Compared To US Peers, Canadian Orchestras Have Better Substitute Pay Rate Parity

Following up on yesterday’s article about substitute musician pay rate disparity among US orchestras, I thought it would be interesting to see if there were any differences in how Canadian orchestras approach the issue; and based on the data, it appears there’s quite a bit of difference.

Just over two thirds of Canadian symphonic orchestras compensate substitute musicians at the same per-service rate of pay as contracted musicians. In case you missed yesterday’s post detailing how per-service rates are determined from musicians earning a salary based income, open the following toggle to catch up on that information.

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Before diving into the figures, it is important to understand how they were processed. For instance, most orchestras pay substitute and extra musicians via a per-service rate, with a service typically defined as a standard rehearsal or concert event.

But for the purpose of this evaluation, all of the included orchestras employ their contracted musicians on a full time rather than per-service basis, or to be more precise, the musicians are paid a weekly salary for a set number of weeks per year regardless of how many services they are used in a given week (although maximum service restrictions are quite common).

Moreover, not every orchestra has the same number of min/max services scheduled per week so an orchestra that pays a weekly salary of $1,000 with an average of nine services per week would have a different per-service rate than an orchestra that pays an identical weekly salary with an average of seven services per week. In this example, the latter ensemble would have a higher per-service rate.

But wait, there’s more. Orchestras do not follow a standardized method for calculating or reporting substitute rates. In an ideal situation, the rate would be defined as a percentage of the base weekly salary per-service scale but orchestra data is rarely that convenient, and this particular topic is no exception.

For example, some orchestras pay substitutes one rate for a rehearsal service and another for a concert service while others adjust the rate based on the actual number of services scheduled in the respective work week. Then there are those which simply cut to the chase and offer a single flat rate regardless of the type of service or number scheduled in the given week.

Consequently, you can begin to see where making an apples to apples comparison isn’t always cut and dry.

As was the case with the US orchestra review, the Canadian data was from the 2012-13 season.

Canadian orchestras that compensate substitute musicians at the same rate of pay per-service as contracted musicians:

  • Calgary Philharmonic
  • Edmonton Symphony
  • Kitchener‐Waterloo Symphony
  • National Arts Centre Orchestra
  • Orchestra London
  • Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
  • Saskatoon Symphony
  • Symphony Nova Scotia
  • Thunder Bay Symphony
  • Victoria Symphony
  • Windsor Symphony
  • Winnipeg Symphony

Canadian orchestras that do not compensate substitute musicians at the same rate of pay per-service as contracted musicians:

  • Hamilton Philharmonic
  • Orchestre Symphonique de Québec
  • Regina Symphony
  • Toronto Symphony
  • Vancouver Symphony

Canadian substitute parity
Just over two thirds of Canadian orchestras maintain substitute pay parity.
Canadian vs US parity
US and Canadian orchestras are almost complete opposites on substitute pay parity.

A Broader Examination

It is worth pointing out that the Canadian orchestras included in this list spam the full gambit from larger budget orchestras that employ musicians on a salary structure through smaller budget groups that contract musicians via per-service only agreements.

By comparison, yesterday’s article focusing on US orchestras was limited to middle and large budget groups that employ all or the vast majority of musicians via a salary structure. As such, it would be interesting, if time permits, to extend the US examination through the same tiers of per-service orchestras applied to the Canadian orchestras.

Yesterday’s comment thread discussion was fascinating (and thank you to everyone who wrote in via email), I encourage everyone to chime in there if desired but I’m equally curious to know what you think when the issue is framed in today’s perspective

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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3 thoughts on “Compared To US Peers, Canadian Orchestras Have Better Substitute Pay Rate Parity

  1. A related question would be – are there minimum numbers of full time players set out in the CBA? Are these numbers respected by the employer? Which could translate as, when a vacancy occurs, is it filled in a timely manner? Whether because of lean times, transition in artistic leadership or other reasons, there are instances where orchestras, even those paying the same per-service rates to subs, will let their full time numbers drop and save money on benefits, pension etc. in doing so.
    Subsets of that question would deal with minimum numbers for classical or non-classical concerts, and whether the employer is obliged to fill temporary vacancies created by illness, business leave etc.
    I apologise if this has been covered in previous posts.

    • That’s a very relevant observation and yes, leaving contracted position unfilled for a period of time longer than what is stipulated in the CBA has been a common occurrence in the post-downturn environment. In order to do that, the employer and musicians have to agree (usually via side letter or spelled out as a term in the CBA). Your point also touches on some of the closely related issues related to benefits made possible by the use of subs, such as relief weeks; which is where musicians in certain sections are provided additional time off in order to help prevent common workplace related injuries such as repetitive stress syndrome etc. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these benefits become more common with the number of weeks an orchestra works.

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