they want to run, they should apply and buy into a civic orchestra.
        Why punish the Greater Metropolitan Detroit Classical Music lovers and patrons any further? Have their donations gone up, by the way?
        It came to light that while GM is supposed to have withdrawn its donation, it hasn’t.Their donations are appropriated by Ms. Parsons to go to the Civic Youth Orchestras Concerts.
        If those in charge don’t love hearing Classical Music, or need it, because it makes their lives better, why run a Symphony Orchestra? To destroy all of it for the Music-loving public?
        They, certainly, do not know what they need to know to promote, support, and keep their covenant with the public.Instead of expending
        all of this energy and money to deconstruct the DSO, they could be
        using it to raise funds and audience development.That would be creative.

      • Thank you for the lengthy reply but I wanted to quickly respond to the notion that management are dispensable and musicians aren’t. In short, a universal statement like this is entirely misplaced. Good managers who maximize the institution’s potential are every bit as indispensable as key musicians or a great music director.

        I do disagree with the notion that the board should consist of as many musicians as you suggest. This is a topic we’ve covered at length here at Adaptistration but (once again) in short, expecting musicians to assume the roles and responsibilities of governance within the contemporary nonprofit structure is a key ingredient in a recipe for disaster.

        Although tempers can heat up during labor disputes, it is wise to remember that universal demonizing is never a recommended practice.

      • I don’t need you to explain anything to me. And you are more than welcome to try it on your own – good luck. See you in the soup line. Love don’t pay the bills, and if it does allow everything to fall into place then why do you need to be paid so much? If you don’t need a brand why steal the DSO name? I have been to a lot of concerts in my life and have heard many more on the radio and I’ve heard my fair share that the musicians should go “rethink” how they played.
        I can’t tell if you are a “musician” or an actual member of an organization. Because you just seem to be living in the clouds. I won’t disagree that the musicians work very hard to play at their level, but this Kumbaya that you speak of – give me a break. A lot of times it happens, but I have been around enough to know sometimes the only thing that is moving the musician is the clock.
        What exactly is the fundamental knowledge the management and others seem to be missing? If it is so fundamental you should be able to spell it out; but fail to.
        I’m sure there are orchestras that run their own operations? But how large are they? It sounds like you are member of one. How large is your budget? I’m guessing it’s nowhere at the level of the organizations you are trying to educate me on.
        A NOT-For-profit is a corporation. And it’s attitudes like yours that create non-profit groups that fail. What is this “hard” knowledge managements fail to get?
        Power grab? Who is holding up the ability to play music? The management didn’t lock out the musicians – they are the ones not wanting to play.
        For the record, I have my music degree, so I can read and play a score; and have performed many great compositions by many “fine” composers (and not so fine).
        Sure the board can be composed of that many musicians if they are willing to make the required donation? Pony Up!
        Jealousy? Seriously? Who is spouting unsupported rhetoric?
        Your right managers choose to go in to an underpaid industry because they hate music. Sarcasm – it’s the only response to such a statement.
        I’m sure the management would love to do more classical concerts. But when you’re LOSING money on them… Are you going to pay for 40 weeks? Pony Up! They do the youth orchestra because those events have a better chance of covering their expenses and to cover the debt on the hall. If the Youth orchestra unionized you could say good bye to that as well. Sounds like the GM donations are restricted – that would be a legal contract issue.

        If the patrons of the greater metro Detroit area don’t want to lose out – PONY UP! Do you buy tickets to all these concerts? Do you donate anything? Do you try to develop others to donate? What are you doing to make this music happen? If its SO about the LOVE of MUSIC and the ability to have the GREAT COMPOSERS heard why is money so important to the musicians. Based on your arguments LOVE and MUSIC are all that are needed. The rest will fall into place – Right?

      • A reminder to all: stay civil and check the sarcasm at the door before hitting the “submit comment” button. If you notice that you’re post contains a number of all caps or multiple exclamation points, it’s time to go through and edit.

