At Cliburn last year I kept hearing “it has to be about the music”. I’m sorry MUSIC IS NOT ABOUT MUSIC, it’s about everything else! We spend so much time focusing on trying to get people to fall in love with music and with what we do. This will only happen when we do the opposite first i.e It’s time for us to be into them! Trying to tap into their pulse still puts us on the outside looking in, the goal should be to become part of their bloodstream…..
It’s easy to talk in abstracts and philosophical terms (I know, I do it a lot!!!), so what is it we can do to create a sustainable need for Classical music and the live orchestra performance? I believe there must be a more grass roots approach to prove a need for what we do, not a hope that people will like us. The mass marketing approach in our business fails time and time again. To me that is like looking for a date, the grass roots approach is akin to looking for a marriage, and we only survive and thrive when people need us this way. Simply put, a marriage wont survive when the partners are not equal! Here’s an example I have come up with in how we might prove to a potential audience that we are into what they are into!:
In a Symphony orchestra’s recent season there were three programs fairly close together each of which had works that could easily be related thematically. On one, Rite of Spring, on another Mahler’s Song of the Earth and on the last Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons. They were not packaged together and the Vivaldi sold well, the other two tanked. Each concert had a work that could be linked to one of the most talked about issues in the world today, the environment and climate change! At the very least linking them this way and selling it as a package would in sense use the Vivaldi as leverage, but a far more profound impact would have been made by presenting a festival with an alliance to an environmental awareness group, using their marketing and mailing list power. On the surface one might think it might not get many more people there, however if the festival is one that celebrates a cause with events surrounding it such as say a lecture by an Al Gore or Robert F Kennedy Jr., a recycled paper drive, an environmental awards ceremony etc.., what you do is potentially engage many people who believe in this cause and who don‘t want to miss a major event that celebrates it. The potential new audience is huge. Here is the best part, the 3 concerts are on the season anyway, with an approved marketing budget, so it does not add on significant cost to do it this way (and might even help with finding sponsors who are also giving their money to this cause). To go unorthodox, and to even further maximize the potential link, present the environmental talk as part of the first or second half of the program! The point is to form an alliance with a new group that represents a current issue (and their membership), and if the orchestra is linked in as a cornerstone event on their calendar, then there is a much greater chance to achieve relevancy (bigger audiences) i.e becoming part of the bloodstream and not just a drug that effects it once in a while!
Think of the many causes that stir people to march, vote, protest and celebrate: literacy, health awareness, children in need, education, freedom, community history just to name a few. With each of these there is so much music that is linkable, I repeat MUSIC IS NOT ABOUT MUSIC. The grass roots approach of forming alliances and connecting to people’s everyday causes and dreams would make us a part of the conversation, and not apart from the conversation! This without compromising and even enhancing the programming. By giving the most important issues of our time an artistic component to further spread the message and awareness will bring loyalty, and also gratitude leading to patronage. It will demonstrate to them that WE believe THEIR issues are important to US.
We are so good at programming and marketing what we are into, because we want people to be into those same things, problem is, they’re not, and it’s a very lazy approach! Nevertheless we keep beating the proverbial head against the proverbial wall! Creative marketing and outreach does not benefit us by going mainstream, cute, fun and sexy, WE ARE NOT E*TRADE. Creative marketing and outreach lies in the ability to base programming on people’s needs, their desires and their priorities and there are thousands of pieces that orchestras already perform each season that can be linked that way. That approach I believe gives music the chance of becoming important to someone who might not previously have given it a thought. Unfortunately, we still market to get people to come to “concerts“, whereas I want them to come to “events” celebrating literacy, veterans, freedom, health, the environment etc…It is essentially using music for it’s true purpose!!!!….
For instance, is Scheherazade a work that demonstrates the many colors an orchestra can produce? Yes, but it’s also the fight of one woman’s life against one of the most powerful men in the world through story telling, i.e the musical example of the pen being mightier than the sword….isn’t that one of the most important lessons we all learn, along with the importance of literacy? Her literacy saved her life!!!! I would say more people would be open to Scheherazade that way, and it doesn’t change the way it has to be performed either! We take away the pressure of them having to ‘know” about music, and put the pressure on ourselves, to ‘know” about them! Successful marketing is about making a true and lasting connection.
Appreciating our audience is not to simply play to them, but to try and positively make a difference in their lives with what we play to them, how it relates to them, to make them important. To do that our programming needs much more CONTEXT and much less URTEXT!