Roll Over, Rihanna
Flickr user Memor-eyes-1124
Well, early in the mornin’ I’m a-givin’ you a warnin’
Don’t you step on my blue suede shoes.
Hey diddle diddle, I am playin’ my fiddle,
Ain’t got nothin’ to lose.
Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikowsky the news!
Chuck Berry thought classical music was dying. Robert Flanagan, eminent Stanford economist, sees reasons for concern. In his recent book, The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras, he describes the American symphony orchestra as an endangered species, facing an uncertain future along with, for example, the giant panda, the gray wolf, and Herman Cain.
Weakened by the loss of habitat, animals are susceptible to disease, starvation, and competition from invasive species, all of which threaten their ability to maintain a sustainable population. Similarly, symphony orchestras face disease, shrinking demand, and increased competition.
Disease? In the late 1960s, economist William Baumol introduced the concept of “cost disease.” Salaries rise as productivity increases. But static-productivity industries, such as the performing arts, face increasing salaries and other costs simply because these continue to rise in general society. That Tchaikovsky symphony? It still requires the same labor force to perform it in 2012 as it did in 1912. Productivity? Static. Costs? Higher. Tell Tchaikowsky the news.
So orchestras must raise revenue to meet rising costs, for example by attracting more customers, by raising ticket prices, or from increased private, government, corporate, and foundation support. Easier said than done. Between 1982 and 2008, the percentage of adults who attended at least one classical music performance declined by 28 percent. In the “i” generation (iPhone, iPad, iPod, iTunes, iQuit) work doesn’t end at 5pm. If and when you ever leave work, your limitless entertainment options include the Internet, where you can groove to www.chuckberry.com, and, I kid you not, visit www.classicalmusicisboring.com. Roll over Beethoven.
If we raise ticket prices we lose audience. So to meet our expanding costs we depend on increased donations from recession-weary individuals, and on the shrinking pool of government, corporate, and foundation support. In the face of overwhelming obstacles, only a fool would see hope for the symphony orchestra. Hey diddle diddle.
Call me a fool. I’m a fool who believes in the “Ps”. Like our PRODUCT. The most sublime, most stirring, most magical performance of masterful compositions is uNique, and uSeful, and uNeedit. I am playin’ my fiddle.
PLACE. PRICE. Place that product optimally (where and when), and price it competitively.
PROMOTION is not a job, but an opportunity: to generate not just attention but enthusiasm; not just notice, but excitement, involvement, and commitment. We get instruments in kids’ hands, we get live musicians in schools and adult centers, and we get the chief salesperson – the music director - everywhere. We collaborate, we celebrate, we flood the media, we light up the community. Ain’t got nothin’ to lose.
PERSISTENT PRACTICE of the Ps is what has brought historic symphony audiences to Duluth, it’s what is generating rising audiences to the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, and it’s what enables orchestras across the country to thrive and lend vibrancy to their communities.
Roll over Rihanna, and tell Madonna the news.