In my last blog, I posed a question about marketing new concert music and solicited comments.  This blog reviews that question and aggregates the comments, with a few ideas of my own added.

For reference, the original blog is here:


The Question


The classics in concert music have been virally marketed for 200 years or so.  We all know about Beethoven and Mahler from books, teachers, movies, and so on.  That raises the profile of the music and helps sell tickets to concerts that program the music.


Other programming options for orchestral concert music, such as film music, have the backing of large marketing campaigns in other genres.  In other words, we all know about “The Lord of the Rings”, so when that music appears on a concert program, the previous marketing campaign by the film studio helps to sell tickets to the concert.


In general, new concert music by living composers does not have these benefits, lacking the 200-year history of a Beethoven symphony and the multi-million dollar marketing campaign of a major film studio.


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


Many comments, thoughts and suggestions were posted in response.  Here are those thoughts aggregated, with a few of my own added:


Composers and Sweat Marketing


Composers should take an active approach to marketing themselves and their music.  In some cases, the composer can do such marketing entirely on their own.  In other cases, such marketing can be done in conjunction with a local orchestra, who would similarly benefit from the efforts.


I like to call this “sweat marketing”, borrowing from the business term “sweat equity”.  In business, “sweat equity” is an ownership stake in a company earned by putting in time and effort (rather than a financial investment).  Here, “sweat marketing” is the time and effort a composer puts into marketing his or her own music.


Some possibilities when getting involved with your local orchestra…


-  Pre-concert lectures.

-  Q&A or Meet the Composer sessions with the audience or orchestra donors.

-  Community outreach of any form, such as composition lessons with interested audience members.

Activities such as this can be a win-win situation.  They are a legitimate service to the community and your local orchestra, and they benefit the composer by raising the profile of that composer within the local community.  When a composer is not unknown, but rather “the guy who gave that riveting lecture on Mahler 5″, that can help to overcome the marketing disadvantages associated with new music.


Some online efforts a composer can engage in:


-  Create a website.  This can offer the world biographical information about the composer, text descriptions of the music written, audio samples of the music, and more.

-  Nurture social media communities.  Many folks simply prefer communicating via Facebook, Linkedin, etc.  If you don’t have a presence on those sites, then you don’t have access to those communities.

-  Offer a range of products, ranging from free to expensive material.  Recordings of your music, “Inside Look” interviews, notated scores, videos/animations with the music as the score, and so on.


Many readers commented with ideas along these lines.


“If we treat it like a product launch, we would immediately take a different approach,” noted Linda Dallimore.  “For example, explaining the concept of the piece, ensuring it gets reviewed and endorsed, making a blog or website about it, publicizing it on Facebook & Twitter, etc.”


Linda has clearly embraced the concept of sweat marketing.


“I’m writing a symphony about South America now,” she commented.  “And I realize once I’ve finished it that 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.”


Many commenters suggested the idea of using email and MP3s to promote a concert.


“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,” noted Allison Huntley.


Another concept introduced in the comments was the idea of creating and nurturing a permission-based list of fans.  In essence, these are fans who have opted to receive content from a composer or orchestra.  Permission can be granted by joining a mailing list on a composer’s website or by becoming “Friends” in social networking environments such as Facebook.


“I think that one thing all musicians/composers need to do is to create and nurture their permission based list of fans,” commented Mike K.  “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, the way in which you communicate is important, and 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.”


Notably, the typical orchestral concert audience does skew a bit older, so their is a benefit to acquiring contact information that includes physical addresses.  This was noted by others as well.


“There are also probably a lot of older people that don’t have an email address and only get updates from a symphony via mail,” noted Allison Huntley.


“Borrow” from other Marketing Efforts


Several comments noted that we could benefit from the marketing advantages of the classics by programming new music and the classics in the same concert.


“People are attracted to classic composers or film music because that is what they know…  We can leverage that rather than fight it,” commented Anna.  “I think you can leverage this simply by including the classics as part of the concert. Do a mixture of classic and new.”


I certainly have attended many concerts that pair a short new work by a living composer with a longer work from the established repertoire.  In such situations, the marketing efforts typically focus on the established and well-known piece, but the new work still gets to be performed and heard.


Notably, this approach of “borrowed marketing” could extend to the concept of the music itself.  One example is the “Metropolis Symphony” by Michael Daugherty, which is a five-movement symphony based on the Superman Comics.  Another example is the “Titanic Symphony” by Richard Kastle, which is a four-movement symphony based on the story of the Titanic.


For these works, the underlying creative premise is the same as the underlying premise for a well-known film or story.  As such, the music tangentially benefits from the marketing campaigns of those projects.


