Monday post — our new era

word of mouth blogHere’s a little story:

When the Seattle‐based Degenerate Art Ensemble travelled to New York for two performances at the New Museum, they were able to see [the effect of word of mouth publicity] firsthand. “We had a talk back at the end,” explained [co-artistic director Joshua Kohl], “and we asked the audience: ‘Who here came because they saw some press or publicity for the show?’ And two hands went up. ‘Who came here because they heard about this through the museum?’ And one or two hands went up. ‘Who came because someone you know…from Seattle got you to come and see the show?’ And, boom, all the hands went up.” This experience showed Kohl that word of mouth can be more powerful than paid advertising or media coverage.

The story comes from an important doctoral dissertation we’ll be hearing more about on this blog — Sarah May Robinson’s Chamber Music in Alternative Venues in the 21st-century U.S.: Investigating the Effect of New Venues on Concert Culture, Programming, and the Business of Classical Music. Sarah is a flutist, an experienced club performer, and codirector of Classical Revolution LA. And, I’m happy to say, a future guest blogger here.

Her dissertation is a thorough look — the first ever, I think — at what happens when classical musicians play in clubs, something we all know happens, but that most of us, I’ll guess, don’t really know much about. I certainly didn’t. A conversation with Sarah was an eye-opener (she interviewed me for her dissertation, but I think I learned more than she did). And the dissertation opened my eyes even more.

(To see one example of how word of mouth can be mobilized, see Lara Downes’s guest post here about how she built an audience when Christopher O’Riley played on a club series she founded.)
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  1. says

    I just read Sarah’s dissertation. It is an interesting read and very relevant for me as I’m currently in a doctoral program through Northeastern University in Boston, MA. As I consider a problem of practice for my dissertation, I have tried to focus and identify issues and challenges facing the orchestra industry and its practitioners where my dissertation can be of practical use to those in the field.

    I very much appreciated Sarah’s work on this issue and found it very relevant to the issue of building our audience base. Thank you for posting this!

  2. ariel says

    This experience showed Kohl that word of mouth can be more powerful than paid advertising or
    media coverage.”… holds only in this rare instance– the art ensemble is a specialized group and
    having a limited audience appeal,with a limited museum audience is quite a different crowd from a
    “general ” audience of concert goers . Word of mouth helps in getting a concert audience but is not the more powerful reason people attend a concert ,to imply that it so, is specious .Having
    heard Mr. O’Riley once (one time too many ) I prefer hearing La Plante play Liszt in a
    regular concert hall setting and am sure one would not have to build an audience in whatever
    setting he decided to play ,concert hall or club setting .

    • says

      I didn’t want to load down my post with academic detail, but there have been studies showing how people decide what to do when they go out at night. And at least for everyone under 40, word of mouth was the largest influence by far. It ranked very high, too, for people over 40. So that now you’ll find major marketing campaigns for mainstream movies and products that include a large word of mouth component.

      • ariel says

        Please explain your last sentence- what sort of marketing campaigns and products..Any marketing by a large word of mouth campaign that will fill Carnegie , for a recital by Ms. x or Mr. X especially if newcomers is certainly something we should know about or are the
        campaigns limited to movies .

        • says

          Large classical music organizations generally don’t do word of mouth campaigns, and their older audience isn’t the audience that responds to them. When they’re done in classical music, they can have striking results. I’ve seen Carnegie Hall filled for a concert by an orchestra of young musicians created a few years ago by Red Bull, the German maker of energy drinks. Their founder/CEO is a big supporter of classical music change, and wanted to create something entirely new. The orchestra played new classical pieces and the publicity campaign — which filled Carnegie Hall — was entirely driven by word of mouth, set in motion in clubs.

          Wordless Music, when some years ago they did their orchestra concert — all contemporary classical music — filled a 1000-seat church two nights running, again largely through word of mouth. There was no advertising. There was a NY Times feature story, but it’s unlikely that many of the people in their 20s and 30s who filled the church (I was there) read it, because people of that age generally don’t read newspapers

          It’s true that, in classical music, word of mouth is largely used for smaller venues (see Lara Downes’s blog posts about how she builds audiences for her concert series). But there’s no reason those techniques can’t be used, once they’ve proved successful, to fill large halls. Since in fact they’ve done so in the past.