Some time ago I read a Silicon Valley Business Journal piece about the Symphony Silicon Valley’s Live-to-Projection Lord of the Rings concerts. SSV President, Andrew Bales, expected to sell out the two full runs of the trilogy in their Center for the Performing Arts in San Jose. This would mean selling out 15,000 seats for the two cycle run, and if an early review in the San Jose Mercury News is any indication (11,000 tickets had already been sold), then it’s like that SSV came close to that goal.
The question is, what exactly did that goal entail? Interestingly, this is one of the very few pieces which reports on projected figures and at least some of the operating costs for a Live-to-Projection event. If all the seats were sold, then the SSV would take in something “do something north of $1 million.” Bales continues “I don’t anticipate losing money.”
In this case, someone is losing money–namely, the musicians. As the SJBJ states:
Each musician took a pay cut of $18 per “service” (a service is a 2.5-hour rehearsal or performance session) to $125 “to help the organization venture into new things and also assume part of the business risk.”
After paying about $225,000 to the orchestra – the first American symphony to play the trilogy – Bales’ second-largest expense will be film royalties to New Line Cinema. He declined to reveal the amount because of a confidentiality clause in the contract, but he said it includes seven of the film company’s employees on site to handle projection and logistical tasks. While Bales valued the time of the 150 unpaid singers from the Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale and Ragazzi Boys Choir at about $100,000, their organizations will receive fees.
In other words, 100 musicians took, roughly, a 13% pay cut and 150 musicians performed unpaid.
As is the case with Film and Video Game properties, there will always be a licensing/royalty fee–especially if live projection is included in the event. And it looks like we can assume the fee mentioned above is somewhere between $225,000 and $100,000 for the film royalties (assuming the $100,000 fees for the choral organizations is actually the third-largest expense).
Whether the Symphony Silicon Valley situation is typical of all live-to-projection events (both film and video game versions) is unclear, but it certainly fits in with some other models of popular entertainment where performers aren’t adequately compensated while profits tend to go elsewhere. It’s also a reflection of how skewed our ideas of profitability are and how that is informed by models in popular entertainment industries which exploit legal and socio-economic loopholes which don’t necessarily benefit certain stakeholders (i.e. performers) within those industries.
The focus on bringing these types of populist events into the regular symphonic repertory also takes the focus off the various Film Score and Video-Game Orchestras which primarily perform these and similar kinds of work–most of which aren’t necessarily doing it in a “profitable” way as they are functioning similarly to the hundreds of smaller budget community orchestras which are usually subsidized by donations of musicians’ time.
I think that we in the arts need to have a discussion of the wider culture of the performing arts to understand how the field actually operates and how some individual organizations evolve into bigger budget organizations (and how others don’t). It’s never simply a question of what’s popular is what sells or is what’s relevant and applying that to the larger budget organizations–especially when we have plenty of smaller and newer organizations regularly doing Film/Video Game events as their standard rep while not transitioning into bigger budget Orchestras despite performing the requisite relevant, populist concerts some have been advocating.