Why No Orchestra Makes Any Money – Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts

February 23, 2018

This week, we look to the world of music for our fascinating fact and the sad reality of art and entertainment. The focus of this particular blog is right there in the title; there is no orchestra in the world that makes any money. But why? How do they keep running? Let’s take a look!

As covered in The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras by Robert Flanagan, no orchestra can actually make money. “They all run on operating deficit, in the sense that the money they earn from concerts, records and so forth does not cover their expenses.”

But how so? Why can't symphony orchestras make money? There are some hugely famous symphony orchestras who sell out every performance that they put on, often worldwide! Most capital cities around the globe have a philharmonic orchestra and they play in some extremely large venues, with ticket prices often out of reach of all but the most affluent. There are many reasons that symphony orchestras can’t make any money but the main one is simply that the costs incurred to run them can’t really be brought down in any way.

Each orchestra comprises 45 to 100 musicians, each of whom has to be paid. In this sense, they may get holiday pay, sick leave and other rights. They are most certainly not part of the ‘gig economy’. In addition to this, venue hire, management staff, conductors and soloists don’t come cheap and unfortunately, there aren’t enough performances to translate into profit.

A musical has a lot of initial costs but if it runs for a year, two years, five years, etc. then the profit really begins to roll in. An orchestra on the other hand might spend a few days in rehearsal at a particular location, perform two or three performances and then move on. It’s simply impossible to imagine the London Philharmonic playing an extended run of sold out nights in the West End; it’s sad to say it but the interest in the modern world simply isn’t there.

But let’s say there was interest as long as the musicians could keep touring. Unfortunately the costs still don’t add up. A modern orchestra provides additional services like school performances and education programmes, whilst the tour itself would require exceptional expenditure with instruments having to be cared for, musicians being housed and fed and numerous transportation costs.

So how come there exist orchestras at all? Simply put, the arts are an enjoyable commodity and governments and benefactors are happy to fund them. Most in Europe are funded entirely by the government whilst in America, donations to orchestras are tax deductible. Australian orchestras exist due to a combination of the two. Even so, despite the various mathematical odds against them, orchestras are still doing their best to make money, often by playing along to films as the audiences watches. Rather than playing the same old symphonies, this is an idea that has seen a significant uptake in attendance from the under-65s.

A significant part of being an orchestra is that the standards are kept so high; this means there has to be a combination of playing the most elegant orchestrations in the world as well as performing to a live Pixar film (to pick but one example). But for how long can orchestras continue to exist and make no money? Nobody is quite sure but for now, let’s support our regional orchestras as much as we can. We’ll undoubtedly miss them when they aren’t here.



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By Henry Fosdike