  13. We call ourselves the Musicians of the Detroit Symphony because that is our registered trademark in the State of Michigan.
    We are on strike because the management refuses to negotiate in good faith with the musicians.
    We present our own concerts in venues other than Orchestra Hall to give our audiences the opportunity to hear the Musicians despite our being on strike, and to show the quality of our performances that are jeopardized by managements proposal B, which would fundamentally change the how we work in ways that will negatively impact the quality of the orchestra, and make it difficult to keep or attract the highest quality musicians.
    We provide our own program books, advertising, ticket sales, ushers, stage management and promotion.
    We have had many fine conductors and soloists agree to work with us because they appreciated what we are trying to preserve. We have produced compelling and interesting programs of the highest quality.
    We are not simply a group of musicians living in (or near) Detroit. We establish the quality of the orchestra through blind auditions, selecting the best musicians available. Management doesn’t have any role in deciding who becomes a member of the Detroit Symphony.
    We maintain the quality of the orchestra through our dedication to our art, we would like to see the same kind of dedication from our management.
    We have members who have been in the orchestra for decades, yet many positions in the management have been a revolving door for years (4 VP’s of the development department in 4 years).
    I rather doubt that the management could take the stage with instruments in hand and produce any kind of musical performance that any one would pay to see, yet we have had sell-out crowds to our self-produced concerts, including the first live television broadcast in the history of the orchestra.

    • Mr. Ventura,

      I don’t disagree with anything you say. Actually am very intrigued by DSO musicians putting on their own concerts.

      By doing this you are actually proving what the market will bear for classical music in Detroit. Now you might have a huge spike right now in the turn out and support; this is good because sometimes it takes a disaster to get people to pay attention. But if you did this for a year you will soon find what people are actually willing to pay to hear you play. I have a feeling it is far less than what you would earn under the best last offer of management.

      Just because management doesn’t “pick” the musicians does not mean that you are somehow able to stand on your own. Your right Anne Parsons might not be able to cut it playing in your orchestra, but to just dismiss the problems as poor management is narrow minded.

      As for a revolving door of Sr. management, I won’t disagree. Just like musical chairs in a wind section is counterproductive so is it in management. But you know what being in management is no cake walk – especially for development.

      These supporters that are coming out of the wood work, have they been supporting the orchestra up till now? ARe they covering the short falls incurred by the unfortunate circumstances of the city. The city has shrunk every year for the past 20. Your two major corps funding is gone. I don’t’ hear any DSO musician discuss that major hurdle.

      Thats fine if you want to register a name, but it is divisive. So instead of putting on your own concerts and taking money from the coffers of DSO, why don’t you do some of your own development to pay for the contract that will cover the difference of what you want to get paid and that of what the citizens of Detroit are willing to pay?

      • A few quick points:

        1) I would suggest that the musician sponsored concerts are a poor barometer of current public interest in live orchestral classical music. I don’t know a single orchestra marketing professional who would want to use that as a basis for strategic planning.

        2) Whether or not administrative performance is simply unknown. One very unusual aspect of the DSO work stoppage is how little is known about management’s position. Typically, management’s aggressively promote their position and actions over the period of time related to the dispute. In the DSO’s case, we don’t have that information so at the very least, administrative performance is simply unknown and therefore can’t be dismissed or incorporated into the resolution process.

        3) As for potential funding in the area, I think this is of paramount importance. I’ve been saying this for sometime but will reiterate it here: the economy in Detroit is in a period of transition. As such, this is precisely the wrong time to be implementing any long term plans. Case in point, the Big 3 automakers are posting sizable profits and demonstrating that the efforts over the past few years are producing positive results. We don’t know where that will ultimately lead but we’ll certainly have a much better idea 12 months from now. Consequently, waiting until things stabilize and focusing on managing debt until we reach that point would be a solid business platform to explore.

        4) The idea that the musician concerts are pulling enough revenue away from the DSO is a shaky premise. Gross proceeds from concerts such as these are much lower than what might be expected, even if you include donation revenue. If the DSO musicians are using these funds in the same way that player associations have done in other work stoppages, the funds go to cover health benefit expenses, which is exactly what the DSO would have been paying if there were no work stoppage. I have yet to see a player association raise enough funds to exceed that single expense so from that point of view, your concerns are valid but they don’t have much practical application.

