I Wonder What They Would Do For Ticket Sales

An article in the 2/13/2008 edition of The Hollywood Reporter examines a NYU study that determined blog posts can triple album sales. This is an early step toward quantifying the impact new media has on the cultural consciousness…

In particular, the Hollywood Reporter article
reported that NYU Stern professor Vasant Dhar and a former student
Elaine Chang concluded that "when an album got mention in more than 40
legitimate blog posts, sales were three times the average." The key
word in that sentence is "legitimate" and I contacted Professor Dhar to
find out more behind the parameters his research project used to
qualify a blog post as being legitimate.

Unfortunately, I haven’t heard back from him yet but his research project helps confirm some of the overriding points from the How To Connect With New Media
from earlier this month. Although Professor Dhar’s research project
examined the impact of new media outlets on a nationwide sales market
it would be interesting to see if some of the same principles would
apply to the impact of new media exposure on performing arts
organization’s ticket sales and fundraising. At the same time, it would
be even easier to adopt the research project to study the impact of new
media exposure on classical music album sales.

Regardless if anyone begins studying the impact of new media on
performing arts organizations anytime soon or not, media attention has
long been a benchmark of success for orchestras. Back in February, 2006
I published a series of articles which examined the Dallas Symphony
Orchestra’s strategic plan,
titled "A Bold Plan For Greatness." Although the plan contained some
vague references to the "number/quality of press mentions & reviews
equal to top-tier orchestras" as one of the benchmarks they plan to use
for measuring success, there is no mention of whatsoever of new media
outlets in that component.

Granted, the world of cultural blogging (and other related new
media activity) has grown exponentially since the time the plan was
written in 2004, Professor Dhar’s research project just might be what
this business needs to begin understanding new media’s growing impact.
The more quantifiable data available, the sooner the business can begin
to shift gears toward developing legitimate, sincere relationships with
new media outlets.

It is interesting to note that an organization as accomplished
and respected as the Dallas Symphony Orchestra completely missed new
media’s impact on the business. Officially, the DSO’s strategic plan
will run through 2015 and has been in motion for nearly four years. In
that short period the influence of new media has exploded, imagine the
sort of impact it will cultivate by 2015. Consequently, what sort of
substantive value do new media outlets have on your organization?

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 “I Wonder What They Would Do For Ticket Sales”

  1. Here’s a case in point.

    In the most recent issue of “Fanfare,” the Vonk/St. Louis SO recording of Messian’s “Turangalila” got high praise.

    I e-mailed various people at the SLSO urging them to publicize this.

    Results to date: I haven’t seen any.

    Now, you might infer that, perhaps, the SLSO was not able to persuade the local media to publish this information. But I have not seen any mention of it in the SLSO’s own blog site.

    If orchestras want to persuade the public that they are important, they have to act as if they believed it themselves. And one of the things they have to do is to act as if the public wants to hear every piece of “news” about the orchestra.

    Maybe, just maybe, if the orchestras do their jobs right in that regard, there will someday be Senate investigations into steroid use among symphony musicians.


  2. http://www.slso.org/blog/archives/000712.htm

    is one entry in the St Louis Symphony blog which mentions the Messiaen piece.. there have been several mentions of it in the context of the SLSO’s weekend at Carnegie Hall.

    Thanks for that pointer Bill, it is an excellent example of some issues that have been examined here on this topic. For example, would a blog post about the SLSO originating from a blog published by that organization be considered “legitimate” under parameters created by Professor Dhar’s research project?

    I’m willing to bet that it probably wouldn’t, however, the blog post by Alex Ross at his independent new media outlet on that same topic likely would. I feel this is going to be one of the inherent bear traps performing arts organizations will run into when they launch their own new media outlets authored by an employee(s).

    For the record, I do enjoy Eddie’s SLSO blog but I wish the organization included some of the most basic elements of what constitutes a good new media outlet. For example, there’s no “about” page for the author so you have no idea who Eddie is or if he works for the SLSO. There are no outgoing links other than a handful pointing to other SLSO webpages and there is no way for readers to interact via comments.

    It’s a real shame too because I like the way Eddie writes and he offers some really entertaining and informative material. At the same time, the blog could help build credibility by including those elements (and if they do include more outgoing links, I hope they make sure there are some besides those pointing to music critics who blog). ~ Drew McManus

  3. I agree with Drew about the several virtues of the SLSO blog and, also, about the shortcomings. In fact, I have emailed similar suggestions to Eddie Silva. His response is the same as that I have received over the years from just about every other member of the SLSO staff, whatever the topic: We’re short-staffed, we have too few people doing too much work, we are to busy to work on such matters.

