How to Save the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (and classical music)
On August 31, the musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra were locked out. No pay. No benefits. No schedule.
The cause: a $5 million dollar budget shortfall that wasn’t resolved in time. On the surface, what happened was the musicians and the management couldn’t agree on how to make up the shortfall. But it points to a deeper challenge with orchestral music in our times: How to make the symphony orchestra a viable entity, both financially and culturally.
It’s time for creative thinking. Let’s put on our marketing hats and create ways to grow revenue and attendance for these pinnacles of artistic expression.
Relevance = Attendance
When you think of classical music, do you think about life and death? Being hopelessly in love? The creation of the universe itself?
If not, that’s because you haven’t heard the right stuff. And you haven’t heard it in the right way.
Listen to the opening of Mahler’s fifth symphony, Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. These are pieces that express emotions that we usually only equate with the most intense experiences in life, or, in a more mediated way, with films that portray those experiences.
The fact is that great classical music, when performed with heart and passion, connects us to our most tender emotions of love, longing, courage, resilience, and so much more.
So the challenge is not one of content, it is one of communication. How do we reach audiences in today’s digitized world? When everyone has a screen in front of them for most of their waking day, how do we connect to their deeper humanity and turn them on to this noble and exciting art form?
This is where things get interesting for marketers (btw, if you care about this, and you have a creative idea for how to influence people about it, you are a marketer :).
Brainstorm time: I’m thinking about videos. And as cool as the flash mob YouTube videos of the Copenhagen symphony are (how did he sneak those tympani drums into the train station, anyways?!), we need to take it further. We need to create memes. We need internet stars. We need cats (okay, maybe not the cats).
How can the musicians of the orchestra see themselves as online content creators? What if they share behind the scenes moments in the practice room, speaking about what they love about the pieces they are going to perform that season. Maybe sharing how they practice the trickiest passages. I’m thinking of a Just Do It campaign, but for daunting musical licks.
Just Shred It.
Shared amongst youngsters who are learning an instrument, and adults who can relate to the passion and dedication of these musicians, some kind of candid content campaign could help connect audiences with the musicians who usually sit so far away, and don’t say anything during the concert!
What kind of grass-roots participation could spring up for a contest to create the best pop arrangement of a classical theme or melody? Or to create a compelling classical version of a popular tune? Artists like Bjork, Radiohead, and Sigur Ros are already blurring these lines. And having some kind of publicity or reward from a prominent arts organization could inspire people around the world to join the cause.
Paying the Bills
With arts organizations relying on donors for more than half their income, increasing attendance won’t necessarily cover the costs for an orchestra. So we need to get creative about financing as well. Let’s not focus on ticket sales right now, because some kind of sponsorship will likely be needed, as it has been for large artistic endeavors for much of recent history.
Again, let’s brainstorm ways that orchestras can get creative with their finances. Brand marketing comes to mind. With companies such as Coca Cola, Home Depot, UPS, and Delta all being headquartered in Atlanta, there simply has to be a way for them to work together for mutual benefit.
What are the values that the symphony shares with these companies? Again, just some thoughts:
Coca Cola = Experience the good things in life; Treat yourself to something refreshing.
Home Depot = Work on the things you love and you’ll be rewarded; It takes more than a house to make a home.
UPS = Go the extra mile.
Delta = Experience the world; The symphony brings the world to you, we bring you to the world.
The possibilities for sponsored content are literally endless. For it to work, the content would have to be authentic to both organizations involved. No one on either side can feel like they’re making a sacrifice, selling out, or acting out of charity or desperation, otherwise the audience will feel it too and the efforts will fail.
But if there are ways to tap into the “brand DNA” of both organizations, then the orchestra could help the marketing of the companies, and the companies could underwrite the sustained future of the orchestra. Win-wins that make economic sense will be a critical component of any creative solutions moving forward.
What are some other ways to disrupt the classical music world, and stabilize the future of our orchestras?