How To Become an Orchestra Manager
What Exactly Does an Orchestra Manager Do?
As an Orchestra Manager, Kate Kammeyer of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra says “you’re going to be doing contracts with the musicians, you’re going to be doing contracts with venues, doing touring.” She describes the many facets of her job by using LACO’s current programming as an example. She says, “Right now we have a huge festival in January called the Lift Every Voice Festival. We’re working with the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles to have some of our musicians play in their Martin Luther King Jr. Day concerts. There are chamber music concerts and subscription concerts, a film screening, a day of symposium talks with different experts. Then there’s an opera. That’s all tied in with this three week festival. There’s a lot of speaking from stage and pre-talks that fold into the theme. I talk with the Festival Producer daily [to coordinate everything].
I work on all the things involved with that, the choirs, the staging, ordering the music, getting all the rehearsals together, all the logistics of each event. I’m doing artistic contracts with different artists coming in from outside, working with Development. I’m doing all the contracts with all the vendors involved with the festival, [including venues like] UCLA and USC. We have different music contracts with the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music. [The festival features various Weill pieces and performances.] Eventually I’ll be doing all the musician contracts. There are about forty-five different musicians so they each get a contract. When we have performances at the Colburn School’s Zipper Hall, we have a contract. Then I have the big projects, like thinking about next season’s repertoire and projects, so talking through, doing site visits, and thinking about the gala next year. It’s always looking ahead while doing my daily job and supervising all the personnel in Operations. There’s a Personnel Manager who’s doing all the hiring for the different programs and an Operations Manager who handles all the logistics for each of those concerts and rehearsals.” Orchestra Managers also work with the group’s Music Director (or Conductor), Concertmaster, Section Leaders, Section Members, Managing Director, Stage Manager, Business Manager, Music Librarian, Director of Educational Activities, Director of Public Relations, and Director of Development.
When entry-level workers are just getting started in their orchestral careers, Kammeyer says, “A lot of them do personnel or operations.” She describes the potential career trajectory from a first job to senior management by relating her own story. She says, “I was at Manhattan School of Music for a year, working as orchestra Personnel Manager. Then I was at the National Repertory Orchestra that summer in Breckenridge. I was sitting with my Assistant and he was looking at the League of American Orchestras website. I said ‘What’s open in personnel?’ I was just curious. He said the Philadelphia Orchestra for Assistant Personnel Manager. I got that job, moved to Philadelphia and was there for ten years. And I worked my way through Assistant Personnel Manager, Personnel Manager, then Orchestra Manager, so I left as senior management.
Then I came here because ten years is a long time. I spent most of my career there. I came here because the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is the best chamber orchestra in the world, so if I’m going to move from one of the best symphony orchestras I’ve got to have a great artistic place to go.
Orchestra Manager or General Manager is kind of like the same thing — or Vice President of Operations. It just depends on which place you’re going to. [After] being an Orchestra Manager, some people go the Executive Director route. The League of American Orchestras has an Executive Director training program. So a lot of Executive Directors and people at management levels have gone through that program where they learn how to raise money, marketing, operations, how to put together a board and be a part of that, [how to conduct a] Music Director search. They were trained in that matter so they can work in those senior positions.”
Education & Training
Orchestra Managers come from a variety of educational backgrounds, although most studied music or the arts in some form. Kammeyer says, “People now can get Arts Administration degrees. There are a lot of schools offering really great programs. I didn’t do that because there was like, one [program when I was in school] and I didn’t know this was going to be a thing. It just sort of happened in my life. You can do theatre or fine arts, have a music education background, or be a performer, as long as the supplemental things you’re doing have some administration things or you’re a natural with those sorts of organization factors. In arts administration, you’re going to have to deal with a lot of outside contacts, write a lot of emails and letters and you have to know how to have these conversations with people, lead meetings, and be a leader. They don’t always teach you that if you’re just doing theatre or just doing performance or your art. So if you sort of mix-and-match [your studies] or do a program that’s straight up Arts Administration, that’s another way to go.
Whenever young people come who are doing internships, I talk them through ‘What are you doing in the summer?’ ‘What are you doing while you’re in school?’ [It’s important to be] branching out into learning these different things, because you’re not necessarily going to say, ‘Oh, I’m going to be a Personnel Manager when I grow up’ or ‘I’m going to be working in development’ at a certain arts organization. You might, but I never said that. You kind of see what your skills are and just get an idea of the arts organization. It might not be a music-related one. It might be theatre or an art museum.
I always encourage people to get an internship or have a summer job. When I was at Aspen Music Festival for three summers I worked every summer, so I didn’t spend money as a student. I was able to work during the summer and pick up those skills. So one summer I was the scheduler, I did reception, artistic administration and box office, then one summer I worked in student services. So I checked a lot of different boxes and saw what I liked and didn’t like. You get to work with a lot of different people. In a place like Aspen, you also work with a lot of musicians from around the country at the highest levels so you get to make connections, but you’re not so stressed out with ‘I need to make all these connections’ — you’re just there. There are so much music and so much repertoire and you need to put yourself around something like that; it’s something I really encourage other people to do. I’ve had a couple people come to me and ask about next steps and what they should do and we just talk about what their interests are.
