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Why the Philadelphia Orchestra Should Have More of My Money [Dec. 1st, 2012|12:38 pm]
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Why the Philadelphia Orchestra Should Have More of My Money (and How They Should Get It)
trillian_stars and I have been members of the Philadelphia Orchestra for a number of years now and we've watched them change -- trying to find the right space in this New Digital World just like everybody else in the music industry. We've seen the gift shop at the Kimmel center shut down (likely for the best), the third floor bar (for inexplicable reasons) and their foray into Twitter and Facebook and the feelers they've reached out with -- trying new music, old favorites, the blog (not terribly engaging, but its there and now we know that cellist Yumi Kendall is also a kickboxer) talk backs, pre-show talks (lifting the ... stage/audience barrier) -- largely all good things. But having recently declared bankruptcy it's obvious they still have a long way to go.

I'd like to give them my money and occasionally we work something out -- either they call and ask for a donation, which I sometimes shell out, or they get me to buy a really expensive drink in the Wolfgang Puck bar which is kind of hit-or-miss and I don't think is the best way. Instead of this they should be triple charging me for music at the point at which I already have my wallet out. What?? Yes.

Walt Disney long ago stopped thinking of sales in terms of people coming to the park and paying to get in the door. They realized that those people eat, and they stay in hotels, and accordingly, the business that Disney did expanded to food and hotels in an ever widening net of providing services. When people left Disneyland they were like orange trees that had been shaken until every bit of fruit had fallen off -- and all that fruit had landed on one blanket spread out beneath.

This is something the orchestra hasn't seemed to figure out yet.

Increasingly for people a very central function of the Internet has been autobiographical, we keep photo albums, lists of countries that we've been to, conversations with old school chums, our precious moments recorded and archived for the future. As anybody who's Instagrammed a photo of their breakfast can tell you, this is how people think now.

The orchestra is part of my life and it shouldn't be a fleeting part. Listen up, here's how to get my money and make us both happier.

The orchestra tunes up before a show.

1) Sell me music before I see it
Before we see a show, Trillian and I usually buy whatever music it is that we're going to listen to -- we like to go prepared. If there was an option at the beginning of each season to buy previous Philadelphia Orchestra (if possible) recordings of the music we'll be listening to, for say ... an extra $40 I'd do it. These are sales that are already going to happen, but they ought to be going to my orchestra, not or even if they do use amazon as a front end, they could set up an affiliates program. But it's got to be convenient, and it's got to be less expensive than me going to eclassical.

2) Sell me the experience of seeing it
They seem to have this down, I buy tickets on the web, they show up in the mail. And they're doing a decent job of trying to entice me to come to the Kimmel center earlier, though shutting down the third floor bar makes it a lot less fun. Some day they might realize they can have a caterer up there serving food and charge me for dinner too.

3) Sell me music after I've seen it.
This is a big one, and it's one of my primary regrets about my orchestra experience -- that I can't re-live it. For years we saved the playbills but it's not the same, because a lot of the music I completely can't remember at all, thought I remember thinking at the time it was so much different than the recording I'd listened to in preparation.

If I could also buy a copy of the concert I've just listened to for ... say $9 or so ... I'd do that as well. I imagine sitting on the sofa with Trillian in a dozen years or so and saying "let's listen to that concert we went to oh those long years ago," and being born back upon a wave of nostalgia. Wouldn't that be some sort of engineering hassle? Not really. Last year I discovered while listening to Chamber Orchestra Executive Director Peter H. Gistelinck at a talk-back that the orchestra already records every show they perform. What happens to these tapes? Who knows. But, you may ask, wouldn't this be a union problem? A problem with guest conductors? Maybe, but that's something for someone to negotiate. (EDIT: It seems that the union already has a pay structure for it, starting at $0 up front.) It's a win for everybody, extra money for the orchestra, extra money for the musicians. Do they sell the exact concert I saw or do they pick the best of four performances? Who knows. Someone needs to figure out how to make it work.

Clickenzee to Embiggen

"Ah, but Mr. Cassidy," you will say, "you obviously are a naive fellow who knows nothing about how musicians unions, buildings, endowing organizations, patrons and management function and interact." -- This is very true. John Kennedy didn't know how to put a person on the moon -- he only knew that he wanted one there, and on an insane, completely unrealistic deadline. People are like water: they'll find the riverbed on their own. You can make a sluice that they all pass through and generate electricity on the way down or they'll make their own way, but they'll get to the riverbed. All this stuff either already happens or will happen, it's just a question of who gets to benefit from it.

