What Classical Music Can Learn From “The Relics Of Rock”

The world of classical music can learn a lot from their rock and roll cousins. On the 2/19/06 edition of CBS News Sunday Morning, they aired a segment entitled “Relics of Rock” which chronicled the discovery of the largest known collection of rock and roll memorabilia which had been forgotten about since the early 1990’s…


Although the impressive collection, originally compiled by the late rock and roll promoter Bill Graham, contained millions of photographs, concert posters, promotional merchandise, and even unused tickets, the crown jewel of the collection is thousands of previously unreleased recordings and videos from the biggest of big rock stars. The recordings and videos were from the 35,000 live performances Graham promoted.

As it turns out, the recordings have been one of the more popular features at a website devoted to promoting the collection (and selling off quite a few pieces), wolfgangsvault.com. Beyond the veneer of profits from selling off the memorabilia is a feature the site calls “vault radio” which broadcasts thousands of select live performances, most of which are from the late 60’s, in an FM-quality, 128K digital radio stream.

Beyond the sheer “cool” factor of being able to hear recordings which haven’t graced the ears of human beings since their initial performance, the website attempts to use these recordings as a way to promote their “mission”:

In the 1960s, performers, artists and promoters shaped a synergy with audiences that was unprecedented. The promotional art inspired by the performers, the intimacy of the venues and the energy of the audience all combined to create experiences that are indelible in the minds of those who were there.

If you rearranged a few words, this would be a better mission statement for most orchestras than they currently retain. It gracefully touches on what should be the singular focus of classical music establishments: bringing live music to their audience.

If it’s one thing classical music managers could benefit from, it would be learning how to create events instead of simply putting on concerts to fill minimum service guarantees. There is a good amount of useful content among the “about” pages at wolfgangsvault.com to get most folks started and studying the style and panache of rock and roll promoters the likes of Bill Graham is a good place to go from there.

Nevertheless, a more concrete and immediate lesson to learn is how wolfgangsvault.com uses a streaming music element which features recordings from live performances 20, 30 and even 40 years ago.

Providing an online resource which allows orchestra patrons to hear how an ensemble has evolved over the decades can only be a good thing. In an article from October 11, 2005, I proposed that the Milwaukee Symphony’s decision to begin distributing selections from their live radio broadcast concerts through online distributors was going to spark a resurgence of interest in live, unedited, recordings. Hopefully, the success of wolfgangsvault.com “vault radio” will help nudge more orchestras in that direction.

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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