Conversation with a friend who works for a big orchestra. We’re talking about attracting a new audience. He says they’re identifying classically-inclined nonattenders. I say they ought to push beyond that, to attract non-classically inclined nonattenders.
That’s arguable, of course. Nobody would try to get people who don’t now listen to country music to try it. But then country music doesn’t need more listeners, as classical music does. Or more people buying tickets to concerts. And the world is full of smart people who are inclined toward art, who don’t listen to classical music. So — unlike country music, and other nonclassical genres — we’re not reaching people who should be in our audience.
How to reach them? Make concerts events, I say. (As opposed to hoping programming or conductors or soloists will attract new people.) My friend says — very reasonably — that that’s hard to do when you give more than 100 concerts each year.
At which point I realize that I haven’t been clear with him, or with myself, or with all of you who read this blog, when I’ve made this point in the past. My friend, again reasonably, thought I meant that each concert should be a distinct event, different from all the others. I might have thought I meant that, too.
But no. That wouldn’t work for a large institution, and in fact might be a strain on almost anyone who tried it. And when I thought a little harder, I realized it wasn’t what I meant. What lay deeper inside me was the thought that, if you’re giving classical performances, each performance should feel like an event because you’ve found a way of performing — encompassing both how you make music, and how you present your performances — that draws people in.
It’s like stores. This is, to put it mildly, a familiar example, but whenever I walk into an Apple store, I’m happy. I like the products, like the bright, happy look, like the people who work there. But when I walk into a Best Buy, forget it. I’m a little down from the moment I step through the door.
Or Target. I’m happy there. I expect to find unexpected things I’ll like — vivid designer plastic dishes, for instance. There’s a tremendous stock of baby things. And groceries!
So I want to be happy from the moment I walk into a classical performance space, an opera house or concert hall. Design plays a big part in that, but so do expectations, built up from past visits. And also the attitude of people, both staff and performers. What are the ushers like? If I’m seeing a chamber group, or an orchestra, what’s my first thought, the moment the musicians walk onstage? Do they interest me immediately, or leave me feeling blah?
In one of my branding workshops, someone who promotes a concert series wanted to brand it as lively. One thought we came up with, in discussing that: Encourage ushers to wear bright clothes (or dress in some other way that pleases them), and show some personality.
Every institution, every performing group, should reexamine the way its performances feel. Soloists, too. And create a concert template (which of course can be varied for special occurances) that makes every performance feel like an event.
Footnote: to do that, I think we’ll have to get out of the classical music business. In our minds, I mean. We’re not going to stop offering classical music. But if we think that’s the business we’re in, we strangle ourselves, as I’ll explain in another post. If you think you’re in the performance business, or the creativity business, or simply (but powerfully) in the you business, you’ll blow the doors open, and let some energy in.Related