2021 Orchestra Compensation Reports: Introduction

If you had to summarize this year’s compensation report trends in a single word, it might be “whipsaw.” Last year’s reports saw anomalies in averages thanks to several high paying positions going unfilled or occupied by someone for a partial season. As a result, we saw more artificially lower averages than normal. Now that most of those positions have been filled, we’re seeing the opposite.

Which Season The Information Covers (spoiler: it’s not the pandemic)

As is the case with every annual orchestra compensation report, the most important element to keep in mind is these figures encompass the 2018/19 season and not the current season. Although it isn’t unusual to expect that the most recent figures available would cover the previous season, that’s not how things work thanks to these reasons:

  1. Most professional orchestras maintain a fiscal year structure that begins and ends at some point from June to August; as a result, they tend to file their annual return several months later than the typical April 15 deadline.
  2. When you add that date against the length of time the IRS takes to process and release the returns (anywhere from six to nine months), you arrive at the reason why the report covers a season later than expected.

All of this means the most recent season available is always two seasons behind.

I Could Use Your Help

If you made it this far, you already know these figures don’t cover the pandemic season but that doesn’t mean all the conversations across social media and discussion boards will have the benefit of this information. As such, please be a mensch and step up when you see things go off the rails in those discussion threads by pointing out the timing gap.

New Orchestras!

Each year, I review the thresholds for an orchestra to be included and we ended up with several new groups entering the mix:

  • Albany Symphony
  • Allentown Symphony
  • Harrisburg Symphony
  • Oakland Symphony
  • Orchestra Iowa

Notable Events

Although we’ll be examining each of the items below in greater detail via their respective article, here are some highlights you can look forward to:

  • Executive compensation averages seem artificially high thanks to several high-paying positions left vacant the previous season getting filled. For example, the change in average compensation from 16/17 to 17/18 was -11.62 percent and 17/18 to 18/19 was 19.74 percent. The average between those is 4.06 percent increase across both years, which is closer to historic averages in year to year change.
  • Music director figures will appear skewed thanks to several high paying positions only being occupied for partial seasons, such as New York and Dallas.
  • Concertmasters saw a drop in average earnings thanks to one high paying position (Cleveland) going unfilled for most of the season.
  • The cumulative total expenditures for every orchestra in the reports came to $1,421,093,620 which is just over a quarter million increase over the previous season.

Publication Schedule

  • Tuesday, 6/15/21: Executives
  • Wednesday, 6/16/21: Music Directors
  • Thursday, 6/17/21: Concertmasters
  • Friday, 6/18/21: Overview and multi-year averages

Where The Information Comes From

In order to provide information that is as accurate as possible, info from the 2018/19 season is gathered from the following sources:

  1. All executive, music director, and concertmaster figures were obtained from their respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2018/19 concert season.
  2. Total Expenditures were also obtained from each respective orchestra’s IRS Form 990 for the 2018/19 concert season (due to their relationship within a larger performing arts structure, Total Expenditure figures for National Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, and Dayton Philharmonic are not as readily available).

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, each respective article will have a form where you can submit that information.

Keeping A Good Thing Going: Watching The Transparency Process Unfold Firsthand

Typically, whenever an organization’s 990 is missing compensation figures for one or more stakeholder and the reason isn’t something easily verified, I reach out to inquire. In most cases, the organization promptly responds, confirms the oversight, and provides the information along with any corresponding clarification.

The 2017 reports tried something new: each article was published with notes indicating any unreported figures and the respective organization was contacted for the missing information afterward.

The goal was to provide a more realistic sense of how often information is missing and confirm an organization’s commitment to the spirit of compensation transparency. It turned out to be an enormously effective approach and will remain in play this year.

Once each group can provide requested information and provide the missing figures, the respective articles will be updated accordingly.

Missing information is labeled as “Not Reported” inside each respective report.

The Trouble With Colorado Springs

Speaking of groups with “Not Reported” labels, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic Orchestra (CSPO) receives the dubious distinction of being the only orchestra to earn that designation. On one hand, it wasn’t surprising to see an uptick in the number of orchestras that didn’t have any 990 show up in the initial searches.

The pandemic has left the IRS short-staffed and over-worked and as a result, I had to reach out to five different groups to request a copy of their public inspection filing: Colorado Springs Philharmonic, Dayton Philharmonic, National Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, and the Toledo Symphony. With the exception of the CSPO, each and every group responded quickly and provided the requested content. That’s exactly the sort of transparency that helps the field as a whole build a positive reputation. But it only takes one or two groups to tarnish an otherwise good rep.

Curious About Figures From Previous Seasons?

Then visit the Orchestra Compensation Reports archive where you’ll find links to each article in the series dating back to 2005. Articles from this year’s installment will be added as they are published.

My Gratitude

I am crazy grateful for the assistance I get in the form of some hired help in gathering this year’s data. I wanted to be sure and say thank you for continuing to do such an exceptional job (you know who you are).

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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