What skills do you need to be an Orchestra Manager?
“A lot of people need to learn how to work in an office and write emails,” Kammeyer says. “You can pick that up and if you have a mentor you can ask questions about it. You don’t necessarily need an MBA or to go to school for that sort of stuff.
People skills are really important. You don’t have to be an extrovert; I’m not really an extrovert. But I think working on leading meetings, speaking one-on-one with people, and managing people indirectly and directly helps. Usually, in my position it’s not just managing the few people who work for me, it’s managing the entire musician body, managing substitutes, and managing people at the venues. You’re building relationships with these people instead of just overseeing a couple people. With musicians, they constantly have questions because this is their livelihood; you want to make it as comfortable as possible for them. So, to be able to deal with different personalities all over the board is really important.
Organization is really important, even if you’re not organized in your own personal life. Have some sort of way to present yourself as the organized one because in development you are facing these donors and you have to be organized. [It’s the same with] marketing, and in personnel, you have to be able to present things to musicians and have their schedules worked out, so your own stuff has to be organized.
Obviously, if you are in some sort of arts discipline you’ll learn the background. This office is fantastic. Probably only a half to three-quarters of us have a music or performance background. Not everyone has a straight-up music background. It’s easier when you know which instrument is where in the orchestra but you can learn it. I actually had a really fantastic Production Manager whose background was in theatre and she didn’t necessarily know all the instruments and the setup and what’s typical. She didn’t know the repertoire as well because she wasn’t around it. But you learn that stuff and you can pick it up. So having an arts background is helpful I think — knowing that scene and those types of personalities. I think the personality of a musician is very similar to an artist. It’s a special kind of people and most of us have similar traits so we can relate to that, but we’re way more organized so that we’re able to have these kinds of jobs.”
Working with artists in the nonprofit world requires an Orchestra Manager to be patient, supportive, and dedicated. Kammeyer says, “I think having an open mind and wanting to learn are important because you’re always going to be thrown a lot of things. Having curiosity and asking questions and wanting to know more is also really helpful.”
Although Orchestra Managers do spend much of their daytime hours working in an office, Kammeyer says, “This isn’t a 9-to-5 cubicle job. My nights and weekends have been my job most of my life. This month we don’t have as many concerts so I’m not working at night for three or four hours at a rehearsal or concert. But I still don’t think of the weekend as a time for doing weekend things. It’s actually nice when you get to go to a performance or something as a patron of the arts because you don’t get to do that very often!
I think the work-life balance is really hard, especially if you have a family. “My friends end up being the people at work so you have to carve out your own time. You have to be careful and take care of yourself with exercise, nutrition and socializing with other people and family. In nonprofit, it’s really difficult. At the Philadelphia Orchestra, I was working sixty to eighty hour weeks. It was nights and weekends, plus in the summer we traveled a lot. We were on the road for almost three months a year. There’s no ‘off-season’ there. But when I came here there is, so I’ll be using that time to get everything done for the next year. In general, nonprofit arts admin people still do their creative outlets as well so you’re never really going to stop and go home, cook dinner, and go to bed. You usually have twelve other things to do.”
For those considering a career in orchestra management, Kammeyer says, “Obviously in orchestra management, you have to choose personnel, operations or artistic or someplace to build up to because you don’t just jump into being Orchestra Manager. It’s about the management of people, relationships, and the musician body. It’s working on your management as well as your people skills and that can mean anything from reading a management book to watching different managers and their styles to testing things out. Those are all different things I’ve done.” She recommends, “If you’re living in a big city you can really make some connections and even cold call different people in management at different levels there and say ‘Will you sit down with me for a coffee?’ A lot of people have done that with me. It’s just sharing your own story, hearing their story, and learning about their background and sort of getting an idea of their strengths and weaknesses, because the other thing is when you go and talk to those people they also have twenty different connections each to different people in the city. They can go, ‘Oh so-and-so is looking for an Intern,’ or if this person’s looking for part-time work, you can say, ‘Oh, you should try this.’
When I was leaving Philadelphia a new girl came in, an Oboist and Arts Administrator, and I was able to sit down and tell her about the scene. Even if you don’t have a connection already, if you reach out to enough people, I think you’ll find those people who are able to have those conversations and will take the time. It’s not a lot of work on our end. That’s what I’d recommend because it can lead to internships and stuff.
Besides trying to get some meetings and talking to people, look for those websites and apply for those [entry-level] roles. People are always looking for someone with a good attitude and not necessarily with all the experience already on their resume. So if they come and have a good skill set, the lack of work history is not necessarily going to shut you down right away.”
