Shop Talk: Pilot Episode, Poke It With A Stick

Surprise! Today marks the inaugural episode of a new video podcast series where I sit down with movers and shakers in the field and talk shop. Today’s episode focuses on a topic near and dear to my own arts admin heart: substitute musician equal pay for equal work.

I’m joined by a pair of leaders from the musician side of the equation, International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) chairperson Meredith Snow and ICSOM President Paul Austin.

Many thanks to both for coming on the program and engaging in an open exchange on a topic that can be decidedly third rail when making the leap from concept to stick poking implementation.

Pro tip: be sure to look for a list of resource links below the vid for info cited during our conversation.

Following the recording, Paul Austin reached out with some additional insight into the discussion about the recent Pittsburgh Symphony settlement:

“I wish to clarify something that I mentioned this morning, said Paul. “In Pittsburgh, their settlement restored full sub pay even though the musicians took a 7.5% cut; however, whether or not there was an explicit tie between those items in the negotiations is not something ICSOM is privy to, and those negotiation discussions should remain confidential between the parties.”


  1. ICSOM 2016 resolution In Support of Substitute and Extra Musicians.
  2. $2,599.48/year price of parity for Minnesota Orchestra’s lost opportunity for achieving substitute parity.
  3. 2014 ratio of orchestras that compensate substitute musicians at the same rate of pay per-service as contracted musicians.

I’m still putting together topics and guests for future shows but what would you like to see?


Los Angeles Philharmonic violist Meredith Snow, a native of Long Island, New York, received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Juilliard School of Music.

Ms. Snow became a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1986 after three years with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. Fast forward 30 years to 2016 and she was elected Chairperson of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians.

As an orchestral player, chamber musician, soloist, and pedagogue, Paul Austin currently enjoys a multi-faceted career. Paul joined the Grand Rapids Symphony horn section in 1999 and has represented his Grand Rapids Symphony colleagues on many committees, including negotiation, music director and CEO/President searches, and artistic advisory.

On a national level, Paul served as Vice President and Media Committee Chair of the Regional Orchestral Players’ Association. In August 2017, Paul was elected to a two-year term as ICSOM President. He was instrumental in the drive for the Grand Rapids Symphony to join ICSOM in 2013.

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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