High Culture and Low Ticket Sales to Young People: Some Potential Solutions

When I glanced over the balcony recently at our 2600 seat concert hall, I saw a vast sea of grey haired audience members gazing upon a stage with a 120 member symphony orchestra that was comprised completely of young people under the age of eighteen.  This dichotomy struck me as worrisome for the potential of future ticket sales to the millennial generation.

According to Strings Magazine.com “The average age of attendees for classical music concerts has increased by nearly two decades since 1982, according to a 2012 survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). In an earnest effort to engage a younger audience, symphonies across the country are crafting experimental programs—including San Francisco Symphony’s newcomer SoundBox, Chicago Symphony’s resident MusicNow series, American Composers Orchestra’s SONiC Festival, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s CODA series, and a triple threat of offerings from the Seattle Symphony—full of variation and versatility.”

Australian musicologist Dr Graham Strahle describes the situation in his article What’s Turning Young People Off Classical Music Concerts”  observes that “Children and young adults are conspicuous by their absence (at the classical concert), and this is despite the strenuous efforts of the creative and marketing teams behind our orchestras to acquire new audiences.”

Strahle further argues that “The logic goes like this: by making classical concerts shorter, cheaper, more informal and visually engaging with elements such as lighting, projections and movement on stage, this could entice more young people to come along. The problem with this kind of thinking, though, is that it underestimates the intelligence and acumen of the people to whom it is directed. They’re not so easily swayed. Millennials, who have grown up in a jungle of marketing, know repackaging when they see it, and they don’t necessarily find truth in it. As one commentator put it: “they’re not moved by flashy ads, big promises, and “wow” factor. They want authentic messages, authentic brands, and authentic interactions”.

However, I believe that the solution is more complex than simply the preparation in young childhood, the clever programming itself and the more focused marketing message.  I believe that cultural programmers must engage the millennials in the design and delivery of the cultural programme to insure better audience alignment that will then result in higher ticket sales.

For example, other market research with millennials confirms that they are fiercely independent and do not wish to be programmed.  Rather, they wish to make their own independent  decisions about the programming they enjoy and choose to invest in. 

Therefore, could cultural programmers listen to their voices more closely when selecting the repertoire for upcoming seasons? Could this mean that the artistic directors or music directors actually reliquishes some of their almighty power in exchange for insuring that future seats are filled by young people who may then become potential subscribers and financial supporters?

In the meantime, there are some simple marketing strategies that may be incorporated by classical music programmers to attract families or care givers with children so that they are introduced to this type of programme at a young and impressionable age.

The incorporation of a discounted “family ticket” for some concerts that would appeal to young people and incorporating before the concert an “instrument petting zoo” where the musicians invite young audience members to touch and better understand the instruments they will soon be listening too may easily attract new younger audience members through the positive influence of their parents. These early seeds of influence may srpout huge benefits for classical music in the years to come and one day soon there may be as many young people in the audience as there is on stage.

To learn more about my views regarding marketing of special events order my memoir, The True Joy of Life at www.joegoldblatt.scot



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