Bad news: US orchestras lost one-tenth of their audience in four years

Bad news: US orchestras lost one-tenth of their audience in four years


norman lebrecht

November 16, 2016

The League of American Orchestras has published Orchestra Facts: 2006-2014,  a survey of US orchestra finances and operations.

There is good news and there is bad news, some very bad.

The good news is that 1,224 orchestras contributed $1.8 billion to the U.S. economy in 2014, drawing an audience of nearly 25 million. The bad news: two in three orchestras operated on less than $300,000 a year.

More bad news: audiences declined by 10.5% between 2010 and 2014.

The less bad news: classical concerts declined by just 5.5%.

Mixed news: Three-quarters of all gifts to orchestras were under $250.

You can download the full report here.

florida orchestra


  • Larry says:

    If two thirds of the orchestras surveyed had budgets under $300,000, then I assume this survey included youth orchestras and college/university orchestras?

    • Henry Peyrebrune says:

      No – it may have some youth orchestras if they are independent organizations, but the data excludes orchestras that are part of a larger non-profit with a different purpose – such as universities. (Definitions on p. 26)

      The total number of US orchestras would actually be much higher than 1,224.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Losing 10% in four years… that’s about what the actuarial tables indicate for a population of 70-somethings.

  • Larry says:

    So there are 800+ professional (paid) orchestras — ie., two thirds of 1,224 — with operating budgets UNDER $300,000? That makes no sense at all. Am I reading this wrong?

    • Robert Holmén says:

      I suspect those would be the non-fulltime orchestras in smaller cites with limited seasons of maybe just 5 to 10 performances. Their players are paid “per service”, but they have a day job (teaching?) that keeps a roof over their head.

  • Larry says:

    Yes, I understand Mr. Holmen. I’ve been managing orchestras for quite a while. Let’s say you have 75 musicians, doing 5 services per concert — 4 rehearsals plus 1 performance which is certainly reasonable. Say they get paid $60.00 per service, which is very low, even for a small, rural band. Doing 10 concerts per season would cost $225,000, just for the orchestra. Add in: conductor’s fee, hall rental, stage crew, music purchase/rental, instrument rental, advertising, printing the program book, ticketing fees, guest artist fees and expenses (travel, hotel), ASCAP/BMI licenses, etc., etc, etc.

    That’s why I don’t understand this report.

    • Robert Holmén says:

      Just brainstorming here…

      -Three rehearsals instead of four.
      -Five concerts instead of 10
      -Hall rental could be something as basic as a high school auditorium crewed by members of the theater club.
      -Little or no instrument rental; performers supply their own instruments.
      -Advertising, program book… “in kind” support from local media.
      -Guest artists are local talents (college teachers, principals from the orchestra itself)
      -Few license fees because mostly PD warhorses are programmed.

      Here’s an example of an orchestra that appears to be on a plan like that…