2020 Orchestra Compensation Reports: Music Directors

If you were a music director during the 2017/18 season, there’s a good chance you had six hundred and forty-five thousand or so good reasons to say it was an exceptional year. One conductor managed to have more than three million good reasons.

The Information

In order to provide information that is as accurate as possible, info from the 2017/18 season is gathered from the following sources:

  • Music Director compensation figures were obtained from their respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2017/18 concert season.
  • Total Expenditures were also obtained from each respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2017/18 concert season.

Adaptistration makes no claim to the accuracy of information from documents compiled or reported by external sources. If you have reason to believe any of the information is inaccurate or has changed since reported in any of the above sources and you can provide documentation to such effect, please feel free to use the following form to submit a notice.

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    Did you know? Direct links to most of the orchestra’s financial disclosure documents at guidestar.org are available in the Orchestra Financial Reports.

    What The Numbers Don’t Show

    It is important to remember that the numbers shown do not always convey a complete compensation picture. For example, a music director may have had a large increase in salary because they were leaving a position and per terms of their contract they may have received a sizeable severance or deferred compensation package. As such, the cumulative compensation may artificially inflate annual earnings. Furthermore, these figures may not reflect bonuses or other incentive payments, therefore underreporting what conductors may actually earn.

    Also missing from the figures are expense accounts, lodging expenses, and other perks; as such, the cumulative compensation for music directors may or may not be more than what is listed. Additionally, the documents used to gather figures do not indicate how much of the season an individual received a salary. As such, excessive adjustments in the percentage change from the previous season’s compensation may be artificially adjusted. Although the music director compensation figures include the combined amounts reported as what the IRS classifies as Base Compensation, Bonus & Incentive Compensation, Other Reportable Compensation, Retirement And Other Deferred Compensation, and Nontaxable Benefits, each orchestra does not always report figures for the latter categories if paying the music director as an independent contractor.

    How Employment Status Impacts Compensation

    Unlike executives, concertmasters, and musicians, music directors are sometimes employed as independent contractors. In these cases, orchestras will list the music director among the five highest paid independent contractors as opposed to sections devoted to employee compensation. In most of these instances, no information about benefits or deferred compensation is available.

    Likewise, some music directors receive separate payments for duties associated with their position. For example, for several fiscal years the Seattle Symphony Orchestra paid former music director Gerard Schwarz via two separate private contractor listings: once for music director duties and the other for principal conducting duties. At the Baltimore Symphony, music director Marin Alsop is paid a fee for conducting services as an independent contractor and as an employee for non-conducting music director related duties and responsibilities.

    In instances such as these, those figures have been combined into a single figure in the table below. For details about each individual conductor’s compensation, please consult the respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990.

    2017/18 Season Music Director Compensation

    Did you know? Direct links to most of the orchestra’s financial disclosure documents at guidestar.org are available in the Orchestra Financial Reports or you can save yourself dozens of hours by picking them up by season at the Adaptistration Store since the information is no longer available here.

    The “Not Reporteds”

    One of the most positive aspects from this year’s report is the continuing decline in the number of Not Reported entries, which occurs when an organization’s 990 that should otherwise include music director compensation, doesn’t. In this case, we only found one instance, from Fort Wayne Philharmonic.

    In their case, their 990 indicated one independent contractor was paid more than $100,000 but the contractor was not listed anywhere in the filing. Traditionally, this orchestra pays their music director as an independent contractor so it’s a safe bet the single independent contractor is the music director but the orchestra will need to provide the information missing from their 990 in order to publish an update.

    Setting aside that one exception, the field continued a positive trend in the form of a music director voluntarily offering up his compensation when it was otherwise obfuscated in the 990.

    But in order to better understand this significance, we need a fun lesson in how nonprofit performing arts organizations can screw over the spirit of fiscal transparency that serves as a cornerstone for IRS regulations on nonprofit tax filings.

    One of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to hiding music director compensation is to pay the conductor as an independent contractor then make those payments to his/her artist management firm, such as Opus 3 Artists. The orchestra then mixes those dollars in with all the other dollars paid to other guest artists managed by the same firm.

    If you think that sounds somewhat like money laundering, you’re not entirely inaccurate except this isn’t technically illegal, it’s merely unethical and violates IRS regulations.

    Now that everyone is up to speed on Shifty Compensation Bookkeeping 101, it’s time to get back to the good news.

    One group that has used this tactic is the Phoenix Symphony. But here’s where it gets weird; this isn’t at the request of the conductor, it’s a decision made by the executive leadership and when it came to this season, the Phoenix Symphony’s music director, Tito Muñoz decided enough was enough and volunteered to provide his compensation information directly. Muñoz not only provided the figure; he provided the verification.

    That’s a big deal in all the right ways.

    Most music directors are simply ignorant of IRS reporting regulations when it comes to nonprofit executive compensation along with the reasons why that transparency exists.

    I’m hoping Muñoz’s actions will continue to serve as a spark that helps light the fire of increased discussion on this topic within the regular service organization channels as well as at the academic level, where aspiring conductors should be learning about the value of transparency.

    Items Of Note

    • Riccardo Muti managed a compensation mic drop in the form of a $3.5 million payday that included $2,264,240 in payments as an independent contractor and $1,263,490 paid as an employee. This is a 29.86 percent increase from the previous season and a hair under half a million more than his previous all-time high payment from the 2015/16 season.
    • While Muti was securing an all-time high, most of the other music directors at big budget orchestras saw decreases in overall compensation. Music directors at the Boston Symphony, LA Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and San Francisco Symphony all earned less than the previous season. Having said that, Cleveland Orchestra’s music director, Franz Welser-Möst, enjoyed a percent increase in compensation that was only 1.1 percent less than Muti’s increase.
    • After several years on the non music director diet, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra decided to create a formal Artistic Director position. While perhaps not a full-fledged music director role, we’ll be including this figure into our data moving forward.
    • This is more of a fun fact rather than an item of note, but the total amount earned by the Top 10 highest paid music directors was $17,642,730. This is only $136,576 dollars less than the Kansas City Symphony spent on, well, everything.

    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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