There’s Unique And There’s Unique

The 11/4/2016 edition of The Los Angeles Times published an article by Michael Hiltzik that examines the growing labor dispute at the Pacific Symphony. Currently, both sides appear to be approaching a work stoppage and the musicians have warned that if they are unable to reach a new agreement, they could declare a strike as soon as this week. But what makes this dispute different than others is just how unique of an operating environment the Pacific Symphony maintains.

Adaptistration People 079Hiltzik’s article does one of the best jobs I’ve come across in some time at introducing and examining the complex nature of per service and salaried employment structure and where it does and does not intersect with traditional part and full time designations.

Moreover, he touches on one of the most curious aspects of this organization: it averages $20mm per season in total expenses while engaging musicians as strictly per service employees without any minimum service guarantee.

Let’s put that into perspective using the most recent available figures for all professional orchestras (2013/14 season) and look at the six closest peers on either side of Pacific Symphony by way of annual total expenditures.

North Carolina Symphony$13.2mm total expenditures65 salaried musicians
Oregon Symphony$13.7mm total expenditures76 salaried musicians
Milwaukee Symphony$17.7mm total expenditures79 salaried musicians
Pacific Symphony$19.6mm total expenditures100% per service, no min complement, no service guarantee
Utah Symphony & Opera$19.8mm total expenditures87 salaried musicians
San Diego Symphony$20.9mm total expenditures82 salaried musicians
Indianapolis Symphony$22.9mm total expenditures76 salaried musicians

What’s more, all of the peers listed above are members of International Conference Of Symphony And Opera Musicians (ICSOM), a players’ conference of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM).

One of the defining characteristics of ICSOM orchestras is its membership is comprised almost entirely of ensembles that engage musicians as salaried employees.

For reference, the smallest total expenditure among ICSOM members is the Virginia Symphony, which listed $5.6mm for the 2013/14 season, or 28 percent of Pacific Symphony’s figure from the same period. Virginia is also an uncommon ICSOM member in that they use a hybrid salary/per service (48 salaried/29 per service) structure to employee musicians. On the other end of that scale is the LA Philharmonic which engages all 106 musicians as salaried employees.

ICSOM’s US based peer within the AFM is the Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA), of which Pacific Symphony’s musicians are members. The bulk of ROPA’s member groups engage musicians on a per service basis with the majority receiving a minimum service guarantee.

The AFM player conferences are useful when making comparisons between orchestras when taking into consideration the fundamental difference between per service and salary employment. This structural labor expense difference is one of the primary factors that defines operational environment and drives annual total expenditures.

Consequently, it becomes easier to see why the Pacific Symphony emerges as a one-of-a-kind outlier within the larger field of US professional orchestras.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a fascinating history behind how this organization evolved and how their existing expense structure compares to their peers. We’ll take a closer look but for now, let’s give the organization the time it needs to help avoid the work stoppage then move forward accordingly.

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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