It’s Time For Some Cross-Blogging

One of the most appealing aspects of blogging is the ability to riff on an idea or topic initiated by a blogging colleague. To a large extent, that’s one of the reasons Inside The Arts was established. Locating several cultural blogs in closely aligned fields of performing arts at one hub will hopefully increase the likelihood of cross-blogging discussions. Ideally, cross-blogging topics will gain enough mass to attract some of the other heavenly bodies in the greater cultural blogging universe. Consequently, I wanted to take a post to weigh in on some of the fascinating topics making the rounds through my Inside The Arts blogging neighbors…

"…and now for the music you didn’t ask for!"

With a line like that you just have to keep reading and that’s exactly what I did to Ron Spigelman’s 1/7/08 article at Sticks and Drones.
In the article, Ron examines the idea of increasing the amount of input
the audience has on programming. It’s a good article that examines some
of the work he’s done at his own orchestra to increase ticket sales by
means other than throwing money at radio and television ads. I agree
with one of the comments in the article that

Foremost, Ron suggests that including a "listener’s choice"
selection in each concert has had a positive impact. Accordingly, one
reader wondered how the logistics of that would work and I agree that
the idea has varying degrees of value across the professional orchestra
landscape. For example, could a 52-week ensemble reasonably fit a
"listener’s choice" selection into each concert? Probably not given the
large number of variables involved in large budget ensemble
programming.

At the same time, in smaller budget organizations that have a
music director who engages in a good bit of direct contact with
audience members the logistics are a little easier to get under
control. If nothing else, it’s a good example of the inherent
differences in administrative challenges between different size budget
organizations. In Ron’s article, he mentions that ticket sales have
gone up significantly since implementing the programming initiative and
audience responses for future seasons has increased a great deal.
Personally, I would be interested in finding out if they included
something in the audience survey which measures whether or not the
respondent’s participation was influenced by the expanded "listener’s"
choice" program.

If nothing else, it serves as one of the rare tangible methods
an orchestra can use increase an audience member’s sincere feeling of
ownership in the organization.

"You know you’re back in the south when you order a beer and the very pretty bartender says "Here you go, sweetheart."

Since I’m already thinking about Sticks and Drones, I
can’t move on without pointing out how exciting it is to see what Bill
Eddins is going to post next in his current series dedicated to the
Charlotte Symphony Music Director Search. In case you haven’t read any
of the articles yet, Bill’s writing about the search from the
perspective of a candidate. I can’t begin to underscore just how big of
a deal this is; in fact, I think it’s probably some sort of cultural
blogging milestone.

In case you’re wondering why this is worth getting excited over
(beyond the fact that Bill has an infinitely entertaining writing
style) it is because in the world of conductors, announcing interest in
a position is an unwritten cardinal sin. Heaven forbid a conductor
openly expresses an interest in a position and then not get the job
that might damage their credibility
ego. This isn’t a universal truism, for example, smaller budget groups
will announce an official "candidate" list from time to time but when
you begin approaching the threshold between ROPA and ICSOM level
ensembles, all parties begin playing coy.

So why don’t orchestras just announce candidates? They have to
play along because making a public announcement they might "scare away"
a potential candidate. Instead, orchestras do express their interest to
a conductor, but only in confidence. If it looks like an entirely
passive aggressive game to you, that’s because it is but at the same
time it won’t change anytime soon so enjoy Bill’s Excellent Adventure while it lasts. So far, Bill’s insights into what a candidate should be looking into are quite revealing.

His observations go beyond the necessary components of fit and
function with the musicians and into the financial health of the
organization, his opinion of administrative and board leaders, labor
relations, and the orchestra’s position within Charlotte’s cultural
food chain. You even get a glimpse into life on the road as Bill
examines the invaluable nature of being able to bring his bike with him
on a plane. Although it’s wonderful to see someone dodging one of the
many bullets related to a heavy travel schedule, as a tuba player I
have to say "You Suck Bill!" I bet he paid for his custom bike travel
case with all that money he saved not having to buy a second ticket for
his baton (petty-sour-grapes-rant-mode resetting to "off" position)…

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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6 thoughts on “It’s Time For Some Cross-Blogging

  1. Listener’s choice is a tricky proposition. It could increase audience interest; it could backfire, with potential seat fillers staying home to listen to music on their home-theater systems.

    A concert is supposed to be more than just a collection of individual pieces; it is supposed to be single, cathartic, organism. (For insight into this, check “Our Two Lives in Music,” written by Artur Rodzinski’s widow, in which she describes the painstaking effort that she and Artur put into designing the programs for the season.)

    This might be one of the keys into pulling music lovers away from the comforts of their hi-fi and into the concert hall.

    In this day and age, when music lovers can get damn-well any composition they want on CD and/or DVD-Video, the chance to hear any particular piece of music is not a BIG factor. We have to work on other aspects:
    -exposure to unfamiliar music.
    -exposure to music not yet recorded.
    -a chance to hear music they are “sort of” familiar with, but not familiar enough to buy on recording.
    -a social evening, spent with other people.
    -a chance to hang out and maybe hook up with another individual (I’m talking sex, here).
    -exposure to the different view of the music by the conductor.
    -an interesting soloist.
    -catharsis — experienced knowingly or unknowingly — through the build-up and release of emotions created by an evening’s exposure to a carefully chosen program.