    That is legit, but fatally short-sighted. The staff is so busy dealing with day-to-day measures that it cannot do what is necessary to ensure long-term survival. Like, “Sorry, I can’t waste time watching out for icebergs, I’ve got to finish straightening out the deck chairs.”

    There is a possible way around the problem but it is one which orchestras seem reluctant to investigate: volunteers.

    Orchestras have groupies who want to do things for their orchestras. I would make a wild-hared guess that many of them are above-average in income, educational level, appropriate skills, and all that other good stuff. Orchestras seem to use them for such matters as giving teas, handing out cookies, picking up soloists at the airport, and other such s . . . stuff. HOLLYHOCKS! I say. Why not make some really good use of their talents and let them make meaningful contributions.

    Unfortunately, I am not familiar with Professor Dhar’s research project (computer problems have left me somewhat out of touch), but I cannot for the life of me see how honest information about an organization would not be “legitimate” if posted on a blog published by that organization.

    Orchestra’s should keep the local media happy and should, therefore, give them the first whack at all info. But, if the media don’t use it, then it is the orchestra’s responsibility to see that the public — those people that buy tickets, buy recordings, contribute money, and give a hoot whether or not it survives — is kept informed about accomplishments, gossip, projects, plans, problems, weddings, births, personnel changes, and all that.

    Celebrity is manufactured. It may be well-deserved, or not, but a good press agent is — as the TV ads assert — “priceless.”


    If accurate, I can absolutely sympathize with comments attributed to Eddie above about being understaffed. At the same time, I hope performing arts organizations begin to see the value of directing increased resources toward these sorts of efforts and in the SLSO’s case, I hope they give Eddie everything he needs to run the best blog possible.

    To answer Paul’s question above about “how honest information about an organization would not be ‘legitimate’ if posted on a blog published by that organization” I think it comes down to who author’s the content and if the organization imposes editorial control over that content. For example, it isn’t uncommon for organizations to enact employment policies which restrict employees from publishing anything negative about the organization. Such restrictions limit the legitimacy of content.

    If, on the other hand, an organization paid the author to generate content on a contractual basis as well as refrained from imposing editorial control and included all of this information in a disclaimer, then the outlet would go a long way toward establishing a higher degree of “legitimacy.” In short, there’s nothing wrong with a hired gun as a blog author but that author should have the freedom to post sincerely without restrictive editorial control. ~ Drew McManus

  4. Drew, good point about editorial control over content. Now I better understand the legitimacy issue.

    I was wrong about the Vonk/SLSO Turangalila-symphonie review appearing in “Fanfare.” It is a review by Robert Levine in te February 2008 issue of “Stereophile.”

    The review says this like “this sonic spectacular (the bass could have you evicted) . . . On some level, all performances of [turangalil] are thrilling: this one makes its kitchen-sinkness sound coherent . . . For those of you who’ve always been puzzled by this supremely strange work — and who hasn’t?–this recording won’t solve those puzzles. It will, however, make you revel in them.”

    That seems to me to be a strong recommendation, and I do not understand why any orchestra would not want to exploit it, for PR value, in the local media and/or blog. Further, since it was NOT written by an employee of the orchestra, it’s legitimacy seems above question.

    However, in order to understand why it SHOULD be exploited, you have to understand the strange and perverse attitude of the St. Louis public toward the SLSO: the SLSO has always sucked hind teat in the opinion of local symphony goers. I remember when Fabian Sevitsky brought the Indianapolis SO thru town. The ISO could hardly cut the score but, after the concert, the local music lovers were proclaiming, “I wish we had an orchestra that good in our town.” Weirdest of all, when Mitroupolous and the Minneapolis played a concert in St. Louis, audience members walked out in droves during the concert. Nevertheless, after the concert, they repeated the same old mantra: Why can’t WE have an orchestra that good! Even the SLSO board members held the orchestra in contempt; at a board meeting, one member said, “why should we move the orchestra to Powell Hall . . . After all, it’s only a training orchestra? And, when I asked a St. Louisian why he didn’t have any SLSO recordings hin his collection, he responded “Oh, I only buy good recordings.”

    That attitude has been demonstrated over the 70-plus years during which I have been aware of the SLSO. And its persistence to the present day is documented by the New York reviewer who wrote, after the Carnegie Hall performance, that he wished the people in St. Louis could appreciate how valuable the SLSO is.

    When there is a conflict between legitimacy and survival . . .


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