I recently attended the League of American Orchestras conference in Dallas.  Amidst many meetings and speeches, I noticed one recurring comment regarding new orchestral music.  That theme?  Tickets sales for concerts featuring living composers were consistently lower than those featuring composers of the past.  This statement was made as a matter of fact on multiple occasions by multiple managers and executives of orchestras, and I have no doubt it is backed up by empirical evidence.

Such an outcome should come as no surprise.  The simplest point is that living composers are starting from scratch from a marketing standpoint, while other alternatives for concert programming benefit from pre-existing marketing efforts.


Beethoven, in addition to being a great composer, benefits from 200 years of viral marketing.  We all grow up being told by teachers, books, parents, friends, movies, and more that Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, etc. were great composers.  ”Beethoven” has become a brand name that we’re all familiar with, and that brand name helps sell concert tickets.


Music associated with high-profile films has a similar benefit.  For instance, if the Lord of the Rings appears on an orchestral concert program, the potential concert goer immediately recognizes the name.  The books came out in the 40s and became some of the best-selling books of all time.  New Line Cinema spent millions of dollars marketing the films.  “The Lord of the Rings” is a previously marketed brand name, and that brand name helps sell concert tickets.


In general, music written by living concert music composers does not enjoy these advantages.  A new piece of concert music does not have the 200-year history of a Beethoven symphony.  Nor does it have a film studio marketing campaign behind it.


Yet…  I noticed something else at the conference.  Orchestras and musicians still *want* to play music by living composers.  They don’t want to exclusively play Mahler for the rest of eternity.  They want to add to the repertoire of orchestral music.  They just don’t want to go broke doing it.


So…  I thought in this blog I would pose a simple question.


Given that new concert music faces an inherent marketing disadvantage when compared to other programming possibilities, what can be done to overcome this disadvantage?


Please feel free to put your ideas in the comments section of this blog.  I will aggregate them and add any of my own in a subsequent post.

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    I`m still just a noob in these area but I thought maybe it could be an idea to create a market for living composers by organizing a “new age composer” marketing company which will raise an awareness for living composers in this present time because I think that most people are under the impression that great composers are a thing of the past while they are alive and well and struggling to be heard. This is my current opinion on this. cheers!

    I don’t have a brilliant marketing campaign, alas. Getting new music heard is very difficult in many aspects of the music industry, whether you are a pop star or an orchestral composer.

    In my area (Washington DC), we have a “Composer’s Society” –http://csmc.wonderful-music.com/ — where composers can submit music and get pieces performed. (I am currently the secretary for this group!) We don’t have a full orchestra at our disposal for performances, but work with small ensembles for performances, or occasionally composers perform their own music live. It’s a nice venue for composers to get their music heard, and the musicians love playing new music, too!

    I think the general audience has been looking askance at new concert music ever since the developments of 20th century classical, especially in the realm of absolute music where, in my opinion, today’s composers as a whole feel they need to incorporate modern-music techniques or risk being dismissed as trivial or hokey.

    I would guess that orchestral program music (in which I include live performances of tv, film, and video game scores), which is explicitly written to a purpose in service to the audience, is more “populist” in its bent, and this also benefits film music along with the marketing push it’s tied to.

    Not sure what to do about this – I’d hate for concert music to try and market Beethoven or Mahler facsimiles as an unprecedented new direction in the genre. But I also think that to a certain extent, pushing emotional buttons in conventional ways has fallen out of favor in the orchestra outside of program music, to decreasing audience popularity.

    I think we as composers have the responsibility to first think of what the ears of the target audience are used to hearing. The moviegoing public of course will be used to huge orchestral climaxes and explosive percussion whereas the classical oriented public might enjoy the more subtle dynamics of a symphony. Most people will not necessarily be able to distinguish chords with too many extensions or have a hard time with chromaticism and atonal pieces. Also most of the public for living composers are also listeners of other genres like symphonic and neoclassical heavy metal or electronic music etc… I think to be able to market ourselves we must be able to mold our musical spectrum to that of the target audience. Someone who goes to a living composer’s show should be able to feel like they got their money’s worth and came to listen to something he or she thoroughly enjoyed. An enjoyable piece is not necessarily laden with dense harmony and instrumental virtuosity but is indeed something that speaks to the listener, something that makes an image in their mind and moves their spirit. What do you guys think?

    Good thoughts guys!

    The DSO (which is my local symphony) is doing a concert of new music and you can read a short paragraph about it here… https://www.dallassymphony.com/season-tickets/single-tickets/special-concerts-events/productions/frozen-planet.aspx

    This seems like a very creative way to get people to listen to new concert music.

