The Difference Between Shooting A Bullet And Throwing It

You have to love the internet. I backtracked my way to an intriguing blog post by Greg Stepanich, Assistant business editor and occasional arts critic (as his bio tells it) for the Palm Beach Post, this weekend…

Greg’s article contributed to the growing discussion related to Joseph Horowitz’s apparent belief that orchestra currently produce too much product, i.e. give too many concerts (which I commented on last week). Greg’s article is a good read (no, not just because it mentions Adaptistration) but because he moves the discussion toward an idea that I put a great deal of credit into myself.

Specifically, that in order for classical music to reassert itself into cultural consciousness, it’s going to have to be led by a pack of innovative cultural entrepreneurs. Greg closes his blog by writing,

So I don’t think even for the market that’s there today, that there’s anywhere near too much product; probably the reverse, considering how passionate the classical music community is. The marketing itself needs to adapt itself to the way society has changed (I’ve written before about podcasts of concerts, for example), and if the solution is creative enough, the music will find a ready audience, and one that will expand.

I couldn’t agree more. Although it’s been awhile since I’ve mentioned it here, the notion of cultural entrepreneurs is something this business needs. The topic was even one of my very first blog posts, What We Need Is Another Henry Ford, but unfortunately, the business hasn’t seen this individual grace the ranks of its executive leadership just yet (although there’s a at least two candidates out there who may fit that bill).

Greg’s blog envisions the individual(s) as a composer but I don’t know if that will be the case. Although it’s a much larger discussion finding a small group of composers who capture the hearts and minds of patrons the way Bernstein did isn’t very likely (at least in my lifetime).

Instead, I see the individual(s) as a manager. I’ve always espoused the concept that the orchestra world has been collectively influenced far more by its managers than most people give credit.

The task of creating a new archetype for how orchestras sell themselves and connect with their public is surprisingly simple (more on that at another time), nevertheless, the necessary environment for implementing that philosophy still doesn’t exist. The good news is that we may not be too far away; crisis is usually served with a helping of invention so I like to believe we just haven’t gotten to that course in the meal yet.

There are a few things which could herald in this new era sooner than later, mainly, the philanthropic foundations (or at least one of them with some hefty purse strings) need to be willing to fund a completely new model of how orchestras operate. Without the spark of venture capital, the nonprofit based orchestra needs something to get the ball rolling. Current efforts aren’t even scratching the surface, regardless of how much money they throw at the problems; it’s like the difference between shooting a bullet and throwing it.

Where will the new model come from? Not from the inside, that’s for certain. Innovation on a wholesale level is unlikely to come from a culture which maintains a twisted frame of reference for what constitutes meaningful change.

Instead, it’s going to likely come from an organization which has nothing to lose but to give the reigns over to someone with bigger, brighter ideas who isn’t also shackled by conventional wisdom (which we all know is anything but).

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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1 thought on “The Difference Between Shooting A Bullet And Throwing It”

  1. Drew:

    Thanks so much for including me in your post.
    The more I think about it, the more I think you’re right: It’s not likely to be a composer who gets us there.
    But I think someone will get us there. We’re just waiting on the “vision thing.”

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