Getting Heard: Why don't more musicians speak out?

If there is something wrong with the way orchestras are currently doing business, why aren't more musicians speaking out on how to fix the problem?

There is pretty much a constant discussion on whether classical music is dead. There have been several recent articles on the topic: posted on Helium, written by Susan Klatz Beal and re-tweeted by Christina Pomoni with article replies stating yes, by Raven Lebeau or Petra Tang or no, far from it by Leigh Goessl. Plenty of other blogs have spoken out about this topic as well. Greg Sandow and Anne Midgette often speak on the topic. Charles Rosen wrote "Classical Music in Twilight" (Harper's Magazine) back in 1998, so the topic isn't new and it isn't going away.

    Before I get too far into the topic of whether classical music is dead (or not) --which isn't really the topic of this post --I should point out that I disagree with those who say the orchestra is a dying art form, based on concepts over a hundred years old. I am passionate about orchestral music. Professional orchestras will last for easily another 50+ years, but perhaps not in their current form. While current professional orchestras struggle to balance budgets, orchestra audiences (and patrons) get older and older and more types of music events compete for listeners ears (and pocket-books), orchestras are looking at ways to reinvent themselves in order to survive.

The question I raise here is: IF orchestras are dying --there's plenty of evidence to suggest if they aren't dying now they are certainly struggling -- why aren't more orchestral musicians speaking out on the topic?

The evidence that they aren't speaking comes in the lack of responses to articles on the topic. Here at InterchangingIdioms I've written several posts about classical music and the problems that face orchestras today. Most recently I wrote "Orchestral Outreach: Are Orchestras Connecting with a Younger Audience" with blatant posts to Facebook, twitter and other social media outlets where I know numerous classical musicians read (and comment). While many of these same musicians have posted comments on FB, only 2 people commented on the post and none were professional orchestral musicians. Looking at other recent posts (like those above) there are 40+ respondents and yet not one professional orchestra musician. Those writing blog posts and opinion articles come from a variety of fields, but I'm not finding professional orchestra musicians among them. Lots of composers, yes, critics and musicologists, yes, but not orchestral musicians. Why is this?

Is it that orchestral musicians are too close, afraid if they speak out they'll be singled out in their organizations? Are they too busy? I know quite a few musicians personally who chatter on FB quite often, but oddly enough never about this subject specifically and rarely about music related issues in general. Composers like Steve Reich and John Adams have weighed in on the topic, so its possible to speak out and still be very much a part of the community. Music critics have offered their opinion, but they're supposed to do that. Oddly enough, the people who are most intimately affected by the demise of the orchestra seem to be conspicuously absent from the discussion.

Several times I've suggested one of the ways orchestras can connect with a modern audience (the 25-45 crowd) is by effectively using social media. In the days pre-internet, when Arpanet was mostly file sharing and newsgroup discussions if someone posted something that was overtly "market-speak" or some attempt at "selling" something they were summarily flamed and often never returned to post on that group again. Even in the early days of the internet, "marketing" was seriously frowned on. The internet evolved and became a major marketing tool for millions of organizations and entrepreneurs, major orchestras among them. However, even though most major orchestras have FB accounts and Twitter feeds, there is a general consensus among Social Media gurus suggesting "market-speak" on these types of pages aren't as effective as more personal, honest approaches to "chatter."

Basically, what people are looking for from FB and twitter are conversations of interest, not news stories and advertisement. If we look at what happened with television, initially the major US networks ruled the airwaves and made their money through advertisements interrupting our favorite shows every 5-15 minutes. But cable TV, networks like HBO, proved the TV viewing public preferred to pay a nominal fee and get rid of the advertising. While TV networks still exist, they had to reinvent the way they pull in revenue and are still struggling with the continued growth of cable TV.

Yes, there are plenty examples of very popular pages on FB which are nothing but marketing pages promoting a product. But as I wrote in "Getting Heard: Making Noise in a Digital World" there are tools which rate how effective someone is at getting heard on Twitter and FB. My own score (now 46), compares with organizations that have many more fans. This suggests I have a better outreach than the Detroit Symphony (klout score of 40) who has 3k+ twitter fans and 1k+ FB fans. Cabrillo Festival, which has a twitter feed of 600+ followers and a scattered series of FB pages has a clout score of 52.