      • The musicians of the DSO have offered for years to assist the management and board in fundraising. The past several VP’s have expressed enthusiastic interest and none have followed through. They also have left so quickly that it’s hard to know how serious they were. The musicians donate their services for the Musical Feasts held in patrons homes to help raise money as well. The general economy in the Detroit metro area is bad, but a large part of of economic problems are self-inflicted, primarily the building and financing of the addition to Orchestra Hall.
        We registered our name in part as a result of threats from the management as we were making our case to the public and producing our own concerts.
        By contract, we are REQUIRED to identify ourselves as “Musicians of the Detroit Symphony’ if we perform outside the auspices of the DSO. Perhaps if our management read the contract they would have known that. The DSO hasn’t even registered their own name, yet they have spent untold thousands of dollars threatening us because of their claim of our causing confusion during this highly publicized strike.
        Our criticism of management problems is not narrow-minded nor stated without reasons. The musicians, as a result of their extended time in the orchestra, comprise that vast majority of our institutional memory, and we’ve seen many large and small strategic errors in the way the orchestra has been run for years. One such example is the duplication of staff office space when the new building was built, when there was office space across the street in the building the DSO had built just a few years earlier. In the Music Box in the Max Fisher Center, the new bleacher seating was replaced at a cost of $700,000 as that (poorly planned) seating required too much time and labor to set up. The old bleachers remain underneath that room still. Also, the VP of marketing when the plans were made for that room warned that it was too small to be able to sell enough tickets to events there to make money, yet the plans weren’t changed. It is now used predominantly for catering events.
        The new building (Max M. Fisher Music Center) was supposed to help support the DSO, but it has been a large and very costly drain on our finances. The problems with our summer season, the loss of our X-mas festival, which had been one of the largest money-makers, the list goes on and on.
        One last note, Mr. Will, do you live in this area? Do you know that our audience comes largely from the suburbs of Detroit? Have you seen the new sports stadiums that have been built recently in downtown, the casinos and hotels, and other investment that is happening? We in the Detroit area are aware of the problems and challenges we face, but we are fighting to maintain of the things that our citizens can be proud of, and an asset to the quality of life here in Michigan.

      • Mr. Ventura,
        That is unfortunate that the Development department do not use tools at their disposal. And I see this all too often.
        May be the financial woes are self inflicted. Wouldn’t you say the same thing for GM? And unfortunately the employees suffered. At least you will know that Anne Parsons won’t leave with a golden parachute like Rick Wagner (sp?). But the moral of the story is the same – without significant change you will go bankrupt. I commend the DSO musicians for willing to take the large cut, but I (as an outsider and not knowing all the caveats) would not allow a contract that brings it back to levels in just 2 to 3 years. Your city will not improve in that time.
        If your contract says you have to identity yourself as “Musicians of the Detroit Symphony,” then I will lay off the use of that name. However, my sentiment is the same. You are presenting concerts in a pretense of a substitute. Again, I have never seen a DSO contract, but I have a feeling that the contract language is more for individual and small group use.
        You don’t have to register a name with the government to retain right, filling the 503c is enough. If it were me I would gone after the groups use of the name stronger. Criticism of management is not narrow minded – but in all your press I have yet to hear from the musicians about the hurdles from the fact you’re in Detroit. If this is not the case please point me were you have addressed this.
        I don’t have specific knowledge to the issues of the building you bring up. I will take your word for it. The unfortunate thing is that as part of the organization you have to pay the price of their mistakes. It is unfortunate but just like BP shareholders will pay the price of their mismanagement so will you.
        I do not live in Michigan, so I am an observer from afar. I don’t doubt that there is development there, and hopefully if those groups are successful they will support the organization.
        I know I sound pro management, and I might be in this situation. I don’t envy either side, it is a tough break. I just think that musicians are going to have bear the brunt of the circumstances (whether right or wrong). I don’t think that the quality of the DSO will disappear if the musicians took the managements offer. In the larger picture the musicians should be happy to still have a job that pays significantly more than people of comparative skill (relative to the amount of education need to do a job) in your city. If the musicians feel that they can’t survive on the proposed contract then, has rude as it sounds, they will have to make the decision to stay or go. And I can assure that there are many great musicians that are willing to take the chair – because they don’t have any work.

