COVID-19’s Impact Is Starting To Take Shape

I had the pleasure of talking to WWFM’s Rachel Katz for her program, A Tempo, about the impact COVID-19 is having across the classical music sector.

It’s a particularly interesting segment thanks to Katz interviewing several freelance musicians who have seen all or most of their work dry up. My part of the conversation focused on financial pressures, communication, cash flow, and the substantial difference between organizations that engage musicians as per-service (part time) vs. salary (full-time) employees.

To a large degree, this comes down to which stakeholder is required to absorb the most risk. I go out on a bit of a limb and forecast that we won’t see much of an industry trend so much as each board functioning with a city-state mindset influenced more by internal culture.

We also dove into the impact insurance has on force majeure decisions and the ridiculous game of chicken it produces. No spoilers, but it is decidedly one of the most valuable segments from the conversation.

Listen To The Program at WFFM’s Streaming Library

Speaking of force majeure, I’m starting to hear rumblings that some larger budget organizations are looking at enacting their collective bargaining agreements’ force majeure clause to forgo paying salaried musicians and other unionized workers.

If that comes to pass, opting for that direction out of the gate is the sort of ham-fisted, old-school labor practice that creates nothing but animosity. Instead, I’m optimistic that everyone will remember how much benefit came from working together at the onset of the economic downturn. The first step in that mutually beneficial process is communication followed closely by meaningful and genuine shared sacrifice.

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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