CAMI’s Closure Isn’t A Canary In The Coal Mine Event

Late last week, Columbia Artists Management Inc. (CAMI) announced that after 90 years it was shutting down. Any time a company with such a long history and prominent influence in the field shuts down is an event of note. Having said that, it shouldn’t be interpreted as the canary in the coal mine event I’m seeing in some social media discussions and classical music outlets.

What I’m about to provide is a remarkably oversimplified overview but in a nutshell, artist management firms have never been known as being the paragon for particularly flexible or resolute business plans.

It’s important to remember that artist management firms are commercial businesses that operate mostly within the nonprofit sector.

CAMI’s decision to close comes after about six months after the onset of shutdowns. This is the minimum amount of time most financial experts recommend businesses operating in a stable sector have in cash reserves. Those operating in more volatile sectors should put away enough to cover even longer periods of time.

I have no idea if CAMI applied for or received any PPP or SBA loans but if they did, their shutdown is potentially more indicative of internal cash reserve policies than anything related to the condition of the field as a whole.

All of this is to say, don’t panic. Job losses are always a serious event, but individual performing artists, agents, and ensembles will land on their feet. They are a tenacious group of professionals and CAMI’s closure will not be the last commercial business operating inside the orchestra/opera sector that will shut down or restructure.

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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