The world's obviously changed and we're all still finding out places and our methods. Orchestras find themselves in a double bind, exacerbated by a disconnect between an aging subscriber base and potential new, younger, subscribers baffled by the old model. Options exist now that really didn't even ten years ago -- the possibility of crowd-funding things through pre-sales, the instantaneous distribution of digital recordings, the ease at which transactions can be made on line (why can't I pay for my tickets with paypal for example? Why do I need a physical ticket at all, why can't i use my phone? And little things that suggest there was no coordinated effort, like why is the name of the website PhilOrch and the Twitter name is PhilaOrchestra?). All these things can be helping a symbiotic relationship between orchestra & audience member, someone's just got to do it.

And why is the roof garden always closed?

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[User Picture]From: dujour
2012-12-01 07:26 pm (UTC)


AGREE AGREE AGREE. I recently attended the Peter Gabriel "So: Front to Back" concert at the Wells Fargo Center, and he will be offering each individual tour performance on CD and/or on thumbdrive (shaped like a microphone - too cute) - or you can buy every performance of the tour as a package deal. A brilliant move, if you ask me.

How great would this be for the orchestral perfomances? I think it would be thrilling. I imagine the recording equipment costs would be a big initial outlay, but I'm betting they could get an educational venue, e.g. Sheffield Audio Visual, for help in getting it started as an intern-type program for the students studying mobile recording studio work. I would definitely suscribe for a copy of any performance I had seen - and probably jump on the previews, too. Great thinking, Kyle. Push!
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2012-12-01 07:33 pm (UTC)


The recording equipment is already there they have permanently installed microphones and they record every show already. I'm glad Gabriel is doing it -- I can't figure out why the orchestra hasn't figure out THAT I HAVE MORE MONEY. Thanks for the comment, it's good to know it's happening elsewhere.
[User Picture]From: cynic51
2012-12-01 08:23 pm (UTC)


Not only is it happening elsewhere, it is old established technology which should therefore be easy to implement. I saw a Pixies show in 2004 where you could pick up a recording of the show on your way out to the parking lot - and that was at a venue without permanent recording gear.

Has Philadelphia dropped the price of tickets for people younger than $25? The Cleveland Orchestra has been doing some pushes in that area, which is great because I'm getting really tired of hearing senior citizens at the orchestra tell me "it's so nice to see young people at the orchestra," especially as I'm closer to 40 than I am to 30 - not exactly young.
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2012-12-01 08:31 pm (UTC)


they have last-minute rush tickets i know. in the final moments before a performance often a bunch of young people will pour in, not sure if they have the agressive "recruit people under 30" campaign they should have.
[User Picture]From: nagasvoice
2012-12-02 12:28 am (UTC)


These are all great ideas and Somebody ought to be pulling them together who's at least a bit savvy with coordinating things like Twitter PR campaigns and phone invitations and Paypal. Lord knows the Obama presidential campaign had folks doing that very successfully, and I understand a lot of their volunteers are out of that now, possibly looking for other things to do.
[User Picture]From: ms_violet
2012-12-02 12:48 am (UTC)


They do. more on that in a separate comment.
[User Picture]From: mizkit
2012-12-01 08:35 pm (UTC)


Have you suggested this *to* PhilOrch? Because it seems like a brilliant idea. Or ideas. Whatever.
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2012-12-02 03:50 pm (UTC)


I have not. I'm just one cranky subscriber. I feel this should be subjected to the paddlewack of Darwin as arbiter. If the ideas are good enough, it'll get forwarded around and they'll find their way to the right person.
[User Picture]From: lentower
2012-12-03 02:21 pm (UTC)



Forward this blog to the Orchestra, several ways, with a link to the comments.

Just casting it into the winds of the Internet,
and hoping it reaches the right people is much less likely to be helpful.
[User Picture]From: ms_violet
2012-12-02 01:16 am (UTC)


I think you should be sending these ideas directly to their PR department. Having worked for them (in a contractor capacity), I know that although they are desperate for new ideas, the people who work for them work so hard that they haven't really been able to get their heads out of the trench they're digging long enough to find other ideas that work.

