It has become axiomatic for orchestras the world over: faced with aging audiences, they need to market themselves to young people to ensure their survival. At Music Australia, we have reported on a number of initiatives from the classical sector both in this country and overseas – such as new and edgier programming, different styles of venue, and embracing social media – that are aimed toward this objective. See examples here and here.
Sooner or later though, the question must arise: are these efforts in fact producing a new generation of listeners? Just to press home the point about demographics here. As Limelight reported in 2012, Australian Bureau of Statistics figures in that year showed the proportion of 65-74 year-olds attending classical music concerts had risen from 11.8 per cent in 2005-06 to 13.6 per cent in 2009-10. Young people meanwhile showed falling attendances. The proportion of 25-34 year-olds declined from 7 per cent in 2005-6 to 6.1 per cent in 2009-10.
Regrettably, the ABS announced in 2014 that was no longer collecting data on cultural activities, so trends past that year cannot be tracked. There is also little available data on the age of classical attendees.
Nevertheless, we do know that Australia classical music attendances as a whole have been relatively stable over the last decade. This comes from data from the Australian Major Performing Arts Group and from Live Performance Australia’s 2014 Ticket Attendances and Revenue Survey, which we reported on last year. The LPA’s most recent 2015 survey shows mixed attendances for the classical sector: “Opera reported a small 2.6% decrease in revenue largely explained by a 2.8% decrease in the average ticket price while attendance grew by 12%. Classical music experienced a 13.1% decrease in revenue, attendance fell by 2.1% and the average ticket price fell by 4.7%.”
While stable audiences do provide classical managers and marketers with some solace, it is the elusive younger demographic they want to crack, and that still seems far off from happening.
Last year the California Symphony introduced an audience development program called Orchestra X which asked millennials and gen-xers what they thought about orchestral concerts and what would make them more likely to attend. They issued an open invitation to suitably aged people to come along and share their impressions of a California Symphony concert. All marketing people in the orchestral sector should read their blog.
“All millennials are not alike, and we should stop lumping them all together every time we talk about them” – that was the overriding message to come through.
A particular turn-off concerned a prevalence of ‘inside’ knowledge in classical music that can alienate the uninitiated – just as can happen in sport for instance. The reason why particular pieces are being played, and the elements in them that one is supposed to listen out for, are not made apparent. Redesigning websites with clearer information about the music (including sound-clips), and writing program notes that explain the music in more immediate terms, were other needs that were highlighted.
Interestingly, no criticism came back about the music itself. The participants seem to have really liked it. The Orchestra X blog concludes: “In an era where symphony orchestras keep trying to think about how to improve the concert experience (shorter programs! new formats! non- traditional programming!), we were blown away that this — the musical presentation — might be the last ‘problem’ we as arts administrators need to be spending our limited time on solving.”