Following Up On Contemporary Music And Ticket Sales

In case you missed it, there was a fascinating discussion going on in the comment thread of the Five Articles People Should Stop Writing post that evolved into the topic of whether or not contemporary music can attract audiences and sell tickets. Within the thread, I hinted at an article in works on that very topic at Neo Classical and on 3/30/2015 that article went live.

Adaptistration People 124The post actually serves as a final installment in a series of articles that chronicled a performance of Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto by Neo Classical’s author, Chattanooga Symphony & Opera (CSO) concertmaster Holly Mulcahy, and it dives into greater detail surrounding the behind the scenes decision making that goes into the potentially slippery slope that is programming contemporary music.

The article does a good job at showing how the CSO addressed the common problems and developed an outlook and plan to help mitigate potential pitfalls. Moreover, Mulcahy details the extra measures she adopted on her own initiative that ultimately led to the concert selling better than any of the CSO’s other masterworks concerts (to-date) for the orchestra’s 2014/15 season.

Our normal Masterworks concerts typically pull in people from about five states. For the Higdon concert, we more than doubled that figure and found that people flew in from as far as California, Connecticut, and Michigan.

Age demographic and diversity was definitely much more varied than normal. Based on my interaction before and after the concert, people were drawn to the excitement of a newer work and the added excitement of the composer’s presence filled our hall on March 12th.

In the meantime, I’m curious to know what you think and if you’re an arts manager; what are some of your notable experiences with programming contemporary music (both good and bad)?

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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1 thought on “Following Up On Contemporary Music And Ticket Sales”

  1. A concertmaster presenting a work like that is a wonderful thing. There’s pride in having a “local” talent, and people know they can come back and see that familiar face again, and enjoy that sound with every concert. Of course it has benefits for the work too – the concertmaster knowing the orchestra’s sound pretty well has its advantages – and going in and out of the texture. There are many extraordinary principals in the orchestras today – and I think it is a really healthy thing, maybe once a year, to have them come out of the texture and show what they are made of. I’m not an arts manager, but it sounds like the community engagement was creative and successful. As for the work being modern – well, that’s great too – I mean, I understand the desire to support composers who are alive – but for the orchestra I think the overriding goal of all of this is to offer the best musical experience you can, with the best sound you can, whatever you think that is.

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