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Detroit Symphony Orchestra - financial problems

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Steve, Dec 11, 2009.


    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    And, I agree with the fewer musicians and those that are already trained seeking other employment. Right now, schools are generating about ten times the number of music majors needed to fulfill the employment opportunities.

    The great wave of post-World War II market entry teachers (of all kinds) is now past, and opportunities there are currently limited. A similar opportunity in teaching is still some fifteen years off.

    The commercial market is equally saturated. With hundreds of applicants showing up for bassoon auditions for third tier orchestras, there are a lot of (no doubt fully qualified) applicants chasing very few jobs. Supply and demand rules.

    The solution is what many of us discovered many years ago: pursue a career where you can make the money for the house, the car, the kid's educations and medical insurance, and play music in your spare time.

    You don't need a college education for this. Hell, you don't really need any formal education at all - you can learn what you need from a private teacher. And, you'll be happy, healthy, with a roof over your head and a full belly while you are playing.

    Don't get me wrong - I've played pro jobs for a long time. And, I've also hired sidemen who are trying to make it as a musician alone. They are some of the least happy people that I've known.

    I dated a wonderful 'cello player back when I got out of the service and was finishing my schooling. (Actually, I dated two of them, equally wonderful - see my Hollerith card story elsewhere hereon.) She was spectacularly good, Julliard-trained with (back then) tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt - and couldn't get a job anywhere.

    When last we met, she was engaged to a violist (oh, the horror) with the Saint Louis Symphony. She still couldn't get hired anywhere. She was working as a secretary at the AAA office there. Very sad.
  2. JfW


    Yes, we must also consider that music is so integral to the human condition that many will perform for nothing, like us community band geeks have. It is the same with other arts, but none so much as with music.

    Very few by comparison will tackle the more arduous of tasks involving engineering, management, medicine, customer service, accounting, labour, agriculture, etc. for free. Music defines us in a way that nothing else does. If a StarWars like reality ever comes about with numerous other races and ours intermingling, we humans would probably be known as the bards of the galaxy.
  3. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    speaking of meltdowns
    I find it interesting that a "full time" DSO musician apparently works 20 hrs a week.


    HEADLINE: In DSO strike, season hangs in the balance
  4. JfW


    well, let's make sure we're being fair here. according to the article, that 20 hours is supplimented by hours and hours of independent practice to maintain skills.

    So it's quite likely these musicians give 40+
  5. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    still, the contract supposedly says 20. It is hard to assume "40+" without hard numbers.
  6. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator


    here's a good summary of the stuff going on

  7. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    there's alot of slinging going on on the public forums with the DSO.

    With what has gone on in Detroit and southeast michigan, and michigan as a whole in the past several years one only has to drive around the corner from the MAX to see the worst effects of the economic downturn.

    Or, in the past several years, drive around in the affluent suburbs just to see all the "foreclosure/for sale" signs as further indication. Or just check it online. Michigan was "foreclosure capital" for a while there even in top dollar neighborhoods. All this driven by massive job losses in Michigan.

    I just hope that the musicians see what is going on in other orchestras and don't opt for self-destruction.

    Especially for a musician.

    They talk of leaving the ship and auditioning elsewhere. Like where?
    There aren't many openings out there.

    And then ... they'd have to sell their house, for probably half of what they paid for it.
  8. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    I've been in Detroit on two occasions. I used to live in Buffalo, NY and know the Lackawanna area relatively well -- that's the area where they had steel making stuff. That area looks like it's been hit by a nuclear bomb. Detroit (in several areas, at least) looks like it has been carpet bombed with nukes.

    After that my city and state took those honors.


    As I'm interested in the discussion regarding musicians and work, I'll move that and create a new thread. Un momento. Strike that. I'll just continue here, because we've got too many posts that are wrapped up with the DSO stuff.
  9. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    Musicians and pay. That's an extremely long subject. Let's start a bit with me -- and I'll summarize:

    * I volunteered in a church orchestra for about a year until the church offered to hire me part time as the assistant to the director, part time as a housekeeping staff guy and give me a monthly stipend for computer work. While this wasn't exactly minimum wage, it was close. Additionally, I did a lot of work above and beyond my part-time hours as assistant to the director, so you could say I was working 50+ hours a week AND going to college ...

    * I went to college for music education. At least, initially. I was practicing 6+ hours a day and I really enjoyed it ... until I realized I was getting only incrementally better. I then switched my major ... and was offered a job as the music department head at a church. Fun how that works out. However, I was still not making all that much $ -- and then the church went bankrupt (not my fault!).

    * I got a succession of jobs WAY out of my field of study until Apple took pity on me and hired me as a computer tech. I realized that a) I was really good at this and b) I could make an awful lot more $. I permanently became a computer tech and then started volunteering at different churches' music departments -- sometimes singing, sometimes playing, sometimes doing other interesting things, like running sound.

    Interestingly, the thing I'm the most recognized for is the creation of saxpics.com -- and I created that because I was trying to learn HTML. In other words, working as a computer tech is what gave me the idea to do my music stuff, online.