  14. I think our friend Mr. Will is very management oriented in his observations — but that’s probably a good thing because Mr. McManus runs an ecumenical website.
    If the musicians are on strike, they have no income from their orchestra. In the case of Detroit, even all insurance and health benefits were terminated. The management staff, of course, continue to pay themselves. Indeed, there has been some media attention over the Detroit CEO’s extraordinary salary and benefits.
    One of the few means the musicians have to promote their cause, pay their expenses, and gain publicity, is doing what they do best: performance.
    In Detroit the musicians’ cause is extreme: they are in the incredible position of striking with their own offer of a 22% pay cut on the table. With no other knowledge of the situation, this fact alone should give any observer an idea of the proportions of the contract the management has attempted to impose.
    To suggest that the musicians simply sit back and “be on strike” without making any effort to publicize their very difficult position as a means of reaching an acceptable settlement is truly naive.
    To bring these remarks back a bit closer to Mr McManus’s original theme, it is a very high median level of professional ability, along with the sound of a number of exceptional principals, that generally give top orchestras their own distinctive sound.
    World-wide there is an undeniable relationship between quality of contract (compensation) and quality of orchestra, that is, an orchestra’s capability of creating and sustaining the necessary formula described above.
    Mr. Will is correct in stating that sustaining and promoting an orchestra is the reponsibility of the management. Anyone who undertakes the unenviable task of assimilating the details surrounding the current Detroit Symphony Orchestra dilemma will find the cause largely related to issues in exatly that area.

  15. I don’t think they have to “sit back” and be on strike. I think they have every right to earn money. I just don’t think they should be allowed to present themselves as DSO substitute while on strike. So I don’t think I’m being naïve.
    As for the staff of DSO, they should be paid. They did not go on strike, and I can assure you that some staff work just as hard at what they do for pay that is well below the musicians and that of for profit sector.
    As for management, I don’t know. They too did not go on strike, but I would say their failure to get an agreement should somehow stump their pay.
    Although I find it interesting that the argument is better pay equals better musicians, but it is not held the same for management.
    I won’t venture to say if management’s proposal is unreasonable, but I think the problem with the musicians offer is management knows they will not be able to return to the current levels. Otherwise they will be back in the same position if not worse.
    But I would venture to say that there is glut of great musicians that would be willing to play under the contract that management proposes. If a musician can’t accept to play for the proposed offer then go win an audition with a group you can play for. Just like baseball, sometimes you have to have rebuilding years.

    • I’m curious, how do you see musician concerts as a DSO substitute?

      I can say from plenty of first hand experience that the better pay = better management is something that is certainly employed among most nonprofit boards. Over the past decade alone, executive compensation has risen dramatically. I can list a number of groups where sharp increases in executive compensation were the response to improvements in financial and artistic growth and stability. Furthermore, in each of those cases, I would say that the increases are worth every penny.

      If you go through some of the comments associated with the annual compensation reviews, you’ll notice that some of the biggest proponents of paying executives and music directors large salaries come from musicians.

      The rebuilding years position is particularly interesting. In sports franchises, the ability to rebuild a team can be measured in a few seasons but performing arts organizations don’t benefit from that luxury, and the bigger (budget) they are, the harder it is to recover from substantial losses. Consequently, it is usually better to expend as much effort as possible to manage debt in order to avoid a rebuilding cycle. If things don’t improve in a few years, then the organization is right back where they started and nothing is lost.

      • I see as a substitute because it is. While I’m sure many will say they know why they are going to the Musicians of the Detroit Symphony there is no real difference (other than they are in a different hall). The musicians say they are the DSO, they are the magic, so to the audience they hear no difference between something at the Max presented by the DSO and something at a church. It sounds the same- it is a substitute.
        If I can’t have A, I will have B as a substitute. If I can’t hear the DSO at the Max, I’ll go hear them at the Church. Do you think they would have had the same turn out if they did not allude to the fact that they are DSO musicians? What if they called themselves the Detroit Philharmonic? Did not have the ability to use the leverage of the DSO name? Did not have the very public dispute to drum up press or support?
        They presented a concert that was intended to be a DSO concert without the help of the Association and without the Association being able to benefit.
        Why was the DSO Assoc. not allowed to present Sarah Chang? That would have been money in the coffers (since they lose money on orchestra concerts, I doubt they would have lost money on a Sarah Chang recital) that would have benefit the Association and therefore the musicians. It is hypocritical.
        Sometimes I think the EDs and MDs are paid too much and the EDs are brought in from other industries because they think it will be fun. Look at Honolulu that lady doesn’t have a clue. It’s some of the other Sr. management and staff that are underpaid – the ones that keep the ship running. This in turn doesn’t create a pipeline for Sr. development. That is why there are so many bad EDs out there. And as long as they don’t create a scandal the boards don’t seem to care. My point is they seem to think Ms. Parsons salary is too much. Is it? Or is it Ms. Parsons is not earning that salary?
        I don’t agree that an orchestra (for the sake of argument) that had to rebuild would take longer than that of a sports team. Buy saying that your saying that it takes more than anyone new to the orchestra years and years to reach the quality. It would take a good dedicated MD and strong section leaders (positions I have no problem paying a bit more for). But the point is that if the contract is so bad that it would immediately drive everyone off then it is possible to rebuild. And I don’t think it would take as long as you think.

