Price Discrimination for Orchestra Tickets

One of the benefits from being the composer for a production is the comp tickets! These were from Chicago’s Commedia Beauregard’s production of “A Klingon Christmas Carol” winter 2011

Drew McManus (of Adaptistration.com)had a fascinating post about Placebo Pricing (also see his follow-up post) that was the subject of a blogpost by Joe Patti (of Butts in The Seats) which might be a technique that could be used by Orchestras to generate more ticket sales.  Lisa Hirsh has been blogging up a storm about some of the issues of ticket pricing from the audience standpoint.

Back in 2004, McManus reported on a new pricing strategy being used by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Nashville Symphony in their tsoundcheck and Sound Check programs.  Simply put, the programs offerred a lower ticket price for folks under 30.  While I’ve not heard much about how the Nashville program has worked (or even if it is still in place), there has been much news and blogging about the young age of the TSO’s audience.  There has even been some wonderful audience testimonies–see this one at McManus’ follow up (again, in 2004) to the above post, and this recent comment at Greg Sandow’s blog.

The lingering question to all this reduced pricing for tickets issue is, as McManus states in his Placebo Pricing post: “In the end, the devil is certainly in the details; not the least of which being what to do about reduced earned income from lower ticket revenue” and as Sandow states in his recent post about the TSO: “Some classical music institutions attract a young audience by lowering ticket prices, but then they need funding to offset the loss from selling tickets at a cheaper price” and even I’ve said as much over at Eric Edberg’s blog: “And in the end, since these tickets are actually cheaper, that means pound for pound it will take more of these tickets to make the difference from a normal subscriber or ticket buyer at standard prices.

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The so-called sustainability of popular entertainment

Greg Sandow opened up his recent post, “A challenge for orchestras,” with this    pithy paragraph:

Not so long ago, I happened to have dinner with a businessman — CEO of his not so small company — who’d been asked to join the board of his local orchestra. His take on the orchestra business, speaking as a businessman: All American orchestras seem to do more or less the same thing, and all of them are in trouble. Therefore the business model doesn’t work.

The last couple of statements “All American orchestras seem to do more or less the same thing, and all of them are in trouble. Therefore the business model doesn’t work” got a response from me since my previous post was speaking specifically about those orchestras and large scale arts organizations that are currently in the black.

Rather than rehash in my post (and my comment at Greg’s blog) let’s take a brief look at the popular entertainment industry since it is often the field held up to contrast against the unsustainable arts organizations.

I know I’ve mentioned in several places the NEA data that shows a decline in all ‘benchmark events’ which include the typical arts fare such as Orchestra/Opera/Ballet Concerts and Museum exhibits, but also includes Stadium rock and Sports. Continue reading

Occupy Concert Halls, but find some parking first!

Sorry, no convenient parking so I can't see you!

So, a recent piece at Fast Company takes a more sophisticated and nuanced look at audiences for Orchestras.  The bottom line?  Parking!

No, that’s not the only bottom line, but in the case of  the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the trend was that those who are regular and long-time subscribers rather than ‘trialists’ rate the quality of the costumer experience higher than the quality of the Orchestra, Hall or even Conductor.  Parking was one on the list, as is the ability to get a refund or exchange (or the lack of it as the case may be).

The symphonies compiled a list of 78 attributes of the classical music experience, from the architecture of the hall to the service at the bar to the availability of information on the Internet. Using online surveys and other techniques, the list was whittled down to 16 factors with the greatest impact on attendance.

Horns and strings! It turns out the quality of the orchestra, magnificence of the hall, and virtuosity of the conductor were not particularly important attributes. What was? Drum roll! The most powerful “driver of revisitation” was parking! As with other orchestras, veteran members of the core BSO audience had figured out where to park, but trialists identified it as a huge hassle–so they didn’t come back. Another driver was the ability to exchange tickets; trialists found the “no refunds, no exchanges” policy a deal breaker.

Read the piece (link above).  I think it’s a good sign that folks are looking outside of the supposed ‘decline of classical music’ for systemic problems that may have next to nothing to do with the appeal of the product or which may affect the decision to go see the product.  As I’ve been thinking about the idea of audiences lately (spurred on primarily by a spate of posts by Greg Sandow) I find this a very refreshing take on how the environment surrounding these organizations can have as much to do with the choice to patronize them as anything else.

It’s not simply the decline of the artform, but a decline of the audiences for the artform which may or may not have anything to do with the artform’s decline. Which, as the studies state, isn’t the case when you look at Arts Participation from well outside of the idea of just going to ‘benchmark-events’ to see that as far as Classical music is concerned, folks are leading the way in online participation.

