Symphony magazine addresses the issue of declining audiences for live orchestral music. One worrisome finding is that "participation rates have been declining within each generation as they age. So Early Boomers in their fifties are participating less (11%-12%) than they did when they were in their twenties (14%)."
In other words, people don't automatically start going to the symphony when they hit age 50. Especially not now, when there's so much great stuff online, like this blog, on which I will share my ideas for getting more people in the seats at symphony concerts. They're nothing revolutionary, and I'm sure they've been discussed or even tried somewhere in the world.
-Reserve a block of seats for Facebook fans and Meetup groups. Sure, social networking online is hot, but that doesn't mean people don't like to see each other in real life. Promote the section through online networks and let people request season seats or single-concert tickets there. If I knew I'd be sitting near people I recognized, I'd be more likely to go.
-Encourage tweeting. Not during the performance, Sweet Judith, no, but the moment intermission starts, let people whip out their devices and remark on the concert so far. Project real-time tweets on screens above the stage, in the lobbies and—even better—above the bars. Really, no one's going to be asinine: this is Richmond "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" Virginia.
Public tweeting might even improve the quality of intermission conversation, as people, including non-tweeters, could use the comments to spark or focus their own conversations instead of falling into timid chat about the weather or grocery stores. After the performance, invite people to go to richmondsymphony.com and vote for Tweet of the Night. Winner gets drink vouchers for the next concert they attend.
-Take the show online. According to research conducted by the League of American Orchestras, 40 million Americans listen to classical music broadcasts and recordings, including online. As a percentage of the population, this has increased over the past 25 years. Interestingly, people are more likely to listen to classical music broadcasts/recordings than broadcasts/recordings of musicals, although the reverse is true when it comes to attending live performance.
If the Richmond Symphony streamed its performances live online for free, would people stop buying tickets for the concert hall? No. Most people who attend concerts do so because they know the power of live performance. Some people would take the cheap route, some people would turn into concertgoers as a result of being able to try out the experience online. Unfortunately, there's no way to know the net effect ahead of time. (This is probably also the kind of thing that would work in some cities but not others.) But geez, why not try it? And that way, Karen Johnson's Aunt Martha in Phoenix could see her perform every time. (I made that up.)
-Have open dress rehearsals. The Richmond Symphony Orchestra League used to run these, pre-peripatetic era. Now that the symphony is back in the Carpenter Theatre, it's time to start them up again. Heck, make it crazy and let people roll the dice to get their price, $2 to $12 for adults, $1-$6 for kids. Publicize them more widely than ever before.
-Door prizes, coupons in the program, referral discounts. I'm not entirely serious, but I'm not really joking, either. I'm trying to make the point that the orchestra experience is about the music, not about the image. Why should some tactics be considered low-brow if they work to bring in new listeners who have been reluctant to spend money on something they're not sure they'll like?