Thursday, June 23, 2011

Symphonies by the numbers

By Barry Johnson

Comparing the financial numbers of symphony orchestras is tedious business.  You have to go to GuideStar and look up each symphony's IRS 990 form, scroll through the form and find the right row. Those 990s have lots of good information, but they don't have base musician salaries. For those you need to go to the American Federation of Musicians and the International Guild of Symphony, Opera and Ballet Musicians. It's a pain, especially if you want to be comprehensive. And the 990s are always a couple of years behind -- the 2008/2009 numbers are now available for just about everyone.

I'm happy to report that Drew McManus at his Adaptistration blog has done all that work for you! You can compare and contrast to your heart's content. Want to know how much Michael Tilson-Thomas makes conducting the San Francisco Symphony? It's there ($1,588,816). How much does a fulltime percussionist without tenure or title make at the Boston Symphony? That's there, too ($128,180).

Of course, McManus can't speak to the actual numbers -- just the ones the symphonies reported to the IRS. And remember, this is a slice of data from two years ago. We know that a lot has changed in the symphony world since then.  Nonetheless, the numbers are fascinating, if you're trying to make sense of how symphonies operate, though many of them beg for more explanation (for example, severance packages swelled the compensation numbers of some of the music directors).

Below, I've collected a few of McManus's numbers into my own chart.  I'm in Portland, so the Oregon Symphony is in my first line. I've compared it to some geographically pertinent orchestras and others that have a similar overall budget.

Symphony Orchestra Salary Comparison/2008/2009

Total
expenditure
Music
director
Executive
director
Base
musician
Oregon
Symphony
$14,930,007$424,000$240,330$45,924
Seattle$23,760,741$785,113$304,253$82,250
San Francisco$63,732,771$1,588,816$480,989$124,800
New Jersey$15,171,040$375,000$204,427$39,712
Utah$17,788,364$323,731$212,176$61,828
Indianapolis$35,619,798$455,856$281,933$79,040
Houston$23,550,981$359,323$226,732$75,735
Source: Drew McManus, Adaptistration
It's easy to start drawing conclusions from just the bare numbers. And the numbers are all over the place. For example, both Houston and Indianapolis paid their musicians about the same base salary in 2008-2009, even though the budget at Indianapolis was far larger. Seattle paid its music director more than double what Houston paid, even though their budgets are roughly equal. These are local decisions, even personal decisions, and they are made from different financial circumstances -- total expenditure isn't necessarily a good barometer of the economic condition of an orchestra. Without knowing the specific background and history of those decisions, it's unfair to comment. On the other hand, the numbers do suggest questions and in some cases should require some explanations from the symphony orchestras themselves. By the way, I suspect that Michael Tilson-Thomas is worth every penny.

9 comments:

Jane Jarrett said...

A couple of things I think are/could be interesting: (1) that this is being posted in the midst of OSO' contract negotiations; and (2) I'd be curious to see the total musicians' expenditure. That would have much more relevance to the overall budget, and presumably the leadership shalaries, than the base salary. As always, thanks for sharing!

Barry Johnson said...

Jane, thanks for visiting!

It's hard to figure out exactly what the musician salaries are in total. Many of them make far more than the base salary, of course. The five musicians who were on the board of directors in 2008-2009 (all of them principal musicians) made anywhere from $69,000 to $117,000 (the concertmaster) with other compensation ranging from $8,100 to almost $17,000 (in round numbers). So, yes, the overall compensation of musicians is a far more useful number than the base pay, but the 990s don't isolate that, at least not so I can tell!

I didn't realize that contract negotiations were ongoing... silly me. And without full compensation information across the board from all the symphonies it's impossible to figure out a "standard" for a given symphony of a given budget. Though I bet the negotiators come fully armed with that info...

Barry Johnson said...

Oops. Not all the musician board members in 2008-09 were principals. One was an assistant principal.

Elaine Calder said...

Thanks Jane. I haven't checked Drew McManus's numbers for accuracy - which would be a good first step - but I do know that my compensation as reported on the 990 includes the 80% contribution the Symphony Association pays towards the cost of my and my husband's health and dental insurance. The musicians' base compensation is exactly that: the lowest amount paid to a musician, without including 100% of the cost of their health and dental insurance (fully paid by the Association and including any dependents), their paid parking, a 4% pension contribution, instrument allowance and possibly even the 2.5 weeks of "premium pay" they receive at the end of each season. And many musicians make far more than the "base" salary, through overscale and seniority pay.

Even so, my compensation costs the Association about three times as much as that of the average musician. I'm well compensated for what I do, but I should point out that I'm paid for 52 weeks of the year, whereas our musicians' contract is for 38 weeks. The Oregon Symphony is my only source of income, whereas many musicians also teach during our season and work at summer festivals and camps and/or collect unemployment insurance during the 14 weeks between the end of one season and the start of the next. So it's apples and oranges here...

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