2012 Compensation Reports: Big Changes

Traditionally, the annual compensation reports don’t require an introduction article but this year is an exception to the rule in light of a fundamental shift in the source data reliability for one of the report’s stakeholder groups.

If You’re New To The Reports, Read This Section

Each year in June, the reports examine the compensation trends among executives, music directors, concertmasters, and base musicians at more than 70 professional U.S. orchestras.

The reports have been designed to provide a side by side overview for the key figures within each organization’s paid stakeholders (board members are excluded because they serve on a volunteer basis).

In order to provide information that is as accurate and reliable, data for each year’s reports is gathered from the following sources:

  • Executive and Music Director compensation figures, as well as total expenditure figures, are obtained from the respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990.
  • Base Musician compensation figures are obtained from records collected by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and International Guild of Symphony, Opera, and Ballet Musicians (IGSOBM).

The Big Change

[quote float=”right”]Unfortunately, the 2012 reports will not include base musician compensation.[/quote] Although the reports strive to provide as comprehensive an overview as possible between stakeholder compensation, the 2012 reports will not include base musician compensation figures.

This was an enormously difficult decision to make and up until the end of last week, efforts were underway to prevent this from happening but unfortunately, the source data for musician base compensation no longer meets minimum thresholds for reliability.

Understanding The Decision

To begin with, it is necessary to understand how base musician compensation figures are calculated.

  • The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) publishes a pair of documents known colloquially as the “Wage Charts” that provide compensation, benefit, and working condition data for member orchestras.
  • The Wage Charts are divided into ensembles based on player conference membership.
  • The AFM maintains two US based professional orchestra musician conferences; the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA).
  • The process is overseen by the AFM’s Symphonic Services Division (SSD), but each conference is responsible for compiling raw data.

There’s no need to feel unsure if the relationships seem a bit confusing. The connection between player conferences and the AFM can appear convoluted to outsiders due to the fact that each player conference is a semi-autonomous organization within the overall AFM structure. For example, they elect their own governing board, create and enforce their own bylaws, publish newsletters and websites, levy and collect membership dues, conduct annual conferences, and release public statements. All of these activities are independent of the AFM yet the conferences exist at the discretion of the AFM.

So when it comes to the Wage Charts, here’s an illustration behind how the process works.

AFM Wage Chart data process

It is important to point out at this juncture that each orchestra report installment here at Adaptistration includes the following disclaimer:

Adaptistration makes no claim to the accuracy of information from documents compiled or reported by external sources. If you have reason to believe any of the information is inaccurate or has changed since reported in any of the above sources and you can provide documentation to such effect, please feel free to submit a notice.

This has existed in large part due to the nature behind how the musician base compensation figures are compiled along with variables in how orchestras report other stakeholder compensation data in IRS Form 990s. Over the years, the data has been very accurate and very few alterations were needed.

Unfortunately, in the course of using musician compensation data for other projects, I have encountered numerous errors in the AFM Wage Charts beginning with data from the 2009/10 season. These errors are frequent enough that in order to have enough confidence in using the Wage Charts for the compensation reports, all of the data would require manual confirmation against each orchestra’s respective collective bargaining agreement.

This is not only an enormously time consuming task but one that would preclude the use of the Wage Charts to begin with. Nonetheless, efforts were set in motion to resolve the problem.

Attempts To Find A Solution

I contacted Joel LeFevre, Symphonic Services Division Contract Administrator, and Jay Blumenthal, Symphonic Services Division Director and AFM Assistant Treasurer, to inform them of the errors and attempt to find a solution.

If the [ICSOM and ROPA] delegates do not enter the correct data then the incorrect data is published, wrote LeFevre. There is no staff time to go through the agreements and verify that what is entered is correct. Delegates do go through the data and are asked to verify that it is correct. If a few delegates are not doing their job then that is unfortunate. Understand that the data is often correct at the time that it is entered – November through January- and adjustment do take place after the data is locked in.

Blumenthal provided additional insight into the data acquisition process and the relationship between SSD, ICSOM, and ROPA.

The Symphonic Services Division makes every effort to compile accurate information for these charts…We rely on the Symphonic Player Conference delegates to supply the Symphonic Services Division with current and accurate information.

When wage chart data is submitted to the Symphonic Services Division, the delegate submitting the information certifies that the information is accurate. If a delegate discovers that information from a prior year is inaccurate or discovers that some data is now available that was not available at an earlier posting time, they are given an opportunity to update the data set.

When asked if there are any plans in motion to carry out a certification process for data beginning with the 2009/10 season, Blumenthal’s response illustrates the complex relationship between the AFM and its player conferences.

We will make a point of reminding the delegates at the upcoming conferences that providing accurate information is critical to producing a document that can be relied upon during negotiations.

As a point of reference, ICSOM and ROPA typically schedule their respective conferences in August (ICSOM conference info and ROPA conference info).

An aside about the International Guild of Symphony, Opera, and Ballet Musicians (IGSOBM).

It’s worth pointing out that IGSOBM is a musicians’ union independent of the AFM. Throughout the history of the reviews, the base musician compensation data provided by that organization has been consistently accurate. But in light of the fact that IGSOBM represents a single orchestra included in the compensation reports, the musicians of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, it isn’t enough data to maintain the base musician compensation category in this year’s installment.

Moving Forward

For the time being, the 2012 Compensation Reports (which encompass the 2009/10 season) will not include base musician compensation figures. However, the reports may be amended at a future date to once again incorporate the base musician compensation when and if the AFM and its player conferences conclude a thorough certification process for data compiled by ICSOM and ROPA delegates beginning with the 2009/10 season.

In the end, the value of including base musician compensation is great enough that attempts to find a solution to this problem were in motion up through the end of last week. But now that it has been confirmed that a confirmation process will not be conducted anytime in the immediate future, the compensation reports will need to be reformatted and edited before they can be published.

In order to implement those necessary changes, it is regrettable to inform readers that the reports will be delayed one week. As such, you can expect the 2012 installments to be published from Tuesday, 7/3/2012 through Friday, 7/6/2012.

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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