    OK, so enough of my history. Why I pointed it out is because I generally tell people that want to "make it" in music that they're NOT. At least not with the aspiration to become the next Coltrane or something. You need to redefine what your ambition is, sometimes. Hey, ask me if I had a successful music career and I'll say "Yes." I'll also say that it was extremely time consuming and paid very, very little. However, I got to do a lot of things I really liked and that's my definition of "successful." Financially, that's a little different.

    I think a lot of folks that want to become musicians want to be compensated for all the time that they spent practicing up until this moment and for all of the instruments that they had to buy. Welcome to the real world: that rarely happens. Reality is why I think these DSO members are idiots. Two reasons why:

    * It's the economy, stupid. People are getting laid off all over the place and people are having problems finding jobs. I'm sure not making $50 an hour anymore! Hey, we even have furloughs in a lot of industries. So, the DSO is essentially telling you to take a couple furlough weeks. My heart bleeds for you. At least you can make up the difference by teaching lessons or something.

    * As I kinda hinted at in my above summary, if you love music, you're going to keep doing it, using any and every avenue you can. If someone's paying you either extremely well or current market price for doing all things musical, be happy! That's just gravy. However, remember that it IS a market -- and YOU don't set your market value, the market itself does. In the DSO's case, I think they're pricing themselves out of a job.
  10. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    Second verse, same as the first...

    As long as the sentiments listed above are made plain when people are preparing for an education, and then when they are getting an education, I have no problems with the philosophy expressed.

    However, all too often colleges (and high schools, and private instructors) don't even hint that this is the case. There are far too many education tracks (English, drama, music, art) where people are being trained for careers that (to put it frankly) just are not there. No ifs, ands, or buts - there are no "careers" (in the classic sense of "I can make a living off of this and support my family") there.

    Now, if these same tracks (English, drama, music, art as examples) were up front and direct about their chances in the employment end of things, then no problem. But, these folks are incurring huge student loan liabilities with absolutely no chance of their being able to pay them off (and still keep their room and board). That's not just a bad way of doing things - that's close to fraudulent behavior on the part of all concerned.

    In the good ol' days, young ladies majored in these fields with the almost certain knowledge that they would end up marrying well, and then have the leisure time to pursue their "interests" all the while. Nowadays, with a two income standard being almost essential for adults, that's no longer the case. And, the problem is compounded by the student loan issue.

    I have musical friends in their thirties who are still burdened by their student loans. I can't imagine having that sword over my head, but I am old-fashioned, so what do I know, right?

    You can be a plumber, make a damn'd good living with no student loan debt, and still have a normal family life plus enough practice time to become a very good musician. Or, you can be a very good musician with huge student loan debt, no employment commensurate with your training, and an existence scrabbling around for work in fields for which you have minimal training. It's an easy choice for me...
  11. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    I think it's more that the student's guidance counselor should tell him about that. Preferably in high school and definitely before college. Hey, in Japan they have an aptitude test that tells you whether you should go on for college or should be doing something else with your life.

    It's really kind of difficult for the instructors involved. If I made it known that I want to be, say, an English teacher and talk to my English instructor, I really don't want him crushing my dreams in a velvet-wrapped iron fist. However, I do think that a bit of reality does need to be injected into the conversation. Therefore, I don't know if I admire someone deciding to become a full time artist (say) or think he's just nuts.

    I probably should take a survey: how many of y'all have (or have had) a musical career like mine: satisfying, but really doesn't pay the bills? How many of y'all have decided that music is the only thing and you devote your full-time life to it? For me, the final nails in the coffin were ones put there by family. I had to make money to provide wife and kids with stuff.

    As a final side note, there's a restaurant out here called The Macaroni Grill. On some (seemingly random) nights, they have a couple of singing waitrons. They're good. They sing solos from operas and stuff. So, they're getting tips from singing and tips from being servers. Interesting gig.
  12. JfW


    I've been perusing the Detriot Symphony musician's website, http://www.detroitsymphonymusicians.org/index.html and have to say that the site is nice.

    However, their arguments have a limited range, going only between vapid and vaccuous.

    They only touch on the realities of the area, economy, and audience base in passing in token fashion before launching into the core of their arguments which have nothing to do with the above. They focus on musical tradition and the value of their own claimed worth. They lay blame for the whole affair on management instead of truly addressing the economic problems.

    Their critisizms of management clearly indicate that they are over their head. I mean, they blame management for figuring the cost of payroll taxes into the salary cost figures of the symphony musicians. and call the complexities of covering costs of running the Symphony a "Shell Game". They also want management to take further paycuts (which they have in recnt years), even though the market for administrators and managers isn't nearly as depressed as it is for classical musicians. This isn't about fairness, it's about sustainability.

    I know the Musician's have been "sucessfull" in putting on some shows in the meantime, but I can't imagine it's supporting any more than $25k salaries, or less

    They also like painting faux disenginuity on the part of management. Clueless.
  13. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    All of this discarding of musicians to replace them with lower priced folks points very strongly to an orchestra musician no longer being a "professional" and instead their being members of a "trade" - just like it was in the old days.
  14. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    I believe with all of their concerts since the strike they have put any revenue into a general fund to help the musicians.

    such as the information found one their facebook page

  15. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    This should be interesting ...


