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Up Tempo Marketing Blog
Spirited musings about music and marketing
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Earlier this year, my friend and colleague Matt Lehrman of Audience Avenue asked to interview me for his blog on audience building. I was thrilled to participate, and below are the responses to a couple of his questions.

Allow me to offer you these two tablets…how would YOU write the 10 Commandments of classical music audience engagement?

  1. Thou shalt not ignore the different interests and needs of your community and/or audience segments.
  2. Thou shalt not assume that your internal likes, dislikes, habits, traditions and expectations are better than those of the patrons you serve.
  3. Thou shalt not assume that everyone in your community knows about classical music and that your masterworks will sell themselves.
  4. Thou shalt not alienate your patrons through poor customer service tactics and rigid, inflexible, outdated, non-patron-friendly policies.
  5. Thou shalt not try to cut your way to success. (Thank you, Michael Kaiser.)
  6. Thou shalt reflect your community’s unique culture in your programming, collaborations and outreach programs.
  7. Thou shalt be open-minded, experimental and brave when making programming decisions. Marketing is a lot more effective when the product is fantastic.
  8. Thou shalt believe in soliciting input from others and looking outside of the bubble.
  9. Thou shalt participate in transparent communication, planning and decision-making processes.
  10. Thou shalt commit to what is presented on stage by investing in a unified vision, your artistic product, your marketing engine and your musicians.

What do you recommend reading for arts & cultural leaders who wish to keep an eye on the advancement of the cause of audience-building in the area of classical music?

Only a few of the recommended books and articles below are directly related to classical music, but I think they’re important reading for those involved in audience development/engagement and arts marketing.

Recommended Books

Recommended Articles

Recommended Blogs related to audience development/engagement topics

Recommended Classical Music blogs, because they are excellent

Recommended Email Subscriptions

4 years ago |
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Below is a short synopsis of two workshops I attended at this year’s League of American Orchestras Conference: The Orchestra Leadership Academy 1.5-day session on the Patron Growth Model and the workshop on Marketing the Arts to Death: How Lazy Language is Killing Culture.

Some highlights from the Patron Growth Model session, presented by Paul Hogle (Detroit Symphony) and David Snead (NY Philharmonic):

  • Development is about ‘monetizing the feelings’ patrons have about your artistic product.
  • The primary mission of orchestras is to develop patrons.
  • In 2010, the average deficit among 20 larger American orchestras was nearly $3.3 million.
  • From 2000 to 2010, the percentage of orchestras reporting a deficit increased from 34% to 60%.
  • The Top 10 Orchestras have lost 22% of their audience in the last 15 years, which is a cumulative revenue loss of $200 million over that time.
  • Attempts at greater community engagement have thus far only increased costs, not earned or contributed revenues.
  • Many foundations have stopped funding orchestras, opera, and ballet companies because they are not seeing a return on their philanthropic investment. They are expressing frustration and doubt that the institutions can be sustained without fundamental change.
  • 64% of orchestra revenue comes from patrons aged 65+.
  • 62% of concert attendees never give.
  • 52% of patrons surveyed said that the ‘orchestra doesn’t deserve my support.’
  • 60% of patrons surveyed said that the ‘orchestra doesn’t need my support.’
  • Orchestras in general have weak brand relationships with their patrons. While patrons would miss their orchestra, feelings of closeness are especially weak.
  • “Distinctive, definitive performances in excellent settings are not the secret sauce of solvency.”
  • “Orchestras lack leaders whose voices can be heard above the fray of conformity.”
  • Frequency = Revenue. Building attendance frequency is the key to increasing ticket revenue and donations. In order to increase total lifetime value, the first thing orchestras should do is increase attendance frequency. Frequency trumps tenure; increasing frequency has a dramatic effect on donations.
  • Key recommendation: Develop specific long-term maintenance and migration strategies based on where patrons are on the commitment pathway in order to deepen relationships and move them up the ladder.
  • Need to focus efforts on Buyer/Donors (the ideal patrons are people who do both). These patrons account for 60% of an orchestra’s revenue.
  • The Patron Growth Model has 3 categories that combine the efforts of traditional marketing and development activities: Patron Development & Sales (to bring the DSO in contact with as many people as possible), Patron Loyalty & Engagement (to pursue a relationship between the DSO and its audience) and Patron Advancement (to secure the long-term fiscal sustainability of the DSO).
  • Often, volunteers are unwilling to make personal solicitations because they are uncomfortable with, or not proud of, their own level of support. “If you have a cheap board, you are doomed.”
  • Quote of the Week: Hope is not a strategy.

