Solutions III

Here’s another success story, about new ways to promote what otherwise

was a standard (though evidently quite wonderful) classical performance.

This was a semi-staged production of Gluck’s opera Armide,

done by Opera Lafayette in Washington and New York, and reviewed

by my wife Anne Midgette in the Washington Post:

Opera

Lafayette celebrated its 15th anniversary on Monday night with a

gesture that, before the fact, seemed almost quixotic. The company,

which usually performs in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater —

seating about 500 — rented out the Concert Hall, which holds more than

2,000 people…In honor of its anniversary, the group charged $15 a

ticket, a quarter of what it regularly charges.

And it sold out

the Concert Hall….

The company sold 2,100 tickets, filling the

hall to the upper

balconies. There was even an ad on Craigslist, offering $25 for a

ticket.

How did Opera Lafayette do that? Anne told me some

things that weren’t published in her review.

What Opera

Lafayette didn’t do:

  • Advertise
  • Get

    an advance feature in the media.

What they

did do:

  • Contacted patrons of Washington

    National Opera, which was happy to help. They offered these patrons a

    “patron’s discount,” lowering the ticket price to just $10.

  • Donated

    tickets to schools of all kinds. Two board members bought the tickets,

    and then donated them to schools.

  • Contacted the French

    embassy, and the Maison Française. (French opera is a niche within the

    operatic repertoire, and of course French people will be the ones most

    interested in it.)

  • Passed out leaflets at other

    opera performances.

And they sold out their

New York performance (in a smaller space, admittedly) “in part,” as Anne

says, “by sending volunteers to New York by bus to hand out fliers to

people attending the movie-theater broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s

‘Carmen.'”

Good for Opera Lafayette. They wanted an audience,

and they went right out and found one. Which took a lot of hard work, of

course. But it paid off.

The moral of this story? The way you

market something, really market it, is to figure out who might be

interested, and contact them in every way you can. If this means you

create your own audience, go for it!

Far too often, people

presenting classical music don’t do this. They rely on the media. Last

week I had an exchange with a publicist, who hoped that I’d write about

some new music events he was working on, because (as he told me) if they

didn’t get media exposure, they’d never grow and thrive.

But I

think it works the opposite way. Yes, media exposure can be part of a

full marketing plan. But media exposure isn’t always efficient. A

newspaper story, for instance, may not target the people who’d actually

come to your event. You’ll do much better reaching out directly to the

people in your potential audience, even contacting them individually, if

you can find a way to do that. (Like handing out leaflets at other

events they already go to.)

And then, once you build your

audience on your own, media exposure may well follow, because people in

the media will be impressed. But above all, you’ll have your

audience, which no amount of media exposure can guarantee for you.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditEmail this to someone

Comments

  1. says

    Hi – I’ve been following your thread on this for a while now and love it. As I see it, the lesson you took away, and that Lafayette was clearly implementing is one of “know your customer” – a kind of basic retail business practice that is not really regularly practiced.

    Interestingly, there are a lot of “indie” bands that are actively using the power of social networking to create market traction, but the guerrilla marketing tactics that Lafyette did work equally as well – although not as scalable.

    Your notions on context apply here too – and the more the classical music community – from composers, to performers, to promoters can embrace the notion of finding the customer that wants what you offer and then packaging it (the “product”, pricing, positioning and placement) right – they can grow.

    It may sound distasteful, and years ago I would have eschewed this approach as well, but it’s critical for survival and growth.

  2. Janis says

    “You’ll do much better reaching out directly to the people in your potential audience, even contacting them individually, if you can find a way to do that.”

    This is starting to sound awfully long-tail …

    I’m not sure I see the connection.

    Opera Lafayette got a really large audience, not a niche long-tail one. I’ve also known a chamber music presenter at a New England university who’d contact hundreds of people personally to sell tickets to her concerts. I may be dense, but I don’t see the long-tail connection.

  3. Janis says

    BTW, regarding long-tail and contacting people individually, here’s a good description:

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html

    Problem: Live performance is tied to the physical world pretty much in a lot of ways (not counting recordings). Joining existing aggregators (record your opera and get the thing up on iTunes, at least, and do this as a matter of course) can allow niche music to piggyback on existing long-tail aggregators.

    There needs to be a course for ALL MUSIC STUDENTS — including those modernist types you were talking about — where they are taught “here’s how to get your stuff in iTunes and here’s how you can make a bit of money at it.”

    Will you own seven houses along the California coast? Probably not. But you’ll make a couple bucks and maybe get an audience, and join others like yourself to help create a larger audience.

    Classical institutions have to start recording their performances in every single instance and putting the things on the aggregators (iTunes and Amazon). There is NO excuse not to have every single performance of something recorded and put online. None.

