2011 Compensation Reports: Summary

Although there’s no denying the tabloid nature surrounding salary reviews, that’s not what the annual Orchestra Compensation Reports are all about. Instead, one of the cornerstones is to get people thinking about accountability and to that end the data, in and of itself, tells no tales but it should generate some questions…

For example, an executive that successfully maintains institutional stability without instituting massive budget cuts, sacrifices (or conveniently redefining) artistic accomplishment, preserves labor harmony, and maximizes potential for a multi-million dollar performing arts organization during one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression deserves just about any increase you can throw his/her way.

Executives like Chicago Symphony’s Deborah Rutter and Nashville Symphony’s Alan Valentine, who received 15.87% and (only?) 3.15% respectively, are the poster children for this concept.

But then there are questions that arise from seeing figures like the 9.46% increase given to Detroit Symphony’s Anne Parsons during a period that, we now know through hindsight, the organization knew troubled times were on the horizon.

This information is designed to get people thinking about the current system of nonprofit governance and how it relates to setting compensation levels. In essence, it’s a system that is entirely self governing with no independent oversight and when combined with an environment where just about everyone is working harder than ever before, how the task of accountability and review become easily co-opted by rewarding effort over achievement.

In the end, it is important for stakeholders and the community in general to have a better understanding of what’s involved with maintaining a professional orchestra and insist on accountability. Questions lead to transparency and ultimately (hopefully?), improved governance.

For a more exhaustive examination of this subject and just how much it impacts the future of the entire field you absolutely, positively must read Matthew, Soho The Dog, Guerrieri’s post from 6/20/2011 entitled “Salient solution” (as soon as you’re done here). In short, it’s brilliant.

But enough commentary, let’s revel in a little analytical goodness.

After it was all said and done, the 2008/09 season didn’t have a single stakeholder group backtrack in average compensation although one sub-group, ROPA musicians, made marginal headway. The clear winners were executives (5.43%), followed by a much tighter pack consisting of concertmasters (3.65%), musicians (2.20%), and music directors (1.49%).

To get a sense of exactly how those figures relate to one another, take a look at the following chart, which breaks down the average increases and how they compare from one stakeholder to the next.

2008/09 compensation increases per stakeholder


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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0 thoughts on “2011 Compensation Reports: Summary”

  1. I suspect this 08-09 information is already “historical” in the present context. I have noticed, in the past few years, a significant salary “downsizing” in the conductor category. New York went from Maazel’s 2.7 million to a local guy who, I suspect, has a salary safely in the six figures. Seattle hired a conductor with almost no history – even in his native France. Another unknown was just installed at Indianapolis. Paavo Jarvi is now “emeritus” in Cincinnati and is safe with two music directorships in Europe. Slatkin took the MD job in Lyon as insurance for shaky Detroit. A few, Chicago, SF, LA, opted for expensive “names” but these are now the exception rather than the rule.

  2. One question that this sparks is based on how 3 of the 4 segments represent a single person, vs. the musicians’ segment, representing anywhere from say 30-80 individuals. What is the difference in dollar amount/% overall budget that is the result of what are equal percentages of increase/decrease?

    So using some of the numbers from the reports, an orchestra with a ED making about $106K and 50 musicians making about $25K would pay $3,185 ED and $37,286 musicians to give a 3% raise, and $5,309/$62,143 to do 5%. In terms of percent of overall budget (continuing to use one of the examples from the compensation reports), that would be .06%/.7% for a 3% increase and .1%/1.2% for a 5 increase.

    Taking one of the top orchestras with CEO pay of about $513K and 75 musicians making $125K, 3% raises would be $15, 409/$282,555 or .02%/3.% of the overall budget. for 5% raises that would be $25,683/$470,925 or .03%/6.6% of the overall budget.

    All this to say the equality of percent of increase across segments is different when considering the actual dollar amounts in play, or the general increase this represents to the overall budget. The question of is it appropriate to keep the percentages for raises equal for the different segments represented here is still up for people to consider, but if an organization wants to adhere to that value, these are the kind of dollars that could go into it. For instance, it could mean a discussion along the lines of “If we want to give our ED a 5% raise and adhere to a value we have to keep % raises consistent across all our paid constituents, we need to find an extra $25K to be able to do move the musicians from 3% up to 5%.”

    I should note, not knowing the actual numbers of salaried musicians or musicians eligible for these increases in each orchestra, i attempted to be conservative on the number of musicians used.

    • Those are all very good questions to ask and what should be added to that is how much more/less this impacts the discussion when overall budget size is taken into consideration not to mention the fact that nearly half of the orchestra on this list do not employ musicians on a salary basis nor do they offer non-salaried musicians (and staffers) traditional benefits.

  3. I am reading this with special interest as our local paper “The Dallas Morning News” recently published an article with the salaries of the top non profit heads in our area. And lo-there was the conductor of the Dallas Symphony weighing in at $1.1 million dollars. Really! Jaap van Zweden- not being a conductor groupie type of person- I never heard of the guy. And I wonder how many of the regular subscribers had.

    Now, granted, I am an opera season ticket holder, not a symphony attendee. To spend $40-$150 a performance (not including driving and parking costs), just to watch a man wave a baton, some bows moving, and a few pounding drums is boring. I listen to our wonderful classical station and love listening to all the symphonies via internet and my car radio, And who cares about the different conductors- if it’s Ozawa, Bernstein, Barenboim, Toscanni, Mariner or whomever. With a great receiver you can get excellent sound (plus not have to sit still).

    It seems to me that the arts organizations, our symphony in particular, have become ossified or simplistic in their outreach. The symphony’s answer to consistent audiences over age 60 is to reach out to a younger generation with “Star Wars” concerts or “Themes from Movies” presentations. This will not build a future subscriber/donor base.

    And with ever diminishing attendance, you’d think that the artistic and marketing staff would be open to new ideas. Just try and get a group discount (as my 22 year old did). They told him that he’d have to come up with a 25% down payment just to get a paltry discount (can you imagine the time it would take to collect the money) or no dice.

    But no, the people running the symphony and some of the arts organizations (the opera company here is better-that’s why I subscribe) think that young people who live in a sophisticated media age will just sit there and be content with the same one dimensional fare that our parents and grandparent politely sat through-(and pay for the conductor’s 1.1 million dollar salary). Something is wrong with the equation. And their deficits will only grow.

    And so I say to the arts organizations of this country-wake up!!!!! The arts are not about you and keeping your high falutin salaries and overhead. You’ll find yourself like the Philadelphia orchestra if you don’t pay attention.

    It’s no longer presentations and marketing as usual. It’s about imagination. The world didn’t stop with Chopin, Brahms or Hayden or to be adventurous Bernstein. And I’m not talking about NOTmaking these great composers a mainstay of what you’re presenting. What I’m asking is for a new way of presenting your symphonies. Bernstein did it with his young people’s concerts years ago. And other organizations reinvented themselves (particularly the Dallas Museum of Art- which started the whole trend of late nights at the museums. It is far more relevant to all ages).

    The classical arts are supposed to be a bridge of the present to future generations, to pass on what is great about our culture. Instead, it mainly is about exorbitant ticket prices for musical revivals, and stale renditions of timeless plays (and setting your classical theater in different time periods is just as mundane).

    The arts organizations, instead of looking to buy “names”, must reach out to the fringe- the out of the way, the different. Success will be a fine line between taking chances and sticking with what’s been presented before. But take chances these organizations must-because in this economic climate they won’t survive.

    So if the symphony decides-not to make any changes, it won’t be any big loss to me. I still have WRR Classical 101. And they take requests.

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