Marketing the Arts to Death: How Lazy Language is Killing Culture

I highly recommend this book by Trevor O’Donnell:

You can also follow his blog here:

What is wrong with the lifeless language we use to market the arts?

  • Frozen in time
  • Assumes people care
  • Meaningless
  • Artificial
  • Narcissistic
  • Passive
  • Precious
  • Haughty
  • Based on subjective assumptions
  • Doesn’t compete
  • Overburdened
  • Not for new media
  • Exclusive

Think of your prospective audience with regards to their avidity: Super Avids, Avids, Less Avids, Non-Avids (fence sitters).

If pre-motivation to attend is low, then you have to be less flashy and bombastic with messaging, and be more persuasive.

Fundamentals of Persuasion: 1.) Know your audience 2.) Know what they want 3.) Describe how your product satisfies their yearnings.

5 years ago |
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Goosebumps! How did I miss the Grand Rapids LipDub?! This is a must-see. (Thanks to CreateEquity's Top 10 Arts Policy Stories of 2011.)

After a Newsweek article named Grand Rapids one of 'America's Dying Cities,' city residents and filmmakers put together this amazing and inspiring video response.

The video's director and executive producer explained, “We disagreed strongly, and wanted to create a video that encompasses the passion and energy we all feel is growing exponentially, in this great city. We felt Don McLean’s ‘American Pie,’ a song about death, was in the end, triumphant and filled to the brim with life and hope."

You can read more about the making of this video on ArtsBlog, 'Emerging Ideas: Mobilizing Your Community through Innovation.'

6 years ago |
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Last week, I attended the League of American Orchestras Conference in Minneapolis. Here are a few highlights from the workshops:

  • This UK report, Not for the Likes of You: How to Reach a Broader Audience, was recommended to the attendees of the Orchestra Leadership Academy seminar on Patron Growth & Advancement. Worth reading!
    • Under 'What you need to believe and embody to be successful':
      • Your mental orientation is very much external - you think from the audience inwards, rather than the product outwards. As one of the museums we worked with put it, “we’re about people, not art,” or as the director of an arts centre expressed it, “we offer experiences, not shows.”
      • You understand that change must be wholehearted if it is to be successful - there can be no half measures. This is especially important for ticketed organisations, who can feel more challenged by the idea of repositioning in order to be more accessible - because you worry that you have 'too much to lose' in terms of how existing audiences might react. Based on the work we've done, we believe that in practice this is more of a fear than a reality. Whilst it would be almost impossible to reposition without alienating (and therefore losing) some people, the evidence suggests that provided you do enter into change wholeheartedly, the gains will far outweigh any losses - so the biggest danger is that you may sell a lot more tickets.
    • Successful organisations model internally what they wish to express externally. In other words, to have the best chance of being open and inclusive to audiences you need first to be open and inclusive with staff.
    • What if…? Close your eyes for a moment and imagine your organisation starting from scratch. Ask yourself: Who would you be serving? What would you offer them? What would be the format of your product? What would you still do that you do now? What would you do differently? What would you stop doing?
    • Successful organisations make an effort genuinely to connect with people on their own terms. The seven main ways in which they do this are:
      • Engaging with and involving audiences
      • Devising specific products that say 'this is for the likes of you'
      • Defining benefits of attending that actually mean something
      • Making links with known culture
      • Using the language of the audience
      • Making newcomers welcome
      • Investing in customer service

Mnskyline2   Minneapolis skyline from the Walker Art Center Sky Room

Keynote on Creating an Environment for Innovation

  • Larry Wendling, VP of 3M: Need to think about creating VALUE through music. Is everyone in your organization engaged in creating value? Is this where American orchestras are focused?
  • Katie Wyatt of KidzNotes: Who does your orchestra belong to? Board, staff, musicians, audience, community…? Need to be committed to classical music and social good. El Sistema’s motto is “to play and to strive.”
  • Deborah Borda of the LA Philharmonic: Orchestras have social and moral imperatives – more than just artistic imperatives.