    This isn’t a presentation thing, though — should we include a light show in the concert or not? — it’s a sales thing. If you want to survive, you must offer everything you have. Record it, film it, upload it for 99 cents a track or whatever. It will find people who want to watch it no matter how farflung they are. That will be a HUGE help to struggling institutions and small companies in terms of finding an audience and making some cash.

  4. Janis says

    Long-tail is about getting to people without relying on the typical marketing machine, which relies on big, reliable hits. (It’s also about WHEN you can do this and when it’s misapplied.)

    The future of classical music is about the dismantling or severe challenging of a few, very large institutions. Like the Reformation analogy I made a while back, this will create many, many small niches. (One catholic church versus a zillion protestant ones.)

    Once that happens, you have a long-tail setup by definition: a big, popular establishment head and a long tail consisting of a zillion niche options, all of which in a world where shelf space and physical presence isn’t important has a chance to find its audience.

    I guess I’m not just talking about how to sell tickets to live performances. I’m talking about how to get the words “Did you see what Opera Lafayette did last week?” in as many mouths as possible. That will likely have the secondary effect of helping their live performances sell tickets.

    I’m saying that if the long-tail lever is pulled in the correct direction by a myriad small companies, the increase in attendance for live performances will come about a few layers down.

  5. a curious reader says

    Agree with EVERYTHING being said. I think that Braydon hit the nail on the head: they did the research and found a viable demographic/audience. great discussion.

  6. Janis says

    Long-tail is about getting to people without relying on the typical marketing machine, which relies on big, reliable hits. (It’s also about WHEN you can do this and when it’s misapplied.)

    The future of classical music is about the dismantling or severe challenging of a few, very large institutions. Like the Reformation analogy I made a while back, this will create many, many small niches. (One catholic church versus a zillion protestant ones.)

    Once that happens, you have a long-tail setup by definition: a big, popular establishment head and a long tail consisting of a zillion niche options, all of which in a world where shelf space and physical presence isn’t important has a chance to find its audience.

    I guess I’m not just talking about how to sell tickets to live performances. I’m talking about how to get the words “Did you see what Opera Lafayette did last week?” in as many mouths as possible. That will likely have the secondary effect of helping their live performances sell tickets.

    I’m saying that if the long-tail lever is pulled in the correct direction by a myriad small companies, the increase in attendance for live performances will come about a few layers down.

  7. says

    Very cool story. Marketing is definitely important–and what some people don’t get is that it really involves reaching out and networking, and sometimes pounding the pavement. People don’t just come to you or care about the same things you do. It’s not because they’re less sophisticated and didn’t grow up listening to Beethoven; many times it’s simply because they are unaware of what’s up in classical music. As performers/presenters, it’s our responsibility to figure out ways to make people want what we have.

  8. says

    Wow! These success stories are going to be a fantastic resource. One of my students told me the other day he wants to start a blog about exactly this–classically trained musicians be creative and entrepreneurial and making it work. We need as many role models and synergistic sharing of ideas as possible. Your site, Greg, is a great place for this to be happening.

    I’m also delighted to see you emphasizing the “rebirth” theme more and more–because that’s what it has to be about.

    Thanks, Eric. Warms my heart to read what you say. It’s as if you’ve read my mind. But then, we’ve been on the same wavelength for a long time.

  9. a curious reader says

    Greg and all, this is not a solution; but instead this is the EXACT opposite of what needs to be being said:

    im a member of talkclassical.com (i have no idea why though)and i put up a post about the Goodall Requiem that i talked about in a blogpost or two ago. Here’s what it read:

    [i]recently was asked to check out a requiem a friend of mine found on youtube…turned out to be Howard Goodall’s Requiem, released 2008. I have to say that I was COMPLETELY floored at how much I loved it. The Requiem followed a some-what traditional setting, but Goodall added some 20th century poems that are very tasteful (imo), and did something i have never heard of: wrote it for ballet as well.

    I honestly believe that this requiem has the potential to eclipse the Rutter and be the first great requiem of the 21st century.

    So i invite, ask, plead everybody to check it out here: http://www.eternallightrequiem.com/

    You can hear the full lacrymosa on youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_BYJi0-OGU

    unfortunately the CD has not been released in the US (im going nuts..), and i dont think the score has in either the UK or US — I emailed the rep for Goodall asking when all that will be released.[/i]

    im really excited about this new piece (obviously.) I feel that it has the accessibility that the rutter has and can be appreciated by everybody — this is my definition of alt-classical…new, accessible, and relevant.

    one of the senior members on the board posted this in response:

    [i]This is a rare example where the words are infinitely better than the music in my opinion. The music that stinks of false sentimentality cheapens the beautiful message of the poem.

    Howard Goodall is in the same camp as Rutter and Jenkins, commercial, audience pandering and everything that’s wrong with today’s popular art (if you can call it art).[/i]

    Even if his opinion is “right” this line of thought has no place in the classical community if we are going to make it through this re-birth, a healthier community.

