Doubling fees under fire in Denver

November 16, 2011

oboe and English horn
Photo, quack.a.duck

The Colorado Symphony Orchestra, like so many others, is facing a financial crisis that threatens its ability to continue making music. An opinion piece in Sunday’s Denver Post criticizes the Denver Musicians’ Association (AFM Local 20-623) for its unwillingness to budge on certain elements of its agreement with the orchestra.

The issues here are complex, and I hope that the DMA and the CSO will be able to come to a solution that is fair to all involved and that keeps the music alive. But this point in the authors’ list of complaints caught my eye:

Musicians performing on more than one instrument receive “doubling pay.”

I don’t have the full details of the doubling pay currently available to CSO members (though the amount doesn’t appear to be the issue here—it’s the fact that any doubling pay is offered that seems to offend). But a slightly-outdated agreement between the DMA and the Boulder Philharmonic, summarized below, shows a typical doubling pay structure, and it’s a reasonable guess that the CSO’s is identical or very similar:

  • 25% bonus for first double
  • 10% for each additional double
  • B-flat and A clarinets count as one instrument
  • Alto and tenor saxophones count as one instrument
  • Alto and bass clarinets count as one instrument
  • Piccolo, larger flutes, English horn, E-flat clarinet, contrabassoon, soprano saxophone, and saxophones larger than tenor each count as a double, even when used in common combinations (like flute plus piccolo)
Though I am not currently a union member (due to a dearth of union gigs in my area), I frequently ask for doubling fees when negotiating my pay for gigs. Here’s why doubling fees make sense to me as a woodwind player:
  • Each additional instrument I bring to the gig represents a significant financial investment on my part: purchase, maintenance, reeds and other accessories, and insurance, not to mention high costs in past and continuing study of each instrument.
  • Each instrument—even two instruments in the same family, like oboe and English horn—requires separate study, practice, and effort. The money I earn isn’t really about the time I spend at the gig. It’s about the thousands of hours I’ve spent becoming the musician that can do what is required. If I’m playing two instruments on the gig, then that’s a double helping of preparation I’ve put in. If it’s oboe and English horn, or bassoon and contrabassoon, then I’ve put in separate hours making reeds for each instrument.
  • Doubling is very much a money-saving practice for those who hire musicians. I’ll happily play four instruments for 145% of scale, and a smart contractor will happily pay that rather than the 400% of scale that it would cost to hire four separate musicians.
I hope to see a compromise struck in Denver that acknowledges the value that doublers bring to an ensemble.

Comments

  1. John Malmstrom

    As a fellow musician, in my heart I sympathize with your first and second bullet points. Unfortunately the artist often ends his argument there. As a fellow participant in our capitalistic society, it’s your last bullet that really carries the day. I’m so glad you pointed it out.

    One wonders if the Denver Post opinionators (recently departed members of the Colorado Symphony’s Board of Directors) have some axe to grind.

    Recent blog post: Swingy Dream-Team to debut! (November 4, 2011)

    Reply

  2. Ray Pizzi

    Truth be known……….. Your “illustrious” union should be fighting this battle for the musicians. This is why we pay WORK DUES and MEMBERSHIP. ……
    Your not a union member???
    OK, you always have “hope” that the producers will recognize and respect your plight (and cough up the extra money you have invested in your craft)…. Hahahahahahaha.

    Reply

    • Bret Pimentel (Your host)

      Ray, these are great points you bring up, and I would love to have the union in my corner. But there just aren’t union gigs where I live, so if I were to renew my membership I wouldn’t work at all. I hope at some point the union has the influence everywhere that it has in the major markets.

      In the meantime, I’m finding that being a doubler outside the major markets is rare enough that I do have some leverage negotiating doubling pay.

      Reply

  3. Richard Bobo

    When we were discussing doubling rates in one of the orchestras I play with an interesting situation was brought up that I had not been aware of:

    The list of instruments that received doubling pay excluded Piccolo/Flute, Oboe/English Horn, Eb/Bb/A Clarinet, Clarinet/Bass Clarinet and Bassoon/Contrabassoon. When I brought this up they said that is was old language from a previous orchestra in our town. As it turns out, the third woodwinds had negotiated full-time status (despite playing in fewer performances) in exchange for doubling fees. Now, we are not a full-time orchestra yet, so the language was quickly changed, but it did strike me as a fair compromise for that specific situation.

    Anyway, I have no idea of the specific situation in Colorado, but I thought I’d throw that out there.

    Reply

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