The unsexy middle…

the-big-question-are-retiring-baby-boomers-about-to-crash-the-stock-marketAnyone who has visited this blog more than once will know that it doesn’t get updated all that much. It’s just as well then that this blog exists, as it manages to get me so irritated it encourages me to write.

My topic today does not address the blog specifically, although a later one will. Rather, I’d like to point out the middle ground. To summarise the linked article above – the author proposes that arts companies (orchestras and classical record labels in particular) spend too much time and money chasing young audiences who aren’t likely to attend rather than investing in their core audience.

Of course, it depends on your organisational priorities. But from a commercial point of view then I’d generally agree – it is harder to engage with young audiences than your core audience. But the tricky thing here is that core audience. For Orchestras your core audience is likely to be remarkably small. Indeed in an average classical concert in London its likely that over 60% of the audience will be coming on a one-off visit. UK orchestras have a very small subscription audience and reply hugely on people making one-off visits. So, no, it doesn’t make sense to concentrate all your marketing on that small core audience (this is not to say you shouldn’t give them some love, but you can also be fairly sure of them booking on the strength of the programme alone). However it does make sense to concentrate it on those ‘floating’ arts attenders who come but once a year, if that. The holy grail of course is to get them to come back just a little more frequently – but sadly the evidence is that, where classical music is concerned, many of them come once – but never again.

What of the unsexy middle of my title? Well, lots of talk surrounds audience age. The core audience is too old. We need a younger audience. And yeah, nothing wrong with that – but I think we forget the unsexy middle. Those aged maybe 40, 50, or 60 – often referred to as ‘baby boomers’ in the US. This generation by and large hasn’t grown up with (in this case) classical music in the same way that people a bit older did. And this is really the generation we need to go for. Targeting them isn’t sexy and wont win you audience development prizes, but they have the spare cash and the spare time and they’re by and large not spending it on classical music.

Question is…how do we get them? I don’t have all (perhaps any) of the answers, but it can’t just be about sending them a flyer. We have to communicate what we do differently, and perhaps maybe change some of what we do quite fundamentally (and no, that doesn’t mean performing Classical Spectacular every night).

So no, putting all your eggs in one basket and concentrating all resources on your most loyal audiences doesn’t make sense. If your artistic product is right, they will come. And experience shows that this segment of your audience is unlikely to grow much. Nor does it make sense to spend huge amounts on what often proves to be a fickle younger audience, if your aim is getting good return on investment. No, you should be cultivating and nurturing your one-off attenders, tempting them back just a *little* more often and thinking of ways to tempt in that cash and time rich middle aged generation.


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