Changing the Facebook of Classical Music

There is a call for Classical Music to change they way they do things. Beyond the numerous posts here on Interchanging Idioms, there are a host of other classical music writers/bloggers who are calling for changing and detailing what that change should look like. Greg Sandow has a blog, Sandow: Greg Sandow on the future of classical music which continually discusses this topic. He's writing a book on the subject and often posts his work in progress.

However, his most recent post talks about the Cleveland Orchestra (often held up as one of the success stories in the orchestral world). In the following quote he highlights what I consider to be a major failing of modern orchestras --a lack of understanding on how to reach a younger audience.

All the plans I've seen outlined are about making access easier -- cheaper (or free) tickets, transportation to concerts. Well, they're also going out into community locations, even bars, to make people aware of the orchestra.

But two things they don't seem to have addressed, yet are programming and presentation. That is, what music will they play for their new, young audience, and how will they present it? Will they play their usual repertoire, in their standard formal dress? Or will they shake things up?

Beyond changing their repertoire, how are they reaching out to the younger audience --going into bars and giving away free tickets? I think there is a much easier way for orchestras to reach out to the under 30 crowd --leverage the power of the internet. While most major orchestras have some sort of Facebook page, how well are they leveraging this media? Facebook accounted for a quarter of ALL internet traffic in 2009. The majority of Facebook users are under 30 (more than 70%). People are turning to Facebook to post their thoughts rather than blogs and it's a great way for orchestras to get their events visible to the under 30 crowd.

However, News and Events are ranked by the number of people attending them. So if an orchestra has their events on Facebook but no one is attending it, or even been invited, it doesn't get any visibility; no one is talking about it. I took a look at the Facebook pages for the symphony orchestras of San Francisco, Chicago, Cleveland and the New York Philharmonic. NY Phil was the ONLY one that had any one attend their event and the most they had attending was 7 people at any event. So, there are only seven people in the orchestral playing in the concert?

New York Philharmonic has over 52k likes and only 7 people attending the event. San Francisco has 8k people and no one attending their events. Chicago has nearly 48k likes and no one attending their events. Cleveland has only 42 likes so it's no wonder no one is coming to their concerts (at least not according to Facebook).

Perhaps many of the professional musicians in these orchestras don't have Facebook accounts. Ok, if even a third of them don't have accounts, with a standard orchestra of 90 musicians that still leaves 30 musicians who ought to be attending EVERY event. Beyond that, they should be inviting all their friends (and telling the other musicians who don't have Facebook accounts to get one).

Yes, all of the organizations have a Marketing Department. But, if the musicians won't market themselves, it is difficult for the Marketing Departments to build a ground swell of excitement for the orchestra. Pop groups spend a large portion of their time self promoting their music --until they get to the point of Madonna or Metalica. Last time I checked there isn't an orchestra in the US that can fill an auditorium like major pop names. So, they need to start thinking like the smaller groups and work on their self promotion.

Facebook is an easy way to reach a large audience of just the sort of people orchestras need to get into their concert halls --the under 30 crowd, the Facebook generation. But they aren't going to connect to those people until they start really promoting themselves on Facebook. Orchestras don't need a paid staff member to write the occasional post. They need the orchestra members to get on board and start posting, commenting, attending events and generating chatter to elevate the visibility of the Facebook page with Facebook users.


Paul said…
great point - self-promotion by everyone involved is no longer optional in the new world of social networking

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