How audiences can’t save the arts, or sports, or pop music, or…

George Cruikshank’s “A London Audience” (1836) which may be a ‘portrait’ of an audience during a lecture by Dr. Gall or Dr. Spurzheim

Since the 60s live audiences haven’t really sustained much of anything.  The economic infrastructure that creates ‘sustainability’ for Classical Music, the Sports Industry, and the Pop Music Industry since the post WWII economic boom in the US has had much more to do with the growth of all three of these fields.

Foundations and donors make up the difference for ticket sales (i.e. audience contribution) for Classical Music; Broadcast Licensing makes up the lion’s share of the even more dismal proportion of gate revenue (i.e. audience contribution) for the Sports Industry; and the Recording Industry has done more for propping up pop Superstars than live touring (i.e. ticket paying audience contribution) has given the huge difference between total revenue earned by the former as opposed to the latter.

Obviously, in all the above cases the audience has some indirect effect on non-performance revenue, but how much of an effect that is or even how the effect is made isn’t entirely understood or known.  We understood that having a bigger audience for classical music means having potentially more donors; we understood that due to the (increasingly questioned) focus on the 18-49 demographic by Broadcast Media means that having a large viewership for sports events in that segment will bring in more advertising dollars by corporations; and we understood that having record selling hits and albums meant Labels could invest in support tours by artists to sell their product.

All three of those can no longer be taken as a given.  There seems to be fewer and fewer donors who are giving less money; with the rise of the median age of the US, we’re closer to having half the US population above the 49 year mark–and that group has much more buying power than the under 49 group; and the recording industry is scrambling to figure out ways to monetize digital sales effectively so the slowly tanking industry doesn’t completely collapse.

All three industries are pegging their hopes or have traditionally pegged their hopes for future prosperity and sustainability in the youthful generation(s) (i.e. the “Savior Demographic“).  Younger audiences are the least likely to be donors; to buy full subscriptions or season tickets; or to buy recordings so what economic impact youthful audiences have on the bottom line for these industries can be next to negligible.  The hope is to converting this audience into bigger future supporters in aiding the sustainability of the industries but by investing so much in this population, the current [older] population (the half of the population above the tail end of the 18-49 demographic) have far more buying power, more disposable income, and generally more free time and in many cases get left out of the equation for services tailored to them.  Which means that the organizations that are currently struggling haven’t bothered  focusing much on the segment of the population that could actually do the most to keep it afloat for any future sustainability efforts to matter.

Most importantly, if the economic infrastructure that creates the much larger portion of revenue by these industries collapses, no amount of audience building will matter since ticket revenue isn’t what keeps these industries afloat in the first place.

What remains to be seen is whether the infrastructures are sustainable, or if another set of infrastructures will emerge to take the place of those currently not doing as well as most would like.  Or perhaps the US is simply at the end of the prosperous economic cycle which allowed the emergence of full-time Orchestras, Sports Teams, Pop Music Superstars and we’ll start seeing dramatic changes in all three industries as they all ‘downsize’ and perhaps merge into something completely different and radically new.

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