After Five Months, Orchestra Stakeholders Have Seen Big Changes In Employment Status

Since the onset of coronavirus related shutdowns, orchestras have been laying off and reducing hours for administrators and musicians alike. We started measuring that impact in April 2020 using a weekly poll and after five months, the field has experienced various degrees of retraction.

Stakeholder Groups

  1. Administrators. This group includes all staffers and managers as well as music directors and other non-union artistic staff.
  2. Salaried Musicians. These musicians earn a fixed weekly salary along with health care benefits.
  3. Per-Service Musicians. These musicians are paid only during weeks they are used and have much shorter seasons. While a tiny ratio receives full heath care benefits, the vast majority do not.

What The Polls Measured

Each weekly poll asked stakeholders to identify their employment status.


  • I am still working and being paid at my regular full time or part time status
  • I am still working, but at reduced hours and pay
  • I have been furloughed
  • I have been laid off
  • My position has been terminated

Salaried Musicians:

  • I am being paid my regular salary and benefits
  • I am being paid a reduced salary
  • I am not drawing a salary but have health care benefits
  • I am not drawing a salary nor health care benefits

Per-Service Musicians:

  • I have not lost any income to cancelled services
  • I am being paid the full amount for any services that were cancelled
  • I am being paid for some of the services that were cancelled
  • I am not being paid for any cancelled services

From here we could begin grouping responses for each stakeholder into three primary groups: fully employed, underemployed, or unemployed. While trends were easily identified, each stakeholder group entered the period of shutdowns at very different employment levels and progressed at sometimes wildly varying rates of change.

Administrator Results

This group followed what might be the most predictable path given that many orchestras managed to secure some form of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and/or Small Business Association (SBA) loans that helped minimize staffing reductions through June.

Things were looking solid throughout April, although a 17 percent reduction in staffing is still a serious drop. Starting in May, things started shifting toward much larger ratios of managers moving into underemployed status. By the end of June, approximately 1/3 of respondents indicating being employed at full status.

The bottom fell out in July as a larger share of underemployed managers moved into the unemployed group. By the end of August, just over half of respondents indicated being unemployed and only 17 percent were still working at full employment levels.

Salaried Musician Results

Even though this stakeholder group maintains a lower ratio of workers indicating full employment status, the average salaried musician still managed to fare better than their administrator counterparts. This was due mostly to the lion’s share of respondents indicating underemployed status and a comparatively small ratio falling into the unemployed category.

Much like administrators, April and May saw consistent employment levels but once June rolled around, ratios evolved into what would become this stakeholder’s pattern through the end of August. The vast majority of salaried musicians remain underemployed with small ratios maintaining full employment or becoming unemployed.

Per-Service Musician Results

There isn’t enough lipstick in the world to make this pig prettier. Without a doubt, per-service musicians bore the brunt of shutdowns.

Right out of the gate in April, just over half indicated moving into unemployed status with a scant three percent indicating being fully employed. By June, the ratio of unemployed increased to just under 3/4 and see-sawed around that proportion through August. There are no two ways about it, per-service musicians have been enduring a grim employment reality.


Throughout the course of this project, each weekly result was cataloged into a publicly accessible Google sheet: Orchestra Stakeholder Employment Status During Coronavirus Shutdowns. The information there provides considerably more information than the monthly summaries above, which are designed to provide a better overall picture of employment status trends.

Once there, you’ll find interactive versions of the following step charts illustrating weekly changes in employment status for each stakeholder group.


Salaried Musicians:

Per-Service Musicians:

Looking Ahead

Now that employment statuses have seemingly stabilized across each stakeholder group, we’ll begin using this as a new benchmark for measuring monthly changes. While details are still being worked out, you can expect the first survey at the end of the month.

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.

Related Posts