SWOT Analysis of Professional Orchestras

Symphony Services Australia provides a range of centralised services to the six Australian symphony orchestras (the Adelaide, Melbourne, Queensland, Sydney, Tasmanian and West Australian Symphony Orchestras). SSA has been invited to complete a SWOT analysis on orchestras for the Music Trust. It is noted, however, that the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that face the professional orchestras may be quite different to those facing other types of orchestras. The orchestral sector in Australia includes professional symphony orchestras, chamber orchestras, specialist period orchestras, opera/ballet orchestras that perform in the pit; as well as youth, amateur and community orchestras. There are also purely commercial and “scratch” orchestras that exist for a variety of reasons. Even among the six symphony orchestras serviced by SSA, there are substantial differences in size, funding, income generation, audience type and numbers and so forth. One SWOT analysis is possibly not enough to do justice to such a rich and varied orchestral sector and others are invited to contribute their additional comments and suggestions. The Youth Orchestras network will be the first additional contributors to this SWOT which will undoubtedly grow and change over time.


STRENGTHS

Artistic

  • Recognised artistic excellence – Major Performing Arts organisations that are respected as high quality orchestras sitting on the world stage
  • Major employers of professional musicians and administrators – over 2800 employees in 2016
  • Regular international touring – all six orchestras have toured at least once internationally in the last couple of years
  • Internationally renowned soloists and guest conductors wanting to come to Australia on a regular basis
  • Orchestras invest in training and development of young artists – career pathways
  • Australian Principal Conductor (ASO) and Associate Conductor (MSO) and Assistant Conductors
  • Excellent schools concerts, community engagement, outreach projects
  • Outdoor programs that are free, diversity of programming

Audience

  • Audiences relatively strong, with average around 80% capacity for most mainstage concerts
  • Loyal audiences who continue to come back regularly
  • Strong single ticket sales as well as subscriptions
  • Ability to market strongly to new audiences
  • Commitment to digital technology and building diverse audiences
  • Orchestras reach wide range of community through concert hall, tours, recordings and broadcasts
  • Accessible and relevant to a wide range of Australians

Financial

  • Relatively healthy government grants, tripartite agreement provides strength
  • Diverse income streams including healthy box office and fundraising
  • Trained staff who can maximise income streams

Governance

  • Professional (volunteer) boards that bring skills and experience to governance
  • Commitment to good governance, directors often trained or AICD qualified

Administration

  • Well organised inbound tours of international artists, collaborating with SSA to undertake visa/travel process – artists want to come here and know they will be looked after
  • Ability to remunerate staff relatively well/prestige in working for a professional orchestra
  • Shared services (shared between each other, and also other parts of the sector)
  • Good mix of youth and experience. Staff truly believe in the product

WEAKNESSES

Artistic

  • Sometimes difficult to attract top quality players – geography, pay, conditions
  • 457 visa changes making long term employment of international players difficult
  • Chief Conductors may not spend as many weeks in Australia as desired
  • Balance between Australian content (conductors, soloists, composers) and international
  • Cost of international touring
  • Recordings not financially rewarding

Audience

  • Ageing audience
  • Can be difficult to attract younger and new audiences
  • Box office income as percentage of total income variable – from 13% to 49% across 6 orchestras
  • How to attract and retain new audiences?
  • Competing with “free” entertainment (eg TV) plus large range of other paid entertainment options

Financial

  • “Cost disease” – high fixed costs, relatively static government income
  • Danger of “maxing out” donor and philanthropic support
  • Decreasing sponsorship income, particularly in some states
  • Fundraising (esp compared to USA) from board members

Governance

  • Difficulty in attracting highly skilled directors (competing with other high profile arts organisations)\
  • Model different to USA – directors not necessarily large donors

Administration

  • Still part of the arts sector – salaries not competitive with commercial sector
  • Lack of funding for digital and new technologies

OPPORTUNITIES

Artistic

  • Collaborations with other companies, including the small to medium sector, youth orchestras, festivals etc
  • International touring opens up new partnerships, creates artistic excitement for players
  • Ability to benchmark orchestras against the world and to hear themselves perform in different concert halls
  • Self-produced programs
  • Digital technology provides opportunity to showcase orchestras to new audiences here and abroad

Audience

  • Building a new audience through “special” engagements such as films
  • Participation in festivals also opens up new audiences
  • Schools concerts, education and outreach activities
  • Opportunity to market activities to politicians, raise awareness

Financial

  • Entrepreneurial and presenter activities open up new income streams
  • Special engagements and hires, when successful, can be positive revenue options
  • Dynamic pricing
  • Digital income streams

Governance

  • Board succession planning and training
  • Increase board donations

Administration

  • Build staff knowledge in particular areas, provide professional development opportunities
  • Create workplaces of choice through provision of benefits etc (reward & recognition)
  • Shared services

THREATS

Artistic

  • Venue closures in some jurisdictions (also relevant to financial and audience)
  • Recent changes to 457 visas will make it more challenging to engage international players within orchestras
  • Wider choice for audiences – more shows, more free entertainment at home, wider choices in a constrained economic environment
  • Length of time it takes to engage a chief conductor
  • Declining role of music education in the community – fewer pathways for professional musicians and audiences

Audience

  • Competing entertainment options – more stuff available for the leisure dollar
  • Ageing audiences – how to attract younger audiences and retain them

Financial

  • Government support reducing in percentage terms
  • No increases to government grants
  • Difficult financial times can result in lower philanthropy/donations
  • Touring, recordings required for artistic purposes but don’t make money
  • Decline of corporate sponsorship
  • External forces (eg loss of government funding of school buses to take kids to education concerts)

Governance

  • Duty of care – threat of a scandal or fraud etc (unlikely)
  • Succession planning

Administration

  • Staff turnover, inability to meet the market in salaries and benefits
  • Limited pool of high quality artistic administrators and highly qualified music-oriented staff (competing with other arts organisations in Australia and overseas)
  • Some areas of the business highly specialised

AUTHOR

Kate Lidbetter


DATE September 5, 2017

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