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How Much Would You Pay to Hear Great Music?

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Blake-Anthony Johnson, president and CEO of the Chicago Sinfonietta, said, “I’m a cellist and have played in orchestras my whole life.” Do you think you’ll pay?’ And that’s nowhere near what our regular customers actually pay.”

Mr Johnson was describing a slow crisis in the performing arts. Ticket prices are rising much faster than most Americans’ incomes. Not to mention the attractive low cost of home streaming services.

The rise isn’t just plaguing short-term sales. It also affects the long-term health of arts organizations. Arts organizations rely on the charitable support of their patrons, who generally have a close relationship with the object of their donation.

“Ticket prices have long been recognized as a barrier to curious newcomers and a barrier to regular attendance,” said Mark Skolka, president and CEO of industry group Opera America. I’ve been concerned, ‘such habits later give.

“High ticket prices discourage experimentation and raise expectations,” he added. “The higher the price, the less likely it is to meet expectations, leading to disappointment.”

It’s self-evident. High ticket prices are a barrier when organizations need to open their doors wider than ever before. Our reliance on ticket sales also hinders programming innovation. (In Europe, where art institutions sometimes receive large public subsidies, ticket sales represent a much smaller percentage of the budget, so artistic decisions need not prioritize attendance.)

But will new approaches to ticketing work to increase access and encourage more adventurous programming?

“Removing socioeconomic barriers is one of the things we have to get ahead of,” Johnson said. Pay What You Can Ticketing Approach last season. “I get a good night’s sleep because someone says, ‘I can bring my family to the concert.'”

Experimentation in this area has spread to the theatrical world. Most recently, Off He announced that prominent Broadway incubator Ars Nova would be moving to a pay-as-you-go model starting next season.

In classical music, this kind of initiative is much rarer, with the Sinfonietta taking the lead in recent times. But a much larger and more influential institution, Lincoln Center, posed a challenge this summer when it produced a short season of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra. Select payment method.

The results were encouraging. According to the Center, 90.5% of his tickets were sold at concerts held at Alice Tully Hall. This was because the larger David Geffen Hall, the orchestra’s usual home, was under renovation.

The asking price for a ticket was $35, but the average price paid was just over $19. That’s compared to about $60 in the 2019 season when face value ranged from $35 to $90. This summer, his 63% of Mostly Mozart ticket purchasers were first-time attendees of the presentation at Lincoln Center (although probably not for center members such as the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic). did).

Of course, many educational institutions offer discounted tickets for students and seniors, or those who purchase at the last minute. Also, more people are turning to subscription-style programs that offer cheaper tickets for monthly or annual fees. But these programs effectively put newcomers and occasional ticket buyers at a disadvantage.and how are they is not For students and seniors, but annoyed by rising prices?

“I think it’s really weird subsidizing tickets for young people and old people,” Johnson said. “There is a very large group of people in between. It means that you have a relationship with the community that you want to become.

Ars Nova’s executive director of production, Renee Blinkwolt, told The New York Times when the company’s new pricing policy was announced in August. It is fundamentally accessible, with doors wide open for everyone to pay what they want. “

The rise of dynamic pricing — fluctuating ticket prices based on demand — extends beyond the world of commercial theater. This will help maximize revenue for the hit institution.

But it can also be detrimental to the long-term fortunes of audiences and presenters. would be low. So relatively newcomers are disproportionately stuck in having to pay a premium when they should be most eagerly targeted with discounts. ‘s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” was a huge success and did not use dynamic pricing.)

The obvious solution is for institutions to systematically reduce prices. Don’t expect your patrons to comb your website for special ticketing programs or know how to operate a dynamic pricing system.

One way to bring prices down is to eliminate ticket revenue as a budgeting factor.Yes, it sounds extreme: Executive Director of Emilee Syrewicze Opera Grand Rapids The Michigan resident told her board of directors earlier this year that their company is moving in that direction.

“Their first thought was that they would no longer sell tickets,” says Syrewicze.

But what she envisioned was something else. Syrewicze, like many small and medium-sized institutions, found that its ticket sales accounted for only a small portion of its budget. For Opera Grand Rapids it was about 15%. She also found that the company consistently lacked a steady stream of income to direct towards new projects and new jobs.

What if the opera, she said, reorganized its finances and stepped up its fundraising to make up for it, and all the money from ticket sales went to creative programming? , “What if hundreds of thousands of people were lying down?”

She explained to the board that the company plans to put ticket revenue into other programs rather than simply eliminating it, and that changes will be made gradually over the next few years starting this fall. The members calmed down.

“It was just a moment of surprise,” Silevice said with a laugh.

At Grand Rapids, the goal is not to lower prices. The price is already cheap and has been addressed by several accessibility programs. But other organizations can use the same strategy as a model for price reductions. Tickets can be cheaper if ticket revenue is not an issue.

Small or medium-sized institutions may find it easier to experiment, because if changing ticket strategies works without cutting budgets, more donations will need to be made to fill the gaps. That said, smaller organizations also tend to have less fundraising capacity. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation supported the Mostly Mozart pilot program this summer. Syrewicze and her new development director are confident their city, especially with its strong philanthropic record, will support their experiment.

But this is a gamble and requires a rethink of the entire organization towards the goal of lowering prices.

Losses and increased funding pressure may not be viable for larger companies selling more tickets, or those still viewing ticket sales as a larger percentage of their budgets. As pointed out, the hierarchical structure of most concert halls prevents a truly democratic approach to pricing.

But the Lincoln Center shows that even the largest organizations can at least experiment in this area. Embracing the radical accessibility advocated by Ars Nova, it opens the door to a uniquely broad audience while inspiring other disciplines.

There is still work to be done. Syrewicze said that after announcing at her American conference that she was working on her opera in Grand Rapids, two of her colleagues asked her for more information, but she’s not really in the pricing field. He said he doesn’t know of any other organization that does creative thinking.

“They liked the sound, but we like a lot of the sounds,” she said. “It’s a completely different way of translating things into a budget.

Of course, even if ticket prices fell, it would not solve all the problems facing orchestras and opera companies trying to attract more audiences and retain donors.

“Price isn’t the only barrier when you’re talking about people who don’t come to opera in general,” Skolka said. “We shouldn’t joke that people will be perfectly comfortable just because ticket prices have dropped.

Likewise, the fact that lowering prices doesn’t solve everything is a disappointment.

“Let’s see what happens,” added Scorca. “In an experimental way of thinking, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.”

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