From Green Room to Reality: Why Orchestras Need to Go Undercover


In my recent reflections, spurred by my own experiences with buying tickets (at full price, not comps!) for various events, I’ve come to a realization that might resonate deeply with those of us in the orchestra industry: we need to step out of our familiar world and experience what it’s like to be our own patrons.

Walk in Their Shoes

Imagine this: as a musician or someone deeply involved with an orchestra, you decide to purchase tickets for an orchestra performance. You navigate the (sometimes) cumbersome online ticketing process, figure out the best parking options, find your seat in the hall, and endure the long bathroom lines during intermission. This isn’t your usual experience, as you are typically on the other side of the stage, but it’s crucial to understand the audience’s journey.

However, let’s take this a step further. Let’s push ourselves even more out of our comfort zones. Attend an event that is entirely unfamiliar—buy tickets for a hockey game, for instance. From the start, this experience can be enlightening. The process of purchasing a ticket for an event you know little about can be confusing and even a bit intimidating. Finding your way around the venue, understanding the rules, and navigating the social norms (like not standing up when the puck is in motion) can all contribute to feeling out of place.

The Value of Feeling Like a Fish Out of Water

This experience of being a “fish out of water” is invaluable. It brings empathy and understanding that can profoundly influence how we interact with and cater to our audience. Here’s why:

  • Enhanced Empathy: By stepping into the shoes of our audience, we develop a better understanding of the challenges they face. This empathy can drive improvements in our own processes, from ticket purchasing to event navigation.
  • Identifying Pain Points: Experiencing these events as an outsider helps us identify specific pain points that our audience might encounter. This could range from the difficulty of finding parking to the need for clearer signage within the venue.
  • Improving Accessibility: Recognizing the barriers faced by new attendees can lead us to implement changes that make our performances more accessible and welcoming to all.
  • Marketing Insights: Understanding the apprehensions and motivations of a potential new audience can provide valuable insights for marketing strategies. We can craft messages that address these concerns and highlight the enjoyable aspects of attending an orchestra performance.

Practical Steps to Implement

  • Experience Other Events: Make it a practice to attend events outside the orchestra world. Document your journey, noting both positive and negative aspects.
  • Feedback Loops: Establish channels where musicians and staff can share their experiences and insights from attending other events. Use this feedback to inform policy and operational changes.
  • Audience Journey Mapping: Develop detailed maps of the audience journey for your own events. Identify key touchpoints and potential friction areas.
  • Continuous Improvement: Regularly review and refine the entire audience experience, from the moment they purchase a ticket to their departure from the venue. Small improvements can lead to significant enhancements in overall satisfaction.

Bridging the Gap with Incentives

Reflecting on my earlier thoughts about comp tickets and incentives, there’s an opportunity here to align this with our newfound empathy. Orchestras could adopt incentive programs similar to those in other industries, encouraging musicians and stakeholders to bring friends to concerts with special discount codes. These codes could offer a small reward for the referrer, fostering a sense of ownership and involvement in the success of the orchestra.

Imagine a scenario where every musician feels personally invested in the audience experience and is actively involved in bringing new faces into the hall. By offering incentives—whether monetary or in-kind—we can create a culture where everyone is motivated to contribute to the orchestra’s growth.

Final Note

Our goal should always be to create an inviting, seamless, and enjoyable experience for our audience. By stepping out of our comfort zones and immersing ourselves in the audience experience, we can gain valuable insights and make meaningful changes. Let’s challenge ourselves to not only perform beautifully on stage but also to ensure that every aspect of attending a concert is as harmonious as the music we create.

As employees of an orchestra, we’ve become a bit too reliant and comfortable with our comp tickets, too familiar with the lay of the land. Until we fully experience the entire cycle of purchasing a ticket, navigating the venue, enjoying the performance, and finally leaving the parking garage as a patron, we won’t truly appreciate the patrons’ journey. So, let’s put on our patron hats and dive into the full experience—it might just be the most enlightening encore we’ve ever had!

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 “From Green Room to Reality: Why Orchestras Need to Go Undercover”

  1. Perhaps it would be a good thing to have a First Time Attendees table/booth/seating area. Some of the advice for audience members similar to some of your past posts on a handout could be a great handout, perhaps along with a survey similar to those you hand out in prisons to get feedback from first time patrons that earns a discount for filling out and returning to the person(s) manning the table. Advice on things like disabled restroom access or other idiosyncrasies of that particular venue could be helpful on the handout as well. Just spitballing.


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