      • I believe I understand your perspective but I think it might benefit from an expanded position. For example, the DSO musician produced concerts lack any input from the DSO production team; stage hands, ops personnel, artistic planning, etc.

        These individuals play a key role in producing concerts that help build what is considered a unique DSO concert experience. Removing them from the equation results in a real difference in the final product. As such, the substitute position begins to break down.

        But in the end, these points continue to degrade into semantics. This isn’t unusual during periods of work stoppages and given the extraordinary lack of information surrounding institutional details etc. all that’s left are the very black and white issues captured in outside observations.

        The result is polarized feelings and emotionally charged positions. Just reading through the comment thread here seems to confirm this.

        The motivation to take sides during labor disputes is undeniably strong, and perhaps that is justified when a critical mass of verifiable information exists that contribute to quantifiable decisions. But in this case, we haven’t come close to that threshold and I would urge every reader who is not directly involved in the dispute to take a step back and think on a broader level before delving into stereotypical conclusions.

        For those who work inside this business, this is exactly this sort of behavior that sows the seeds of future labor disputes.

    • Is Mr. Wills aware that the musicians have offered a 22% pay cut? And that management’s pay cuts have been 5-10%? We have no problem for good talent receiving good pay in the management, if they are effective at their job. In fact, we encouraged raising the pay in the development staff as people were leaving at all levels in that department for better paying positions.
      And, usually, a team rebuilds because they are failing, not winning games, not doing their job. No one can say that the musicians of the DSO weren’t doing their jobs at the very highest level of their profession.
      What’s at work here is a scheme to use a financial crisis, some of it self-inflicted, to drive an agenda that attempts to redefine the job of a symphony musician that will detract from their ability to devote their time and effort towards providing the best concert experience for their audience.

      • I’m aware and I commend the position. From a limited prospective, the problem I have is – you want the pay back to the same levels in a few years (yes?). I think the DSO management knows that is impossible to guarantee.

        I half agree that rebuilding happens only when things are bad. What about the Chicago Bulls, they were at the top and went to the bottom.

        My point is if the contract is so bad, then leave. I understand that people have their standards and taking a 33% cut for more work (although I’m not sure I think it is more work, but I don’t know enough to say) SUCKS. Especially when many of you have deep roots.

        But I’m sorry giving the issues in Detroit you are still well above others in the city. And if you’re not careful the organization will go bankrupt and then what? You will have nothing.

        If some of the best players do leave for other opportunities that is bad, but they will be replaced just like if they retired. Are you all going to leave in mass? And there is a glut of great musicians that would kill to have that contract and work damn hard to maintain the DSO quality.

        I don’t see how living in Michigan you can say a financial crisis is a scheme. And they might be self-inflicted but like the employees of many companies, it is the employees that sometimes bare the burdens of the management.

        And I don’t agree that the “redefine” is really redefining. I think the musicians just does not want the Assoc. to encroach on the extra work you do already. How many of you teach? How many of you play other gigs with other groups? How many of you practice as much as you say you do?

  16. I’m somewhat repeating Mr. Will already, but I think it’s somewhat arrogant to imply that the musicians of the orchestra are more capable of doing management’s job than they are.
    Yes, obviously management couldn’t produce any kind of noteworthy concert (well, not in a good way). No one is disputing that.
    However I doubt that the money being raised/earned by the orchestra through these endeavors is near enough to attract the top five musicians that the DSO so strongly wants to keep. Also, these are smaller venues and whether good publicity or bad, the DSO is getting more attention than in normal times.
    As a side note, it’s worth noting that the live televised broadcast happened as smoothly as it did in part because it was a donated service. Under normal circumstances, things would undoubtedly be more complicated.
    DSO musicians need a full-staff just as much as staff needs musicians on stage to perform. Neither side is expendable.

  17. As a consumer, the way the publicity and advertising from the past several years reads to me is that the parent organization is called The Max M. Fisher Music Center and that there are two performance locations within it which host a variety of presentations.

