Compensation Continues To Encourage Conversation

Adaptistration People 193Toward the end of last week, a pair of articles triggered by this year’s Orchestra Compensation Reports emerged at two traditional media outlets: The Cleveland Plain Dealer and Houston Chronicle. Both articles approached the topic by comparing national trends to what was going on at their local orchestra.

What was especially wonderful to see is that both authors spent a portion of the articles examining why nonprofit organizations are required to report these compensation levels. They observe the value transparency offers and how it provides an orchestra’s donors and supports with necessary information to begin making meaningful comparisons (which isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds).

The 7/7/2016 Cleveland Plain Dealer article by Zachary Lewis introduces the concept nicely.

Don’t feel badly taking an interest in Cleveland Orchestra compensation figures. There’s nothing impolite or unseemly about it.

On the contrary. Keeping tabs on the incomes of Cleveland’s musical luminaries is actually important business, a critical mechanism in the system of public funding for the arts.

Lewis also covers a component often overlooked when discussing compensation levels in the form of cost of living and expenses some stakeholders are required to shoulder (such as the enormous instrument related cost of ownership expenses for concertmasters).

The 7/8/2016 Houston Chronicle article by Colin Eatock similarly focuses on the value of transparency and how non-quantitative aspects can impact compensation decisions, such as cachet value.

There’s also the value of reputation. Van Zweden, a 55-year-old Dutchman, had an impressive career as a violinist – he was the youngest concertmaster ever to play in Amsterdam’s famous Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra – before he turned to conducting in 1997.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the Get Smart reference in Eatock’s article, which may be the first time a 60’s era spy-comedy television genera cultural reference was aptly applied to orchestra compensation (reference link added).

Every year, Chicago-based arts consultant Drew McManus raises the cone of silence on conductors’ salaries in the U.S. His annual findings, which come from IRS 990 forms, are always keenly studied by people in the music business.


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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2 thoughts on “Compensation Continues To Encourage Conversation”

  1. “cache value” — oops!

    a cache (pronounced “cash”) is a hiding place (a squirrel might have a cache of nuts, or an army a cache of arms), or in computing, a temporary storage space (“memory cache”)

    “Cachet” (pronounced ca-SHAY) is panache or prestige (“the value of a conductor’s cachet can affect compensation”)

    “cash,” of course, is money, as in the common phrase “cash value” 🙂


    Edits aside, thank you for sharing so much good information. I serve on the board of a performing ensemble, and I’m always looking for ideas and information to help us succeed.

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