Red Alert! Plenary

  • Jesse Rosen, League president, on Orchestras at a Crossroads:
    • 70% of orchestras are reporting deficits.
    • Attempts at greater community engagement have thus far only increased costs, not earned revenues.
    • National and local institutional funders and individual donors are telling us that they question continued investment in orchestras. Many foundations have stopped funding orchestras because they are not seeing a return on their philanthropic investment.
    • Commitment to excellence is not enough.
    • We need new forms of experience.
    • Staff and audience lack diversity.
    • Orchestras need to show how we’re invaluable to our communities.
    • We need to be asking, “What kind of talent must we include to create the musical experiences that will usher in the next generation of people who passionately want us in their lives?”
  • Susan Nelson on Beyond Breakeven - Why Capitalization Matters:
    • The orgs from the Philadelphia capitalization study that were in the worst financial condition were the ones that were in a capital campaign. ‘Great financial distress.’
    • Orgs surveyed were shown to have no external validation for goals. Based on benchmarking and internal desires, NOT real market research in their communities.
    • The % of household income spent on entertainment hasn’t changed since 1964 – but entertainment options have increased 5-fold in that time period.
    • Risk capital (investing in innovation and new ideas) in the form of grants doesn’t work – process is too slow. The market has changed by the time the funding comes in (if it comes in).
    • A ‘breakeven’ mentality isn’t good enough, but that is what is expected.
  • Steve Wolff on Beyond Sustainable – Becoming Vital:
    • It is NOT about the economy. Donors/foundations are experiencing ‘arts crisis fatigue.’
    • Success = the sweet spot between VALUE, SUPPORT and CAPACITY.
    • Orgs need to have operating surplus because they have inadequate capitalization to manage change.
    • Need to move from VIABLE (functional, day-to-day) to VITAL (reinvesting, maximizing public value).
    • “This is the positive contribution we are making to our community” rather than the contribution to the field in which we work.

Churning Butter into Gold – Patron Growth Initiative
Research results presented by Kate Prescott and Jack MacAuliffe

  • Only 4% of one time/uncommitted buyers made a donation (average of $16) over 5 years and represent 65% of the patron base.
  • 90% of all donations came from households 55+ years of age.
  • 37% of income = ticket sales; 63% = donations.
  • Donations don’t begin to increase until a patron has been attending for 10+ years – Challenge is to accelerate that trend. We can’t wait that long!
  • 20% of existing patrons believe that the orchestra was a “for-profit” institution. Another 20% didn’t know if the orchestra was for-profit or non-profit – awareness problem. Recommendation is to put wording to the effect of “We are supported by charitable giving” on all materials.
  • 52% of those surveyed were either neutral or said “the orchestra doesn’t deserve my support.” 60% said the orchestra “doesn’t need my support.” In short, orchestra patrons feel like outsiders to the org - and many said that they were unlikely to donate to the org in the future, especially newer patrons, but also existing patrons/donors!
  • Frequency trumps tenure – people who come more often are more likely to donate than people who have come for a long time, but infrequently. If you can get people to come more often, the chance of them giving a donation greatly increases.
  • Newer subscribers are more program- and deal-driven.
  • Orchestras have a poor brand relationship with patrons. Only 25% of those surveyed described their relationship to their orchestras as “close.” 59% said it was a neutral or distant relationship. 16% describe a negative relationship.

