Impressions of a Workhop at Classical:NEXT 2019 in Rotterdam

In a workshop titled “Digital Classical – What Is Really Working,” Andrew Burke of the London Sinfonietta and Becky Lees of the London Symphony Orchestra presented their findings. The LSO has already gained 20 years of experience with its label LSO Live. It quickly becomes clear that today every orchestra needs a digital strategy, which should also be anchored in the “mission statement”. This strategy must encompass all internal and external communication, accounting and marketing, as well as the transfer and communication of artistic content. Which content, which target groups, which formats, which platforms?

Digital Classical – what is working for orchestras?

Today, the LSO has more than 86.000 subscribers on its YouTube channel and claims live broadcasts to reach around 10.000 users in 100 countries. Individual concert recordings were viewed millions of times. An important marketing tool for an orchestra that travels the world. According to Becky Lees, via YouTube you can reach the Millennials born in 2000 and above. Livestreaming on YouTube is now technically possible for each orchestra and does not need to have cinema quality. One could first “start small” to gain experience, says Lees. The opportunity for live interaction during a concert broadcast and the comments of the users are good opportunities to get in direct contact with the online community and receive feedback for the further development of its offerings. From these active user contacts the orchestra could then also generate concrete concert and ticket offers by e-mail. User generated content, material produced by the users themselves, can also be well integrated into the digital strategy of the orchestra.

However, not only the distribution of video content, even audio works. Andrew Burke refers to the National Youth Choir, which usually publishes a song monthly through platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon and Google Play. Some of them went viral via the social networks (including the choir members). These monthly audio releases are accompanied by short promotional videos that reinforce the viral effect. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) no longer uses short videos as an advertisement for the next concert. Concert recordings and other videos are considered long-term products, which include: be linked to the orchestra website. This also applies to the content of music education.

Videos or audio podcasts to individual concert programs, to special instruments or composers are also planned for a longer-term availability. After all, the OAE also has over 44.000 subscribers on YouTube and even generates small revenue from this. The digital networking of orchestras is also a prerequisite for successful crowdfunding, when the financing of a new CD production is to be realized, for example. Incidentally, the greater the range of presence in social media, the higher the attractiveness of an orchestra for sponsors.

Digital strategy

With a digital strategy orchestras should also keep an eye on the gaming instinct of people on their smartphones. “Gamification” for example is a driver for using the Clapping Music App (Steve Reich). The London Sinfonietta, specialized in contemporary music, has gained good experience. This applies, too, to the Wolfgang App, which is currently actively used by the Munich Symphony Orchestra and which is being tested by the Wurttemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn. Concert goers can view explanations about the music on their smartphone whilst listening to the music. However, the relatively high development and ongoing care costs for apps must also be taken into account.

For the use of the common social media channels Burke and Lee give clear recommendations: in digital marketing, there must be clear guidelines and priorities. Only really important content belongs to the orchestra’s Facebook page and should also be supported by paid advertising. You should not spam your own Facebook page with everyday stuff from the orchestra. The rule is: quality over quantity! In order to reach out to younger audiences Instagram is now a MUST as the fastest growing platform; many orchestras lag behind in this context. It makes sense to specifically address already known target groups and to expand them.

In the end, do the digital offerings of orchestras bring more visitors to the concert hall? Must, can and should they? These questions cannot be answered in a general way and depend on the previously defined goals.

With good online offerings, an orchestra can definitely strengthen its brand and bind its existing audience. That is worth something, too. Occasionally you can make money, if you achieve a relevant size and subscriptions on YouTube. At one point there was absolute unity: each orchestra should now have its own small digital team, which is familiar with video and audio production, feeding platforms and channels, but is also dramaturgically trained and good in texting.

And finally: “less is more”. As an orchestra, especially with limited resources, one should be dedicated to one direction only, the most appropriate and not all imaginable platforms, but then professionaly.