A lot of your criticisms have to do with The Kimmel Center Inc., not the Orchestra. for the purposes of shorthand, I'll refer to them as KCI and POA (which is their shorthand, anyway).

The Kimmel Center was originally supposed to be the new home of the POA. The POA owns the Academy of Music building, but the criticism against the Academy of Music as a concert venue is so grandiose and spectacular that I can't even begin to go into it without derailing this response completely. Long story short: it's great for singers, but bad for orchestra. Verizon Hall was purpose-built for the needs of an orchestra.

and then, when it was built, as The Southeastern Pennsylvania Performing Arts Center or whatever it was supposed to be called, state and city and POA funding wasn't enough to sustain it, so Harvey Kimmel steps in as a donor and suddenly it's got his name on it. and then when there are many funders there become many pipers calling the tune. so the POA is a tenant, but not a sole tenant. the result is that they have to bring in things like k.d. lang and the Chieftains and whatever else to keep the building and organization salient. and that means closing the 3rd floor bar after a certain time of night, or not opening it at all, if fewer than 20 people will use it.

Based on the photos you take, I think I know where you sit. I also know that if you go back about two rows, maybe less, from that row, the price per seat triples. I also know that the price zone of where, I'm guessing, you sit, was supposed to increase in price about two years ago.

When this price increase was reflected on subscription renewal brochures, the sturm und drang that rose up out of the subscribers was as if they had been told that every seat would be set for every concert with a freshly stabbed kitten. With the efficiency that political parties wish they had, the subscribers who sit in that price zone rose up en masse, closed ranks, contacted The Philadelphia Inquirer and any other organization who would listen to them, and said that they would not resubscribe unless they were paying the price they wanted to pay, claiming that a great and grandiose wrong had been done to them that no human mind could begin to fathom.

It was a price increase that could have helped the POA dodge the bankruptcy debacle. but, instead of saying, "this is the price of excellent music, folks," they said, "holy shit, we're sorry, blame our third-party contractor who printed the renewal brochures, we will do anything to keep your business, of course we never meant to increase the price." the price was dropped to its previous level, the POA scambled to come up with the shortfall, decided to take it out of musicians' salaries and pensions, and all hell broke loose.

there is a significant percentage of POA subscribers who only wants to hear certain kinds of music, and will not pay more than $9/ticket to hear it. the power these people wield over the POA is really strange.

in reference to the website and twitter handle names: blame whoever the jerkoff is that bought the domain name and all its possible permutations. they are squatting on the domain name like it's diamond-encrusted gold.

also, there are levels at which the salaries are so high that it isn't even close to reality.

LJ is telling me that I have to divide this comment into two parts.
[User Picture]From: ms_violet
2012-12-02 01:17 am (UTC)



The ease at which transactions can be made on line is probably turned into a clusterfuck by a few things:
1) Subscriber and donor data, and the need to make a single ticket buyer into a multiple ticket buyer, and then into a subscriber and a donor.
2) Union box office.
3) The cost of technology. if the Philadelphia orchestra walks into any office saying, "yeah, we want to use your technology to sell our tickets," you can't think that software developer will say, "sure, and you can use our technology and customer support for free."

attempts to do free music downloads of various stripes have been done. the majority of POA subscribers and ticket buyers are extremely suspicious of modern technology, and getting them to use a web browser has proved painful.

basically, the business part of show business is very, very ugly. It's absolutely beautiful that you have these good ideas and appeal to the best part of humanity when it comes to music. you should send these ideas to the POA. ask nicely and you could probably get a sit down and a cup of coffee with their head of PR and Marketing (who is a very nice guy). but you have no idea what octogenarians will do, who they will cut, to get Mozart and a free cup of coffee for less than a sawbuck.
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2012-12-02 03:55 pm (UTC)

Re: Furthermore...


"you have no idea what octogenarians will do, who they will cut, to get Mozart and a free cup of coffee for less than a sawbuck."

Sometime last year we went to see Lang Lang (I think it was Lang Lang) anyway, the show was completely sold out and as we arrived there was an aged hippy in a Tilly hat and sandals at the box office having an absolute melt-down because there were no $10 rush tickets or whatever. Like a 3 year old screaming on the floor of a toy store; possibly the most embarrassingly whiney & petulant performance from an adult I've ever witnessed. (If there had been Martians in the room I would have immediately run up to them and apologized on behalf of Earthlings.)

