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.


Janet said…
I am totally on the same page with you on this one. As a society we need to find a balance of how we interact in public. The penetration of technology into our minute-by-minute lives needs to be brought to a concensus of behavior "do's and dont's." When a group of people decide to go to a live performance, what is it they are looking for, and how has that changed in society? I think. That is the real question here. Not tweet or no tweet.

So as not to be to over one, let's cut to the bottom line. Audiences will come when they like the offerings. What ever happened to the use of surveys to answer this question? As for younger audiences....maybe we need the equivalent of "children's concerts" for adults. I love it whethe conductor talks to me and explains, tells stories about the compositions.

For myself, I love live theater and live the dark and quiet of a theater of others who enjoy the same thing.
Chip Michael said…

You're right, the key questions is "what is the modern audience looking for?" While a lot of young people like to tweet, I don't think tweeting or not-tweeting is going to turn the tide.

However, if you go to any "Contemporary" music concert, they are full on assaults to the senses, video, music, lights, activity... energy. I think one of the reasons the YouTube Symphony concert was so successful is because it captured this same kind of feel for the audience - and did it with great music!
Janet said…
Perhaps a foray into more pops sale concerts would entice the young folks. Certainly social tastes for excitement are a part of the issue.

Another factor would be the lack of exposure in schools and in homes. Hey, maybe what's really needed is a video game that develops an interest in classical music!

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