  16. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    I see that old Lenny is continuing his past habits of abusing the youth and amateurs of the musical world. I hope that the bassoon players of the Civic Orchestra fare better at his hands that I did...
  17. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    Today ?

    well, maybe not ...

    but on a positive note. It looks like the Robocop statue has raised enough money to put that needed expense into the city of Detroit.
  18. JfW


    yeah, I think they're huring. Problem is, i don't think that you can collect unemployment while on strike, even in Michigan. Hopefully, having to manage their own events and find a way to fund a bunch of poople used to six-figure incomes opens their eyes to the difficulties the DSO management sees.
  19. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    normally when unions are on strike they pay strike pay. I don't know if one is eligible for unemployment because isn't it the employee who walks out ? and thus is not eligible for unemployment due to the employer releasing someone, and then that has criteria.
  20. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    The past is prologue (sort of)

    This is a very fundamental difference between the strike (which is always an employee bargaining unit action) and the "lockout" (which is an employer bargaining unit action almost exclusively). The first, being a voluntary action, is not eligible for the dole, while the second almost always is.

    There is often "strike pay", which is paid either by the union or by a coalition of affiliated unions, but this is often "pennies on the dollar", unless the union is a strong one (in a "non-right-to-work-state", where membership is compulsory once a certified election has been held) and has amassed a considerable strike fund. This was much more common in the past, and was more common with unions like the United Mine Workers. Nowadays, all existence being much more "on the edge" and with diminished "liquid" savings like savings accounts, strike funds don't go nearly as far.

    Labor history is a complicated (and often partially or wholly obscured) subject, something that few outside of labor law pay much attention to these days. However, like other unions that penetrated deep into the American lifestyle, there have been some interesting turns in the path that the American Federation of Musicians has taken up to the current day.

    Something can be divined from where the AFM was born. Local 1 came from Cincinnati; Local 2 is based in Saint Louis. Both are heavily German-American communities. Unlike the English or the Irish, Germans are very gregarious folks, and organization seems to come to them naturally. Germans dominated the early musician's unions, and brought them together into the national federation that once held sway over a good part of entertainment.

    Over the years, the AFM successfully (through collective bargaining agreements) organized most aspects of the musical workplace. Hours of work, workplace condition and rates of compensation were the initial issues (as they have been in most workplaces), and it took about sixty years to get it all set up.

    And then came recording, both the record and the talkie movie...

    To his credit, the union's president (Petrillo) saw this headlight coming down the tunnel very early on, and his historic "down tools" action to gain rights to recording reimbursement was commenced delta-close to the last possible moment at which it could have successfully occurred. Even so, acts like the Mills Brothers worked hard at breaking the ban, and only a strong leader like Petrillo could have guided the union through the long, dry spell that the strike had to weather. The recording compensation agreements that grew from this work action still stand today (if somewhat weathered by the experience), and ensure that at least a portion of professional musicians have a viable profession.

    A few years later, and the union would have been decisively broken over the "no pay for recordings, no work" issue. The advent of "mass produced music", where chorded instruments became the norm and the entry level was thus reduced, brought us "groups" where vocals were the predominant element. Tastes changed, and what non-group music was necessary (and it always will be necessary to some extent) could be met by small groups of highly paid professionals (through compensation for their recording activities) and modern recording equipment.

    Think about it: when was the last time you heard anything larger than a combo in a restaurant setting? In the good old days of the 1930's, hotels often employed what was called a "house band", which provided entertainment through the afternoon and into the evening. All gone now

    And, in any event, the field of employment was greatly diminished for musicians once recording became viable (i.e., past the point where fidelity ensured that you heard more than tinny scratching for three minutes once the needle was dropped). We complain about DJs these days, but in my Grandpa Will's day, union membership dropped off by about 75% within a year or two, this due to the advent of "recorded" music better than the original Edison cylinders. (A good part of this was also due to "talkies" replacing the silents in the movie theater.)

    Imagine an occupation where, in a matter of months, three out of every four of your co-workers are laid off or fired. It does tend to put the whole DJ problem into a proper perspective.

    Regardless of the organization for which their members work, the American Federation of Musicians is a very much diminished union these days. The days of the Petrillo-led AFM are long past, and the fragmentation and "professionalization" of the membership, combined with the general weakening of unions in a "union busting" environment, have brought union actions down to the level of an inconvenience for a few, rather than a threat for the many.

    But, even those inconveniences are transient. If Detroit goes under, there are at least twenty other orchestras the world over that can replace their output (in recorded form), and at least ten here in the United States that can do so with face-to-face work. "Good music", even "good live music" is no longer as rare as it once was. And we can thank Edison and the good folks at Telefunken (an early pioneer of wire and tape recording) for that.

    Nowadays, if musicians were to threaten a general strike (like that put on by Petrillo), the public would shrug and throw a CD onto the player (or an MP3 "onto" an iPod. Such is life...
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