Classical Music

Classical music audiences are vanishing… why aren’t we doing anything about it? — David Taylor

Classical music audiences are vanishing… why aren’t we doing anything about it? — David Taylor

The show has also allowed important current issues to be a part of the Formula 1 discussion. For example, the driver Lewis Hamilton’s stand on racial injustice, We Race As One to acknowledge the global fight against COVID, and the commitment to have a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030. In the modern world, values matter as much as the product, and F1 is embracing this.

Another big change was that all fans given equal importance and the chance to interact with the sport. There is a difference between a customer and a fan, and that is passion. Liberty Media understands that passion, especially in sports, ultimately drives sales.

Previously, drivers were not allowed to be on social media. Hamilton joked that Bernie sent him cease-and-desist letters whenever he posted clips on Instagram. Drivers were now encouraged to be on social media, where Hamilton now has 29.4 million Instagram followers. The entire sport is now focussed on this with teams flourishing online and race content focussed on engaging fans. Restrictive TV deals which were the cornerstone of Formula 1’s success in the 1970s were loosened so clips could be shared on social media. If you look back at the trailer for season 4, it opens with a montage of tweets from viewers, a statement of intent about social media’s place in the sport.

So, what was the result? Last year saw an estimated increase of 73 million fans globally, 77% of that growth was driven by the 16-35 demographic, and a 40% increase in viewership in the USA. Oh, and its valuation increased from $8 billion to $13 billion in just 3 years. From radically adapting both the product and how it was marketed, Formula 1 went from existential crisis and inevitable oblivion to a thriving success.

One of the reasons I choose to focus on Formula 1, rather than an example like Nintendo, is that in adapting its product it didn’t reinvent the wheel. Whereas what Nintendo does now is totally different to what it did in the 1950s, Formula 1 is still about fast cars going round a track lots of times. This is why it should serve as such inspiration for the classical music industry.

Classical music can stay at its core about classical music, it doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. Performances should still have this right at the heart of what we do. But the “product” of what we do is so much more than the notes that come from an instrument. Like Formula 1 changing from being a motorsports company, all of us in classical music should change to be a “media and in-person entertainment company”.

The concert experience starts well before the first note is played, and this is where we need to start experimenting and adapting with what our in-person product is. Like Formula 1, we have not embraced digital and social media despite the central role it plays in society and the benefits of embracing it being so painfully obvious.

In February I gave a provocation at the Association of British Orchestras conference where I argued the case for immediate change. You can read it in full here, but this was my closing statement:

“So, at the start of 2022 we find ourselves at a fork in the road.

One path looks comfortable and familiar. We don’t have to challenge the way we think or operate, and we can go back to playing our finite game. It leads us back to where we were before the pandemic, going through the motions, hoping the world doesn’t change and that our audience will engage with us on our terms indefinitely. 

Ultimately, this leads to us not keeping up with society and going the way of other  organisations that have been too rigid to adapt to the world they operate in, like Blockbuster, like Skype, and like HMV.

The other path looks uncomfortable and unknown. It leads us through challenges, requiring us to reflect on ourselves and our previous ways of thinking, and begin to adopt an infinite mindset. It entails continual learning and development, embracing a culture of curiosity and change. 

It also leads forwards, finding new opportunities, meeting our audience where they are in the world we live in, embracing digital, and developing the skills and ways of thinking to be able to constantly thrive in the future.

In short, the world has changed… and so must we”

6 months later and the case for change is greater than ever. We have more and more data saying that we’re in trouble and we know audiences are vanishing. In many ways, the crisis classical music facing is like the climate emergency. The evidence that we need to change has been there for years and is growing daily, crisis events happen to hit us in the face and remind us of the need for immediate change, and yet we refuse to take the action we need to guarantee our own survival.

With these blogs I try to have a constructive approach, giving examples from other industries about alternative approaches that can act as inspiration for change. It’s something I’m going to continue to do, but there comes point where we need to get out of the clouds and take action. We can’t wait for another programming cycle to do something, or to see how this season goes.

We need to act, and we need to act now.

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