Getting In On The Ground Floor Of Metro-Scale Wireless

How about this concept: iPod’s are already obsolete (as well as the host of other portable flash-memory based music players). If orchestras can be forward-thinking enough, they might be able to get in on the ground floor of how the next generation of Americans will consume digital music…

Metro-Scale wireless programs are on the drawing boards at several of the larger American cities. Their goal is to create city wide wireless system, allowing residents and visitors continuous access to the internet anywhere within their city limits (like the project being pursued in Philadelphia). Personally, I think it’s a great plan and one which every city should invest in.

As with all good ideas, once one city successfully implements a reliable Metro-Scale wireless network, more and more cities will follow suit. As a result, the opportunity to distribute streaming digital music will increase accordingly.

Right now, one of my favorite online features is music streaming. I subscribe to the streaming service offered by MusicMatch, it allows me to listen to a seemingly endless number of selections from a variety of genres. The downside is they feature very little classical. To compensate, I subscribe to a variety of free streamlining music radio stations which feature a variety of classical music. The only trick is that you have to be connected to the internet in order to use the service, unlike portable music players which allow you to load your songs into the actual unit and take the music with you.

The advent of Metro-Scale wireless networks will begin to open up possibilities for portable music players and PDA devices to include a Wi-Fi capability so owners can use their streaming services and memory based selections instead of only being able to listen to selections via a pay-per-title fee, like those charged by iTunes. The more you think about it, the better the idea sounds and orchestras can get in on this by establishing a streaming music service through their own website.

On the easy-to-implement scale, orchestras can create a static playlist which rotates through a set number of selections based on their own live and studio recordings. Add to that a simple voice-over between selections announcing each piece, etc. and you’re all set (much like the way’s “vault radio” operates; I’m listening to a live version of the Doobie Brothers performing China Grove from 1975 as I write this – very cool). You can also program teaser segments which include commercial bumpers for upcoming concerts, etc., although orchestras would be wise to avoid turning a streaming system into a 24/7/365 propaganda machine.

A more dynamic system would provide a way for users to register for a paid subscription service which allows them to create custom playlists and stream what they want on demand. In addition to music selections you can even include entertaining public interpretation segments featuring discussions with musicians, orchestra docents, managers, etc. The more orchestras play with the system the more creative applications they’ll discover.

If you need a frame of reference which is closer to home to help understand the vast potential of Metro-Scale wireless, just think of it as a “new” type of radio where anyone can set up their own radio station with marginal effort or expense. Imagine how much more effective orchestras could be if they had their own radio station; which is another fascinating topic examined at Adaptistration from time to time (here, here, here, and here).

In the end, this sort of forward thinking will help dictate how orchestras become embedded within their local community and how they are perceived throughout the greater classical music population. If an orchestra’s respective local government isn’t planning to implement a Metro-Scale wireless programs then they should get involved with efforts to lobby such initiatives. The sooner orchestras get involved with this the better.

Postscript: If you’re an orchestra manager interested in getting a streaming music program established for your organization, send me an email and I’ll see what I can do to help you get started.

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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