To resume this thread, which I started a while ago…
A month or so ago I was asked to speak to members of the board of a major orchestra, about how to attract a new audience. I was especially interested in talking about how to attract younger people, because I think it’s a subject we talk about a lot in the classical music world, but not always with much thought about what younger people actually are like. Unless, of course, we trot out those old bromides about their alleged short attention span and alleged need for visual stimulation.
As I’m sure I’ve said here before, I think the problems go the other way — that is, rather than being too shallow or too unprepared for classical music, younger people instead tend to be too smart for the way classical music is currently presented. So here’s some of what I said in my presentation:
Younger people are cultural omnivores. They pick their art and entertainment from a smorsgasbord of high and popular culture.
They expect culture to be intelligent. That’s what they’re getting from popular culture, as Stephen Johnson so unmistakably demonstrated in his ironically titled book Everything Bad is Good for You
They’re openminded. They’re ready to give anything a chance. Including classical music! Never before have so many people been interested in so many different kinds of music, a trend of course greatly helped by downloading, because now you can sample music before you buy it, and — no small thing — buy something you’re curious about for just 99 cents, on iTunes. So it’s both cheap and easy to try out music you think you might like.
Younger people are selective. They often gravitate to niche markets. They make their own, highly independent choices about what they like, and they stick with them.
Younger people are critical, and prone to irony. They see through hype and bullshit. Which, I’m afraid, in classical music means that they’ll have no patience with pious talk about great masterpieces. They want to know what’s really going on.
They may not respond to romantic music. Though of course some of them will. But the sweep and passion of 19th century classical music, which some people might assume to be a selling point, will make many younger people think they’re hearing a cheesy movie score. The movie score, of course, is very likely a knockoff of romantic classical works, but this new, younger audience doesn’t know that, and “cheesy movie score” may well be their first association when they hear Tchaikovsky.
They don’t plan their lives around what I might call “appointment events,” adapting that term from a marvelous expression I ran across in discussions of new trends in television: “appointment TV.” Appointment TV is the old watch-it-when-they-broadcast it paradigm, according to which you’re stuck watching shows when the networks put them on. Thanks to TIVO, and now video downloads from iTunes and other sites, you can watch many shows whenever you like. The parallel development for the performing arts is that people don’t leave work at 5 PM, go home, have dinner, and then head out the door for an 8 PM concert. They leave work at 3 PM or 8:30, make time for the gym or rides on their mountain bikes, and may well head out of the house at 9. Then they might well look for something going on in a neighborhood full of clubs and other street-level places that you can walk in and out of ad lib. The classical concert hall, most obviously, doesn’t work like that at all, which from a younger person’s point of view might well make it too rigid to be an attractive night-life option.
Though of course there are challenges to classical music expectations all the way through this list. Next: how marketing research in Britain strengthens and amplifies many of these points.