Sorry dude, if it was that important to you, you should have bought a ticket. Or hang out with your ear pressed to the back stage door, like the kid in that Foreigner song.....
[User Picture]From: ms_violet
2012-12-02 05:15 pm (UTC)

Re: Furthermore...


Yeah. This is something that happens routinely.
The $10 rush tickets are sponsored by an outside corporation, usually PECO. It's not exactly the same thing as 'seats that they couldn't sell.' it's 'seats for which the difference in cost between $10 and full price has been covered by a generous donation' from PECO. or whoever it is now. For a while, we weren't allowed to call them rush tickets, we were required to call them PECO Power Hour tickets. this is why the number of seats available at that price is finite.

unfortunately, it happens so often that when it's not a heavy-hitter like Lang Lang, or it rains, or whatever, that people can get a cheap seat easily, that when they can't, they don't understand that sold out really does mean sold out: it's not that someone is hiding secret cheap tickets from them, who can be bullied or cajoled.

The difference between insanity and apathy will give you whiplash.
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2012-12-02 05:34 pm (UTC)

Re: Furthermore...


I was appalled that someone would put on such a public display for a person who couldn't do anything about it. it's like yelling at the cashier in the supermarket because you don't like the sodium content in a can of campbells soup. You expect it from a six year old, not a sixty year old -- and one who didn't plan his day properly.
[User Picture]From: dujour
2012-12-02 06:14 pm (UTC)

Re: Furthermore...


Thank you for a most imformative look into the inner workings of the system. Amazing. Really. Thank you. I had no clue it was that twisted.
[User Picture]From: ms_violet
2012-12-02 01:22 am (UTC)

"under 30"


They are desperately doing everything they can to get students in the door. Students get dirt-cheap tickets based on a willingness to do everything online. they get a special subscription for $25 called EZSeatU. You have to check in less than three days prior to curtain. If they don't do that, they can pretty much get a set for $8 at thirty minutes prior to curtain, but they have to be willing to sit in whatever seat the usher gives them, and willing to move if the actual seat owner shows up.

I also can't tell you the number of people who buy expensive subscriptions, and then get complacent and just forget to show up.
[User Picture]From: blpurdom
2012-12-02 04:29 am (UTC)


#2 makes so much sense. So does selling the recordings they're constantly making--I can't think of a concert my kids have been to where they couldn't buy the music. These days you don't even have to bother with the up-front costs of cutting CDs, getting cover art and notes, etc. Just make the recordings available on iTunes afterward. People would eat it up. Even when we went to hear Rodrigo y Gabriela at the Keswick they were selling CDs and T-shirts, and when bands are playing small venues like First Unitarian and the Starlight Ballroom the same is true. It's easier to get Harry Potter Wrock recordings than the Philadelphia Orchestra!

I think the orchestra board needs to come into the 21st century.
[User Picture]From: piximush
2012-12-02 06:25 pm (UTC)


My boyfriend and I were just browsing their site thinking of which event to buy tickets for (we've never been). I just bought us tickets for the Pennsylvania ballet, though, and we're excited to have more excuses to take the 50 minute drive into Philadelphia.

These all seem like more than reasonable ideas to me.
[User Picture]From: kimberlogic
2012-12-03 12:28 am (UTC)


3) Sell me music after I've seen it.

yes, this.
I first encountered this at a small Fixx show at the Ram's Head a few years ago when we were still living in Annapolis.
And I heard that Peter Gabriel is doing this as well. This is a wonderful thing for me and I'm happy to give them my $8-10. You are brilliant to think of applying it to orchestra shows - I hope they heed your advice.
[User Picture]From: lentower
2012-12-03 02:13 pm (UTC)


The A.R.T. in Cambridge, MA had very similar problems.
Their Board brought Diane Paulus in, and she's solved them.

Might be some lessons there for Phil(a)Orch(estra)'s Board.
[User Picture]From: lentower
2012-12-03 02:27 pm (UTC)



Possible their Board needs some younger members.

You, Trillian, someone from Curio's board?
Other young artists and their managers who are making it.

