Get Ready for The 2013 Orchestra Compensation Reports

2013 seems to be the year of delay and this time around, it’s the 2013 Orchestra Compensation reports, which usually come out in June but this time around, it won’t be until later this month. But arrive it shall and this year’s installment is of particular interest as it covers the 2010/11 season, which ushered in the initial round of major labor disputes and related work stoppages. But in order to offer a little something to tie you over until then, let’s take a quick look at one figure from that season from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-042During the 2009/10 season, CEO Anne Parsons earned $369,774 and in 2010/11 she earned $363,591, or a 1.6 percent reduction during the same season when musicians and non-executive staff took sizeable cuts. These figures include all entries in Schedule J, Part II, such as base compensation, other reportable compensation, retirement contributions, and nontaxable benefits.

So much for shared sacrifice.

If nothing else, the validation of seeing the numbers in the IRS Form 990 gives added credence to this 6/6/2011 article from David Zoltan at on the dangers of establishing a disingenuous class of arts executives.

What do you think? Will Parsons be an exception to the rule, or is her example the new order where the executive class is immune from shared sacrifice?

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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4 thoughts on “Get Ready for The 2013 Orchestra Compensation Reports”

  1. If Parsons is the exception, then so will the symphonic industry be. The national mood seems increasingly to punish everyone but those at the top. I would be surprised if Atlanta, Indianapolis, or Minnesota CEOs had taken the kinds of cuts demanded of their staff and musicians, but it would be a welcome surprise.

  2. Having kept tabs on compensation numbers in Detroit, your figures regarding Parsons are correct but I think the context is misleading. While it’s true that her overall compensation dipped just 1.6% from 2010 to 2011, the big reduction in her compensation package came between 2009 to 2010 when her total income was cut by 11%, from $414,541 to $369,774,. (Her base salary reflected a 10% cut from $299K to $270K.) Moreover, those reductions came at the same time when the musicians’ salaries were actually increasing due to the previous contract; the fact that one was going up while the other was going down reflects the limited flexibility with which an orchestra can respond to financial problems when some contracts are collectively bargained and others are not. It’s axiomatic that the timing doesn’t always align between musicians, management and staff.

    Now, none of this is intended to short-circuit a conversation about notions of equity, shared sacrifice and the like, either in Detroit or throughout the orchestra world. After all, DSO musicians ultimately took a 23% cut in base pay. But context is critical in all discussions of this kind. Parsons’ total compensation in 2011 was 12% less than in 2009, and that should be the comparable base line figure to the musicians’ 23% cuts rather than 1.6 percent. Whether that’s equitable or justifiable, the reasons why or why not and issues of relative pay and compensation throughout the field are topics for further conversation.

    • Sorry for the delayed reply here, still in work-cation mode but the difference in compensation levels from those seasons from entirely disingenuous and slightly less disingenuous is still disingenuous. Moreover, that credibility gap combined with a field-wide trend for orchestras at that budget size where boards restore parity based cuts for the executive leads to additional questions regarding the details of the employment contract beyond what is reported in the 990.

      As a result, the context is even more obfuscated, but perhaps unsurprisingly, not necessarily in in the executive’s favor.

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