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.