The 3rd Annual Adaptistration Orchestra Website Review

Introduction & Evaluation Criteria
Between 8/26/06 and 8/31/06, I examined 80 professional orchestra websites and ranked them by how well they presented their concert schedule, sold tickets, provided organizational information, facilitated making donations, and on overall content and functionality…

Now in its third year, the Annual Adaptistration Orchestra Website Review generates a great deal of interest in how each website is evaluated and how orchestras of vastly different budget size can be compared on an even playing field.

To begin exploring those issues, it’s useful to examine exactly what factors contribute to an effective website. At the core of every good orchestra website is the ability to generate revenue and create awareness in a way which is more efficient than traditional methods orchestras currently employ. The diagram to the right illustrates how an orchestra website should be designed: a core function supported by five primary components which are delivered in an outer cover of straightforward functionality.

Although each aspect of the surrounding components (website content & services) and the outer cover (server platform, navigation structure, & aesthetic components) will be unique to each orchestra, they should never replace the core function of finding a renewable, cost effective vehicle for selling tickets and creating meaningful connections with their audience.

Once you begin to examine orchestra websites from this perspective it becomes a straightforward process to identify the key components for each section. As such, whether or not an orchestra has a budget that accommodates professional graphic design and photography to create an aesthetic web signature isn’t as important as simply allowing a graphical interface that allows users to easily absorb crucial information.

In fact, you’ll notice several smaller budget orchestras will score higher than originations with budgets ten times greater. Why? Because although the larger budget organizations may offer a graphic interface that portrays a polished corporate image, the basic functionality of the site may have been much slower or more difficult to navigate as compared to the lower budget peer.

As a result, the websites were not examined on the subjective basis of color schemes, layout, graphics, or other aesthetic qualities so long as those issues did not have a negative impact on basic functionality and performance.

Orchestras were graded on five categories, each with multiple sub-categories:

Category 1: Performance Schedule – 20 points maximum

  • Patrons need to be able to log onto an orchestra’s website and be able to gather information about the latest performance directly from the home page.
  • This category contains two sub-categories which covered layout & organization features s well as monthly concert schedule navigation.

Category 2: Purchasing Tickets – 20 points maximum

  • In addition to being able to find concert information quickly, patrons also need to have as easy of a time securely purchasing tickets for any given performance with as little frustration as possible.
  • This category contains six sub-categories covering features such as single ticket and subscription sales, ability to select seating, box office information, and secure purchasing options.

Category 3: Orchestra Information – 20 points maximum

  • Learning about an orchestra and having easy access to contact information and educational program information is crucial to an orchestra’s ability to establish meaningful contact with its community.
  • Given the fact that orchestras are suffering from wholesale underexposure, providing ample access to PR materials that can be accessed by media representatives 24 hours is crucial to maximizing exposure. Often, reporters and critics need promotional material immediately, allowing them to find and use this material through your website increases the opportunity for maximum exposure.
  • This category contains seven sub-categories covering biographical and contact information for music directors and musicians. Staff and board listings with related individual contact info were also considered essential. Dedicated education sites assured the highest score possible in that sub-category.

Category 4: Making Donations – 20 points maximum

  • I have yet to find an orchestra that doesn’t need a donation. As such, providing and encouraging patrons to donate online to a variety of programs is a crucial component for every orchestra website.
  • This category contains two sub-categories addressing issues such as providing secure commerce servers and a variety of one time and preplanned giving options.

Category 5: Content & Functionality – 20 points maximum

  • If patrons can’t find your website then it won’t really matter how nice of a site you develop. Orchestras need to be able to present large amounts of information and e-commerce solutions to their patrons without overloading them or making it difficult to find what they need. Accuracy, timeliness, and uniqueness of offerings all play an important role in this category.
  • This category contains seven sub-categories covering issues such as URL clarity to navigation structure to site performance.

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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4 thoughts on “The 3rd Annual Adaptistration Orchestra Website Review”

  1. Thank you for this excellent resource and for including education as one of the evaluation criteria sub-categories. For many k-12 students who do not play instruments, a well designed educational section of an orchestra website may be the thing that a student remembers about the orchestra, which may lead to future concert attendance. Features such as educational flash animation and blogs that give the public insight into orchestras from various perspectives, such as the blogs on the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s website ( are great resources for music educators to share with their students. Last year several of my middle school general music students continued to look at the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra’s SFS Kids Fun With Music Site ( )at home after experimenting with it during class. Perhaps the next step for orchestras is to have a presence on myspace, but in the meantime I would encourage orchestras to develop the education elements of their websites and notify organizations such as the National Association for Music Education ( of these elements of their sites to share with music educators and their students.

  2. Thanks for the great idea about contacting MENC Evan, I know many orchestras will appreciate the suggestion.

    Maggy: Thanks for the suggestion but the reviews are intentionally limited to symphonic orchestra websites. You’ll notice there are no festival, opera, or ballet orchestras included. I would love to be able to do separate reviews for each of those categories but time isn’t an ally in that respect (unless a generous sponsor comes along for the 2007 review and decides to fund a separate review for those additional ensembles).

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