    I also thought maybe those who subscribe via email to a symphony could be sent a sample video or audio; give away a free mp3 of a new piece of music that is going to be played at the symphony. Maybe not charge so much and let them know what a great deal they’re getting. Anyway, I don’t know much about this… there are also probably a lot of older people that don’t have an email and only get updates from a symphony via mail and then you would have to describe the new music in a paragraph. But, with the new music found in the link above I think that’s all it would take.

    Oh and Carlos, to answer your question I do agree with you… It’s an important thing to remember.

    This is an exceptionally hard question to answer. A few weeks ago I was advertising a new modern music concert and found that as soon as you say in is ‘new’ or ‘modern’ that you the instant response of NO from the general public – I have however found it does depend on where you live, if you have been brought up with newer music as well as old there was a much better response as they feel comfortable with the music.

    One long term way to try and help promote new music for the future could be to introduce this music to kids at a younger age – although this is much easier said than done!


    A few simple ideas come to mind:

    1. Marketing. New music about…what? Shiny wrapper? Product placement? Link the old with the new? How did the “dead guys” get an audience?
    2. I was told almost exactly 20 years ago that orchestral music was a dead museum piece, and that the wind ensemble was the future of music.
    (I was told that, I’m just repeating it for your consideration).
    3. I think Allison is on to a great concept in e-mail marketing through mp3 embedding.
    4. The Emotional Rollercoaster: Carlos made this point. If I go to a live performance, I want to walk out breathless, laughing, crying, “enlightened”…
    or all of the above in the course of the evening. Music SHOULD evoke emotion. For what other reason do we do this?
    5. Money, of course! Examine the past and follow the money. If you’re going to earn a living in music, is it not true ( I may be wrong…) that you must play music people not only WANT to hear, but will pay MONEY – lots of it! – to hear. And then, if you feel compelled to write the next “serialistic” opera just for yourself, you can do it from your 10,000 sq ft home in Malibu, rather than a 4th floor walk-up in Brooklyn.

    BTW – getting people to get out of their home to go to concert is a national problem. I’ve heard this from members of the New York Phil, Chicago and various other groups.

    So back to Ben’s question: what would make people pay $50 a ticket or more to get to hear a new composition?

    Good Luck! I hope you solve this, and may all your albums go Platinum!

    Composers shouldn’t be too self-critical. Remember that almost no “great music” was loved at first. It takes time. The real issue is venue. The traditional concert hall is increasingly becoming obsolete. Composers need to look at other vehicles: online, video, internet.

    Was Yanni much of a hit before the PBS special back in 1993 with the epic Grecian backdrop? Not really…and I think it was really one of the first times his music was fully-orchestrated and played by a large orchestra and ended up becoming a huge hit, opening up lots of other concerts and album sales. The joke was it took television to make him a “star”.

    I think modern concert music will need to embrace elements of what makes pop music draw larger groups for shows – it needs to be a show, with cool lighting, pyrotechnics, etc.

    Look at the traveling Video Games Live show – that’s a good example of new (game) music being realized by an orchestra with plenty of “show” elements to it. Sure, it will cost more for the performance, but I think it’s necessary.

    The group “Bond” had a run of shows and albums blending electronic elements with string quartet playing, and I bought every album. :-)

    Also – word needs to be spread via social marketing – and outside the usual channels of whatever concert music goes through these days.

    Just my .02 cents, anyways.

    - Rodney

    I think people just have shorter attention spans nowadays. Maybe they had short attention spans in Mozart’s time as well but in the 1700s, you would sit thru a four-hour concert or play because it might take you that long to travel to the venue. Also, “classical” music often carries a stigma with it (pretentious, overlong, etc.) and that can turn off the general public. Which I find funny because when we watch movies–are we not listening to and enjoying the works of ‘classical’ composers? What about video games? Those Disney cartoons that were big in the 90s? Didn’t they essentially bring back the movie musical? Anyway, I’m rambling and basically restating everything everyone already said but yeah. I mainly agree with the theory that Mozart’s music has had 200 years to “catch on.” It may take that long for some of the newer composers’ music to become part of the general consciousness. Technology changes way faster than human nature.

    People are attracted to classic composers or film music because that is what they know, and when they go to listen to it, they have an expectation of wht the experience will be. We can leverage that rather than fight it.

    It makes sense that you go somewhere to listen to music you like and are already familiar with – it’s not often that someone would go to a concert (any kind of music concert) of someone they’ve never heard of. (It happens, but it’s less common.) Part of the enjoyment of listening to music is the toe-tapping along, knowing where it’s going, humming the tune, singing along, etc. That personal anticipation and involvement.