    What has not been clear to me, however, is how you can advertise presentations that do not utilize the symphonic musicians at all with the term DSO attached to it and expect that you’ve established a clear product branding.

    Although I used to think I knew what a symphony orchestra was, I now have to look at each offering to see if I’m getting raisins instead of chips in that Frito-Lay Fritos bag….

    So, actually it seems to be the consumer that is thinking the Detroit Symphony actually means the Detroit Symphony instead of some random offering by The Max in Orchestra Hall with a DSO logo attached to it, which has been more accurately the case.

    Isn’t it then the Max management that has been unjustly seeking to pass-off a product as something it’s not?

  18. To address Drew’s original questions about branding/ownership —

    An organization owns its brand and is responsible for its product, whether it’s a product you can hold in your hand, a service, or music.

    A company’s product is produced by its employees, which in this case are musicians. It’s not unlike any other product in that a person brings his/her skill to the job & ‘produces’ for the organization. A musician is an employee of an organization just like everyone else. And like other employees who spend years in their chosen careers, most take a great deal of pride in what they present. They spend a lot of time honing their skills so that they can be looked at as proficient, respected and marketable.

    When you look at an organization like a symphony, they see that they have 80 employees — each replaceable, just like in any company. From the perspective of the organization, they are a business. They are responsible for providing a product to the consumer. They are responsible for marketing it and they’re responsible for the quality of that product. They are responsible to their shareholders or investors and if they have to find ways to ensure the success of their organization, that’s their responsibility to the organization as a business.

    It is the employee, the musician, who creates the specific product just as a software engineer creates, or a baker creates. And they create that product while under the employ of the organization. The employees form the present ‘design’ of the company’s product, and as employees/musicians change over the years, so too can the design or sound of that product.

    I completely understand how people say that it is the musicians who make up the symphony. They work hard throughout their career to produce a product that they, and the community, can be proud of. But as employees, they are producing a product that belongs to the organization — just like in every other company.

    The organization is responsible for the quality of its product, and for creating its brand. And if the brand has a certain sound, that, in essence, belongs to the organization.

    So, who owns the brand? The organization does. Orchestras can develop their brand over 100 years, or they can, with very good marketing (and not necessarily a good product), develop their brand in 2 years.

    Quality is not always linked to the success of the organization. You can have a successful organization with a sub par product. And you can have the highest quality product that never reaches the level of success it deserves.

    As far as what IS a brand — A logo, phrase, or slogan, graphic or textual, is usually trademarked, so that’s a brand owned by the organization. To say that you’re ‘musicians of’ is murky only if the organization prohibits it, and based on what one author wrote above, it seems that the musicians are collectively, and legally, known as the musicians of the DSO and are entitled (and possibly obligated?) to present themselves as such. And if it weren’t for the strike, this would only be a benefit to the DSO organization.

    All that said — this is only my opinion on the branding question posed, not on any of the issues related to the strike.

    • Hey, we’re getting back on track, thank you!

      And thanks for bringing up the point the ultimately, the brand owner decides what happens with the brand. As it applies to the DSO, the owners are the legally validated governing body of the nonprofit; specifically, the board. As stewards of public trust they ultimately decide which course of action to pursue and how to use that brand.

      • Employees with passion help drive the success of any company / organization. Without their continued support, the brand (and product) has little hope of success & of maintaining a positive image in the eye of the consumer.

        Ultimately, the organization is responsible for its success, and in the case where its product is the result of the direct output of the employee, it’s in their best interest to come to a speedy resolution that benefits the organization financially and with regards to their reputation.

        Make no mistake… if the brand, and product suffers, it’s not the fault of the employee. The blame will ultimately lay at the feet of the organization.

    • It seems to be only recently that the marketing terms “brand” and “product” have been applied to symphony orchestras. I’ve never been comfortable with their use in the context of a non-profit, museum-like, cultural arts organization such as a symphony.

      In Detroit’s case, there is a century-old board of directors whose sole mission is to enable and facilitate the presentation of live symphonic music performances for the Detroit community in perpetuity. They long ago formed an orchestra and supporting staff.

      However, no board member, staff member, or manager would ever even think to say they were the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Nor would any claim that they were members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. That’s absurd, and so is the notion that any “brand” belongs to the board or their hired staff. The institution is what it has been for a century — a non-profit arts organization committed to performing historically significant symphonic art music at the highest level of excellence. The concept of “brand” is irrelevant here and so is the business term “product”.

