Some time ago I read a Silicon Valley Business Journal piece about the Symphony Silicon Valley’s Live-to-Projection Lord of the Rings concerts. SSV President, Andrew Bales, expected to sell out the two full runs of the trilogy in their Center for the Performing Arts in San Jose. This would mean selling out 15,000 seats for the two cycle run, and if an early review in the San Jose Mercury News is any indication (11,000 tickets had already been sold), then it’s like that SSV came close to that goal.
In my previous post I talked about the minuscule returns that live audience ticket revenue gives for the total operating budget of movies. I’m going to divide this post into two parts as the first has gotten rather lengthy.
In this post I’ve summarized some of the things I brought up in the previous one, “Live audiences for Movies matter less than for Classical Music.” Then I’ll take a look at how and why Hollywood studios focus on the live audience demographic that it does and relate that to what seems to be a “holy grail” for Classical Music Crisis folks: the mythical younger audience. I’ll look at audience-creation that has become the primary marketing model for contemporary Hollywood studios after the precipitous decline in regular weekly movie-goers and how that relates to single-ticket marketing that’s becoming more prominent in the Classical Music field. The post ends with a discussion of the social costs that accompany some of this marketing strategy and its focus on younger audiences and how that relates to a lack of critical inquiry/reflection in the push to bring Classical Music into a “wider and more contemporary culture” (setting aside what’s problematic about saying that the field doesn’t already exist in it).
So, one of my birthday gifts was a copy of Edward Jay Epstein’s “The Hollywood Economist: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies.” The book opens with this snippet in the intro.
There was a time around the middle of the twentieth century, when the box office numbers that were reported in newspapers were relevant to the fortunes of Hollywood: studios owned the major theater chains and made virtually all their profits from their theater ticket sales. This was a time before television sets became ubiquitous in American homes, and before movies could be made digital for DVDs and downloads.
Today, Hollywood studios are in a very different business: creating rights that can be licensed, sold, and leveraged over different platforms, including television, DVD, and video games. Box office sales no longer play nearly as important a role. And yet newspapers, as if unable to comprehend the change, continue to breathlessly report these numbers every week, often on their front pages. With few exceptions, this anachronistic ritual is what passes for reporting on the business of Hollywood.
To begin with, these numbers are misleading when used to describe what a film of studio earns. At best, they represent gross income from theater chains’ ticket sales. These chains eventually rebate about 50 percent of the sales to a distributor, which also deducts its outlay for prints and advertising (P&A). In 2007, the most recent year for which the studios have released their budget figures, P&A averaged about $40 million per title–more than was typically received from American theaters for a film in that year. The distributors also deducts a distribution fee, usually between 15 and 33 percent of the total theater receipts. Therefore, no matter how well a movie appears to fare in the box office race reported by the media, it is usually in the red at this point.
So where does the money that sustains Hollywood come from? In 2007, the major studios had combined revenues of $42.3 billion, of which about one-tenth came from American theaters; the rest came from the so-called backend, which includes DVD sales, multi-picture output deals with foreign distributors, pay-TV, and network television licensing.
Michael Kaiser’s latest blog post discusses the slowly growing trend for streaming to movie theaters as the Royal Opera House moves into that form of broadcast.
The Royal Opera House recently announced it would soon begin beaming performances to American movie theaters, mimicking the broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera. We have also seen several high profile theater productions transmitted in a similar manner. The rationale given for the value of these broadcasts is that they build new audiences, although the jury is still out on this. From my unscientific observation, it seems we are merely substituting one source of entertainment for another for the same, traditional audience.
He brings up several questions about what this means in the bigger picture for the arts such as:
Are we witnessing a major transition in the arts from regional organizations to fewer mega-organizations with the sophistication to mount large scale productions, to market them well and to raise large sums of money?
Technology has certainly made it easier for consumers to access the best in culture – if not live than via their personal computers and mobile devices.
And as the cost of a ticket to a regional symphony or opera company has risen dramatically, is it now preferable to many consumers to watch name-brand singers, dancers and musicians at home, or a local movie theater at a far lower cost than going to a live performance at a regional venue?
Does this spell the end of the mid-sized regional arts organization? Will it be increasingly difficult to build an audience and a donor base for a $10 million arts organization? Will boards simply give up trying to fund ever-increasing budgets? Will many of these organizations shrink, or disappear entirely?
As I’ve blogged a bit about the live cast phenomenon, outdoor stadium projections, and economies of scale, and how this type of media may affect local music economies I haven’t really been following the trend much. It remains to be seen how this will affect smaller music markets but until the infrastructure and technology for live casting becomes affordable, Kaiser is correct in that fewer arts organizations with smaller budgets will be able to afford this. And now these smaller organizations will have to begin competing with top notch brand names in the Classical Music industry in their own markets. It’s something that the musicians in organizations are also aware of as this short conversation between me and one of the LA Phil’s cellists at the Internet Cello Society forums shows.