Two Approaches to Audience Development – Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra

  • SPCO’s mission is to convert ‘product consumers’ into ‘investors in a cause.’ By increasing concert attendance, they enhance their case for support. They are focused on creating a stronger community value proposition.
  • 84% of all SPCO tickets are available for $25 or less. They’ve grown from 1,000 subscribing households to 2,500 over the past few years. All child tickets are $5. Family concerts are free to attend.
  • Approx. half of their concerts (40) are held at the Ordway Center in St. Paul and the other half (40) are held in different neighborhood venues.
  • SPCO has eliminated all print and radio advertising from its budget. They saw no difference in bringing in new audience after this. Grassroots tactics include free trials (presenting free concerts, offering free guest passes by invite only), recruiting ambassadors to make personal invites, corporate passport programs.
  • Some metrics SPCO looks at closely: # of subscriber households, annual footprint (how many people in the community they touch), new households (both free trial and paid).
  • 30% of MNO audience is new each year.
  • MNO has had success with Create-Your-Own subscriptions as a frequency-building strategy. The CYO ticket price is higher than regular subscriptions, the audience is younger and they have a 61% retention rate.
  • MNO offers less desirable seating at $25 to select patrons using data mining. They also have a “2 for $10” introductory ticket offer for new patrons that is authenticated online (are you really new?) before the purchase – patron data is collected for future follow-up. They see the same retention rate for these discount buyers as regular STBs.
  • 8,000 student tickets are sold each season – 1/3 of all single tickets sold ($12-$15/ticket).
  • They’ve had great success with 2 different concert formats, specifically designed for audience development: 4 Sampler Concerts each year (classical mixed with pops programming, cheap or free tickets, sales messages throughout concert) and Inside the Classics (6x per year with informal with accessible programming and insight into the music w/ conductor and musician – Sarah & Sam).

Inside of the Ordway, venue for the St. Paul

Chamber Orchestra & Minnesota Opera 

Building Subscription Audiences
Doug Kinzey

  • Orgs need to develop a Patron Progression Strategy. Marketing is about engagement, not promotions.
  • Business model should be patron development, not ticket sales.
  • Develop “Know Before You Go” content and campaigns.
  • New subscriber welcome events, satisfaction surveys.
  • Think about unexpected surprises and random upgrades. How do you recognize a $100 or a $1,000 donor? How long does it take? How do you recognize new subscribers or 10+-year subscribers?
  • Community Think Tank meeting over lunch. Invitees include community leaders representing retail, car dealership, entrepreneurs, a mix of businesses and perspectives. Questions asked: How do YOU attract and retain new customers? What do you look for in a successful business partnership?
  • Preview nights (similar to sampler concerts) by invite only. 
6 years ago |
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Having long been a fan of Awkward Family Photos, I was so happy to find out about Awkward Classical Music Photos. Guaranteed laughs. Yes, people, branding is an issue.

One fine example:

The Dour Bridesmaid String Quartet?

Add this site to your RSS Feed for some daily inspiration!

6 years ago |
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A webcast of WQXR's May 3 panel discussion on the state of American orchestras and the future:

7 years ago |
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This aria touched me today. Sondra Radvanovsky as Tosca singing "Vissi d'arte."

'I lived for my art, I lived for love, I never did harm to a living soul!'

7 years ago |
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Alice Dancing Under the Gallows documentary trailer:

7 years ago |
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This film trailer about the Kinshasa Symphony in the Congo gave me chills!

"Kinshasa is the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the third-largest city in Africa. Almost 10 million people live here and they number among the poorest inhabitants on this planet. Kinshasa is the home of Central Africa’s one and only symphony orchestra..."

"I like it here. Here I feel free."

"When I sing, I'm entirely myself. I'm in a different world."

This is what orchestras are *really* about.

(Props to Jason Weinberger for posting this on his blog - and then tweeting about it)

7 years ago |
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Patrickzimmerli Congratulations to friend and composer, Patrick Zimmerli, for winning the Colorado Music Festival's Click! Commission this year. He received the most votes from CMF's audience and his new work will be performed next summer.

The Denver Post's Artmosphere blog: New York Composer Patrick Zimmerli wins Colorado Music Festival commission

Listen to Patrick's music

7 years ago |
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