    Sorry for the rant, but i have no-where else to post it; and i feel it’s a perfect example of what we should NOT be striving for.

    Curious, you have a good point. Of course we’re going to debate the value of different pieces of music, of various composers. And we’ll disagree. But the puritanical air of the comments you quoted just put an end to discussion. If only one side can be right — and if the other side is seen as selling out to everyone’s worst instincts — then we’ll be as stuck as (forgive the political reference) the US Senate. We’ll have many opinions, among us all, but we should try also for some unity.

  10. Eric L says

    @The Baltimore Symphony example.

    It’s a great idea. Much like the YouTube Symphony idea (as an idea…I hated the ultimate presentation, but you’ve got to admire a good idea despite the flawed execution).

    What needs to happen, however, is that this needs to be a regular thing if it wants to have any actual impact. The model also needs to be tweaked. It can’t be a one-off thing, and I’ve afraid orchestras are still at the stage where they treat these programs as one-off. There needs to be substantial long-term ‘investment’ in programs like this if you will.

    And they need to happen everywhere, which requires a cultural change in attitude within classical organizations.

    Oh, Eric — you’re _so_ right about this! Orchestras have a habit, over the past couple of decades, of getting all excited about new projects, and then dumping them. Take the Baltimore Symphony. In the David Zinman days, they did a “Dance Mix” concert in a club, with, or so everyone involved said, tremendous success. Large young audience, etc.

    And they never went back and did it again. They did play a second “Dance Mix” program, but that was part of one of their normal concerts. They never went back to the club. Why? “We couldn’t think of another program that would work there,” a high-ranking staff member told me. And when the Richmond, VA symphony didn’t repeat its own successful club concert, I was told, “Well, the club closed, and we couldn’t find another one.”

    Or, quite obviously, neither orchestra cared enough to solve those elementary problems. More charitably, orchestras normally find it all they can do just to produce their normal concerts. They’re stretched to their limit doing that, and don’t have cash or staff for new endeavors.

    But the fact remains: You _do_ have to do these things for many years, and orchestras tend to give up very quickly. Let’s hope the Marin Alsop regime, so promising in many ways, turns out to be an exception. (Paul Meacham, the CEO in Baltimore, gets lots of credit from me, too.)

  11. Eric L says

    But the puritanical air of the comments you quoted just put an end to discussion. If only one side can be right — and if the other side is seen as selling out to everyone’s worst instincts — then we’ll be as stuck as (forgive the political reference) the US Senate.

    Thanks for the clip a curious reader!

    Indeed Greg. It’s something I saw throughout college. Some very genuinely nice people who wrote music I didn’t personally like. But that’s beside the point. They basically dismissed everything that didn’t sound like what they were doing. Sometimes it really seemed like they were philosophers in disguise. They seemed more interested in the intellectual meaning behind the arcane stuff they were composing…not that that’s necessarily bad in and of itself, but when any and all music that doesn’t fit their philosophical/ideological paradigm, then suddenly it’s grounds for mockery. Discussion isn’t even considered.

  12. a curious reader says

    here’s an interesting thought. as is it assumed: as you grow older, you begin to venture into classical music some. The singer Sting seems to fit this model as he’s currently preforming some Downland, Purcell and other early composers…is this a trend that we will continue to see? Will we see Bono and other baby-boomer age musicians begin to dabble in this side of the arts now, much like Simon and Garfunkle did in the 60-70’s? I mean, because of them and the Graduate, everybody knows a few Scarborough Fair…could that same popularity be achieved in the digital age?

  13. Janis says

    I think as you grow older, you may just venture off the beaten path a bit more since you may have gotten bored with it. :-) I’ve found that in myself and in many, many, many other people who are entering middle age (I’m 43). After a lifetime of consuming mass media, you just get damn tired of it. Every Hollywood movie is the same as every TV show is the same as every mainstream pop record is the same as … And you start looking around for stuff that’s unfamiliar. For a lot of people, that means classical, but for others (like Sting) it can be Elizabethan, medieval, or even rock or pop if you weren’t into that sort of stuff when you were younger.

    Older folks get bored easily. :-)

    I have no idea if this is actual data or just anecdotes, though. It seems that way to me, but this is the sort of judgment that needs more rigorous anthro-type testing before it can be trusted.

    Maybe I’ve never grown up, but here I am at 66, reveling in Beach House, a pop band aimed at people one-third my age. And thinking Caprica is the best science fiction series of recent years, far more consistent (at least in the first three episodes) than Dollhouse or Battlestar Galactica.

    And the Bob Dylan Christmas album had me both laughing and puzzling for quite a while.

    In other words…at my advanced age, I find pop culture more invigorating than ever. Caprica is serious drama, and engrossing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>