Commentary: How smaller classical music groups can actively build an audience

Greg Sandow on his ArtsJournal.com blog, 9/28/12

The new audience we want to find isn't a classical music audience. So they won't look at advertisements, and if they do, they won't respond to them. They won't be persuaded by posters, assuming they see them. They'll delete your email, won't see your videos, won't read your blog, and won't go to your website. So how do you find them? You look for them actively. At a college, for instance, you might do what the University of Maryland orchestra did: Organize themselves into dorm committees, to promote their concerts directly to the students they live with. Last year they doubled the size of their audience. But what if you're not at a school? Suppose you're a string quartet, in an urban area. You might look for restaurants to play in. Art galleries. Coffeehouses. Clubs. Boutiques. You have to be flexible. Could you open for a band you know? Could you do what Bang on a Can did, when they got started, and pass out flyers for your concerts at gatherings of possibly sympathetic people, at theater and dance performances, at clubs where interesting bands play? The point not being the flyers, but the personal contact. Can you play for theater productions, dance performances, art installations? Combine your concerts with literary readings? And as you do all these things -- and more -- you gather names. Names of people who take even a casual interest, or simply are curious. You keep in touch with these people, regularly, in interesting ways, giving them things to think about, music to hear (not necessarily always your own), things to join you in. Form an online group of people committed to promoting you and your events to their friends, families, social networks. Raise money to pay for your recordings before they're made. Now you have an active audience. Now you have people who will read your blog, will go to your website, will watch your YouTube videos. And who, if they see flyers or posters for your events, will happily smile, because they know you.

 

Commentary: How to make smaller arts orgs' websites more helpful to audiences

Scott Matthewman, The Stage [UK], 9/28/12

Over the last few years, I've been visiting more and more fringe theatre venues. Often it's as the result of an invitation which has been accompanied by a press release, which usually contains more information - but when it doesn't, or even when it does and I want to double-check, I will go to the venue's website to look up what time the production starts, how long it's estimated to run for - and, most importantly, how to get to the venue in the first place. You may be surprised how often it's impossible to find basic useful information. I'm not going to name names but one of my favourite small London venues, which normally does a great job of communicating to the world about its productions, commits one of the cardinal sins of theatre websites: its actual address is tucked away under a link labelled "Contact us". A lot of the time, mistakes like this come about because, in an effort to keep their marketing costs down, small venues build their website based on a pre-built "theme.". The trouble is, such templates are often designed for office-based work environments or product sales. In many cases, replacing the "Contact us" page with one entitled "Your Visit", "Getting Here" or even "Map" can go a long way to encouraging first-time visitors to your venue. There is a whole discipline attached to looking at websites and how they work (or don't) from a user's point of view. It's known as User Experience, UX for short, and experienced UX consultants can charge a pretty penny for their services. They usually do so because their knowledge and advice is valuable, and can convert into higher sales for the website who commissions them. But for many small theatres, who run on a shoestring anyway, the cost of hiring a UX specialist can be prohibitive. If contracting an expert isn't an option, then, what can you - or the person who manages your website - do? [Click here to read the rest of this post.]

 

Related: A new free resource helps smaller arts orgs customize websites

Adam Huttler, Fractured Atlas blog, 9/19/12

Many readers will already be familiar with Artful.ly, Fractured Atlas's cloud-based web app that empowers artists and arts organizations with tools for ticketing, donor management, and more. Artful.ly Open Source Edition (OSE) is the underlying engine that powers Artful.ly, and it is now freely available for anyone to download, use, modify, or extend. Why use Artful.ly OSE? Well, the truth is that, for 90% of independent artists and small organizations out there, Artful.ly is the better fit. It's quick, easy, and inexpensive. But for some of you, that's not enough. Your needs are unusual enough that one size decidedly doesn't fit all. What's more, you have the technical chops to set up a server or two and get your hands dirty with software code. It's for you that we offer Artful.ly OSE. Open sourcing our code is also a highly transparent process that engages distributed peer review which we believe will lead to better quality code, increased reliability, greater flexibility, a lower total cost of ownership, and freedom from predatory vendor lock-in. Now, a few of you may be thinking, "Hmm, haven't I heard this before?" and if this all sounds a bunch like ATHENA, that's because Artful.ly OSE is essentially the next generation of the ATHENA platform, with a couple of big changes: (1) ATHENA, somewhat notoriously, was designed without a user interface. We fell in love with the idea that arts organizations would develop their own UIs. Nifty idea, but, as we soon realized, totally unrealistic in practice. Artful.ly OSE, by contrast, has a lovely default user interface borrowed from Artful.ly itself. Of course, if you don't like it, you can change it however you want, which is still a lot easier than building one from scratch! (2) ATHENA was built in Enterprise Java, whereas Artful.ly OSE is a Ruby on Rails web application. (If you don't have any idea what that means, then you're probably a better candidate for the hosted Artful.ly app.) We believe Ruby on Rails is a better fit for the arts community. It's lightweight yet powerful and designed from scratch for the web.

 

A small UK theater looks to build audience with free tix to its fans on Twitter

Gloucestershire Echo, 9/26/12

Inventive bosses at Tewkesbury's [370-seat] theatre have come up with a new marketing tool - giving free tickets to people who tweet about shows. As they struggle to make ends meet during these tough economic times, officials at The Roses have come up with the new scheme to help advertise their events. Up to a maximum of three people per performance will not be charged if they agree to promote it via Twitter. They will have to tweet their thoughts beforehand and then, using their mobile phone, say what they think about it during the interval and review it afterwards. It comes as the theatre battles to stay afloat financially, with 80,000 of its 100,000 per year local authority funding having been cut. The other 20,000 will no longer be paid from January. So theatre managers are now particularly keen to attract as many customers as they can through the doors of the Sun Street venue. Spokeswoman Beckie Smith said: "There's nothing more persuasive than word of mouth but because Gloucestershire is quite rural, getting that word of mouth message across can be quite hard." The scheme will apply to the majority of events at the theatre but those taking part will have to display their commitment to it. To be considered, they will have to attend at least one live show or film screening per month. They will have to agree on the shows in advance with theatre bosses and generate digital content on Twitter and, if possible, other social media such as Facebook. Beckie said audience members need not worry about being disturbed by tweeters using their mobile phones during performances as that would not be allowed. She added that she did not know for sure, but she thought The Roses might be the first theatre in the country to offer the scheme.
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