. Interchanging Idioms: What Changes in Technology Means to a Orchestra's Audience

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Changes in Technology Means to a Orchestra's Audience

The rapid change in technology is creating a new generation of music connesisseurs that think differently than the typical orchestra concert goer.


Don Pepper made a great observation in his article "The Reason "Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25" Struck Such A Nerve" which was a response to this article by Cathryn Sloane. Don's point is that technology is moving so fast it is possible to see innovations that didn't exist for the previous generation making it into the mainstream consciousness. This is having a major impact on how people perceive music consumption.

The gramophone record replaced the audio cylinder in 1910 as the most popular form of obtaining audio recordings --just over 100 years ago. Now, 'record' shops that actually carry LP's (long playing records, for those of you too young to remember that term) are like pawn shops, dealing in antiquated artifacts. The digital age of music has ushered in a new era, and a new way of thinking about how we get music.

In an earlier post, I speak of the many difference in just the last 40 years. Even the last 10 have remarkable changes for the music industry. And yet, we still present orchestra concerts in the same way they were done 100 years ago. Why?

YouTube (owned by Google) is the second largest search engine in the world (2nd only to Google). As of May 2012, there are 72 HOURS of video content uploaded to YouTube every minute. This is up from 60 hours every minute in January 2012 and double what it was the year previous. Users log 3 billion hours a month watching videos (not including mobile devices), music videos are among the most popular items. As "Video Killed the Radio Star" in 1981, launching MTV, YouTube is the undisputed king of music video, creating a generation of users who not only accept video and music together, have come to expect it.

Film scores that don't have lyrics on their CD sell nearly twice as much as those with lyrics in the music. The music side of film is a major contributor to after-market sales. Music from film as well as video games tour the orchestra circuit just like performers, playing to sold out audiences. Music associated with images is big business.

So why don't more orchestras leverage this same attitude when presenting the classic works? The primary reason is the attitude there is some sense of purity to the music. Orchestras, music directors and many of their patrons don't want the performance by the musicians to be overshadowed by multimedia. Yet, they struggle to get the average age of their audience below 55.

The current 'younger' generation is not only comfortable with music and video together, they have come to expect it, come to find performances without it to be boring and uninteresting. It is not because they don't like the music. Their films and video games are filled with classical (or classical like) music. It is because they expect more from their entertainment than just the music.

I went to see Opera Colorado, where the sets were all video images. They were stunning. Did they detract from the music? No. Opera has been putting moving objects with music for hundreds of years and we don't think the movement detracts from the music. Why do movement and/or images detract in an orchestra concert?

The film industry is putting a lot of money and effort into 3D movies. Almost every major block buster released now comes out in 3D as well. This isn't because the film looks better. Set designers and cinematographers will tell you 3D films look flatter than their 2D counterparts, because of the process in making a film 3D. The background and sweeping landscape shorts are not as rich in 3D. So, why the change? Because studios see the future where 'surround' entertainment is the expectation, not the novelty. The first film to include 5.1 surround sound was Batman Returns in 1992. Disney's Fantasia has a form of surround sound back in 1940, but is was still stereophonic. Yet, now if a film doesn't have surround sound it feels flat. Studios are gambling that in 20 years a film without 3D will feel the same.

There is a new generation of music consumers out there. They have expectations that are not being met in the concert hall. Orchestras that fill those expectations should enjoy a healthy boost in their ticket sales and notice a drop in the average age of their concert goer.

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