I am preparing a workshop on audience development for jazz promoters in the North of England, and to procrastinate in a productive way, I have decided to research case studies for a completely different genre. Classical music has its own challenges, and even if the initiatives below don’t apply fully to a different context, there is a transferable lesson to be drawn from their success: they are offering audiences not a new content, but a new way to experience it.
There are plenty of questions about the future of classical audiences in this lecture given by music critic Alex Ross to the Royal Philharmonic Society – considering the etiquette, rules on applause, participation… – which the examples below address in their own way. Too expensive, too stuffy, too complicated, too boring: no wonder audiences are not flocking to the concert hall, unless these perceived barriers are efficiently removed.
The price factor: tsoundcheck
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) offers $14 tickets (about £9) to audience members aged 15-35. The scheme, called tsoundcheck, has its own microsite, a dedicated ticket desk on concert nights and even a subscription series. Only selected performances are available for tsoundcheck members – so no Lang Lang at $14 – but they also get offers on concerts outside the scheme. Online registration is mandatory, which is perfect to track audience behaviour. The very nice touch in this scheme is that tsoundcheck members can purchase 2 tickets, and there is no age restriction for their guest. Last time I went with a friend, I bought me a drink at the venue and we were pretty much even. Members also get their own parties, with a chance to mingle with musicians and sponsors like any other symphony patron, and they are encouraged to volunteer to support the education and outreach efforts of the TSO.
From the TSO Media Room:
With over 24,000 TSOUNDCHECK tickets being sold annually (and over 10% the TSO’s total ticket sales being from TSOUNDCHECK members), the TSO audience is one of the youngest and most diverse in classical music.
Cheap tickets for younger audiences are quite the norm in orchestra marketing, but what makes this scheme special is the membership system, the dedicated website and the subscription offers, that all add up to offer an easy transition from non-audience to regular subscriber. The age range is also considerably extended compared to other discount offers, which are usually up to 25 or, at a push, 30.
tsoundcheck offers can be announced 1 week before the performance, so one would suspect that it’s also a good way to paper the house (i.e. get bums on seats) for slow-sellers, but this last-minute mode can also appeal to an audience that sees going to the symphony as just one of their activities and like to seize such bargains.
The TSO season is full of interesting takes on changing the audience experience, such as the Afterworks series (earlier, shorter and with free mini-burgers) and the Exposed: What Makes it Great?® (puzzingly ‘registered’) series, where “each program features a first half of discussion and demonstration from the featured work, followed by a full performance of the piece.”
The beer factor: The Night Shift
Drinks are always welcome, even encouraged, at our events and we’ve ditched those irksome classical rules – so feel free to drink, cough, clap or even boo when you like.
This is coming from an orchestra that plays only with period instruments – but also that ran a series of photos entitled ‘Not all audiences are the same’, featuring musicians and audience members, as in the example below. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has made it his mission to change the rules and break the conventions, as shows their take on audience development.
The Night Shift also gets its own microsite, describing the series as a “unique classical night brought to you by the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment”: “Running since 2006, it puts great classical music in a different context; Late-night, laid-back and contemporary. An hour-long classical concert, presented from the stage is the centrepiece, but is bookended by other live performances and DJs.”
Concerts can also take place in unconventional venues, for classical music at least, such as the Pub Tour, which initial season last year saw OAE playing “in 5 packed pubs across London, bringing Purcell, Pints and Pork scratchings to your local”. A crowdfunding campaign is about to be launched to support the next Pub Tour, fittingly for an ensemble that plays so close to its audience.
A case study available on cultural marketing knowledge hub Culture Hive explains the origin of the Night Shift, springing from a 2005 series called Listening in Paris that “examined the radical change in concert going that occurred in 18th and 19th century Paris – a period which saw audiences transformed from being rowdy and irreverent into the quiet well behaved ones we know today”
The idea to experiment with the experience of listening to music came next, and OAE launched the first Night Shift in 2006. Here are a few key points taken from the case study:
- Constant evaluation, important in securing funding for the event and also in monitoring audience satisfaction.
- Crucially this is a sustained programme. We only got the produce ‘right’ at the third event. In order for a programme like this to be successful, we believe that a sustained approach to programming is necessary, rather than mounting a one-off event.
- This kind of programme is an investment. Return on marketing is lower than for a traditional concert as this audience is harder to reach.
- Be aware of events and periods that may impact on the target audiences ability to attend i.e. we try not to schedule events outside of university term time
- Make it fun.
The next Night Shift event, at historical Wilton’s Music Hall, is priced at £12 advance, £15 on the door, £4 students – another factor that makes it easily accessible.
OAE has also launched a new series called The Works, “the classical music equivalent of a museum audio-guide, taking you through the piece step-by-step. Afterwards there’s a Q+A with the Orchestra and then a full performance of the music.” The event is sometimes followed by a speed dating session with the orchestra members, allowing 1-to-1 interaction between patrons and players.
The club factor: Yellow Lounge
Yellow Lounge brings classical music bang up-to-date, leaving a trail of twin-sets, pearls and grey suits in its wake.
Established seven years ago in the Berlin club scene, Yellow Lounge took the classical rule book and tore it up before ingeniously stitching it back together.
Kicking and screaming, flashing and dancing, Yellow Lounge fuses the greatest international performers with cutting-edge DJ and VJ sets in a variety of urban spaces.
Experience the evolution of music.
If it all sounds rather threatening, it could be because Yellow Lounge is not just a late-night classical series, but also a Universal Music / Deutsche Grammophon initiative (hence the colour), and it has a certain corporate whiff about it. Launched in 2001 in a Berlin club, the event is now happening in London and Paris, as well as Amsterdam, Salzburg, Zürich, Vienna, Stockholm, Rio de Janeiro, Dublin – and more. Programmed in iconic clubs such as Fabric (London), Berghain (Berlin) or Batofar (Paris), the event is priced at £6 / €10 for advance tickets, again significantly lowering the price barrier generally associated with classical music. Berlin organiser David Canisius explain in this interview that such low prices are made possible by the association with DG, from which roaster the artists are regularly taken: Hélène Grimaud, Emerson String Quartett, Daniel Hope, Magdalena Kožená, Hilary Hahn, Andreas Scholl, Albrecht Mayer…
Whereas tsoundcheck and Night Shift aim at building a new type of relationship between audience members and an orchestra, Yellow Lounge seem to be shifting the focus on the crowd – the club experience is a collective one – and the star performers. Interestingly, the ‘About’ section on Yellow Lounge Facebook page identifies the barrier for new, younger audiences as “the main audience at classical concerts, predominantly grey haired people in grey suits”, and the biggest challenges for newcomers as “how to dress right, how to behave properly, how to know when to applaud”. Their solution: programme classical music in conditions familiar to the clubbing audience, from bouncers to VJs.
New Yellow Lounge websites are popping up for the varied national scenes they serve, and the event is of course very active on social media, with a dedicated Facebook pages and Twitter accounts per country.
Here is British violinist Daniel Hope at techno club Berghain, which, accordint to Wikipedia, “has a strong reputation for decadence and hedonism” – and plenty more photos that prove that classical music is not that stuffy after all.