Classical Orchestras Are Trying Out CwF+RtB Too

from the lisztomania dept

In a time where many in the recording industry are running for the hills as a result of the digital revolution, classical music seems to be embracing the new era. As a result of the access to the long tail afforded by the internet, classical labels have seen an increase in sales. Contemporary classical composers are experimenting with posting their scores online for free, recognizing that scores locked up behind copyright that nobody plays are far worse than freely available scores that musicians do play. Furthermore, considering that many scores by the great composers like Mozart and Beethoven are public domain and not covered by copyright, it provides additional incentive for modern day composers to participate in the sharing ecosystem. This entrepreneurial spirit of experimentation would greatly benefit the rest of the music industry.

Great orchestras around the world are also trying new things of their own, from running their own labels, to offering digital subscriptions of downloadable tracks, to online streaming of live concerts. Orchestras have a unique set of challenges as compared to a rock band. They tend to consist of many, many more members (around 100) and also have large fixed costs like concert halls to contend with. So, since touring is not really a viable option, most orchestras are limited to larger cities that have large enough populations to support them. The digital era brings with it the opportunity to engage with audiences that are far beyond the cities in which they play.

Fans of the Berlin Philharmonic, widely regarded as one of the best orchestras in the world, can now subscribe to live streaming concerts through its “digital concert hall.” For about $200, fans have access to live and archived performances for a year. Granted, the virtual experience probably does not come close to seeing a show at the concert hall, but the price is much lower than the cost of a ticket, which opens up the experience not only to fans who are limited by distance, but also fans who are limited by funds. However, as internet technology continues to converge upon living rooms, televisions equipped with internet access, connected to high fidelity home theater audio systems will undoubtedly start to become more commonplace, making the experience of watching a live concert from the comfort of your own home even better. Even so, it seems unlikely that home viewing would ever really compete with the live experience. Especially with orchestras the live sound fidelity just can’t be matched — and most people attend such performances for the social experience. After all, there’s no chance at all that you’d show up in the society pages if you’re watching the show from your couch.

Still, it will be worth watching to see how much revenue that these new products generate. Most orchestras, even the most successful ones, still rely upon charitable giving for a large portion of their revenues — but there’s no reason the focus needs to be on charitable giving. There’s no reason why orchestras can’t start coming up with valuable scarce reasons to buy beyond just the live shows (or even streaming access to shows). They could offer all sorts of special views or access. For example, for less experienced listeners, you could take part in a special “educational” stream, where an expert would alert you to things to listen for — and listeners could ask questions and discuss. Alternatively, they could provide access to the musicians in other manners, such as one-on-one discussions, music lessons or even solo performances. They could sell off old instruments, broken strings or used sheet music (perhaps signed?). There are lots of additional ways in which they can start to embrace the same sorts of business models that others in the wider music industry are using.

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Comments on “Classical Orchestras Are Trying Out CwF+RtB Too”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I could spend tens of thousands of dollars on high end stereo equipment, and it wouldn’t alleviate the need of a real life orchestra. There are simply too many bottle necks to fidelity when you cram it all down a single pipe. Each instrument in the orchestra is capable of a wide range of sound, no matter how good the performers.. there is always some variance from one to another. So its actually 100 fully fledged performances plus the acoustics of the performance hall itself working together to create the entire effect for a live experience.

For an online performance they melt all that down, and the variance from chair to chair is completely lost when compressing it for online broadcast.

A good analogy is baseball. Its boring to watch on TV, but at the park its one of the greatest games ever invented to see live. A lot of things, both tangible and intangible, go into creating that experience when you’re sitting in the stands. So too with a live orchestra.

Dennis Yang (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Agreed, there’s nothing quite like a live symphony concert or a live baseball game.

But, for those of us that are limited either by funds or by location, it’s nice that we now have the opportunity to catch some of the experience remotely.

Then, when we do get to see these performances live, we can appreciate them that much more.

ALC says:

In a perfect world...

I see one other problem with this idea and it is man power. I work for a small orchestra in a suburban location and we just don’t have the people in place to take care of new revenue products. Some of this would fall to the marketer who is already trying to advertise the live performance, put the stagebills together, contact the media and whatever else is thrown in his lap. The tech director is handling the specifics of the actual performance and doesn’t have time to figure out how to stream the performance. The exec. director is trying to fundraising and keep the machine well oiled. There would have to be new people brought in to handle this and orchestras (after paying the musicians) just don’t have the extra cash for that.

Wesley Parish says:

Some thoughts on adding value

You’ve seen Michael Moorcock’s “Moorcock’s Miscellany”, where he and his fans interact, ask silly questions, and generally fool around and have a good time?

I suspect a good many amateur classical musicians would love to do the same with their favourite musicians; that would be one way to build a fan base and thus a source of revenue. Of course, we already have seen a little of that sort of marketing – pre-Internet – with Yehudi Menuhin’s series of books on various instruments including his beloved violin, a copy of which I have in my hot aka sweaty/grubby little hands … being some sort of a fiddler/violinist myself.

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