Get Noticed if you really want to Follow the Money in Classical Music

Good classical music isn't about money, but it's still important to understand where money comes from in the the classical music world in order to continue to do what we love - create music.

Concert goers like to think their tickets are the sole funding for an orchestra, and in an ideal world that would be true. However, most orchestras get somewhere between 30-50% of their budgets from actual ticket sales. So, next time you're in a concert (even a sold out one), look around and image that at least twice as many people would need to be seeing this performance for it to really balance the books. Recently there were discussions about how Opera is for the Rich, and yet ticket prices for the opera tend to me considerably less than for those of say Lady Gaga or Cold Play. Opera companies, like orchestras, depend in large part on donations and corporate sponsors.  Even commercial/pop artists make more money from their music sales than they do from concert appearances. Lady Gaga did a five city CD launch for her last album and broke all kinds of records in terms of sales.  Why? Because of the publicity machine that got her name out there.

For classical musicians the same is true, get noticed!  CD's are a nice way to augment their income, but Hilary Hahn and Joshua Bell need to continue a rigorous performance schedule in order to both stay in demand and continue to warrant their performance fees. Composers, rather the last part of this triad of classical artists, make money from commissions, but commissions aren't forthcoming if their name isn't in the forefront of people's consciousness (both for audience and artists).

Classical musicians need to remain focused on where they money really comes from. If an orchestra gets too focused on ticket sales, the drive for donors may slip and their budget could suffer as a result. What donors want to see if full houses. So, often times making a commitment to the community is better than selling tickets when it comes to getting donations. When a performing artist decides to take a break from performing to work on technique (or just relax), they need to be aware the effect the lack of their appearance in the news has on their earning potential. Composers need to understand getting pieces played, even if there is no money involved, can lead to more performances and eventually commissions.

There are some great potential success stories out there:

  • The Colorado Symphony SOLD OUT their 1st Educational performance this season. What's great about this is it shows Colorado Symphonies commitment to children and music education. Unfortunately, the press decided to focus on other issues and this opportunity to get the world out about what the Colorado Symphony really means to the community was lost. Hopefully Colorado Symphony can leverage this SOLD OUT concert to show what they really mean to the people of Colorado.


  • The Detroit Symphony has been struggling. But in an effort to show their commitment to the community they started selling $20 tickets to local residence. The key here is not the money they'll make from ticket sales, but the good will they will engender in their community. When it comes time for them to call on the community for support, the community will be there!
  • Nicola Benedetti took some time to refocus and hone her skills. When she returned to an active performances she did so with both a strong album release AND an exhausting schedule. It didn't take long before she was back in the ranks of top violinists. However, it was not just her talent and skill, but her appearance in the news and on stage that ranks her about the best.
  • Michael Daugherty has a Grammy, and several nominations. He isn't a film composer, so how it is he gets recognized by such a prestigious award? He gets played. Jennifer Higdon and Steve Reich recently won Pulitzer Prizes. Yet they continue to compose, get pieces performed and are constantly in the news with one or another new piece. They aren't resting on their laurels, but continually putting it out there to stay in the game.


The point for classical music artists to understand is the real money isn't always in the direct sale of materials, but in the publicity surrounding the event.  Get your name out there.  It may mean doing some performance that don't provide much in the way of income.  But if you keep at it, eventually the publicity will pay off.

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