Packaging of Concerts


Several ideas were proposed for packaging concerts.  In essence, this means promoting a concert as a “New Music” concert, “Living Composers” concert, “Local Composers” concert, or some other theme.


“Locally, one could coordinate with the local or regional symphony to have a concert series featuring local composers,” commented John.


Creating a theme can also be a way to connect a living composer with a classically known composer.  For instance, an orchestra in Pennsylvania could create a theme of “Pennsylvania Classical Music” to link a living composer from Pennsylvania to a well-known composer from the past (such as Samuel Barber).


For each of these possibilities, a composer or orchestra must assess whether the “theme” of the concert is a benefit or a hindrance.  It may be that a “New Music” concert simply won’t sell well in a particular community.


“A few weeks ago I was advertising a new modern music concert and found that as soon as you say ‘new’ or ‘modern’ that you get an instant response of NO from the general public,” commented Matthew Petrie.  “I have, however, found it does depend on where you live and if you have been brought up to newer 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.”


Several comments suggested taking advantage of the Internet and other venues to increase audience reach.  Several orchestras have begun initiatives such as webcasting, allowing them to reach audiences beyond the immediate physical area.  The Detroit Symphony Orchestra comes to mind as an orchestra offering free webcasts, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic has been transmitting live performances to movie theaters.


“The real issue is venue,” commented William K.  “The traditional concert hall is increasingly becoming obsolete. Composers need to look at other vehicles: online, video, internet.”


The Music Itself


Many comments were posted regarding the music itself.  These comments all boil down to a basic idea…  Compose music that people want to hear.  There is an implication in these comments that the contemporary music of the 20th century diverged from the taste of the average audience member.


“Forget about trying to sell the avant garde non-tonal music,” noted Dan.


From my personal experience, I would simply say that this is a very complicated topic.  Taste is something that is very personal and opinions vary wildly.  Composers can feel “caught in the middle”, having to balance the opinions of various stakeholders who don’t necessarily agree.


“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,” commented Jon Monteverde.  “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.”


For this topic, I do not believe there is one simple answer, as opinions vary wildly from person to person and community to community.  However, I think we can all agree that music that takes into account the desires and expectations of the average audience member is easier to market, and that should please all involved.  For composers and orchestras alike, it’s beneficial to spend time defining the target audience and assessing the taste preferences of that group.



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    I love what you’re trying to do here, btw. Excellent work so far, I hope some concert organizers take certain points to heart. As I read this I thought of another key step to connecting with fans which orchestras often overlook: polling. Why not have response cards in the lobby after the show and during intermissions? How about online? Or pushed to your email list/facebook friends? As an avant weirdo myself, I don’t feel that concert organizers should allow the general public to shape the entirety of the programs. But I do think you need something more than ticket sales to help make the hard decisions. Instead of letting the audience choose from all favorites, give five options based on a theme (your theme internally being what can you get cheap sheet music for ^_~). Or, if you’re pairing one classic (well-loved) work with one challenging piece to keep things interesting, you will have a lot more flexibility in choosing wisely if you know that 70% of your last show’s attendees adored the Gorecki. With this info you can do a lot to develop a local social phenomenon. Start a page on your website dedicated to giving juicy tidbits of fan-favorite composers’ lives. Let them fully understand why they should care about the NEXT minimialist piece you play BEFORE they have to pay/schedule time for it. People subscribe to orchestras because they want to feel connected to the culture, I think, or at least, these will be your “swing” donors. They want to be educated about these things, but they have to be a little excited before planning to attend. Don’t hope they go to wikipedia, read a biography and quote some stuff even better than the wiki entry, and again push it BEFORE tickets go on sale. People scarcely get to read program flyers when they’re seated. Programs help inform the listeners, but don’t really give enough thinking material (time and controversy) to woo prejudiced minds. Grandpa Grouchy isn’t going to be swayed by an accounting of a composer’s university life five minutes before showtime. But some real pulp, doled out weeks in advance, gives the audience time to ponder and relate to stuff like “Copland was motivated by the music of everyday objects and routines”, and maybe listen for it themselves, in the car, and on symphony night.

    tl;dr take polls and put info online ^^;

    That was great Ben. Well thought out and will be nice to go back and reference to.

    This is a great post Ben. There tons of ways to sell your music. I sold my first piece while still in college. I was active in a music/jazz/ big band forum of some sort on AOL (way back when) and local big band in the texas area was looking for new music because the musicians were bored playing the same charts. I mailed the chart out to them, and they sent me back a check for their copy of the chart. Ultimately though I think one thing this article does not address is that for many composers there is no “orchestra”. As a composer it can be tough to find the musicians to put together a good live (not MIDI) representation and performance. On a recent project with a friend of mine the music director struggled to find people in the community to perform the pieces. It is a tough effort to organize even on a small scale.

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