And even if many, if not all, performing organizations can access this technology and engage in this kind of broadcasting, it’s still a matter of what is the market for seeing the Small-Town-Symphony-Orchestra in the cinema play Beethoven’s 5th as opposed to seeing it played by the Berlin Philharmonic or the LA Phil? Other than possibly ex-pats from various cities, it would seem the market might be small–which is why I think a return to local culture could be a way to alleviate the competition issue since that would create product differentiation.
While the international market may prefer seeing a cast of the Berlin Phil perform Beethoven or the Met Opera perform Puccini what if the Louisville Orchestra were to start performing the works that made its international reputation that were commissioned specifically for them? What if Liza Kravinsky’s Go-Go Symphony were to create it’s own livecast market or Orchestras that exist to feature local composers, compositions, and content?
Certainly, growing audiences for such local institutions will take time, but it’s already happening as I’ve been documenting in many of my blog posts. I’ll be curious to see if what comes of it once an organization like this attempts to break into the cinema market. Of course so much of this is ironic given how the cinema industry put so many musicians out of work in the early 20th century as well as how live scores for films is making something of a comeback.
Do check out Kaiser’s piece as I think some of the other questions he asks might be intriguing to explore. To find a Royal Opera House screening near you in the states, go here. Also check out David Byrne’s ‘The internet will suck all creative content out of the world‘ piece discussing online streaming.
In yesterday’s Indianapolis Star there was a piece about my alma mater, the DePauw University School of Music: $15 million gift to DePauw University to revamp music school for 21st century. (see also Dean McCoy’s post and Greg Sandow’s post) From the School of Music website we have a description of their new initiative:
The 21st Century Musician Initiative is a complete re-imagining of the skills, tools and experiences necessary to create musicians of the future instead of the past—flexible, entrepreneurial musicians that find diverse musical venues and outlets in addition to traditional performance spaces, develop new audiences and utilize their music innovatively to impact and strengthen communities.
I wish this would have happened while I was there, but also, in a way I’m glad it didn’t. While I was a student there, and despite the more traditional conservatory-like experience which often felt a bit stifling, I was invigorated while I discovered a world of possibilities. I’m pretty sure I was a frustrating student to many of my professors (including my cello prof, Eric Edberg) but I think most of them survived me–hah!
I thought I’d take this opportunity to blog a bit about my overall impressions of my undergrad music school experiences (and some beyond) since I’ve been reconnecting with it in various ways recently.
The DePauw Symphony Orchestra (Orcenith Smith)
While I’d had the opportunity to perform some contemporary orchestral works before my college years with the Floyd County Youth Symphony (where I’m currently a staff sectional coach) where we performed a premiere of Jim Stanton’s “Midwest” and Sammuel Addler’s “Summer Stock Overture” (with the composer at the baton at California State at Wayward), it was really my Freshman year at DePauw which opened my eyes to some of the wonderful contemporary repertoire for Symphony Orchestra (1990-1991 season) written by living (or recently deceased) composers. The DePauw Symphony Orchestra performed a new composition or 20th century work on every program, including one concert that was all 20th century works. The Orchestra won an ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming for that year. Here’re the works:
James Hirt “Reflection” (1989), Christopher Rouse “The Infernal Machine (1986), Orcenith Smith “An Odd Moment” premiere (1990), Morton Gould “Flourishes and Galop” (1983); John Adams “Tromba Lontana” (1986), Mark Phillips “Turning” (1986), David Ott “The Water Garden” (1985), Joseph Schwantner “New Morning for the World” for Narrator and Orchestra (1982)
These were on the six full orchestra concerts we performed. These concerts also included more standard 20th century repertoire by Stravinsky, Bernstein, Copland, Rachmaninoff, Prokofieff, Menotti, Vaughan Williams, and Kabalevsky as well as some older chesnuts.
The two joint end-of-semester Orchestral/Choir concerts featured Benjamin Britten’s “St. Nicholas Cantata” (1948) and Maurice Duruflé’s “Requiem” (1947) and the touring DePauw Chamber Orchestra’s program 912 concerts) included a program of early twentieth century works (Henry Cowell, Ravel, Berstein, Copland, Stravinsky) bookended by Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” Overture and Beethoven’s first symphony.
So, in the 20 orchestral concerts I performed in my freshman year nearly all the works were 20th century compositions, and many of those were works composed within ten years of our performances. The DSO went on to perform many other premieres and works by Dr. David Ott (composition professor and composer-in-residence with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra) though none of the programming quite matched that 90-91 season.
