Examining Recession Era Compensation Trends

The 2020 Orchestra compensation reports are coming out next week so between now and then, it’s worth taking a quick look at how past recessions have impacted compensation. Simply put, there are no shortage of lessons to learn.

When taking a look at the most recent long-term averages for executives, music director, and concertmaster compensation it’s not difficult to see exactly when the housing bubble downturn impacted trends.

Music director and executive compensation saw the sharpest declines, but they also experienced similarly steep gains in the years immediately following.

Add to that, there were high profile examples of shared sacrifice bait-and-switch, such as the Philadelphia Orchestra bankruptcy that came about toward the end of the recovery period.

While it’s folly to assume anyone can accurately prognosticate what will happen on any sort of macroscale structure, wouldn’t it be nice if we could put transparency measures in place to avoid that sort of nonsense this time around? Every time stakeholders give each other a reason not to trust one another, the entire field suffers for it down the road.

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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