Our brains are wired against change. Scientifically, this is described as the availability heuristic: humans take mental shortcuts using information we already know to be true. There is nothing implicitly wrong with this; we make thousands of decisions daily without our brains going into overload in large part because of it. The problem is that as a species we often rely too much on what we already know, and that’s precisely what makes change so hard. For orchestras though, we can’t continue to shy away from creating the change we need. We can’t continue to watch our core audience atrophy and be afraid of losing them at the same time. As an art form we must be willing to have hard conversations about the things new audiences hate, are turned off by, or are just uninformed about. We have to change the availability heuristic for orchestras; we have to throw it out the window. This is our job as administrators, and we must help our audience — both existing and yet-to-be-obtained — throw it out the window, too. Also, this doesn’t necessarily mean that programming, specifically repertoire, has to change. It might mean that, but our hunch is that there are a lot of other factors besides the music itself where orchestras are collectively and figuratively standing with their fingers in their ears saying, “I’m not listening, I’m not listening, la la la I can’t hear you.”
“We can’t continue to shy away from creating the change we need. We can’t continue to watch our core audience atrophy and be afraid of losing them at the same time.”
Enter Orchestra X
Enter Orchestra X: a group of millenials and gen-xers that could or should go to orchestra concerts (e.g. they’re smart, have expendable income for entertainment options, and are generally culturally aware), but for whatever reason just doesn’t attend. This group will come to a few California Symphony concerts and report back on their experience — the good, the bad, and the ugly — and we will listen to them and share our findings.
Orchestra X is for people who meet the above description, and costs $5 (yes, the price of a foot long sandwich). We’ll ask you for your time and thoughts, but never for a donation. Participation includes:
- Attendance at our Sunday, September 18 concert in Walnut Creek, CA (San Francisco Bay Area). This is the one concert that’s required, and $5 is the cost you’ll pay to cover the ticket office service fee. You can bring a guest if you’d like for the basement price of another $5.
- Spending some time on our website as a regular patron might. This includes searching for information related to the performance(s) you are attending and going through the purchase path (we’ll provide a promo code to complete your purchase for the above mentioned $5 price; actually completing the purchase — even if nominal, rather than picking up free tickets at Will Call—makes it possible for you to have an online experience that resembles a regular patron’s as closely as possible).
- Joining our email and mailing list for the season (unsubscribing after the 2016–17 season is fine).
- Keeping notes on your experiences with us at the concert, on our website, and through marketing communications (emails, mailed collateral, ads you see). This isn’t meant to be a dissertation, but jotting down a few things as you see something you love or hate is hugely helpful and appreciated.
- Attendance at a hosted pizza and beer group in Walnut Creek on Tuesday, October 4 at 7:00 PM to discuss your experience to date. By this time you will have gone on the website, “purchased” your tickets, and will have attended the Symphony’s September 18 concert. And we’ll be ready to hear all about it. Update: this event will be hosted by the new, local craft brewery, Farm Creek Brewing Company; they heard about Orchestra X and wanted to partner with us, how fantastic are they?!
- Optional: Attendance at any other performance(s) of your choice during the California Symphony’s 2016–17 season in exchange for your continued feedback of that concert and purchase experience (yep, only $5 a ticket for those as well; yes, you can bring a friend as well for another $5). The more performances you want to attend, the better, as we are truly interested in your interactions with us. Our strong preference is that you attend at least two concerts: the September 18 Season Opener and one other of your choice.
To participate, write to us at email@example.com by August 31. Tell us a line or two including how you heard about the Orchestra X program, confirm that you can meet all the required elements of participation, and why you want to participate. Space is limited, but your opinions are not.
We are seeking 15–30 participants, and will respond to selected participants with your promo code to order your tickets in early September.
“This group will come to a few California Symphony concerts and report back on their experience — the good, the bad, and the ugly — and we will listen to them and share our findings.”
Know someone who should totally do this? Please share this post with them.
UPDATE: read the Orchestra X results here.
About the Author
Aubrey Bergauer, Executive Director, California Symphony
Aubrey Bergauer defies trends, and then makes her own. In a time when most arts organizations are scaling back programs, tightening budgets, and seeing declines in tickets and subscriptions, Bergauer has dramatically increased earned and contributed revenue at organizations ranging from Seattle Opera to the Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival to the California Symphony. Her focus on not just engaging — but retaining — new audiences grew Seattle Opera’s BRAVO! Club (young patrons group for audience members in their 20’s and 30’s) to the largest group of its kind nationwide, led the Bumbershoot Festival to achieve an unprecedented 43% increase in revenue, and propelled the California Symphony to quadruple the size of its donor base. From growing audiences, increasing concerts, and expanding programs to instilling and achieving common goals across what are usually siloed marketing, development, and artistic departments, Bergauer is someone you want to follow — on the nationally-recognized blog she created to discuss what actually works in a changing arts landscape, and in real life, too.
A graduate of Rice University with degrees in Music Performance and Business, for the last 15 years Bergauer has used music to make the world around her better, through programs that champion social justice and equality, through ground-breaking marketing and audience development tactics on the forefront of technology, and through taking strategically calculated risks in a risk-averse field. If ideas are a dime a dozen, what separates Bergauer is her experience and record of impact and execution at institutions of all sizes. Praised for her leadership which “points the way to a new style of audience outreach,” (Wall Street Journal) and which drove the California Symphony to become “the most forward-looking music organization around.” (Mercury News) Bergauer’s ability to strategically and holistically examine and advance every facet of the organization’s mission and vision is creating a transformational change in the office, on the stage, in the audience, in the community, and going well beyond the industry of classical music.