Maximum Security Chamber
This was probably my first band–a composer formed ensemble led by Eric Chesney, a composition major. We organized and performed a few shows in music school as well as at The Broken Spoke (a “pub” type restaurant found in the campus Student Union Building). We also, informally, performed Eric’s senior composition recital in 1993. Our instrumentation included saxophone, flute, strings, as well as a Fender Rhodes which was a bear to haul around!
DePauw Contemporary Ensemble
This was the resident ensemble of the 20th Century Music Literature Class taught by Dr. Carla Edwards. Obviously the roster rotated by class but many students were allowed to be involved in the concerts the group put on and I often sat in on classes and occasionally gave talks about what was then the latest trends in new music and the intersection between performance art, dance, experimental theater, and non-academic experimental music. While I participated in the concerts I performed works by Harry Partch, Cathy Berberian, John Cage, and text/sound pieces by Fluxus artist Jackson Mac Low and Dada artist, Kurt Schwitters. We also premiered one of my compositions, “Tao of Mu: Better Living Through Non-Lexical Communication” (for amplified horn, keyboard, voices, turntables and electronics, found percussion, magnetic tape) in 1999 which I had written for Robert Garcia.
Here’s an excerpt of the group performing Terry Riley’s “in C” (1964):
Chamber Vocal Music
Barbara Paré started offering a Vocal Chamber Music class. I had started working with a mezzo-soporano student, Kate Haynes by that point as I wanted to explore repertoire for cello and vocals (of course now I get to do that alone as I sing and play the cello quite often). We did end up performing a recital in May of 1996 which included one contemporary work by James Mulholland– his “Four Love Songs” (1983) for voice, cello, and piano. During the Vocal Chamber Music, we did have the opportunity to work on other older standards as well as Berstein’s “Dream with Me” (1950) for voice, cello, and piano as well as doing some readings of my composition, “Recueillement” (1996) for voice, cello, and french horn (played by Jeff Radcliffe) and based on text by Charles Baudelairre.
I said above that I’d been reconnecting in various ways with my DePauw experience above and here’s one of the reasons. My new music group, the Mothership Ensemble, just performed Jeff’s “Mandala” this Wednesday at Lisa’s Oak Street Lounge. We’ll be repirsing the performance again next month at Classical Revolution Louisville and on a full concert we’re giving at Decca with other compositions by local composers (Rachel Short, Chris Kincaid, and me) as well as other newer-ish works by Andriessen, Denisov, and Ian Clarke.
Jeff was also a regular member of the DePauw Contemporary Ensemble and had written a couple of other works for me. We’re all looking forward to performing more of his pieces in the near future. He is also one of the brightest and most talented and adventurous people I’ve ever met and someone who attended a few of my Chello Shed events (about more later) as well as writing a spoof on Philip Glass’ “Einstein on the Beach” (titled “Einstein at the Hub”) which we performed at the DePauw Playwright’s Festival (1997) which featured 10 minute plays by DePauw students in the new Elizabeth Kerr Black Box Theatre. Using texts he surreptitiously acquired by a handheld recorder while in the Hub (another restaurant in the Student Union Building) and from the prices of items for sale he constructed three vocal lines which the three readers (I was one) spoke aloud in random and monotonous fashion while a customer (played by Matt Kingston) wandered around confused by the dizzying number of items for sale all while the “Spirit of the Hub” (played by ICE‘s Eric Lamb) danced around and tempted him to purchase more. Jeff played the keyboard in Glass style.
Jeff also introduced me to Bang on a Can, and I am forever grateful for that, especially as I recently got to see former BoaC cellist, Maya Beiser, live a couple weeks ago.
The Chello Shed was a brainchild of mine that was a concert/lecture series and alternative venue that I created in 1996. It’s been revived at various locations since many of the events took place in the various places I lived in Greencastle. Sometimes other music students requested I do an event in their dorm room and often events would be “site-specific”–taking place around Greencastle or on DePauw’s campus. For example, for one performance installation, I gather a couple of railroad ties (you would not believe how heavy these are) and dragged them to the Emison Art center and used wire hangers to create limbs in a makeshift tree adorned by packing materials I acquired at the University Bookstore (where I worked at the time). It was an audience participation piece.
Sometimes I would give more “formal” performances of new compositions, text/sound/art works, multi-media and performance art. Other times I would give “lecture/performances” focusing on particular composers or artist I had an interest in at the time.
Often I would simply do performances of John Cage lectures.
I would plaster the campus and School of Music with flyers for the events, such as the ones above, and almost invariably included a printed program with more detailed notes, some quotes, and other supplementary materials. I also published a handful of “…from the Chello Shed Newsletter” which featured other DePauw students and Greencastle community members’ art, scores, text as well as an accompanying cassette tape of experimental text and sound works.
I’m in the process of archiving the early activities as the Chello Shed was most active between 1996-1998 (well over a hundred events) with more intermittent activity from 1998 to 2002. In the show I mentioned at Lisa’s Oak Street Lounge I’ve revived it and presented the concert under its auspices.
