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June 14, 2007

How do we deal with choice?

by Ed Cambron


As one of the bloggers working in the trenches trying to put butts in seats, and keeping them there, I hope I can add something to the dialogue that gets us thinking about actions, especially in the orchestra world.

Reading through the essays, I kept coming back to the issue of choice, and Barry Schwartz's thoughts on the subject in the essay Can There Ever Be Too Many Flowers Blooming? How do we help audiences make choices? What are the unique barriers in the orchestra world? Could we learn something from other institutions which seem to be doing a better job of helping people make choices, or at least rising above the noise of all the choice in the marketplace?

As any good marketer knows, word-of-mouth is your best friend. Technology has only made word-of-mouth even more important, as people can communicate instantly and to many, many people at the same time. The press is no longer local, but global as people pick up and spread whatever someone says. So what is word-of-mouth really doing for us? I'd argue it is helping people make choices. If Barry is right when he says, "The twin phenomena of buying only the culture that you want, or relying on filters to tell you what you should want, is becoming pervasive - a response, I believe, to overwhelming choice in the world of culture," then the viral power of word-of-mouth is the ultimate filter.

What does this mean for orchestras? First of all, we rarely present programs that run long enough to even begin to leverage word-of-mouth as a tool to make a choice. Museums, on the other hand, have had major success in mounting exhibitions which have long runs, creating the opportunity to leverage audiences and their voices. Imagine for a moment what might happen if a major American orchestra took a risk and scheduled the same concert for six months, or repeated a program five times in a year. Could they create an opportunity for audiences to make a choice based on the music, and not just the generic choice of going to the concert hall? Does the fact that we don't allow for this kind of choice explain why a very large percentage of people go to a concert and wait years to return? Are those people viewing the experience in a very generic way?

Posted by ecambron at June 14, 2007 9:20 AM

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