    I think you can leverage this simply by including the classics as part of the reportoire. Do a mixture of classic and new. Get them in the door with what they know, as well as getting them excited at the prospect of being the first to hear music never heard before.

    If it’s a pop concert, name is the most important. The person. The artist.

    If it’s a classical concert, the repertoire is given the most attention. You are absolutely right by saying that Beethoven’s repertoire and Lord of the Rings songs are recognised by people because of viral marketing and film marketing respectively.

    Since new music by new, alive composers aren’t well-known repertoire, my thoughts are on the following areas:

    1 The concert needs a theme and a big selling point so that people are interested in the event itself and not just the programme;
    e.g. it could be a concert in the dark in charity for blind people; or a 3D-image concert to convey the dynamics of new concert music

    2 Mix pieces into concerts with classical music pieces (so forcing people who’d listen to the classical pieces to listen to some new works…)

    3 Like ‘The Secret Garden’ – have solid album profile/sales with own recognisable style before heading to do orchestral concert, but this will draw the attention more to the composer’s name and the style of music which is imo good – you need to do your own branding too.

    My humble thoughts. Looking forward to your new post Ben!

    Hi Ben,

    Great question and blog. So many good ideas already posted, so I’ll only add that I agree that orchestras and audiences DO indeed want to hear music by living composers, not just the (tried and true, and great) composers like Beethoven and Mozart, etc. But I think it’s really a problem more of modern composers writing great music, that will certainly draw the crowds. All the great composers of the past touched something deeply in people, and we have to do that again.

    I have been to many “modern” classical concerts and I, frankly, left with a feeling of their “brilliance but remoteness that didn’t really touch me in any profound way.” Sure, people are open to new experiences and concepts but we, as composers, have to remember that we are “talking” to flesh and blood people, full of feelings, emotions, experiences and hearts. If we can tap into that through our music, then I think the world will beat a path to our door…sure, marketing and exposure is key, but we, as composers, need to produce works that people will generally respond to, while producing something the world has never heard, and makes them say “ahhh, yes, that’s what I’ve felt but could never express myself.”

    Just my thoughts,

    This is a very sad topic for me to comment on because I don’t like the answer. I love new and interesting music. I used to seek it out more than I do now. Back in the 1980′s there was a music magazine that offered recordings of avant garde music. It was called “EAR” and I looked forward to every issue. It wasn’t long before the magazine went under.

    I believe that our mass media world is so saturated with musical choices that people are generally becoming less and less musically educated and motivated. Why do people need to be musically educated when they can so easily hear recordings of whatever they would like in the blink of an eye? As a teacher I’ve been asked by countless parents about the possibility of their child starting piano lessons, but they don’t want to commit to buying a piano if their child cannot show that they will stick with the instrument. Any problem there? And this is in a community where the price of a piano is not the issue. Sadly, pianos are pretty much non-existent in an exponentially growing number of homes.

    These things severely diminish the audience of new music. Think of how you became interested in even mildly sophisticated music. It likely came while learning to play an instrument and chugging through the process of playing well-written music. You may have gained an appreciation through the process. Less people are doing that than ever before.

    Technology has given us some unprecedented and wonderful tools as musicians. Sadly, it has also given people more than they need as listeners and less motivation to get involved. This is the primary reason, in my opinion, that new music is not heard.

    The “dumbing down” is evident. When you go to buy a track on iTunes and the like, each track is referred to as a song. Many of my colleagues (sadly) speak inaccurately in the same way. There are many, many songs available as recordings. Is every separate file a song? Hmmm…

    In Mozart’s day, the technology to hear new music was so different. And it’s notable seeing how there are larger audiences for Mozart’s music in 2012 than for Rouse. Now we have the means more than ever to be able to create music beyond the imagination. Unfortunately, there is no audience. Technology has made it so unnecessary to crave sophistication. It is very sad.

    I do believe that this trend will change. I have to. However, I don’t know that it will change in my lifetime. I hope it does. Sorry for the grey cloud.

