Microsites: The Future Of Performing Arts Websites?

I was hoping that Monday’s article about the "Ode To A Ford" project would spark a comment or two about the added value Ford’s microsite added to what is a straight-up viral ad campaign. I remember having a conversation with a colleague who doesn’t work in the orchestra business and isn’t a musician about a year ago and we were talking about the quality of orchestra website education sites. In general, we concluded that most weren’t very educational from the perspective of getting the user involved in the subject material. "As someone who doesn’t know much about classical music to begin with, I don’t come away from educational pages feeling like I learned anything." …

I sent this same friend a link to Monday’s article and asked him to check out Ford’s microsite,
especially the web app that functions as a tack based music player that
allows you to mute and control the volume for each of the eight
individual tracks. He loved it and said that he could pick out each
individual instrument or groups of instruments after playing around
with the web app, all of which built a stronger connection to the music
and a greater sense of appreciation for the overall product. Doesn’t
that sound like the sort of connection everyone in this business is
trying to foster?

The effort to get something like this going certainly isn’t
prohibitive. I remember attending a performance of a Brandenburg
concerto last season from Frankly Music, Frank Almond‘s
chamber music series, and thinking how cool it would be if you could
take that piece and create a DVD or online app that allowed the user to
play around with each instrument in exactly the same way the Ford
microsite web app does.

Thinking back to my private teaching days, I used to help
students (especially adults) interested in learning more about
orchestra music develop some confidence in their listening skills by
teaching them how to distinguish one instrument sound from another. I
used my CD from what seems like an ancient "The Study Of Orchestration"
textbook from conservatory days because it had some acceptable snippets
featuring each instrument. I would then break out some orchestra
excerpt CDs, play the excerpt then that same excerpt from a recording
of the entire work.

It was infinite fun to see the light flick on when they
realized they could pull out each instrument sound and not just in the
piece which featured the excerpt but in other pieces as well. After
that, we would eventually end up at a live concert armed with a pair of
binoculars so they could confirm their new listening skills by having a
better view of when players were and were not playing. It didn’t take
long to develop an extraordinarily effective pattern for developing
these skills and I never had a student that didn’t enjoy that part of
lessons (I can’t say the same thing for their technical exercises).

So why not do something like this via a series of web apps? In
fact, I can easily see this being developed and then licensed to
orchestras for use at their respective websites. If any
foundations/donors/organizations out there are interested in developing
the idea I already have a good portion of the details worked out, just
send me an email.

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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2 thoughts on “Microsites: The Future Of Performing Arts Websites?”

  1. The Ford Web site is great and the video is a good viral. However, I’d love to have seen it taken one step further to touch on the online community aspect and to delve into Internet users’ creativity.

    I think a good example is the new R.E.M. microsite. There are two really: ninetynights.com and supernaturalsuperserious.com. The latter was just launched and contains ten videos of their latest single. Fans and users are encouraged to mash up the videos to create their own music video for the song and then post them on a special YouTube channel.

    I strongly believe that creating a community instead of offering static content is the way to go.

    I completely agree although having some nice stand-alone content like the multi-track player would be a nice option in the mix. If nothing else, the Ford site is a good reason why coding entirely in flash has limitations. ~ Drew McManus

  2. Here are two orchestral microsites that are doing things along the lines of what you describe.

    http://keepingscore.org/

    This doesn’t have the ability to adjust mixing and orchestration, but has a lot of additonal content and commentary on the score as you go through it.

    http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/perfectpitch/

    This includes musical excerpts which allow not just muting and soloing of parts, but assigning different instruments to experiment with alternate orchestration. Unfortunately, the synchronization of the parts isn’t working properly for me, but I’m hoping that’s just because my work computer has an outdated flash player.

    As I recall there’s some related stuff at the NY Phil’s Kidzone site (http://www.nyphilkids.org/) but you need shockwave and again my work computer is out of date and that’s where I’m writing this from.

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