TAFTO 2007 Contribution – Michael Tiknis

“Leave it to a manager to tell you how to work the system.” That is precisely what Michael Tiknis does with his TAFTO contribution. Michael is an arts manager who understands that the inherent value, and thereby draw, of any performing arts group is the talent. With a line like “So by all means, take a friend to the orchestra, but if you want the orchestra to gain a true friend, meet a musician while you’re there.” you simply know this is going to be a great piece.

Consequentially, Michael’s contribution offers some of the best straightforward advice I’ve ever come across with regard to how patrons can build a stronger relationship and increase their level of ownership with their respective orchestra. Not only that, but Michael also gives you the inside track few would be willing to offer with regard to what sort of bumps you’re likely to encounter along the way. For those of you who enjoy thoughtful, detailed instructions over nonspecific advice, this is a TAFTO contribution you’ll treasure…

Take a Friend to the Orchestra
By: Michael Tiknis

I write this having just returned from an extraordinary week in Beijing. The trip afforded me the fascinating opportunity to observe and discuss the diverse artistic initiatives now taking place throughout China. Through this trip, and to my surprise, I have come to realize two important truths. First, despite vast cultural differences, building audiences for live performances is a universal struggle. East or West, audience cultivation is the great and common challenge. We all share the burden that deficient arts education programs have caused, principally, a diminished understanding and appreciation for the discipline and value of artistic expression and the performers that make concerts and performances possible.

The second truth brought home to me on the other side of the world may hold an answer to the dilemma of the first: musicians should be talking about music.

Working in arts administration I have always found it impossible to separate the art from the artist, the music from the musician. As a former Symphony Orchestra Executive, I would like to make the bold suggestion that the Take a Friend to the Orchestra initiative provides the perfect vehicle to meet the musicians behind the music. In fact, let me suggest that the power of direct contact with the artist is the strongest tool we posses to build audiences today. Of course, we must acknowledge that, like the music of Mozart, this is both simple and complicated.

While the boards of many Symphony Orchestras have made great strides forward in being more inclusive of musicians in management considerations, few, if any, marketing efforts have actively encouraged organized contact between audience members and musicians. Soloists and conductors are often met at receptions, but few efforts exist to meet the rest of the orchestra. A connection between these individuals and both current and potential ticket buyers and subscribers would generate the kind of loyalty no incentive could match. Tens of thousands of dollars are spend on sophisticated, and admittedly necessary, marketing efforts, but sometimes obvious strengths are overlooked, and the opportunities to utilize these strengths to the fullest advantage are missed.

Let me here propose a simple initiative: meet a musician of your orchestra, introduce them to a friend and then take that friend to a concert.

The complicated part can be meeting a musician from the orchestra if you don’t already know one, and surprisingly many of us don’t. I would urge you to call the executive director, the marketing director or the public relations manager of your orchestra. Tell them about Take a Friend and ask them to introduce you to a member of the orchestra at the next concert. Explain why. You may need to be persistent with them. In my role as an orchestra executive for more that 20 years, I am embarrassed to say I never received such a call or request, nor I might add, did I ever initiate or encourage such an opportunity. Looking back now, I should have!

In this process you will need to explain to the staff member your desire to help build audiences. Don’t be surprised if your call and your request seems out of the ordinary to them, it would have to me.

I firmly believe that nothing would be more exciting to a potential new symphony audience member than the opportunity to meet someone performing on stage on a regular basis. To accomplish this, you will of course have to meet a musician first. Here the benefit of what I propose is doubled, for you would be both broadening the potential audience and deepening your own connection and appreciation. After meeting the musician, suggest an occasion to meet your friend, the first time concertgoer. Perhaps this can be done over coffee in the week leading up to the event, or something equally convenient, but meet before they attend their first concert. Establish the connection before the performance.

The internet is a particularly powerful resource for such ‘in-reach’ work. Not only do most orchestras have websites that include profiles and pictures of individual members, the musicians of some orchestras have taken the further step of creating their own dedicated site. The Honolulu, Baltimore and Oregon Symphony Orchestras all have their own websites of course, but if you want to really meet the musicians, you’ll have to check out http://www.honolulusymphonymusicians.org, http://www.bsomusicians.org/, and http://www.concertgoersguide.org/. These personal pages can sometimes be more interesting and insightful than what is provided on the official orchestra sites.

When you and your friend meet with the musician, discuss the upcoming concert program; learn more about their professional experiences and what makes the orchestra they play with unique. Get to know them. Let them speak about the music they perform and what will be heard at the concert. You and your friend will gain a unique and absolutely invaluable perspective, one that no amount of program notes or pre-concert lectures could ever hope to approach. You will undoubtedly find that most musicians are fascinating and committed individuals who are deeply passionate about what they do. When you attend the concert, look for them, listen for them. Perhaps you can meet briefly afterwards and offer congratulations.

If all this seems unlikely or difficult, it certainly is. Still, I think of the famous Victor Hugo quote, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” It points out the inextricably abstract and ineffable aspect of music, but it also reminds me that music demands to be discussed.

