Classical Music in an Age of Digital Innovation and Shifting Stakeholders Needs and Expectations
I was recently awarded a 6-month research fellowship as part of the Digital Futures Institute at King's College London. My research focuses on the challenges and opportunities facing symphony orchestras as they attempt to attract new audiences. Of particular interest is the role of digital technology in mediating relationships with existing and potential new audiences in an era in which the attention of audiences has become a scarce commodity. The following is a brief overview of my research:
Classical music performing organizations, such as orchestras and opera theatre companies, are adapting digital technology in response to changing stakeholder needs and expectations. Examples include the introduction of the first orchestra-owned record label (LSO Live) by the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) in 1999, which was in direct response to a decline in the traditional recorded music industry following digital disruption (Kavanagh, 2018), and the launching of a video streaming service by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 2008 through which the organization broadcasts live concerts to registered users and subscribers who also have access to an ever-expanding archive of concert performances. More recently, classical music organizations have had to adapted digital marketing strategies and in particular capabilities in the area of social media marketing in order to remain competitive in a digital economy in which the attention of audiences and consumers is a scarce commodity. Meanwhile, during the Covid-19 pandemic, if they had not done so already, these organizations had to very rapidly develop online initiatives to maintain relationships with audiences and other key stakeholders, especially during periods of lockdown.
Although it might be argued that digital technology, which is commonly associated with distraction and a lack of concentration, is antithetical to traditional classical music culture, classical music organizations are proving innovative in adapting digital technology in support of their mission. However, a fundamental challenge is to develop effective strategies aimed at managing an ever-increasing variety of digital media throughout its lifecycle, which involves planning, creating, storing, distributing, optimizing, and preserving digital assets. Furthermore, rich media, which includes live video streams, high definition audio file formats, high-resolution images etc., now plays a critical role in advancing mission and business objectives across industry sectors, including the classical music industry. Because rich media can be ‘large and unwieldy’ (Regli, 2016, p.7), it requires special handling and specialist skills. For example, orchestras that have followed the LSO’s lead and established in-house record labels have had to acquire new capabilities to effectively manage the production and distribution of products such as CDs and audio downloads and in a range of different formats. This media is stored in a system (hardware and software) that supports user functions such as the ability to annotate, edit, and search and retrieve digital files and that is interoperable with other systems (e.g. content management systems) with and perhaps between organizations. Systems in which rich media is stored also need to be scalable, especially considering the dynamic nature of digital innovation, which often necessitates that organizations introduce new processes, workflows, and business models in response to shifting user needs.
In addition to managing content such as audio recordings, classical music organizations are, like most organizations operating in the digital economy, challenged to produce and distribute digital content on a daily basis, most obviously to feed social media channels and other digital marketing needs as audience/consumer behavior continues to evolve in a dynamic and competitive social media ecosystem that is dictating marketing strategies across industry sectors. Considering the important role that digital media plays in shaping relationships between classical music organizations and audiences and consumers it is no surprise that these organizations are adapting management strategies to optimize the value of the digital media they rely on to remain competitive in a digital world in which audience attention is a critical resource.