Toronto Symphony: 35% of Its Audience Under 35

As I’ve said before, “the question” for classical music (and its genre-melding young offspring) is how do we bring in a younger audience without compromising artistic standards? By younger, I mean under 40.  Whether or not you believe there’s a classical-music attendance crisis, it sure wouldn’t hurt to have some people with full heads of non-gray hair joining the rest of us.

Indefatigable super-publicist Gail Wein sent me news of this story about the Toronto Symphony‘s success. Through the success of the orchestra’s tsoundcheck program for young adults, 35% of the TSO audience is now under 35.

35% under 35! Fantastic news.  And how have they done it?

  • concert schedules that work for young professional audiences
  • low-priced tickets for not just students but also those aged 18-35 (23,000 this past season,good seats that can be selected in advance)
  • lobby parties after shortened Saturday-night concerts

The entire article is well worth reading–it sure brightened my day.  Doesn’t the following sound good?

[G]oing to the symphony has become a normal thing to do for under 35s in Toronto, and has even become a popular date-night activity. Trina Senechal Klinck, 32, began attending the TSO when she started dating her husband, Ben, in 2006.

“It’s the same prices as the movies and it’s more of an outing and it’s cultural. I’m always up for trying new things and the symphony offers things that are compelling to go to — you don’t feel like it’s from the bottom of the barrel. We’ve introduced a lot of our friends to [the TSO].”

I know not everyone (especially among some of my orchestral musician friends)  is happy with the idea of post-concert lobby parties.  But low-priced ticket programs and a fun atmosphere can obviously help to build a younger audience, and it doesn’t mean you have to dumb down the music.

Doesn’t the younger set want laser light shows and film scores? As it turns out, they don’t.

“If you listen to current bands like Radiohead, Fleet Foxes and Joanna Newsom,” said longtime tsoundchecker Dustin Cohen, 26, “you will see that … young people today continue to crave big-picture themes like love, loss, death and revolution. There’s a unique quality to live classical music. When I’m in the concert hall, watching the orchestra, I’m thinking: ‘I’m going to download this second movement when I get home!’”

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2 Comments

Filed under attracting younger audeinces, audeince building, Gail Wein, Toronto Symphony Orchestra

2 responses to “Toronto Symphony: 35% of Its Audience Under 35

  1. I read that piece when the facebook page of the Louisville Orchestra Musicians Association posted it and while I was initially thrilled and intrigued (especially with the idea of bringing local bands into the fold, something Greg Sandow pointed out to me that the Cleveland Orchestra has been doing and I believe the ISO has done with Time for Three) but the piece doesn’t say much about the difference in actual numbers of attendees. If the audience is still declining for Toronto (though maybe at a lesser rate) then the increased attendance by under 35s may not make much of a difference (except with respects to the reputation of the Orchestra as being a destination for younger audiences).

    The problem is, in the end, ticket sales for these organizations take second seat to the donor base. While having a younger demographic may help show private and corporate philanthropies donate more money to an orchestra, the sales themselves don’t do much to help the bottom line. And in the end, since these tickets are actually cheaper, that means pound for pound it will take more of these tickets to make the difference from a normal subscriber or ticket buyer at standard prices.

    I guess that’s one of the reasons I do fundamentally disagree with some of Greg’s ideas about the youth (and consequently youth culture and the consequent ideas of relevancy to contemporary culture) being the saviors of classical music–it just might not be enough to make much of a difference.

    Until Orchestras can find a way to significantly cut costs, but not at the expense of the musicians, even selling out each and every show at normal subscription and ticket prices will only fund the 30-45% ticket sales have traditionally contributed to orchestras.

    To be fair, obviously having a larger younger audience gives the possibility of a larger donor base farther in the future, and certainly that is a worthy pursuit, but will even that increase in ticket sales plus future donor base be enough if costs keep rising at a rate greater than inflation?

    I love the principle of the idea and these kinds of initiatives, I’m just a little pessimistic about whether it will do enough good.

  2. Pingback: Price Discrimination for Orchestra Tickets | Mae Mai

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