I began by talking about two truths that my time in China made clear to me. First, audience cultivation is a universal challenge; second, music is enjoyed best when discussed with musicians. The real power of Take a Friend to the Orchestra is based on the reality that audiences are built one member at a time, slowly and deliberately with insight and substance. In my opinion, there can be no better way to do such building than through connecting audience and orchestra members. Such a connection can only add further excitement to the experience for both newcomers and seasoned veterans alike.

So by all means, take a friend to the orchestra, but if you want the orchestra to gain a true friend, meet a musician while you’re there.

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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13 thoughts on “TAFTO 2007 Contribution – Michael Tiknis”

  1. I love your idea, but there are obstacles. In the bigger markets, one cannot get past the stage door without “knowing someone.”
    And, if you should get to know a musician, you will find it difficult to arrange a meeting, as they work all the time at something, practice, teach, play a “gig” somewhere, in addition to their orchestral duties. While it’s great to have the social contact for both parties, I would feel guilty piling on more responsibility to the orchestra musicians who aren’t all that well-compensated or well-treated, in general, by their organizations.

  2. I second Margaret’s opinion concerning the difficulty of meeting musicians. I’ve had friends stammer and look around nervously when I ran into an orchestra’s publicist on the street, and stopped to say hi. If an administrator makes them nervous, a performer, whom they have even less in common with, will only make them more so.

  3. I think it’s fantastic to see a reader who understands the tenuous nature of some orchestra musicians (after all, everyone can’t earn as much as players in the NYPhil). The fact that someone is sensitive to that fact is fantastic. At the same time, I do know that there are players who welcome the opportunity to interact more with the audience, regardless of their pay level.

    As such, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for patrons to inquire but they should be aware that if musicians in their area are of the type Margaret describes and they don’t have time to meet, then not to take that personally.

    I wish every patron out there knew as much about the musicians as Margaret does!

    As to Marc’s comment, I agree that certain does happen, I would also add that when patrons sometimes run into musicians before a concert they don’t realize that the players need to get back stage to change, warm up, etc. and they may not have time to stop and chat. That brisk attitude is sometimes misinterpreted as offishness (and one reason why many halls have separate entrances for players).

    At the same time, I think quite a few players have much more in common with the people in the seats than most folks realize. As the Oregon Symphony musician’s website states “Your neighbor is a concert artist. ” – to me, that’s just another way of saying, we’re more alike than some folks might assume.

  4. I do sympathize with Margaret’s point, but have to say that Michael’s article speaks directly to her very skepticism.

    Many of our musicians will enter via the hall’s front entrance (the instrument cases are a give-away and great conversation starter for fascinated patrons) and will also come down to the front of stage before and after concerts and at the intermission. There’s truly a lot of interaction, and we find the more there is, the more strongly connected our audience feels with our organization.

    I also second his sentiments about approaching management, or, in fact, just about anyone you may meet at a concert hall, to ask about meeting musicians. A little persistence and you’ll be well rewarded.

    Great post Michael!

  5. Thanks for this article about building and keeping audiences by creating links between them and the musicians.

    One way that we overcame some of the obstacles of doing this while I was at the Orchestra of St. Luke’s was by having events where subscribers could meet performers after concerts. Not all the performers came all the time but, when they did, they seemed to really enjoy the experience. And the audience members were thrilled.

    Another way of creating that connection was by making the musicians an integral part of the marketing. If we couldn’t make a literal physical connection, we were at least able to communicate the individual personalities of the players.

  6. I appreciate the good comments in reply to my suggested TAFTO action project. I know this will not be easy.

    Orchestra musicians have to become more universally appreciated and in order to do this I believe they must have a more fully intergrated role in the image and life of the whole organization. Not every musician can or should do this…but for those who can or who really want to I believe the benefits for all will be substantial. I still worry that getting an administration to see the value in this and having them agree to actively cooperate will be the greater challange …nevertheless…

    we need to meet the musicmakers and listen to them speak whenever possible if we are going to make true friends for symphonic music!

  7. I was a member of the Oregon Symphony for seven years, until I resigned in December. We, the musicians, had many opportunities to meet with the audience after concerts, as there were meet-n-greets after every concert Carlos Kalmar conducted (Carlos also participated in these). There were also receptions every two months (or so) for young people ages 20-40ish who belonged to the “club”, after specific concerts, to which the musicians falling in that age group were invited. I participated in a few, but did not find it very enjoyable (perhaps partly due to my no longer enjoying my symphony position). It felt like we were being pressured to do the job of the marketing department and board members. If I had been offered compensation, I may have found the experience a little more enjoyable, especially considering the fact that the orchestra has been underpaid for the past few seasons. Spending 10-20 minutes after concerts really adds up, especially considering all the driving time, dressing time, stretching & icing time, not to mention practice & rehearsal time involved in a performance. Many of my colleagues enjoyed these interactions with patrons, but I did not. When I attend concerts or plays, I don’t find myself wanting to meet the performers. I’m not sure I really understand what’s gained from that. I suppose if a major donor wanted to buy me coffee or dinner in order to “get to know me”, that would add more of a draw, but I really don’t understand why actual interaction is necessary, in this day and age of websites, which contain LOTS of information about performers.