    Edmund Cushing has had success with the Ashville and/or Hendersonville orchestras via a listeners’-choice survey. So, yes, it can work. But I urge caution before going whole hog.

    For example, one approach would be to invite nominations but actually program those compositions that fit into the texture of a well-designed evening.

    There’s a lot of discussion going around about how concerts have to be changed. In response, I would like to point out that concerts have evolved over the centuries. What we have now is a tried and true format. Let’s be cautious about changing it. Let us not automatically assume that the problem lies in the concert rather than in other factors.

    Although, I must confess that I miss the old four-piece concerts where some barn burner (for a glorious example, the Polka and Fugue from “Schwanda the Bagpiper”) was played as the last piece on the program, and we filed out of the concert hall after the program still tingling from the fun music.

    Paul

  2. I would argue that listeners do have a choice – they can vote with their feet: either they come or they don’t. It makes feedback less immediate, but I think it’s feedback that many orchestral programmers fail to heed next time around.

    Most classical radio stations have a top-list end of the year marathon – why not poach from the top 10 and slip one of those works on each subscription concert? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

    No argument about listeners voting with their feet but the trouble is most organizations don’t have a firm enough grip on why patrons attend in the first place. I also agree that most groups don’t take those issues into account, mostly because of a lack of reliable or accurate data. Add that to an artistic staff that (rightly so) chafes at too much marketing driven program decisions. The result is knee-jerk programming tempered by a healthy dose of bean-counting and that combination rarely works out the way it was intended.

    Ultimately, it comes down to gathering accurate and up-to-date data from patrons (core and infrequent buyers alike). Without regular sales reports, most attempts are just stabs in the dark. Ideally, orchestras will have a dynamic system in place via website sales that tracks each individual buyer. Add to that some face-to-face interaction between marketing staff and patrons at every concert and that should provide some reasonable data. ~ Drew McManus

  3. Why is it that Mr. McManus has to insert his own running commentary and attach it within other people’s commets? Charles Noble makes some valid points, but then we’re subjected to having McManus tell Mr. Noble why his viewpoint is wrong. Why not just let the comments be instead of shooting them down? What is the point then of accepting comments to posts?

    Thanks for your comment Elvin. One of the reasons Adaptistration exists is create a forum for discussion and the primary vehicle for that discussion is through comments. Although there are a variety of ways a blog’s author can respond to comments, the method I prefer is to directly insert remarks into the reader’s comment. This reduces the amount of cross-comment confusion as well as eliminates any confusion as to which reader’s comment I’m responding to.

    As for Charles’ comment I took a moment to re-read my remarks and although I do disagree with readers from time to time, I don’t see anywhere where I proclaim that Charles’ viewpoints are wrong. In fact, his comments inspired me to think about the scenario in greater detail and then include those thoughts in my response. To me, this represents everything that is positive about a dynamic blogging platform.

    By and large, the level of discourse between readers (regardless if they agree or disagree) at Adaptistration has always been civil and I am enormously pleased that is the case. I’m sorry you inferred something different with regard to my remarks to Charles’ comment and hope this running commentary doesn’t offend (I’ll be the first to agree that brevity is not one of my well-worn tools). ~ Drew McManus

  4. Um, last I checked, it’s his blog. Geez, didja even read the note back to Mr. Noble? If I know my English language, it seems that Mr. McManus agrees with Mr. Noble. Weird, what did I miss?

  5. Drew says, “organizations don’t have a firm enough grip on why patrons attend in the first place.”

    That’s what I consider a positive approach to the, shall we say, “challenge” of building audiences. What we get too much of is time wasted looking for reasons why patrons DO NOT attend.

    Suppose Joe says he does not attend because he doesn’t like wearing shoes to a concert. So we post notices that “shoes are not required at concerts.” There is still no guarantee that Joe will start attending concerts. If Joe had really wanted to go to concerts, he’d have gone, shoes or no shoes. So we can only conclude that shoes MAY be a factor in getting Joe into the seat, but it may or may not be THE factor.

    That’s why I say such stuff is a waste of time.

    Looking for things that attract patrons is NOT a waste of time.

    Paul

  6. Paul makes some excellent points, and every city is different as is every orchestra. What is not different and the philosophy we use here, is that people want to be valued and for a chance to express their opinions. Then, for those opinions to be followed up with actions. Our approach is to build our audience from who we already have coming, to make an new audience memeber feel as though they are buying into a family and a place to be comfortable socially. I posted something today about that over on sticks and drones regarding ticket sales and audience development from within. Sometimes we program starting with an audience choice and build the program around that work. Other times if we engage a dynamic soloist who is specific with what they want to play, then we look for an audience choice that will work with the solo work. The overall point though is that we “involve” the audience in the process which connects them to us on a personal level and what we have found out is that drives renewals as much as what we actually do on the stage. On our web-site is my personal email address, and I hear from subscribers all the time, I love it. I love it even more when someone ahead of me inthe checkout line turns around and thanks me for programming something that they chose. Go figure we are then talking about Mozart in Walmart!

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