    Lots of ideas here and come to my mind.
    I think this is a general problematic. I can talk about what’s going on in Spain.The way of listen music is changing so I think we must change our mind about who is going to listen our music and then we need adapt ourselves to this new way. In Spain the Orchestras are paying by the goberment. Usually, they play a kind of music because the goberment has the word to say what music they can or can’t play. They need earn the money they spend in the orchestra so they interest is to reach “the great public”.
    Another thing. There are an authors society who manages the “authors rights”. So, if the composer of the piece the orchestra wants to perform was dead less than one hundred years, you must pay a kind of “fee” if you want to perform the piece and in order to have the scores you need.
    All the news composers has their pieces registered in this society because is the only way you can “protect” your copyrights. I mean, this is a kind of jail or like we say in Spain “the fish that bit their tail”
    Lately, I was thinking in this subject because composers need their pieces being performed.
    My suggestions:
    - a kind of society or composers group to promot the performing trough little groups of performers, or volunteers.
    - a new composers festival: you can reach the great public trough thematic thinks, making orchestrations from knew themes and mixing with news one.
    I think the solution is passing trough the composers associations and the “do it yourself”. Not waiting for the orchestra who phone you and offer money. You look for the promoters or musicians that you can implicate (some of them are tired of performed always the same) and make your own show.

    Chinese Proverb says…
    “awl in the Pocket”

    of course, those are important that promotion, marketing…but

    Logically Great(Schouberg,Pednderecki) or Audio- Friendly(like Rachmaninov, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana) Piece will be known all around world by any means.

    I focus on only Audio- Friendly orchestral music.

    Yanni sells Santorini (Live at Acropolis) 7500000 copies. total sales volume is 35000000 copies all around the world.
    Ennio Morricone sells his album 2000000 copies in Korea only.

    today many composer are famous, John Williams, Alan Silvestri, Hisaishi Joe, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Andre Gagnon…Etc
    although from Classic era,
    only Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven have remained!

    maybe If chopin was born today, he would sell his work 100 million copies at least. he will overcome( by sales volume) all composer who compose piano piece like maksim, George winston, David Lanz, Yuhki kuramoto, Yanni,kevin kern… All

    Todays, same as past. awl in the pocket.
    more sharper more it will pierce cotton thoroughly.
    It is easier to promote and Better than Classic Era. isn’t it?

    I think contemporary composers should learn from modern/pop/rock/electronic musicians about capturing audiences. Music publications and websites are replete with ideas about how to get your music out there. I dont see why those same principles cannot apply to contemporary classical music. I also like the idea above about giving sample free downloads.

    Actually there is a TON of new music out there that’s making a ton of money. It’s in bands. The future of classical music is in fusions. New instruments, hot beats, fused with brilliant writing that HAS STRONG, REPEATED THEMES. Repetitive motivic material within a piece is absolutely critical to creating the element of nostalgia to which Ben refers. You have to have introduced and re-introduced the listener to your themes a number of times before they will buy into it, so the more times you can do that in a piece the better. Why are Beethoven’s 3rd and 5th symphonies so popular? Because they do this constantly, in every phrase, through the entire piece. There are no wasted notes because they are not disparate. There is one focus and everything supports it. This is how branding works.

    Forget about trying to sell the avant garde non-tonal $%^&. I keep hearing this stuff in college concerts, and most of it isn’t really even that talented. That phase is over. Unless you can connect your music to a piece of media that gives context to it, it needs to be transparent. Go start a band. Make music videos. Do something crazy. Create a venue for your music.

    I’ve tried selling stock music. This doesn’t work terribly well. There’s a lot of competition from people who write $%^& stuff and make a ton of money at it by doing cliche “pop” things that appeal to the masses. Does that mean we should give up at it? By no means. In fact, it should be easier for those of us with musical knowledge to make things more “cool” sounding than those who are less musically educated. But we do need to take clues from certain devices used successfully in pop genres. Techno beats. Bass distortion. Compound tempos.

    I could see this going 2 ways( hopefully) both local and National.
    i believe you have to force the new music issue on both fronts, so I would do these.

    locally, one would coordinate with the local or regional symphony to have a concert series featuring local composers, and if necessary, pair the evening’s program up with exiting works by the masters.
    On a National level, either though an NPR or national classical station, showcase new concert music on radio and/or at well known venues( even offer a national composing contest?) in order to showcase new composers?
    I’m not sure, but could larger endowments such as National Endowment of the Arts or similar be helpful in this promotion?

    This is certainly the $1 million question. I’ve looked at artists who started from scratch and have successfully “branded” themselves and wonder how they did it. I think branding music has a lot in common to branding any other business. Everyone knows Nike’s symbol, and they have attached that logo on everything they sell. Banks like to give out pens and prizes with their bank logo on them. Composers could market their own work in a similar fashion. For example, one could create online music profiles on many different music websites, and attach a simple logo or picture with the music. Reaching out to various game and film development communities is another great way to promote your work. Networking is a key ingredient to getting your name out there. It takes a tremendous amount of work and effort to build your name online.

