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Detroit Symphony Orchestra - financial problems

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

  1. JfW


    Thanks for the informative post, Sotsdo.
  2. saxhound

    saxhound Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    Slightly OT.

    While the AFM talks a good game about representing all member musicians, the reality is quite different. There are "symphonic" members, and then all others. Even here in Chicago, where the name Petrillo still resonates, the casual / club date musician is mostly an afterthought. Their main focus is definitely on the musician as an employee of a larger entity, and the related recording rights issues. Get stiffed on a gig by a local club owner - oh well, too bad - here's a phone number you can call to register a complaint.

    I joined the AFM in Pittsburgh when I was 18, after a local "enforcer" threatened to break my fingers and instruments while playing a gig at a local dive. The other members of the band had neglected to tell me that they were AFM members. I kept up my membership throughout the years, and transferred in to various locals as I moved about the country. In some smaller towns, I would actually get calls for gigs from the local secretary or business agent.

    In Chicago, with over 250 sax players listed in the local directory, and hundreds (if not thousands) more non-union players available, your chances of getting a call are infinitesimal. A couple years ago, I finally asked myself what benefits I was receiving for my $200+ per year. The answer was a $1,000 life insurance policy, and the ability to say I was a member if someone asked, which they never did. If you play in a big band around here, the odds are that about half the players are members. No one asks, no one thinks about it, and I would bet that very few leaders are filing contracts with the local. The last time I saw a business agent show up at a job and ask to see cards was over 20 years ago.

    To touch on Terry's point about Deejays, the new trend here these days is the iPod wedding. The bride and groom program their iPod, and either rent a cheap PA, or sometimes plug in to the house system. I even saw one where they set the house emcee mic on a table and laid the iPod next to it. A less than one inch speaker broadcasting into a $19 Radio Shack mic into who knows how many 70 volt speakers mounted in the ceiling. Those Edison cylinders would have sounded better!

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    I would disagree.

    Symphonic players represent a "viable sized" unit. You can't build a symphonic organization without having something in the nature of a fifty person gathering. Strength in numbers applies here.

    "Big bands" are dead, whether we in the trade are willing to accept that fact or not. Booking a group in the twenty member range is difficult at best, and finding a "regular venue" just isn't an option any more. The most significant costs when doing business in the entertainment field are the personnel expenses - the nightly wages for a big band can easily cover the nut for rent/debt service and utilities, with more than enough left over to front a quality recorded setup for the tunes. And, that's just one night's expense - there are twenty one more nights in that months to pay for everything else.

    By cutting personnel, you cut quality, but most folks don't know that there's a problem (they may unconsciously suspect it, but they don't "know" it). And, by going to recorded music, you may have to cover the license fees but that's it. With some cost due to the absence of a live performance, you get "professional quality" music that always delivers what you want, when you want it. A trade off, but most are willing to accept it.

    Smaller units were once viable (when other operations were also unionized). But, as mentioned above, unions are on the wane these days. So, card checks serve little purpose, except to shut out non-union folks in the group. In the old days, non-union folks in one trade would not be tolerated by union folks in other trades. During my bricklaying days, there were many times when we would not cross picket lines of other unions, no matter what the cause for their dispute may have been. The expression "Solidarity forever" was not just an empty sentiment - it ruled within American labor for about three quarters of a century.

    It may be ancient history for some, but even ancient history has had some bearing on the modern world.

    The solution? Well, collective bargaining is only workable for those who are willing to organize. And, with the rise of the middle classes, fewer and fewer are interested in collective security, feeling that they have "got theirs", and that they can go it on their own.

    My grandfather was a professional musician back in the days when it was considered a "trade". When here in America, he lived a lower middle class lifestyle at the best. (Having ten children didn't help.)

    Nowadays, a "professional musician" is usually solidly middle class, part of a two or more car family. Symphonic folks style themselves as better off still, and many of them are comfortable with shedding the union label. And now, we see the result.

    However, the pendulum will swing back again, and when it does we will see what happens. In the olden days, the only recourse for the many against the few was revolution. The late unpleasantness in Egypt is an indication that such conduct may not be over in the "civilized world", even if it is occurring in the oldest "civilized" nation on the face of the planet. Collective bargaining is a decent substitute, but it doesn't come easy.
  4. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    just this morning

  5. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    just hope the bank doesn't take the last step to call on their note and seize the endowment, which is only half of the debt. Then they would seize orchestra hall to find out it's not worth as much as before, then all the other assets of the DSO.

