Top-Tier Musician Compensation For 2020 Is Skipping A Season

Each year, we take some time to examine base musician compensation levels at the top eight highest paying orchestras. But thanks to the impact COVID-19 is having on orchestra collective bargaining agreements (CBA), we’ll need to postpone this installment a year.

Unlike executive, music director, and concertmaster figures examined in the annual compensation reports, these wages are determined years in advance by way of collective bargaining agreements.

As a result, instead of being forced to work with data that is two seasons behind, the base wage data looks multiple years into the future.

Having that glimpse into the future makes it comparatively easy to determine each respective orchestra’s competitive position.

That system works great…until it doesn’t.

As of now, a number of the orchestra in this group have hastily negotiating temporary measures to existing CBAs and those with agreements set to expire in August, 2020 are waiting until the last moment because they frankly don’t even know for certain if they are giving concerts in September.

The last time we examined this information, Boston Symphony, National Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic were poised to reach new multi-year agreements. The outcome of those negotiations was going to illustrate if each of those groups would maintain their existing competitive advantage or even move ahead of immediate peers.

We’re going to have to wait another year before we (hopefully) see where everything lands.

In the meantime, I set up a dedicated series for these articles so you can have an easier time finding them and see how things have been progressing over the past few years. They are located in the Archives > Series Archive navigation menu .

Speaking of compensation, have you taken the time to submit your employment status in our ongoing state of employment poll? The more submissions we have, the better the data represents current conditions. To that end, it is important for each respondent to return the following week to confirm or update your status with a new reply. Doing so will provide an even clearer sense of how things change from week to week.

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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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