Classical Music 2.0 is a 10-part blog series putting forward a possible vision for the future of the classical music industry – imagining a time where we might have larger audiences, more revenue, and play a bigger role in society.

I’m no longer working full-time in the classical music industry, but I’m still fascinated to see how it’s going from the sidelines. I started in the business back in 2007, and at the time, I thought I was the only one who was really thinking about the future of the industry, whether the audience would die out, how to grow new audience members. But since then, it’s been great to see that I wasn’t alone. In the last decade, there have been a rising number of voices contributing to the discussion around this, most noticeably Aubrey Bergauer and Ruth Hartt in the US (and occasionally Greg Sandow, who really was the first to sound the alarm on the issue), David Taylor in the UK, Australia’s own Susan Eldridge, the great folks at RasmussenNordic who are working with orchestras across Denmark, not to mention fascinating things happening in the academic world as well. (And if there are more of you out there that I haven’t heard of – hit me up! I’d love to know who you are and what you’re thinking.)

But despite ongoing discussion and commentary, as a whole, we’re still a long way off tackling the issue of organisational and industry change. By which I mean, it’s one thing to say that the industry needs to look completely different to attract new audiences, increase diversity, etc. But how does a classical organisation get there? How do you implement the changes that might be necessary, when you’ve got a bunch of stakeholders with strong thoughts on how things should be – musicians, conductors, the current audience, Board members – PLUS the weight of a couple of hundred years of classical music history and tradition that we’re expected to live by?

It’s a lot.

Classical Music 2.0

So in this series of blog posts, which I’m calling Classical Music 2.0, I want to put forward a positive vision of where the industry might go (either because we choose to go there, or maybe societal forces just drag us there) and the steps that might be involved. Rather than spend too much time pointing out the things we’re doing wrong, I’d like to suggest some things we could do that might be right.

Obviously, any speculation about the future is just that – speculation. And things like COVID caught us by surprise. But I would like to think there are enough general principles operating about how people interact with music to indicate what a positive future might look like.

The Idea of an Ecosystem

But I wanted to start in Part 1 with the idea of ecosystem. Because each classical music company or ensemble is a separate entity (at least in Australia), we can be forgiven for perhaps thinking of them as being independent. Company X has its set of customers, Company Y has a different set of customers, etc. However, there are far more likely to be relationships between those elements.

For instance, in my experience of the Australian scene, a capital city will often contain a major state orchestra, an opera company and a ballet company, and also many smaller niche chamber orchestras and groups. And these organisations, far from being separate, will often share common audience members. Frequently, the way it works is that the more niche organisations – while having a few loyal unique fans of their own – will share most of their audience with the more broad-reaching organisations. In other words, subscribers to see chamber music will often be subscribers to see the symphony orchestra. However, because chamber music is the more niche type of music – sorry, chamber music fans, but it is true! – while it is safe to assume that most of the chamber music fans will be orchestra fans, it’s not at all safe to assume the reverse.

A Pyramid – but how tall?

All this is because, rather than separate entities, we are really seeing a pyramid. In this structure, niche organisations are able to be successful (albeit with a smaller audience base) because they draw on the larger audience base of the broader-reach organisations below them.

But the hypothesis that I want to put forward is that too often the classical music business can think the pyramid goes as far down as, say, the symphony orchestra in a city. But my hypothesis is that symphony orchestras traditionally were part of a much larger pyramid that included populist music for classical instruments, in various different forms. And I believe, whether we like it or not, that relationship between populist and classical music is part of what drove large audiences for classical music.

In my next couple of posts, I’ll elaborate a bit further on the pyramid idea.