Comp Tickets Are Not Cocaine


I’m not a huge fan of the complementary (comp) tickets in the classical music industry. Handing out comps tells an audience that the years of work I put into my craft is essentially value-less. Being a professional musician means fighting that stigma and protecting worth, constantly.

Comp tickets are a bad habit! They are continually justified by people in the orchestra industry because:

  1. We want a full hall, no matter how.
  2. If people like this concert, surely they will pay for the next.
  3. Comps are basically like a musician’s privilege or benefit; musicians don’t get paid much so they get comps to hand out to friends and family.

But here’s the brutal reality:

  1. The hall needs to be filled with the help of branding and marketing and that includes a happy and paid orchestra as part of the team in sales.
  2. Free tickets are not like cocaine, they are not addictive. Want to know what is addictive? The expectation of getting more free tickets.
  3. Professional musicians should encourage management to offer musician discounted tickets; comps further the wrong message.

After reading an article on influencers in The Atlantic, it started me thinking about my own social media accounts and what I do to share my concerts.

I have substantial Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn followers whom I regularly engage and encourage to come to concerts. In a way, I’m influencing people (although I like to redefine that as inviting them) to buy tickets to enjoy something I love.

And the more I thought about my own influence, mixed with my general dislike of comp tickets, I started to wonder why the classical music industry couldn’t start to follow the lead of hotels, car companies, clothing companies, etc. If we had select people who would check-in, share a post on Instagram, Tweet to their large following, would that be worth a comp? I think so. The trick is to find the right influencers. Not just people jumping through a hoop to get in to see a concert and checking off a box. Actual influencers who would sincerely convey how much they enjoyed the orchestral experience.

My recommendation to start this kind of campaign would be to form a committee of musicians, staff, and board to come up with criteria. Read through the Atlantic’s article to see how hotels sift through potential influencers. This is not something to be taken lightly, this is a potential extension of the industry’s already exhausted and overstretched arts marketers. Influencers, the ones that have a good fit, have a real potential to reach a younger and more diverse audience than many marketers have time for.

The industry is generally terrible about keeping up with social media. I’m not kidding. Look at the Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts of most orchestras. They are bone-dry boring. The engagement value is extremely low and often insincere. So, the time to use influencers in a win-win scenario is now. Here are a few links to get the brains wrapped around this fantastic tool. It’s time.

About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.

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2 thoughts on “Comp Tickets Are Not Cocaine”

  1. Thanks for writing this…

    I’m reminded of a whole list of ideas that get recycled but never really show value like discounts and comps.

    While I’m not necessarily really sold on how much or how little impact influencers have on buying habits, I do applaud the idea…the challenge that all of us are trying to encourage is one of “fail fast and often.” To me, trying to see if influencers can move the needle in arts marketing is perfectly valid and ideally situated for the challenge of testing something that may not work, but, which, even if it fails, doesn’t destroy the brand.

  2. Thanks for your post. In our orchestra, 25 years ago, each musician was given a card for the season and it was valid for 2 last minute seats only. We have now gone to a token price for a maximum of 2 seats. The problem we have in Europe is that halls for the most part, are much, much smaller. This means fewer seats. I have seen 3-5% of seats, in a hall of 1,100, taken with comp tickets, but this is mitigated by the government subsidies which mean that profitable ticket sales are not absolutely necessary to fund all productions.


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