I'm not trying to pick on Detroit. They are actually doing respectably well in comparison to other orchestras of a similar size. What I am suggesting is there is a way they and other orchestras can improve their outreach.

What's the difference between Detroit Symphony, Cabrillo Festival and myself: personality. (No, I'm not suggesting I have a better personality...) Certainly numbers play an issue. I don't have near as many "followers" as Cabrillo Festival, but both Cabrillo and I offer more opinions and personal notes/opinions on our twitter feeds than Detroit does - and Detroit does better at this than most, occasionally commenting directly to tweets about the Detroit Symphony. If you compare their score with the number of followers versus other larger orchestras you'll find Detroit is actually ahead of the many other orchestras in terms of connecting with the fans they have. While numbers of followers can be a factor, the real difference in klout is personality.

What does this have to do with the original topic? Well, why aren't orchestral musicians weighing in? Why aren't they offering their own twitter and FB opinions, re-tweeting and liking posts from their own (and other) orchestras? How many orchestra musicians are actually fans of the organization they perform in? One of the ways klout generates a score is based on how active your "followers" are in terms of what you post. The more people who RT (re-tweet) what you've said, or comment about you in a post, the higher your score. IF only 20% of an orchestra's musicians would tweet or FB once a week about the ensemble they play in, that would be an additional 15-20 bits of chatter about their orchestra each week.

Take a moment to try and find how many of the orchestra musicians in your favorite orchestra are on FB or Twitter. Then look at how many of those posts specifically mention the orchestra they're in or talk directly about the concerts they perform in. Cross that with the number of posts that same organization has leveraged, (liked, RT, or commented on). I think you'll find the number of orchestra musicians who are actually promoting the organization the play in very small. Without naming names (or organizations), I looked up the musicians from three different organizations. While I found generally 30-40% of the musicians had some sort of web presence (I could have easily missed some not knowing their FB or twitter names), I only found about 10% of these (or roughly 4% of the ensembles) even mentioning something about music in the FB comments of the last week (note: not all FB had comments going back that far). Fewer had twitter accounts (less than 1%) with only 2 having any mention of music and no mention of their ensemble. Granted, this was a rough survey, but the point I'm trying to make is, orchestra musicians don't seem to be chatting about their passion (assuming playing in an orchestra is still passionate for them).

I understand the "fear" of speaking out. Peer pressure exists in symphony orchestras. Nobody wants to air dirty laundry, or be the lone voice speaking out when all your "friends" are laying low. But if you're passionate about music then certainly you should be willing to share that passion in the form of an opinion - and want to do what you can to keep what you're doing (i.e., playing in a professional orchestra) as a viable profession.

Speak out. Make yourself heard. Contact your marketing department and speak to them about how you can tie what you're saying into their FB & twitter accounts. Follow what they're saying and respond. Orchestras are not dying, but they do need to change. And one change is the attitude of the musicians. You need to be heard and not just from on stage as a performance ensemble.

If you want to contact me anonymously my email is here or my twitter is #ChipMichael. I will NOT publish your name should you request it and even sanitize your posts so there is no way to identify who you are or what organization you play with. What I would like is to hear what you have to say... how you think we can help improve the state of orchestras today and connect with the audience of tomorrow.


Eddie Louise said…
I think performance, in the classical world is too often thought of only in relation the musician and the music - the audience is actually superfluous to the performance.

I think this bleeds over into the attitudes towards audience in general. Classical musicians do not see the need to reach out, because it is not their 'job' to get the audience. The expectation is that the audience will just 'be there'.

I think sooner or later they will wake up and realize, that like all the other bands, girl groups, solo artists etc. that in order to get 'fans' you have to respond to fans, dialogue with fans, embrace your fans and share of yourself with your fans.

I think it will be a really cool day when Symphonies have Fan Clubs!

Popular posts from this blog

The Art of String Quartets by Brian Ferneyhough

Pacific Symphony's Ninth American Composers Festival Explores The Composers And Music That Belonged To "Hollywood's Golden Age"

New Music: "A Sweeter Music" by Sarah Cahill