And obviously, as the audience for non-Western Orchestras grow, it will be interesting to see if some of these same issue plague that demographic as well!

on Klingon weddings and playing the Sci-Fi/Fantasy circuit

Jon Silpayamanant as a Klingon performing before a production of The Pirates of Penzance (in Outer Space)

Jon Silpayamanant as a Klingon performing before a production of The Pirates of Penzance (in Outer Space) in New Albany, Indiana.

So, as I mentioned in the previous post, there is an embarrassment of riches as far as performing options are concerned, if you’re willing to think outside the box.  The past few years I’ve been playing the Sci-Fi/Fantasy circuit.  I hesitate to call it the “Sci-Fi/Fantasy Convention circuit” if only because some of the best paying gigs I’ve gotten recently happen to be at organizations outside of the Convention circuit proper.

And some of that has started to creep into the so-called ‘high arts’ realm with organizations such as Symphony Orchestras playing themed shows dedicated to particular Sci-Fi or Fantasy franchises (e.g. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars) as part of their pops seasons.

On the whole, however, there’s always been music at conventions–even if it only consisted of filk music.  Part of the Klingon schtick is as much act as play and the idea came to me as a whim after il Troubadore started playing Sci-Fi conventions at the request of some bellydancers.  We decided we needed our own act and schtick, thus was born the il Troubadore Klingon Music Project.

Ok, so I talk about the short series of events from bellydancer request to Sci-Fi convention to developing a full blown Klingon Band personae as if it’s an everyday thing.  But seriously, for me, it is.

That’s the specific issue at hand here.  Over the years I’ve heard all manner of musicians grouse about the lousy economy and the lack of work.  And here, I’m talking primarily about those musicians who do not hold full time or professional positions as musicians–this includes freelancers, but also just your normal everyday band musician.  I know I’ve brought up this issue plenty of times in the past, but don’t want to flood this post with a ton of links.

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Are Orchestra Musicians Replaceable?

Drew McManus pointed out a piece written by Michaela Boland which had some interesting quotes by Greg Sandow with whom I don’t necessarily agree on many points though he is one of the critics of the current status quo of Classical Music in the US.

Among the orchestras that have shut their doors and dismissed players there are some groups that have survived due to radical restructuring, which is where Sandow sees the future of the industry. Columbus Orchestra, by way of example, staved off closure in 2008 and retained 53 full-time players by reducing salaries by 27 per cent. Detroit Symphony Orchestra is engaged in similar talks with players.

Sandow argues that players in America’s top orchestras have traditionally been well paid, with salaries above $100,000, and the cuts are having an invigorating effect. “It’s interesting to talk to young musicians about this; they don’t see it as a problem, they’d consider themselves lucky to get any of these positions,” he says.

Historically, however, because of the status and the good pay, few of them could secure such jobs.

Sandow says that if the Philadelphia Orchestra were to suddenly discharge all its musicians and replace them with young players on contract, what might be lost in polish could easily be made up for in pizazz.

“I wonder if that wouldn’t be more exciting to hear,” he says. “It might really surprise people.”

This echoes some things said by Eric Edberg during the Detroit Symphony Orchestra debacle

I’m living in New York this semester, and have met a number of young free-lance players, some of whom are graduate students at big conservatories.  Guess what?  Most have little if any sympathy for the DSO players (who have not managed to successfully reframe the conversation and are losing the PR war, even with music students). They love all sorts of music in addition to classical music.  Plenty find traditional symphony (and other) concerts boring.  There are plenty of classical-change advocates, in various stages of self-awareness, among them. Right now, they have little or no work.  Student and, in many cases, instrument loans to pay.  Fantastic players.

Many see the union as the problem (even if they’re not going through one of those college-age Ayn Rand phases).  The players have been successfully characterized to/construed by them as greedy, selfish, and/or out of touch.  A lot of these incredibly-accomplished young players (and I bet there are bunches more in Baltimore, Bloomington, Cincinnati, Cleveland, LA,Miami,  etc.) seem excited at the idea of going to Detroit to work in a “new model” symphony.

While Unions may or may not be the problem (cf. Michael Kaiser’s recent post, Are Unions to Blame?) there is this sense that for good or ill, with younger musicians (many of whom are, as Eric says, struggling as freelancers much less in this economy) who haven’t matured in the Union environment, few are going to have as much sympathy as those musicians who rely on collective bargaining to sustain their livelihood.

On the other hand, a question I’ve been exploring–or rather, I could reframe the title of this blog post in a different way–is, “Are Western Orchestras Replaceable?”

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