Getting New Ears to Classical Music Concerts... Is Twitter the Answer?
There has been a lot of talk recently about "Tweeting" sections in concerts, places people could sit and tweet during the performance. Good idea?
Edward Moyer blogged about it on C/Net, the LA Times ran a poll, and several orchestra have already tried the concept. But, if you look at the results of the LA Times' poll, you'll see a large number of people are dead set against it.
BUT... Classical music concerts are money drains. Seldom to these concerts sell out. Often times, the operating capital it takes to put on an orchestral concert in a concert hall exceeds the money from ticket sales, sometimes as much as two to one. Comments like, "I couldn't sell Mahler tickets at a discount" and "We can't put Ives on the program because no one will come" are often heard in planning meetings and strategy sessions for orchestras. The musicians want to play the music, but the audience that is willing to pay for tickets is rapidly declining.
Oddly enough, Vivaldi does well in the concert hall, regularly playing to full houses. But orchestras can't play Vivaldi all the time. Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is also popular, as is Dvorak's Ninth, Holst's "The Planets" and Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" all do well at the box office. Those pieces are nice, but they won't fill a 12-14 concert season of classical concerts, AND you can't play them year after year and except the crowds to continue to buy tickets. Many in the classical world already feel these pieces (by dead white men) are over done.
What's the answer
Orchestra's need to find ways to attract a younger audience, an audience who is willing to pay $70-80-100-150+ for a ticket to see Lady Gaga, or Plain White T's. It's not a matter of how much the tickets cost, but at what goes on in the concert hall. If you're not someone who already loves classical music, classical concerts are dull and boring. There is no life or vitality to the concerts. YET, they can be.
The YouTube Symphony played to a packed house, with some 50k+ standing outside the Sydney concert hall watching the concert live on a big screen, and countless millions watching the youtube videos in the weeks after the concert. Michael Tilson Thomas did an amazing job at creating a concert FILLED with classical music that attracted the attention of a younger crowd (average age of the audience was below 35 -other concert halls struggle to get the average age below 50 at anything but pops concerts).
Classical music downloads are up and still growing. They aren't as big as pop online sales, but the demographics for classical music is broader than you might think. It's not the over 50's that are the primary purchasers of classical music. The youth ARE interested in classical music, just not in attending the concerts.
So, before you are so quick to push the "NO" button on tweet seats at your local concert hall, ask yourself: would it be better to sit next to someone tweeting at a concert or have orchestras do away with classical music all together (and just play pops concerts, which do still make money)? This is an honest question, because the consideration to do away with classical music as part of the program is a serious consideration.
I don't think Tweet Seats are THE answer. I do think we need to consider just what we're saying and to whom we are saying it when we say we don't want tweeting at our concert halls.