Next To Pick Up The Reins

Since there is a bit of a cross-readership, many of you may have already seen that Drew McManus announced yesterday that he was going to cease posting regularly on the Adaptistration blog. Drew is one of the few people who has been posting on the topic of arts management longer than I have.  Way back when he reached out to me about moving my blog from the Movable Type platform I was on to the site back in the early days of WordPress.

In his post, Drew noted that even after posting for 18 years, potential topics of discussion have not been exhausted.

Having said that, it still feels very odd to reach the realization that it’s time to stop while simultaneously having no shortage of ideas and topics that deserve attention…but it’s also clear that now is the time to let new voices step in and pick up that conversation. The emerging practice of audition fees, virtual audition practices, underpaid/overworked staff, the post-pandemic compensation reports, and so much more are all issues that need the sunlight of public examination in a non-partisan environment.

I will readily admit that the blog format has gradually fallen out of favor. My active readership has gradually decreased over the years. But I am also pretty clear that I am writing as much to help myself work through thoughts about arts policy and practice as informing a readership. Just as many people have a daily discipline of writing in a personal journal, I am mulling things over publicly.

My intent is to continue writing this blog, but as Drew says I equally hope new voices step up and address topics of concern for the arts and culture field.

Resisting The Corruption Of The Violin

Recently I have been seeing stories about violin scammers. People performing in shopping centers and other public places with signs asking for money. What is interesting about these stories is that the claim of a scam is based on the fact these people are pretending to play violin to a recording.

There are some warnings about using payment apps to give these people money with the implication that the scammers will exploit that information in someway. But the real focus seems to be that these folks are representing themselves as having a skill they don’t possess.

There are a lot of complex factors to consider here. It is great for artists that there is some recognition of the value of discipline and training and the sense that you are being cheated of something if someone is taking shortcuts to represent themselves as having invested time into developing a skill.

On the other hand, things have seemed to come a long way since the Milli Vanilli lip syncing scandals of the late 80s.  It is pretty much an open secret that many performers lip sync and maybe even feign playing instruments to a backing track. It is less of a secret that a lot of performers use some degree of auto-tuning, vocal distortion, music sampling, etc.

So why is it viewed as problematic, bordering on illegal, that someone hanging out in a shopping mall parking lot is not a skilled musician?  If you enjoy what you hear and are moved to give money, why should it matter if it is live or Memorex?

Could it be that the negative perceptions of symphonic music being generally inaccessible and surrounded by inscrutable traditions and practices also lend the music and instruments an aura of incorruptibility?   In other words, if you employ an instrument of this genre to create music, it reflects an authentic investment of sweat equity, untouched by the compromises and shortcuts of other types of music.

It may be worth a closer examination of the social dynamics to more clearly determine what is at play.  It may be possible to leverage this sentiment to the greater benefit of artists and arts organizations.   I think the past has already illustrated that it would be a mistake to try to place the artists on a pedestal.  In general, it appears people already place them there on their own. If you read the stories, people are open to giving to the people they find in parking lots and are dismayed when they find out the music is recorded.

Over the years I have written about the whole experiment of having Joshua Bell perform in the D.C. metro, something that still annoys me to this day.  Environment and context are significant factors when it comes to a willingness to participate in an experience. Even though a parking lot or flash mob performance seems informal, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to make it successful for the audience.   I have written many posts about this, but perhaps the one that sums it up best covered a piece by Anne Midgette before she retired from the Washington Post.

Referencing Joshua Bell in the DC Metro, she wrote:

In the wake of that controversial performance, one busker said something that stuck with me: Musicians who regularly play on the street, from violinists to singers to trash-can drummers, learn how to connect with passersby in such a way that this doesn’t happen. Classical musicians aren’t usually trained to establish this kind of rapport..

and then later:

Outreach risks taking on a missionary, self-satisfied glow, getting caught up in the innate value of sharing such great music with those who have not been privileged to have been exposed to it. Lurking within this well-meaning construct is the toxic view of music as a kind of largesse: the idea that this music is better than the music you already like. The school concert, with all the best intentions, to some degree demonstrated that if classical music is offered in its own bubble, without context, it has little chance of really connecting with new audiences…

Instagram=High Engagement, But Don’t Make Marketing Decisions Based On A Blog Title

Earlier this month Colleen Dilenschneider wrote a post providing data that showed Instagram was the social media platform with the highest levels of audience engagement and conversions (deciding to attend/participate in activities or subscribe to newsletter) for arts organizations.