How Much Does an Orchestra Manager make?
The role of Orchestra Manager is a salaried position, although the range of income that can be expected varies widely. This is based on factors such as the orchestra’s size, budget, and prestige. Obviously, orchestras that draw higher audience numbers, are located in major metropolitan areas and have highly-regarded musicians as members will be able to pay a larger salary than lesser-known groups in smaller cities.
Unions, Groups & Associations
“The League of American Orchestras has a website full of information, so even if you’re not a member you can still be looking,” Kammeyer recommends. For issues specific to orchestral groups, she says, “You can look up arts advocacy laws. We have a lot of issues with visas and (it sounds strange) with instruments because we have a lot of instruments with ivory and tortoiseshell. You can go there for information and career advice, to go and see what other orchestras are doing and what youth orchestras and the education part are doing. It’s a great resource.”
If you’re looking for work, she says, “There are usually resources in each city — like in New York they have NYFA, which is a website with all the paid and unpaid internships, part-time and full-time work, so when you’re looking for jobs you can go to those types of websites.”
- “Your resume is really, really important. So many people in music — especially in performance — don’t know how to create a resume whatsoever and don’t pay attention to what’s most important in that resume. I have seen over 2,000 auditions in my time for different orchestra positions and probably 4,000 resumes. How many resumes are actually legible and make any sense and show the information that’s most important? (Which is basically ‘Do you have a job right now?’ ‘What was the highest position in the last orchestra you played with?’) We don’t really care about the grade point average. If you’re in different areas of the arts, your admin resume is going to look completely different than your performance resume.You really need to get your resume together and even though people don’t read the cover letter as much, they go back to the cover letter once they’ve looked at the resume and want to get to know you better. So that’s really important as well. Just work on it now, because otherwise you find a job you want and you only have a week to put it together, you’re kind of slamming it together and you need people to look it over to make sure it’s good. Even when you’re older and have been applying for jobs for awhile I think it’s good to have fresh eyes look over it because you sort of get into the ‘here’s my same old cover letter’ [mode] and you need to tweak it.
- Making those contacts ahead of time is important. You can talk to Professors if you’re in school or the different performing ensembles around. We’re lucky in big cities to be able to have so many ensembles to reach out to. Making those connections now is really important because otherwise you’re just studying or practicing in a room then you come out and what do you do?”
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Go to a lot of concerts. Hear as much music as you can — different kinds of music. Meet people. Really talk to and get to know people, not even just in the orchestral world but in the arts world, especially if you’re in a big city because you’re going to be connecting with a lot of different organizations. It’s really about partnerships now. We’re not just isolating ourselves and putting on white light concerts especially because our audience now is older, white-haired, white people and we can’t do that anymore, especially in these diverse cities. Get to know the city you’re in, what its issues are, what’s important to it. See what kind of partnerships there are.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“This isn’t for Orchestra Managers, but for music students who come from a conservatory; they don’t know how to format a resume or how to communicate over email properly to people. Half of getting out there is not your playing. It’s the way you talk to people and how you communicate. I’ve had a lot of students I’ve worked with who often were really terse, demanding and unprofessional in their emails and I don’t care how great you play your instrument — that turns me off and I’m going to tell my twenty friends because I don’t think that person should be out there making extra negativity when there are so many people out there who could play. Even in admin, you should be careful about the way you’re presenting yourself in person or over emails. When you have interviews, yeah, you need to write thank you notes afterward. There are certain things you need to do and you can’t get lazy about it and get assumptive about it, like ‘Oh, we’re in a different society now.’ There are still things you need to do professionally.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“I don’t think most people know how hard we work. You had great questions about the work/life balance and like I said, nights have always been for performances. I think people who have 9-to-5 jobs or jobs outside of the arts world don’t really understand and that’s fine. I don’t understand what Bankers do and that’s fine! But I don’t think they get how hard it is to work through all of this admin stuff. You are dealing with a lot of personalities and it takes special people to be able to deal with those special people. It takes a lot of patience and self-care on your own end to be able to present yourself the right way with people. There’s a lot of emotion because this is their art, their music and what they’re putting out into the world and it’s not just a business transaction. That’s where I think we get a little crazy and happy all at the same time from working in this.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“I try to have humor in things. I’m not necessarily funny but sometimes I flip things in my own mind, to not necessarily be happy and positive and cherry — but to see all the sides of it. Try to find a sense of humor in things because otherwise, you’re going to cry because it can be so serious, especially in the nonprofit world. It’s really tough in general; people are looking to the nonprofit world to provide not just art, but connection to community, connection to something bigger than just the art. Try and have a sense of humor, because then you can enjoy things. Even if it’s a dry sense of humor.”
Kate Kammeyer is the Orchestra Manager for the critically-acclaimed Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.