YO!!…We put the ASS in clASSical!

Time for a rant!  The obsession with attracting the younger audience, making music cool and hip with hip advertising, funky clothes and punky billboards is the same as trying to sell a Yugo by putting a great stereo in it.  After a while they will realize what it is and buy a bicycle and an ipod because it will go faster!   Worse, it might be discrimination….

Billboards I have seen:

Ear Candy!

Try A Few New “Bars” Tonight!

Young people are not fooled by this stuff, and so if they try it once and don’t like it then the chances are you might lose them forever…oh but we at least tried… No excuse!

We blur the lines of discrimination without getting caught out.  If we do a series for the Young People then are we going to turn away the …Old People?  Are we saying that old people are not welcome?  If  this kind of series and marketing fails (as they mostly do), then the message sent is: 

We are doing a series just for you, it’s young hip and cool.  The other series we do is not for you, it is for the more traditional audience

Therefore when it fails we have just told the young person, that we now have no series for them to attend…and believe me they wont!

We need to create series that appeal to everyone, the same goes for the marketing.  Creating a series and engaging the venue that you hold it in as an all encompassing experience should be the goal.  It is a stretch to think that a single demographic can make a series successful (except for the occasional special concert such as Video Games Live).  Those who want to learn, can learn, those who want to be uplifted, can be uplifted, those who want to be entertained can be entertained, and those who want to meet someone, and have a social experience, should have a place available to go in the Hall if they don’t feel like seeing the concert after intermission.  It is not compromising when you please everybody!

Classical Music is not Rock & Roll, Pop, or Hip Hop…so marketing departments need to get over it and stop trying to pretend it is.  Many in the arts world don’t think they are legitimate art forms anyway, so it is lunacy that we use them to try and trick people into attending our concerts!  True art forms or not (for me they most certainly are), one thing is for sure, they are true to themselves, and that sincerity is what engages people.  Classical music also has this sincerity and also can provide an emotional uplift that is unmatched by virtually any other art form.  Here’s an idea….USE THAT.

We try so hard to look for new audiences, that in the end when it fails we shout…

Well I guess they must be stupid, that’s why they’re not coming.

No, they are not coming because we are stupid to think we could fool them.  Newsflash, not everyone likes caviar either, so does that make them unsophisticated?  NO, IT MEANS THEY DON”T LIKE CAVIAR!!!!!

Instead of us trying to trick someone into buying a ticket, how about us trying to make music a relevant part of their life.  Those other genres are doing just that.  Our focus needs to shift to accessibility rather than niche markets.  Seriously, a concert series with a cheaper ticket price for the young makes it a more expensive series to put on since revenue is so minuscule, so in year two cuts to the series need to be made….wait it never usually gets to year two.  The fact is, that even if we sold every seat to every concert, we would still need to raise a lot of money to break even.  It is just not economically sustainable…but it is so much fun coming up with those billboards…Get over it!

If we are going to target the young, the smart way to do it, is to target the next generation of philanthropists, political leaders and board members since we will need more dollars from them later on.  I am glad to hear that some orchestras are forming these groups (our Young Patrons group is called Crescendo). No one is ever going to abandon the traditional concert in favor of these quirky ones, so integration makes the most sense.  Since there are empty seats, then we only gain by trying to fill them by offering great deals for students and first timers and not blow our budgets on series that cannot possibly break even.  As an exception, a series such as Chicago’s Beyond the Score has a chance to succeed because it uses programming that is being presented elsewhere in the season, meaning it is incorporated into the existing rehearsal schedule, very smart!  Check out the cool video content available here

The other thing that is infuriating  to me is the fact that we are not marketing to the true demographic that we can actually make some inroads into.  In part 5, of the Knight Foundation’s Search for Shining Eyes report, Fresh Thinking, scroll down to Pointing to New Paradigms to reveal some astounding statistics that could really help.  This one stood out to me:

  • In trying to profile the factors that might predict a ticket buyer, one statistic stood out: 74 percent of them had played an instrument or sung in a chorus at some time in their lives.
  • Time to get out the old year books and see if anyone in the school choir is still living in the area!

    Quality does not mean accessibility.  I am so tired hearing the words, “if they just come once they will be hooked forever”.  This has not born out otherwise these new audience initiatives would have worked and we wouldn’t have to keep rolling them out.  We place such heavy emphasis on marketing our accessibility and yet we actually have done very little about it in reality.    If we are going to tell everyone we are accessible, then let’s become accessible first!