      What is the meaning of “product” in a non-profit arts business? In a profitable industry, products are tangible, sold and yield income. Their definition is obvious. But in the symphony business, performances are fleeting rather than tangible, and cost money to present. They have more in common with an art museum, which fulfills its mission by collecting and displaying fine art for the benefit of civilization, but produces no profit.

      So, what’s a symphony’s product? The ticket sales price? That only covers 1/3 of the cost of presenting the concert. The orchestra’s development staff toils to raise grants and donations to pay for the remaining 2/3 of the budget.

      So, if we want to force these marketing and business world ideas onto a non-profit fine arts model, then “product” equals the combined output of the development and marketing offices, and the consumers are the performers and the audiences. The board of directors and their hired management and staff employees thus fulfill the mission of the non-profit foundation, though there is no “brand” and nothing is owned by them.

      Ms. Hijazi, I think it’s too much of a stretch to compare any aspect of a non-profit arts organization to a profitable corporation. Please reply and help me to understand how any of this should matter in the current labor dispute in Detroit.

      • I don’t believe anything Betsy was mentioning in her comment was related to the DSO strike; instead, it was a general comment on branding and orchestras. I would caution everyone to step back from making any black and white comparisons between the for profit and nonprofit business models. Suffice to say, some items are applicable while others aren’t. In general, the more you drill down into each respective department the more applicable comparisons become; for example, best practices for email marketing graphic design have far more in common than not. At the other end of the spectrum, crafting strategic plans based based on the principles of for profit and nonprofit revenue streams is an almost entirely futile discussion.

      • Drew — Tom brings forth some interesting points, and I’m coming at this from the ‘new’ age of marketing vs. the years’ old ways of how things are and how they’ve been done (for lack of a better way to say this).

        Tom said: “However, no board member, staff member, or manager would ever even think to say they were the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Nor would any claim that they were members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. That’s absurd, and so is the notion that any “brand” belongs to the board or their hired staff. The institution is what it has been for a century — a non-profit arts organization committed to performing historically significant symphonic art music at the highest level of excellence. The concept of “brand” is irrelevant here and so is the business term “product”.”

        THAT may be just the problem — and the biggest issue that faces the organization, its employees and the public. From Tom’s statement, from his perspective, no one appears to take ownership of the “brand”, which means you have no leadership, no captain to steer the ship, no true CEO. And if you don’t have that person, why have a product if no one is at the helm to invest in its success?

        I respectfully disagree that an arts organization has no association with a ‘brand’ and that the term is irrelevant.

        Everyone has an interest in the success of an organization, be it private or public, for profit or not for. Someone invested their money and their time, or both, and as such have a personal interest in the [financial] success of that organization. Not for profit does not mean ‘we don’t need to make money’.

        Organizations and institutions, whether they are 100 years old or 1 month old, do not run themselves. Someone needs to steer the ship, and if you’ve got the wrong person doing it, then you need to find someone else.

        The bottom line is money — it always is. Unless you’re completely a volunteer organization (employees too) and rely solely on donations to support your activities, money is key. And where money is the motivator, how to make more is the most important goal.

        Who you are and how you market your product directly affect the success of your goals. So yes, branding IS key, and every company (from the individual musician to the symphony orchestra organization) should be concerned about their brand.

        Again — the ownership of that brand is at the top of the food chain. Unless the musicians (in this case) have financial or contractual ownership of the organization, they are producing a product for their employer.

        I love the symphony and it is disheartening to see how the Arts have suffered so drastically these past 3 or so years. We are not in the same position today that we were 10 years ago and as such it is imperative that we look at ways to help these institutions and organizations find success. I’m not against profitability, and I very much support doing whatever we can to ensure the future of the Arts. And that likely means looking at a new way of doing things. In order to succeed, you have to be willing to widen your view and consider new possibilities. We can’t expect things to go back to where they were pre-recession. It’s not going to happen.

        Identify the brand. Embrace the brand. Build the brand. Own the brand. Reach a new audience.

      • I’ll go along with the educated majority here and allow that symphony organizations can have a brand, which is of value and is legally protected. But in all of these posts, I have not seen how a valuable brand can be anything other than the name or logo of the company. To answer Drew’s original question: All other ideas for possible brands are so indefinable and common to all symphonies that they couldn’t be owned, legally protected, or of value.

