Why do orchestra managers earn six times as much as players?

Why do orchestra managers earn six times as much as players?


norman lebrecht

June 22, 2011

The annual wages survey across US orchestras that Drew McManus compiles in Adaptrisation shows no great change in the thick of recession.

Across the board, executive directors pay themselves, in general, six times as much as the average orchestral wage. At the Boston Symphony, for instance, Mark Volpe pulled down $606, 725, while the player average was $128,180.

There were notable exceptions. In Cleveland and Chicago, the ratio was 1:4, while at the philharmonic orchestras of Los Angeles and New York the chief executive earned exactly ten times as much as the players.

New Mexico, which went bust, paid its boss fourfold. Syracuse, also bankrupt, less than three times as much.

What, I wonder, justifies the correlation? The gap, at any rate, is much narrower in Europe.

Here’s Drew’s full chart. It makes fascinating reading.



  • borderick26 says:

    If only this was a situation unique to orchestras.

    You have in fact highlighted a phenomenon that is the dirty little secret of the non-profit performing arts world in the United States: administrators make significantly more than the artists who actually produce the work. At theater and dance companies, a ratio of 1:4 or 1:5 is not at all uncommon.

    But there’s no reason any of this needs to be a secret. As Mr. McManus’s web site points out, all of this information is publicly available through via the organization’s IRS Form 990 which you can find online at http://foundationcenter.org/findfunders/990finder/. Enter the name of your favorite performing arts non-profit and see how salaries break down.

  • Christina says:

    The fact that some administrators receive higher levels of compensation than program staff is neither a secret nor should it be considered dirty.

    I am a professional fundraiser. My husband is a musician. He’s a very good musician and plays with some of the best organizations in the country. I work for a small but prestigious organization. My income is steady; his fluctuates dramatically. At the beginning of each year, we usually don’t know if who will bring in more income or if the levels will be even. It doesn’t matter to us.

    What does matter is mutual respect. I know how hard he works and I appreciate his talent and artistry. He knows that I love my organization and put in more hours than almost every other staff member, from administration or the program side. When the organization is awarded a large grant and others get credit for it, my husband is my biggest cheerleader and reminds me that he knows just how many hours I put into it. When he’s preparing for something difficult, I’m not only at the performance cheering and am the last one to stop applauding, but also the one who is there when the reviews don’t mention him and focus on the damned conductor instead.

    I don’t see why the mutual respect we feel for each other at home, on our micro-scale, can’t be experienced on the larger scale.

    • whereismybonus says:

      IT is not a secret. And it is not about mutual respect, but money. If a manager or a fundraiser earns a steadily increasing multiple of what a musician, especially one working for the same organization, can possibly earn it reflects an arbitrage of values assigned to the respective parties.

      Surely, Christina, you wouldn’t lose respect for your husband if he were making 6 times more then the CEO of the organizations he works for, including yours. Would you?

      • Derek Warby says:

        I think things have been presented a little over-simplisticly here. While I wouldn’t for a minute undermine contract musicians, their skills, the training they have undergone to reach the high standards they have or that it is they that audiences pay to see/hear, I would have to point-out that a musician’s job is fairly clear-cut. They turn-up on time for a rehearsal (having, presumably done any necessary private work on their music beforehand), have regular and carefully stipulated breaks (in most countries, anyway), play the concert and their job in that respect is done. Of course, there is a lot of ‘unpaid’ work a musician has to do (practising the orchestra’s repertoire, general technical practice, etc), but they generally get remunerated fairly for their work, with a minimum number of days off during any set period of time and regular holiday allowances.

        A CEO’s job is less well defined and can fluctuate as conditions and financial conditions change. But it is never easy (especially not now). Orchestras have to be funded. A CEO is responsible for raising those funds, for attending the tedious lunches, meetings and seminars necessary to raise those funds and to put-in all the extra and long hours required to do so (not for the CEO the regular breaks enjoyed within the orchestra). He/she has to supervise his/her staff, fill vacant positions, oversee the marketing, repertoire, booking of artists and he/she also has to make sure that there are enough concerts in the diary to keep the orchestra viable. There can be a lot of responsibility, a lot of stress, sleepless nights, conflicts and foregone evenings and holidays of the kind not experienced by the musicians (who have their own pressures, of course, but not the same loss-of-sleep-inducing kind that a CEO faces).

        While I would agree that some of the salaries shown ARE excessive, I also think one has to recognise (and reward) the type of job CEOs have to do.

        • Drew McManus says:

          I think Derek is getting closer to the point of the compensation reports. The fact that Norman is pointing out the discrepancies is one very necessary piece of the overall puzzle, but he adds another corner piece by pointing out NMSO and Syracuse.

          Ultimately, the reports are all about getting people to think about accountability. An executive who successfully navigates all of the enormous challenges Derek pointed out and brings the organization to a point of stability, artistic accomplishment, labor harmony, and maximizing potential is worth every penny of their compensation – especially during an economic downturn.

          But in a system that is entirely self governing with no independent oversight, it is all too easy for the difficult task of accountability and review to fall by the wayside or become confused by the desire to reward effort over achievement. There are plenty of executives on the list who I feel not only justifiably deserve their compensation, but they could stand to be paid more given how well they’ve navigated difficult waters. At the same time, there are just as many, if not more, who are the exact opposite.

          What’s important is for stakeholders and the community in general to have a better understanding of what’s involved and insist on accountability. Questions lead to transparency and ultimately (hopefully?), improved governance.

          To that end, thanks to Norman for picking up this issue.

  • In Europe, if you told someone a successful orchestra manager should be paid a million dollars (as in LA,) they would laugh in your face. These sums illustrate the incredible inefficiency of the American system of arts funding by the wealthy. It creates managerial nightmares and makes American non-profits administrative heavy to the point of ridiculousness.

  • Monkey22 says:

    I am an orchestra administrator and my pay is not even that of the musicians and yet I am there at all of their calls. So not all administrators make more than the artists; I must keep their schedule as I manage them yet am paid far less and my work week is regularly in excee of 55 hours a week and I am on call basically 24/7 to handle things as they arise.