Classical music's big opportunity is its current audience

Let's look at alternative strategies for a moment. For instance, classical music could finesses its current audience instead of chasing the mythical monolithic / young / hip / rock loving / vibrant / technically literate / affluent 'new' audience . If every current audience member attending ten concerts in a year (that's less than one a month) was persuaded to come to one more concert, the classical music audience would increase by 10%. Similarly if every classical music buyer purchasing 10 CDs (or downloads) a year bought another CD, the market would grow by 10%. And, at the risk of repeating myself, if every classical radio station listener increased their listening from 10 to 11 hours a week, the classical radio audience would be 10% bigger. Admittedly this strategy is not as sexy as turning classical music into rock by another name, but 10% growth is a lot better than classical music's big new ideas are currently achieving.

A statistically insignificant sample of one proves that the 10% strategy will work. As my credit card bill (and wife) will attest, my CD purchases in 2013 were up more than 10% over the previous year. But looking back over my acquisitions, a substantial number of these were of composers new to me. One discovery I particularly want to share is Georg Christoph Wagenseil (1715-1777), who music historian Charles Burney ranked alongside Handel, Scarlatti and Bach. Given that judgement Wagenseil's absence both from the concert hall and record catalogue is puzzling. But I heartily recommend the two CPO recordings of his sparkling symphonies - see above - and, of particular interest, his Quartets for Low Strings (three cellos and double-bass) and Organ Concertos.

Classical music's big opportunity is its current audience. That audience can be grown by bold, imaginative and, above all, intelligent programming - more Wagenseil, Malcolm Arnold and Ramon Humet please - in the concert hall, on CD and on the radio. But for this strategy to work loyal concert goers will need to be cherished, instead of being treated with the contempt that is currently fashionable. The 10% strategy may not be the glamorous quick fix that bonus driven music industry executives desperately want. But at least it is realistic.

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Pliable said…
Peter Puskás has shared this post on Facebook saying "here's someone making a lot of sense about how to develop audiences...we need more of that..."
Andi said…
Sure, growing an audience is more cost effective than finding new audiences.

But as symphony organizations around the US can tell you, the average age of a patron is 65 - and getting older. Many patrons are 75+. To be morbidly honest, those patrons aren't going to be around forever. If symphonies are to still exist in a decade or two, they need younger audiences.

With that long range knowledge in mind, it would be foolish to abandon efforts to bring more young people into the hall. If classical music organizations, from symphonies to radio stations, can't find these younger people, then it won't matter if they found a 10% growth in 2014.
Pliable said…
Andi, I am afraid you are subscribing to a common and convenient myth, namely that “Many patrons are 75+. To be morbidly honest, those patrons aren't going to be around forever”.

At the moment, whether we like it or not, the majority of the audience for classical music is older people and this target market is growing not shrinking. It is projected that in the States, as an example, the number of people over 65 will grow from the current 40 million to 70 million in 2030. It is convenient but wrong to assume classical audiences are shrinking because concertgoers over 75 are dying. As has been discussed here before, and as available statistics for classical radio listeners show, audiences are falling because the core current audience is being driven away by patronising attitudes and gimmicky attempts to win new audiences, while the much discussed new audience shows no signs of materialising.

Classical music is keen to end silly traditions such as concert dress and silence between movements. But one silly tradition that it seems unable to end is the erroneous assumption that any new audience must be young. Classical music needs new audience members, but as a recent post explained it is wrong to assume that this new audience will be solely young and hip. There is no single current audience for classical music and no single new audience. When classical music starts to value every new concert goer, irrespective of age, income and ethnicity it will have finally dumped one very silly tradition.
Anonymous said…
I feel compelled to chime in.

I agree with Pliable that it is futile for orchestras to target "young" people. The average young person is just not ready for classical music -- the mind has to have been developed and she has to have lived a little to appreciate this art form.

But I can also see why the orchestras see the grey hair set as perishable goods.

Why not target the middle-aged? They will be around a while and some of them may be ready for classical music.

Just now in the U.S. we are seeing a resurgence of Hollywood films made for the "older" audience. Food for thought for concert organizers?
Graeme said…
I second the idea that it is time to hear Malcolm Arnold. apart from a few outings of the Grand Grand Overture or the Padstow Lifeboat on the radio, when was one of his symphonies programmed in the UK? I would have thought that Verdi, Wagner and Britten were doing well enough without anniversary festivities...who cares about Malcolm Arnold or CPE Bach?
Frank said…
I present a program on 3MBS in Melbourne and try to program lesser-known music. I've just discovered Wagenseil - have already played his trombone concerto and will play one of the quartets for lower strings soon. Thank you for alerting me to the disc of symphonies; that's now on my shopping list

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