        Betsy said: From Tom’s statement, from his perspective, no one appears to take ownership of the “brand”, which means you have no leadership, no captain to steer the ship, no true CEO. And if you don’t have that person, why have a product if no one is at the helm to invest in its success?

        I wasn’t commenting on the quality of leadership at the DSO. Drew’s original topic here arose because of the legal disagreement over the use of the name “Detroit Symphony Orchestra” by the striking musicians. It’s unfortunate that, in Detroit’s case, the (branded) name of the company is identical to the common English language description of the group of musicians: Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

        Things are simpler where I work. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra is but a sub-group of the umbrella company, The Dallas Symphony Orchestra Association, Inc. That’s why I asserted that no CEO or board member would ever claim to be a member of the orchestra. Pardon my use of the word, “absurd”, but this is a simple fact. The leadership of my company is superb despite the division of duties and the clear identity of the orchestra.

        I’m clearly out of my league when trying to converse with such brilliant business authors (I mean this sincerely), but before I retreat to lurking on this site, I’d like to once more address the use of the term “product” as it pertains to a non-profit symphony company.

        The term is used here as if everyone was in agreement on precisely what the product is. But nothing produced yields a profit. So what is product? The concerts? The season in general? The music in general? A particular composer? The individual sound of me on my viola on a given day? Or the sold theater seats? I think it’s none of these.

        As I said in my previous post, the parent, non-profit company exists only to perpetuate the existence of a symphony orchestra, and to enable and facilitate the performance of great art music for that instrumental format. This is for the sake of history, culture and our civilization. The only product of this company then is the orchestra itself. That’s it: the product of a symphony society is a symphony orchestra, and the orchestra’s survival for all time.

        All other aspects are incidental to this fundamental purpose for the existence of a non-profit symphony society.

        Lastly, I still think non-profit symphony organizations cannot be successfully compared to sports teams, restaurants, or even pop music groups. Symphony businesses have far more in common with museums and churches.

        Well, that’s what I think. Thanks, Betsy and Drew for your patience. I really appreciate your personal attention to my questions.

        Best wishes to all – especially to the Musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

  19. I guess I should try to answer Drew’s question.
    The brand is larger than any one group or person. The cook (board) has to figure out how to create the best restaurant possible; and a concert is like a meal. You have the appetizer, main course and dessert. The style of that meal is what makes the restaurant. The sound of the musicians combined with the management’s ability to bring in good and exciting artists and drum up audiences; and the MD’s artistic signature create the meals that people like to consume.
    I’m sure all would agree each orchestras have their own sound just like a restaurant specialize in their chosen cuisine.
    Lose anyone of those ingredients and the taste will change – Sometimes good, sometimes bad.
    Sometimes those ingredients sour and that is what I worry about the most. When this issue finishes some parts will be soured and it will take a long time for those tastes to go. Let’s just hope the patrons still like the restaurant enough to stick it out.

  20. Coming to this discussion very late and not having read the lengthy discussion above, I could not help but think of the Munich air disaster that wiped out half of the Manchester United team in 1958.

    The immediate effects were of course devastating. But Man United’s brand survived and only ten years later the team won the European Cup. Now, it’s perhaps the biggest team in the world.

    Perhaps not a fair comparison, but it shows that a brand doesn’t just hinge on the current crop of talent, but on the history and on a coach’s (read music director) and management’s ability to steer a club (read orchestra) into the future.

    • I think that situation and a few similar tragedies whenever I write about rebuilding or the Fragile Powerhouse concept. Clearly, something such as team leadership has a great deal of impact on guiding development at any stage of an organization’s evolution. I don’t know if it’s a fair comparison or not but in general, I don’t draw parallels between spots teams and arts orgs in that regard but even in the example you’re using, it still took a full decade to reach parity and the notion of parity was clearly one of the institutional goals.

      Perhaps the latter point is one that continues to stick in Detroit’s collective craw.

      • Of course, the situation is much more subtle than what I described.

        Plus, Detroit’s situation deals with more structural problems than a sudden wipe out of talent. In Detroit, if the talent disappears, they can’t just replace them, precisely because of those financial and structural problems. And the brand will have a hard time surviving. So, no, I guess it’s not a fair comparison after all.

        Your Bermuda Triangle example just made me think of airplanes and talent…

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