[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2012-12-03 05:28 pm (UTC)


Possibly. Who knows. They have like 900 people on their board already, it takes up an entire page of the program (maybe more than that actually). I can't imagine that getting something across at a board meeting there is any less difficult than the entire orchestra standing up at once and trying to decide where to go for lunch. (Which could account for something.)
2012-12-04 11:08 pm (UTC)


This is a big problem with non-profits in general, and orchestras in particular: boards are not the most responsive entities. Also, board members aren't always selected by the value they can bring to the orchestra (or other artistic organization) outside of the money they have to give. They can't and never will act like a startup, and never will, most likely. But there is more to this, and I will separate that into another comment.
[User Picture]From: furrytigerkitty
2012-12-03 05:32 pm (UTC)

your post


I am going to present this blog to my parents-in-law.
Both of Drew's parents are San Diego symphony musicians, and they will appreciate your effort and maybe have some answers to some of your excellent questions.

miss you brother. Hi to Trillian!
[User Picture]From: Aaron Shay
2012-12-03 10:48 pm (UTC)


A friend of mine and I were talking on this very subject when we went to see Jherek Bischoff in Seattle. It would be lovely to pay a little extra and receive a digital recording of what was just witnessed. We already have the technology and the infrastructure can be devised.
[User Picture]From: sylverling
2012-12-05 11:40 pm (UTC)


Following up on Twitter comment - my folks are in a civic orchestra out in Denver that sells recordings of every performance, and my own civic orchestra does the same. You order it at the show and it gets delivered whenever it's been mastered and replicated. It's more than just great marketing at the time of the show - it's a way to showcase the orchestra, because then if you're trying to get grants or radio air time, it's easy to just pop in a CD and say, here, have a listen.

We did this in high school too, both my high school orchestra and my youth orchestra, and while those aren't exactly exciting, it's a nice memory for me to be able to put it in and say, hey, I was a part of this. Or hey, I was at that show. And ditto college - my favorite recordings of some of my favorite operas are the ones that I played in or went to, because I remember what it felt like to be there.

It works for popular music - live albums tend to do really well, because there's something really organic about it. Why *not* for an orchestra?

Now, granted, these orchestras are also non-union and very few people get paid - in my folks' orchestra, just the principals, and in mine, just the concertmaster - and there might need to be some negotiation with the musicians union for recordings, I don't know. But it seems like something worth exploring, and I don't know why more orchestras don't do it. It's not like CDs are that expensive to produce.

edit to add: digital versions would be even cheaper to produce and might get more traction with younger crowds. I don't buy CDs very often - I'd rather get stuff digital.

Edited at 2012-12-05 11:41 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]From: mireille21
2013-01-18 11:13 pm (UTC)


For a while the MSO - Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (Australia) had MSO Go subscriptions for people under 30. It was a decent price (I dont' recall exactly how much) and included a meet-up with the musicians including one free drink either in the green room or foyer afterwards. These were always well attended and from what I could tell well enjoyed by all, and certainly for people like myself and my friends who did not fit the 'generous benefactor' category it helped to engage us in a way that you don't get as an audience goer who just turns up to see the show. And, I dunno, helped to break down the elitist assumptions. It seems something like a symphony orchestra is still considered elitist/snobbish in a lot of circles, which I find laughable, especially when a ticket to a football game (considered to be much more for the masses) can be 2, 3 or 4 times as much (depending upon the game.) And the average rock/pop concert here is often more expensive as well. Anyway, they dropped the Go series some years back, I don't know why, must admit, I never asked anyone what happened.

The other illusion I guess is that classical music is boring. Another myth for something that has such a vast repertoire, and amusing when you get such comments from people who then go on to tell you that their favourite movie score is Excalibur or similar. I think the MSO have overcome this a bit by having more populist events - A Warner Bros evening (where they play Barber of Seville and other looney tunes), a Dr Who and SF event, compelte with daleks, or by teaming up with KISS and other rock bands. These events are usually on a much larger scale though, at bigger venues (that the concert hall) and therefore involve more expense and greater complexities when it comes to organising the event and then trying to make and sell recordings afterwards. I performed in a production of AIDA years ago, and even we, the performers were not able to get a recording of that performance because the variables were too complex.
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2013-01-19 10:36 pm (UTC)


I love that idea. I'd totally buy into that. One thing that brings me into the venue is knowing who some of the musicians are and thinking "ooh, there's Jason DePue" or whatever.