    I hope the musicians don't play chicken for too much longer.
  6. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    Just looked at the musician website.

    I'm glad they didn't publicize this. In this area with the economy the way it is it won't only go on deaf ears, but it may get a revolt against them considering how many auto and trade Union people had their pay cut in half (or eliminated alltogether in recent years).

    I'm not sure if I misread that but the statement right below it was
  7. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    It looks like the DSO musicians believe they can continue to negotiate mgt up in salary requirements whether or not the supportive money is there.


  8. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    i think, but hope not, that the next move will be the banks.
  9. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    insight on musicians union

  10. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    timeline of this entire ordeal

  11. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    newest info is that the musician union now is working with other unions such as the AFL-CIO to prevent any unionized industry to use the orchestra theater/max for a venue. Attempting to put pressure on the DSO mgt as they try to scramble for other revenue streams to stay out of insolvency.

    I'm starting to hear that big sucking sound coming from the banks.

    add to that the school system in detroit is going drastic ...
  12. JfW


    Sounds like a plan.

    1) Force chapter 7

    2) ?????

    3) Profit!

    what could go wrong?
  13. Carl H.

    Carl H. Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    They're 2/3 there already!

    just a couple small details...


    What a great plan!!
  14. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    FWIW, this really is the way that I've seen unions operate. It does make sense, from a union perspective: musicians strike, but management says that they'll just rent out the building for something else and still profit. Teamsters union hears of it and says that they won't drive trucks to the building. THAT'S a problem for management. They can rent out the building for other things, but none of the "acts" can get there.

    One of my many jobs had me working with unions. It was an informative job experience.
  15. JfW


    I do understand that they would want to put the squeeze on DSO management like that as a tactic, but I don't see the reasoning in putting their Employer under.
  16. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    The biggest problem with putting the employer under is that the bank captures all the cash and assets of the DSO. But then this allows the musicians to start their own Symphony from the ground up, including finding/buying/renting a venue, buying new equipment, new managment and all that goes with it.

    For some reason I don't think the musicians have the funds to do that.
    And I don't think the current board, who are all probably heavy donors, would bother.
  17. JfW


    I don't think that's the plan at all. Like I said before, I think the Union is way over their heads in the business aspects of this and as such would be unable to cognitively develop any plan addressing the complexities of starting a 'business' where two thirds or more of your revanue would require to be donated to you by philanthropy.

    Furthermore, you correctly note that many large donors sit within the ranks of DSO Board. I too would be surprised if their willingness to donate would continue as freely with a new Union formed organization after being vilified so ardently by the musicians. And who would the Union blame for failures of this new organization when they are the owners?

    I don't think there is a plan apart from runaway entitlement and misplaced vanity. all their arguments point to a sheer misunderstanding about money and their place in the world. They are divas without an audience.
  18. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    But, all of these arguments dance around the real truth, that being that there is not an audience with enough money to support such an organization where the employees are being paid anything approaching a decent wage and benefit package. Offer what is viable and you'll have quality folks bailing - the "greedy musician" appellation only goes so far, as all of them have obligations that they incurred when they were being paid a decent wage.

    The debt already run up (under a legitimate and fully negotiated arrangement - no one held a gun to either side's head, although the musicians did have a "gun at their head" in that they have to earn a living wage) was not incurred in the last year, or ten years, or perhaps twenty years. The endowment was bled down over a good long period, as costs (in addition to wages were rising.

    It's a long term problem for all of these groups (the shrinking audience), and until tastes change they are all going to suffer to one extent or another.
  19. JfW


    I agree that the reason the DSO is where it's at is all about the audience, or lack thereof. I intended that as a given. What I was talking about is the will-motivation-and competence of the Musician's to organize themselves into an actual business, regardless of what they could pay.

    I've never actually used the word "Greed" to describe the musicians as it's a word I rarely use and a notion that is almost universally inapt. Most often, it's a pejorative given by hippocrit ne'erdowells who want to vilify someone else who like they, just want to get as much out of what they do as possible.

    I don't accuse the musicians of being greedy, but given their arguments I do think them vain, dogmatic, and stupid. I'm quite happy for them that they were able to once garner 100k salaries, but those days are possibly over.

    Yes indeed.
  20. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    here's an interesting writeup
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