Mitch Merback graciously allowed me to sit in on his Art Criticism class a couple of years. By that point in time I was already heavily into Performance Art and how the visual arts world intersected the other arts and had started doing the Chello Shed events. For a while I was actually a double major in studio art and music performance but had since dropped the studio art major as I found I wouldn’t ahve time to complete the requirements. During that time I’d also recently attended the Performance Art, Culture, Pedagogy Symposium at Penn State (November 1996) and had many wonderful discussions about the arts with the other students and Mitch.
In 2000 I would attend the follow-up symposium at Penn State: Performative Sites: Intersecting Art, Technology and the Body where I’d reconnect with a number of performance artists and meet new ones.
Mitch would also invite me back to do performances at the Emison Art Center at DePauw (in 2001 “Dada da Babylon” and 2002 “in vitro mudra”) and later in 2002 at the new Peeler Art Gallery on campus was invited to participate in a tribute retrospective performance of Fluxus artist and composer, Dick Higgins, curated by Hannah Higgins called, “Betwixt and Between.”
Despite having spent most of my early life growing up in bi-lingual environment (the first songs I learned how to sing were in Thai) I didn’t really explore world music until I got to DePauw. Occasionally world musicians would be brought in for performances and to do workships. I’ve had the pleasure of doing workshops and seeing performances by the late Prince Julius Adeniya, Srinivas Krishnan, Chirgilchin, and others I can’t recall right now. As most of you know I’ve spent the last ten years often playing with world musicians or sharing bills with world musicians from all over the world as well as fusion world groups from all over the US.
David Ott, Composition, and his Concerto for Two Cellos
As I mentioned above, the DePauw Symphony Orchestra often performed David Ott’s compositions as he was on the composition faculty at DePauw and composer-in-residence of the ISO. I’ve had many interactions with him as a student of his but also with him performing piano accompaniment for his Concerto for Two Cellos which was commissioned by Rostropovich for two cellists of the National Symphony Orchestra. I got to hear so many great stories about that process and his interactions with the late cellist while having rehearsals with him. I performed the slow movement with my cello professor on a faculty recital one year and in 1994 another student, Eric Amidon, and I were winners of the DePauw Concerto Competition. We performed the first movement with the DSO–here’s an excerpt of that:
Not long after Dr. David Ott left DePauw the Music School phased out the Composition program much to my dismay. While they had a composition professor they never really filled the full time position. I must have performed and premiered several dozen student works while I was a student (as well as a while after) and that was one of the greatest experiences–working with young and budding composers, some of whom are still doing great work.
Eric Edberg and Improvisation
Last, but not least, I have to mention Dr. Eric Edberg. He’s probably still one of the biggest inspirations and mentor in my life and I probably owe as much for my current career trajectory to him more than anyone else. While I was in school he was getting heavily into improvisation and often worked with his cello students in various techniques he was learning. Eventually he formed an improvised chamber music class that has since become very popular.
I’ve often done some impromptu recording with other students who attended those improv classes (including Jeff Radcliffe). Here’s an excerpt from an hour long session that I recorded with pianist, Joanna Smoak, one day in the choir room (152) at DePauw:
Eric also occasionally had cello class parties at his house and after he acquired a Lexicon JamMan looper he let us all play around with it. Here’s an excerpt from my very first attempt at using that looper at one of those parties in 1996:
These are some of the things happening at the end of the 20th century at DePauw that have helped to shape what I am as a 21st century musician. I now run a new music ensemble, the Mothership Ensemble, with two other wonderful composers (Rachel Short and Jacob Gotlib) and a great group of students, community members and professionals; I have an interactive video and cello project, Camera Lucida, with video artist Roxell Karr which works in close collaboration with dancers and movement artists; I still run my solo experimental noise project which had its roots back in Greencastle, Noiseman433–I’ve since branched out more into found instruments (such as my fishtank performance) and incorporating world instruments (like my erhu); I regularly perform world music with my group il Troubadore as well as with other world musicians and with other instruments and my voice; I perform on baroque cello with Bourbon Baroque and modern cello with local classical musicians and community orchestras; and I perform amplified cello with a local rock group, Mercy Academy, and often work with local bluegrass, folk, hip hop musicians, and poets.
About the only thing that’s changed is all the Geek related activities. Every new and interesting project I do I keep telling myself “I never would have thought I’d be doing this when I went to music school” but that rings a little hollow everytime I get on my Klingon gear
or the Wookiee costume
for a show. I guess, in a way, all these things are “out of this world” (and century, for that matter), but I’m still excited about future possibilities since there’s still a whole universe of music to be explored and I thank all those mentioned above (and those I haven’t mentioned) for helping me map this musical journey.