    So let’s flip the idea and read what a letter might be like to attract Symphony subscribers to a Hip Hop series:

    Dear Symphony Subscriber,

    There is a new virtuoso Rapper named Forte Cent, who’s specialty is Fine Classical Rap….his concerts have an intermission, there are supertitles (or lyrics will be on the provided PDA), late comers will have to wait till a song is finished before being seated, no one is allowed to applaud between songs, no one is allowed to leave before it is over and oh yes food and drink is not allowed.  So please buy a subscription.

    Oh yeah, that will cause a surge in sales because Hip Hop is the new Classical right?….Let’s not go the way of the Yugo!

    8 thoughts on “YO!!…We put the ASS in clASSical!”

    1. Very intriguing post. It’s true that most arts organizations try as hard as they can to get the youth to come to the shows. We have everything here from “Friends of the Quire” for Pro Coro Canada, which, along with a cheap ticket, those who are under 25 get pizza and coke at intermission. I’m not sure how successful it is, except I know the under 25s who sing in the choir, enjoy the pizza at intermission.

      There was also the “Come see opera in your Jeans” event, which from all accounts might have brought a few more youngsters into the seats.

      The true answer to an awareness for the great classical music is a good solid education, which is missing from North American systems before University.

      I’m going to reply to this post in a bit more detail on my blog (http://podiumspeak.blogspot.com)

      Thanks for the post, well done!

    2. Two factors made me a regular concert goer: I played flute in high school and college band; and when I got to graduate school, the St Louis symphony had a lot of empty seats and practically gave us students season tickets (about a dollar per seat per concert — this was in the late 60s, a long time ago!) I got into the HABIT…. go to a concert because you have a ticket, NOT because there is something on the program you want to hear. Later I fell by the wayside for a while, but I then started playing the recorder as a serious hobby and felt the need for more music; I then resumed my season ticket purchases, at list price, I might add.

      I think one of the the most important useful functions of public school music programs is to train listeners, and thus develop the audiences for the professional musicians who need them.

      (Music is a great hobby a but a tough profession.)

      Bill in Dallas

    3. Bill
      The point of it becoming a Habit is a very good one. We are very program “centric” when we plan a season and although that is very important, it is still only one component and no matter how good the programming is, the overall concert experience and environment is just as important. If we feel as an audience member that we are fulfilled by an overall concert experience, then that is the best scenario for someone returning again and again. Just like an orchestra being in sync during a performance of a work, every aspect for the audience from buying the ticket to attending, to parking etc… has to also be in sync. We musn’t discount any aspect. Perfect example, we moved a concert to a hall that had parking challenges and many people told us that was the reason they didn’t attend. Whatever we think about that, we can’t ignore it. It is hard to make attending a habit when it is a challenge to attend. You also made a great point in regards to your early music instruction. We need more music lovers than musicians, which is why instruction in music should lean more towards fulfillment than achievement (I am going to write more about this),more about the life you lead than how you lead your life.

    4. One more point I would like to mention: the college I went to is in Missouri: — now called Central Methodist Univ. It has always been a small school with a strong music program, but in the years I know of, was always open to non-majors in music participating in the organizations. That is a great benefit of being on a small campus. I was able to play in orchestra and band even though I was a math major. After a couple of years, time constraints forced me to withdraw, but the friendships with musicians were formed and the involvement as a “hanger-on” continued. Some of my long-term interest is definitely because of these relationships.

    5. AMEN! I’ve been doing symphony marketing for 30 years, and no one ever told me to turn down a dollar because someone didn’t fit the desired demographic category.

      I think it comes down to a lot of our marketers being fairly young, and their frustration at not seeing people they want to party with in the lobbies. But who gave us the right — or the data — to suggest that someone’s musical fulfillment dimishes with their hair color? I’ll welcome ANYONE who is willing to commit the time and money to join us.

      We’ve all done the research. We know thousands of people — intelligent, educated, many with prior musical experience — who like classical music. But they don’t come because of perceived barriers. They avoid the supposed dress code, the supposed high price, the chance that Mrs. Gotrocks might inquire about the tempo of the recapitulation of the mazurka, etc. It’s our job to open the doors, to address these perceived barriers and, ultimately, ensure that there are NO BORING CONCERTS.

      Oh, why do Yugo’s have heated rear windows? To keep your hands warm when you push them.

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