It was distressing to read that the key impediment to solving the labor strife at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra was the national agreement on digital media. After a lock-out that lasted for too many months, union and management came to a mutually accepted agreement and we are already hearing music again in St. Paul. But things were slowed down in the end by a necessary side agreement between the SPCO and the American Federation of Musicians on payments for all digital media broadcasts and recordings. The AFM has a national agreement on digital media use that affects symphony orchestras in the nation (including -- for the sake of full disclosure -- the National Symphony Orchestra which is an affiliated company within the Kennedy Center).
Those who read my writing with any frequency know that I am very supportive of union musicians. I believe they are required, all too often, to bear the brunt of the fiscal problems of our orchestras. They are asked to take wage and benefit cuts to balance budgets when, all too often, it is poor management that has created the fiscal problems in the first place.
I also believe that musicians should be compensated when recordings are sold and television programs are broadcast, if the orchestra is compensated. It is the size of these payments that I question and it is the requirement to compensate musicians even if no money changes hands; that is, if the orchestra is not being paid for the broadcast.
When I ran the Royal Opera House we made a deal with our unions that allowed us to broadcast as many performances as we wanted on the BBC if we gave every union musician one thousand pounds a year. This resulted in a huge increase in the amount of programming broadcast to the nation. It also resulted in more money for our artists than they had been receiving before this agreement: they all got one thousand pounds (which was one thousand pounds more than they had been getting since we had been doing no broadcasting) and benefitted from subsidiary sales of DVDs of their performances.
The current media agreement in force in the United States has severely limited the amount of orchestral music (and opera performances) on public television, radio and the Internet. Most orchestras cannot afford to do any broadcasting anymore.
This has greatly limited our visibility and our audience development efforts at a time when the size of our audience is the central problem we face; without an audience we obviously do not maximize earned income but we also lose the potential for members and donors.
And without programming on the Internet we lose access to so many people, especially younger people, and to influence those in other cities and other countries.
I believe it is time for union leaders and orchestra leaders to come together and develop a more realistic compensation scheme that results in far more music being broadcast; this ultimately will result in more actual compensation for musicians and will result in the audience development we need to provide adequate salaries in the future.
This win-win solution is in the best interests of all key participants and of the nation.
Let's do it soon.