Monday, January 29, 2007

AFM and Mr. Frey

This evening I meet with Mr. Frey regarding my research. An elderly man, Mr. Frey was a former clarinetist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and has held several leadership positions in the AFM, both locally and nationally.

Mr. Frey provided me with a wonderful outlook on the difficulty of being a musician in the new century and the problem the union is having with non-members forming ensembles and performing for a paying public. He acknowledged that many individuals have the desire to create music, but not the aptitude nor the passion to make it a career. This is the same in any other field of work. But while other industries have track records of hiring practices, the arts have not been able to replicate a similar history.

Mr. Frey did provide me with two pieces of information that I intend to use.

The first was a directory of all the musicians that have been affiliated with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra over its first 100 years. While it is not recently up-to-date, this would begin to fill in the information I need from the beginning of the data period.

The second was to contact a Mr. George Seltzer. A past music professor at Miami University (Oxford, OH), he had written a book and several articles on this very topic. I had actually cited him in my original research paper. I did not know he was still alive and living in the area, even.

I plan on sending him a letter of introduction along with a copy of my paper and ask him if to assist me with either information he has collected or with the contacts of people I could get information from.

I'm moving forward. It is a slow trek, but still forward.

Friday, January 19, 2007


In the first week after I sent out my survey, I received 7 responses from personnel managers. Some of them were only able to provide me with some information, others wanted to clarify some of the questions I was asking. Only one of the respondents was unable to comply with my request.

He did, however, point me in the direction of a potential source of research. The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) is the union that all musicians, beit popular, jazz, recording or classical, are members of. I had originally contacted their Symphonic Services division in late 2004 to see if they kept track of employment figures, but no one returned my emails or phone calls. This is what lead me to send out surveys to personnel managers for my first paper.

If the AFM does actively not keep track of the openings from year to year, there is a second, more labor intensive option. This would be to obtain all of the International Musician publications from the last twenty-five years. This magazine contains not only information about the union, but advertisements on upcoming job openings. Since most upper-level orchestras are members of AFM, they are by law required to advertise an opening as part of the United States Laws against discrimination in the workplace.

To elevate the pain of having to possibly spend a whole weekend in the CCM Library pouring over microfilm, I contacted the AFM union in Cincinnati, Local One. Mr. Eugene Frey agreed to speak with me about my project and how he could help. I had spoken with him before about my project and he guided me to several books that were extremely helpful in providing background research for my paper.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Step 2: Demand

Today I finally began to explore the other side of the orchestra labor curve. After about two months of research, I began the task of contacting 67 orchestras in the United States. These orchestras were category 1 and 2 (meaning budgets of $5 million or more) and most had once received a grant from the Ford Foundation.

While I indirectly wanted to link the Ford Foundation's involvement in the growth of orchestras to the problems that are occuring today, the primary objective is to gather data on positions filled over the past twenty-five years.

I fully acknowledge that most orchestras do not keep this data or if they do, their records do not date back that far. But it is an attempt, at the very least. I must test the waters before I take the full plunge to figure out just where to enter. If I must make changes to the scope of my research, I aim to that under the proper conditions.

I contacted the personnel managers at the orchestras selected and supplied them an Excel sheet already built to house the data and an brief explanation of myself and my project.

On the three Excel Sheets, I asked for
  1. The number of job openings/filled positions over the last twenty-five years
  2. The number of principal/unique positions open/filled over the last twenty-five years
  3. A small survey regarding Union issues and education background (if known)

Once I obtain the data, then begins the massive task of breaking the employment history down per orchestra and creating an interactive Excel spreadsheet to draw a picture of the orchestra hiring history over the past quarter-century.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Step 1: Supply

In a first step to obtain data on the number of students both working on and graduating with degrees in music, I contacted the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM). This organization is in charge of giving accreditation to schools of music (and other arts programs) and also collects data regarding enrollment figures, graduation numbers, etc.

The main data vehicle they use is the Higher Education Arts Data Services (HEADS) Report. It was this report that I used to base my ten year study on while in graduate school.

After writing to the chief data officer, I learned that:
  1. the organization began collecting data from the 1981/82 school year
  2. the data was not complete because several schools had been added and/or did not complete the survey in a given year
  3. only members were allowed access to this data, and at a price
Upon learning this, I proceeded to ask Dean Lowry of the College-Conservatory of Music for assistance. He had been instrumental in helping me obtain the data for my previous paper. After a brief discussion, he decided to help me with my current project. He told me not to expect quick results, since his time was limited and extremely busy.

Once I obtain this data, I will begin the long task of entering it into an Excel spreadsheet and formulating an analysis of the data across the years and identify any patterns.

Simple Economics

There are two parts to exploring the labor market in a particular industry. It follows the same convention as goods supplied vs. goods sold. The graphs are typically described in units of quantity versus price.

Supply - How many units can a business create using their limited resources. The more units a business creates, the greater the price. The relationship is that more units created means more raw supplies must be purchased and thus the individual unit cost rises which in turn raises the price. This curve slopes upward when moving left to right.

Demand - How many units can the business sell in the market. The more units a business creates, the lower the price. Rare objects fetch a high price, since there is a limited quantity. A massive amount of units creates a flooded market, and since the consumer can readily obtain the product, the price falls to allow people to purchase the amount of inventory. This curve slopes downward when moving left to right.

Several factors can affect both the position of the curves on the graph and where the actual business is at on the curve itself, but those conditions will be saved for a future post.

Equilibrium - This is the point at which the supply and demand curves intersect. This represents a point where the market will be able to fully digest the amount being produce and allow the company to realize maximum revenues. It is the goal of all businesses to reach this point.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Musical Chairs continued

Since this is going to be my professional blogspace, and my contribution to the blogsphere, I decided to use this as the vehicle to describe my ongoing research.

After being published on My in December 2005, in various newspapers, and even interviewed on a local radio program, I decided to extend the scope of my research.

I fully acknowledge the uphill battle: the potential limited resources that I would have to extract information from, the resistance I could get from individuals who believe that the issue of too many students preparing for a life as an orchestra musician is a non-issue and a labor environment not be prepared for the disturbing truth that is known but not quantified.

I feel charged by my musician friends to complete this project. Without them, I would not have had a project to begin with. I must complete my obligation and provide both current and future individuals who seek a career as a musician an accurate picture of the industry.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

times, they are a changin'

On my list of New Year's Resolutions, the one the supersedes pay off debt and loss weight is be a more active Blogger. I know that as a person I am very timid and reserved, and not very forthcoming with my thoughts, feelings and desires to the general public.

So, to battle this, I plan to begin to Blog more. More than just a public forum for my thoughts, I really want to use this as a way to reach people with my thoughts, notions and possibly absurd conclusions.

Since I really like the look of this site over Livejournal, I am planning on utilizing Blogger as I become more professional. I will probably keep updating my LJ, since it has that nifty Friend's Page, but I will make that claim that is will be my blog.

And so it begins, again, anew.

I will keep the title for now. I really struggle with putting a name on myself. My parent's did a decent job of it with me, but I really have not found something apropos for myself.
One of my (now defunct) blogs was headed after a line from an e.e. cummings poem.

since feeling is first, who pays any attention to the syntax of things

Still, I always come back to the line from High Fidelity where Rob discusses his internal supply problems when it comes to his feelings.

I guess I'm a Rob, just with more of an acumen for my iPod than LPs.