Parity Poll

The past few posts on the topic of substitute parity has generated a good bit of feedback; so much so, that I’m curious to know what readers think about substitute musician compensation. So let’s measure the temperature on this with a survey.

For each question, select the response that best describes your position.

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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 “Parity Poll

  1. I struggled with the premise of the last two questions a little bit (and I suppose with the issue people have been bringing up on this front). I am currently under the impression that the vast majority of orchestras (at least ICSOM ones) negotiate their CBAs through their Unions (namely the local AFMs, generally). Is this accurate? It seems to me that the AFM greatly prefers everyone who performs with the local symphony to be a member of the Local for the reason that they are the ones who negotiate the terms under which the musicians play. Obviously, there is a little wiggle room in right-to-work states since musicians technically don’t have to be in the Union to play, but even then, the AFM tries to get everyone on board for the aforesaid reason.

    So if all this is true as I believe (with some exceptions across the country), then it’s the Union who is at the table representing both contracted and substitute musicians, since they both fall under the Local. And yes, some contracted musicians will be directly involved at the table as well whereas the substitutes won’t, so that might have some effect on the ultimate outcome. I suppose, in a way, the contracted musicians are negotiating for the substitutes, but really I think it’s the Union who should be looking out for all the musicians they represent, ensuring parity, etc. I couldn’t say why discrepancies in substitute pay exist in some places and not others. Perhaps the Union feels more responsible to the contracted members of the symphony, or perhaps their hand was forced at the bargaining table for whatever reason. I don’t know. Probably a lot of different reasons and factors play into each situation and negotiation. But as your poll is showing so far, it seems like most people are in agreement that subs should be held to the same artistic standard and should be compensated equally: a sentiment I expect to exist among most musicians.

    For me, it really comes down to believing in your representation and trusting that they will act in your best interest. If the substitutes aren’t happy with the terms of their employment under the symphony, they should be knocking down the door of the Local, demanding some explanations or better representation. At times, I’m sure there have been situations where contracted musicians haven’t been happy with results procured by their own representatives. Sometimes, negotiations just don’t work out the way you’d like them to. But the system only really works if you can communicate with and trust the people who are in there fighting for you.

  2. I think it’s pretty likely that subs get more money having the contracted musicians negotiate for them than if they went on their own, but if they want to go negotiate for more, either as individuals or as a group, more power to them.

  3. I struggled with the premise of the first question. You can’t just hold people to a certain standard and expect to get it. I live in a population area of less than 200,000 people, and there are a limited number of freelance musicians able to sub for various gigs. I can say I want someone to uphold a certain standard, but I’m limited by the available market – unless of course I am able to bring talent in from out of town, which brings me to the problem I have with question #3…

    Being someone who is occasionally contracted to play with local groups, I’m in demand. I’m often approached by groups who will say something like “we’d love to have you join us for our performances on January 31-February 2. We can pay $25 per service.”

    I suppose they can offer whatever they want, but every time somebody asks me to play, I have to consider multiple factors – how rewarding is it personally, professionally, and financially? I was recently asked to travel 2 hours for a 2 hour gig that paid $50. I said no. It just wasn’t rewarding enough for me to give up six hours of my weekend. I’m sorry the organization doesn’t have more money, and I’m sorry that they aren’t able to find someone at the level they need, but I get to manage my own career (and so far, have done so fairly successfully), so that’s that.

    I understand that this poll was prompted by the Minnesota Orchestra’s situation, but it’s also worth bearing in mind that every organization has to work within the context of its unique situation. No two cities and no two organizations are alike. What might work and be deemed acceptable for the MOA might be unpalatable or impractical in another market.

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