  8. As a musician, I hate the forced meet and greets my symphony does. The reason is typically, they invite the “special” patrons that have given X amount of money and the meet and greet is part of the thank you package. I never participate if I can help it, because I bring people in to the concert in other ways. Neighbor just moved in? Have a free ticket, lemme tell you about the program because there is a weird piece that we’re playing first…. One time I gave the guy at Jiffy Lube two comps for getting my car fixed in a rush. I found out it was his wife’s birthday and gave him some concert tickets and waved at him in the audience. I think he’s been back once at least. And I have made a friend at Jiffy Lube as well.

    Point is, the people I come in contact with daily are much more sincere to me than the phony meet and greets. I think that if someone is inclined to call a management to see about meeting someone, that too is very sincere. I would be honored if someone did this in my town.

  9. Lisa brings up some good points, many of which I’ve been discussing with a number of managers via email this week. The best point worth examining here is the issue of how these sorts of Meet & Greet functions are implemented.

    I know a number of musicians with viewpoints similar to those expressed by Lisa. Even more, a number of them point out that their respective music director is usually paid for a certain level of patron/donor interaction so why shouldn’t they be compensated for similar such events (something which is not uncommon for soloists to do as well). Furthermore, many soloists charge an additional fee for such activities In fact, that’s an issue which has been explored at Adaptistration in the past although I don’t think it has been anytime in the past year.

    If nothing else, it’s a good topic for orchestras to explore since the last thing they want to do is design an event which puts the musicians on display as though an event were something akin to a zoo.

    Lisa’s comment is also a good example of why orchestras should never require musicians to take part in any face-to-face interaction events. Nevertheless, it is becoming more and more clear that many patrons do take a greater interest in an organizations if they have opportunities to get to know the players, as such, it makes since to begin working on ways to make that happen that make all parties happy with the final result.

  10. For a non-musician this thread is very enlightening.

    Immediate reaction: A year or so ago, a friend and I were walking back to the car after seeing Tchaikovsky’s “Maid of Orleans” at the Kennedy Center. We were overtaken by a man who wanted to talk with us about the opera we had just seen.

    He turned out to be a member of the opera chorus who wanted us to tell him if we had enjoyed the opera or thought it was boring. He explained that lots of choristers thought that the score was very static and would bore the audience. We were astounded: here a real musician–somebody whom we had just paid to sing for us–was asking us to evaluate his work. I had never thought that the score was static, so this chorister had taught me another way to listen to it.

    I would never think of talking about music with an orchestra member: somebody who is by definition a highly trained (not to mention gifted) professional. Not to mention, probably underpaid, when you think of the years of training, practicing and other hard work just to get to and stay where he/she is.

    Which brings me to my question: Would orchestra musicians want to talk with me? (Some of the musicians who have already posted on this thread say that they would rather skip meeting the audience.)If I’m already uneasy about starting such a conversation, I’m going to feel even less motivated to try chatting with musicians if I feel that my conversation is just another (and annoying) part of their job. (And I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about music with them.)

  11. Tom,
    Don’t give up on asking!

    For as much honesty as there is in Lisa and Elizabeth’s comments above – they are certainly not globably representative.

    Here in Pittsburgh we have so many musicians in the orchestra who truly want to and do talk openly and candidly with our audience and who value the feedback and input that concert patrons have to offer.

    Why would the musician want to talk to you? Because without you, they’d be playing to nobody, and that defeats the very purpose of what they’re doing. So you see, you are integral and therefore worth talking to!

  12. I think my point is being misunderstood by Jonathan Meyers. I do like to talk to patrons, as a matter of fact it is something I feel VERY passionate about. The thing that bugs me is the forced interaction at the post concert receptions that our management likes us to go to. Usually, these patrons all keep to themselves, the point of the party is usually a “thank you” for their gift, and it’s nice to have musicians there. But it is painfully obvious that management uses the musicians as props and never opens and introduction like: “hi Mr. X, thanks for your support, let me introduce you to our *** player who is also from your home state of ???.” Management needs to bridge better at these functions. Otherwise, I will stand by my statement of just doing the friendly get to know ya outside of the work play for no other reason than sharing what I love.

  13. I agree with Elizabeth, in regards to Jonathan Mayes’ last comment. I’m sure my comment was not well articulated. Whenever a patron talked to me on my way from the hall to my car, I thanked each and every one of them sincerely for their support and tried to be as conversational as possible. Those interactions were enjoyable & felt organic. It’s the forced interactions which I question. And, perhaps I would’ve felt differently about the meet & greets if my salary had been equal to that of the Pittsburgh Symphony’s.

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