There were apparently a lot of questions raised by this information so she followed up today with a closer look and breakdown of the data. 

Before I get in to reviewing what she writes, I did want to note that in the last few months Dilenschneider seems to increasingly acknowledge that people often misread data or use it to support decisions in ways it wasn’t intended. She will make a statement either cautioning against interpreting or using the data in a certain way. This post is no different where she states:

This chart is not intended to tell you how to distribute marketing resources. As leaders know, an effective marketing and communication strategy considers how these platforms work together. However, the key takeaway is clear: People are using the internet to obtain information, and social media is a top source of information for likely visitors to cultural organizations.

One of the things that was interesting to see was that while Instagram had the highest engagement, (as measured by likes, clicks, comments), for both exhibit (museums, aquariums, etc) and performance based cultural organizations, it was far more effective, at least in 2nd Quarter of 2022, at engagement for exhibit based organizations.

Similarly, Instagram had highest engagement across all age groups, although the younger age ranges had higher engagement than the older ranges. Overall, Facebook had lower engagement but had an inverted engagement that increased as age increased. The engagement gaps between age groups for Instagram are much large than for Facebook.

Tiktok comes in third on all categories, but Dilenschneider cautions against ignoring the platform, especially for performance based organizations:

With an index value of 62.7 for individuals aged 18-34 on TikTok, and an index value of 66.0 for individuals aged 18-34 on Facebook, these platforms may be closer in terms of performance than some leaders might expect. This information is critical to watch if yours is an organization aiming to engage younger audiences – an imperative for the long-term viability of many symphonies and orchestras.

I encourage people to read her most recent post more closely. Readers may note that I have not included images of her charts in the post as I used to. While I definitely feel it would aid in your comprehension of the information being presented, I noticed a couple months back that her site’s policy on image and data reproduction prohibited redistribution so I wanted to err on the side of caution. Especially given my own site’s much looser Creative Commons license which may give people the impression that any depictions of her data here is open for reuse.

They’re Back! But Not Because They Waited For The Audiences To Return

Apparently the pandemic was good for classical music stations. In a story on the Current site, the general manager WDAV in Charlotte, NC had a hard time believing his station had achieved number one market share for the first time ever.

WDAV wasn’t alone, a number of other stations had similar successes. But before you assume that the value of classical music suddenly became apparent to people in a “if you play it, they will come” sort of way, it didn’t happen in a vacuum. Stations have been working to frame the music for their communities.

But by emphasizing long-held values of classical radio — to be soothing, to clear the mind, to remind people of aesthetic beauty — stations rose to the occasion to provide refuge from a world that felt scary and uncertain. That has translated into ratings records, strong fundraising and a reminder of the value of classical stations to local arts organizations.

“We heard from a significant number of listeners thanking us for being a place that was normal for them,” said Brenda Barnes, CEO of KING FM in Seattle. WDAV’s Dominguez and leaders at WXXI in Rochester, N.Y., and the USC Radio Group, which consists of KUSC in Los Angeles and KDFC in San Francisco, all said they heard the same from their listeners.

WDAV also got out into the community with their Small Batch music series where they had classical musicians perform at a local microbrewery. Will Keible, the station’s director of marketing and corporate support cited the intimidating environment of a formal concert hall and not wanting to passively wait for people to find them on the radio dial as drivers for their partnership with the brewery.

Other stations cultivated stronger relationships with the artists in their areas. The article also talks about how WXXI had reached out to ensembles and chamber groups in New York’s Finger Lakes region during the pandemic requesting recent performance recordings which they broadcast as part of a 10 week series. Many stations like WXXI have recognized the need to provide programming by musicians and composers of color and that has also helped to broaden their appeal.

“We are changing our library and our rotation cycles so that … you’re hearing representation from all different composers and performers all the time,” said WXXI’s Ruth Phinney. The station also profiles classical musicians of African descent on its website. “We’ve actually had classical musicians contact us and say, ‘I’m a classical musician, I’m not on your site yet. Can you put me on there?’”