    I think diversity is a key thing to think about. I think Rodney says quite a bit that’s on the same level as my own thoughts. I find that people often want to feel connected to the music. These personal connections get people involved since they want to have a real life experience hearing the music.

    I think we need to be smarter and more creative about marketing new classical music. If we treat it like a product launch we would immediately take a different approach. For example, explaining the concept of the piece, ensuring it gets reviewed and endorsed, making a blog or website about it, publicising it on facebook & twitter, etc etc.

    I’m writing a symphony about South America now, and I realise once I’ve finished it I’ll need to push it out there and market it creatively to attract an audience. So, I could do interviews on the inspiration and ideas behind it, potentially link up with a travel agency or related industry who also wants to promote South America, make a blog on South America and have snippets of the music embedded in it, invite classical music reviewers to listen to it live, post part of it on facebook and invite friends to the concert, etc etc. If I don’t do any of that I’m sure no interest will be generated and no-one will hear it!


    Great topic, Ben.

    I think you are right – the folks that have come before us have an advantage as they have had many years of marketing support. This is part of the reason why the sales of catalog music is what keeps the lights on at the major labels. The costs to market the older artists is small, as the bulk of the marketing has already happened and the labels can ride past marketing success into the future. The popular adage is that it is very hard and expensive to find new fans, and cheap to market to existing fans.

    With that understanding, I think that one thing all musicians / composers need to do is to create and nurture their permission based list of fans. It’s not easy. I think it’s important to think about creative ways to acquire contact info across all verticals, including email, social, physical addresses and more. Once you have this contact, I think the way in which you communicate is important, and I think providing engaging content (such as an inside look into what a composer / musician does) is important. I think targeting any marketing to super niche outlets makes sense too. Once you have a base of folks you can communicate with, you are adding value to the relationship, and you have a rhythm down with your communication, I think at that point it makes sense to monetize.

    As I said – it’s hard! But there are a lot of tools any composer / musicians can use to allow a direct relationship to flower in a way that was not possible even 5 years ago.

    Just my $.02 in one particular area of marketing. I think there are marketing best practices at every step along the way.


    This issue has been going on so long. I want to propose something I’m surprised not to see more of. MIX IT UP. ALL of it. To we musicians and nerds it makes perfect sense to create themes and come up with a program of 1950s Eatern European 27-tone ;) middlemalists. To the audience they just see names they don’t recognize and concept they don’t understand – or worse, had one bad experience with. At the same time, I don’t think anyone but the most cursory fans gets really excited about Tchaikovsky’s Greatest Hits, either. They might take their kids anyway, because it’s a safe bet and The Kids Should Know The Nutcracker. But I think a lot of your devoted, but less nerdy fans would love to see it mixed up. Maybe you have to really jump through mental hoops to tie them together – I don’t care if the theme is “The Letter H” and your keys are that one guy was left Handed, one guy knew Handel, and one piece was written in The Hague. I am just fairly certain that these significant but not fluent fans would love to see Mozart alongside Joe Challengin’s Opus #6.14q and maybe something in between, like Leonard Bernstein or Benjamin Britten. Draw them in with one surefire everyone must know and love it, one middler, one local guy who can shake hands with everyone and make them feel a part of the living arts, and just one higher than highbrow segment. They will all talk about the highbrow piece afterward. But fewer of them will be falling asleep in the 3rd act.

    I Believe its possible for a new composer to have close to the following of a historic composer!

    Hey man, thats a really interesting post that you made. In my opinion I think it’s actually very possible for a new composer to become very well known, and have (maybe) not more, but at least the same or close to the same following as a historic composer like ‘Mozzart’. I think where a lot of new composers go wrong is that they don’t use modern marketing techniques to market they’re music. For example, there are many composers which have really incredible songs (in my opinion), where they make a music video for that song, post it on youtube, and get millions of views. (I can’t name any due to copyright) But if you search on youtube, ‘new orchestral music’ you’ll see what I mean.

    Conclussion – I completely understand your point in this post, and in many ways i agree with it. But i believe it is very possible for a living composer to become very well know, but they’d have to focus on modern marketing techniques as well as they’re music.

    One living example is the song – chariots of fire (The olympic theme tune) composed by Vagelis Papathanasiou (If you haven’t heard of the song, Look it up, I guarantee you’ll know it when you hear it.
    Even if he isn’t world-wide known as much as historic composers, he definitely had a very successful career in music, and is known and respected as a composer by millions around our world.

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