Sunday, June 2, 2013

Orchestras and Social Media 2

Time to update the usage stats for the social media campaigns of orchestras in this part of the world.


Changes over the last quarter are below.


Some of these numbers are a bit deceptive, coming as they do off small bases, but one of the inescapable conclusions is that the Facebook “Talking About” metric has dropped like a rock for most orchestras, yet rocketed for the NZSO and risen sharply for the SSO and TSO.

Why is this?

I’m not really sure because I mostly avoid Facebook like a bad cliche, but they are clearly doing something to keep their Facebook fans engaged which the others are missing.  Elsewhere the QSO have put in big effort on the Youtube front, and have now amassed over 44,000 views (they’ll catch the MSO soon at this rate).  The SSO has also continued their success with Youtube, posting a 79% increase on an already big number to achieve almost 1 million views.  Impressive, although they still have a way to go to catch PSY, who’s about to notch up 2.8 billion views.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Limelight Orchestra Ratings

Limelight magazine has gone all `My School’ and rated the six major symphony orchestras around Australia.  It did so using a panel of 15 judges who were provided with anonymous recordings of various pieces performed by the orchestras during 2012.

As you might expect, the smallest and least funded of the six orchestras (Tasmania) came in 6th, while the largest and most heavily funded orchestra (Sydney) came first.  However, that was where the relationship between Limelight rating and $ spent broke down, as this chart demonstrates:

Limelight Rating

Significant kudos accrues to the QSO and particularly the ASO for generating strong results from modest spending.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Orchestras and Social Media

Here’s where we currently stand on social media usage in Australian (+NZ) orchestras:


The Melbourne and Sydney symphonies may be duking it out over Twitter and facebook, but once YouTube views are taken into account it’s a massive win for Sydney.  One interesting facet of its social media presence is the relationship between facebook “likes” and facebook “talking about” – a mere 3%.  Analysts say that counting “likes” is a poor indicator of the success or failure of a social media strategy, as building this number is simply a function of how many iPads you want to give away (“Like us today and you could win one of umpteen iPads!”).  The “talking about” metric is presumably a better indicator of engagement, as opposed to the simple (albeit legally contested) clicking of the little thumbs up icon.

Another thing to consider about the Sydney symphony is the astoundingly bad results they get on the “Stupid Fight” indicator, which measures the stupidity and/or banality of the tweets offered up by fans and followers of a Twitter user, based on the incidence of various stupid abbreviations (ROFL, OMG), overuse of exclamation marks (ROFL!!!), inability to distinguish between upper and lower case, etc.  Here’s the results of a head to head battle between the MSO and the SSO:


Note that MSO fans score a highly respectable “smart as a whip” 20, while the SSO strays into “thick as two short planks” territory with an astounding 300.  Perhaps this is correlated with the number of facebook likes (OMG!! i won an ipad!!!). Mind you, trumping them all is the ASO, whose small number of Twitter followers have compiled a remarkable 315.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra–what did I miss?

As I related here I’ve been having some issues getting hold of an MSO 2013 program guide – they’re loathe to provide a pdf document online, preferring instead to go all retro and send one through the mail.  This finally arrived today – I feel like sending someone a thankyou fax,  or possibly a telegram. 

Anyway, my surprise at their choice of delivery channel was nothing compared to my surprise at the results when I crunched the numbers.  In common with the ASO, the MSO repertoire safety index has plunged, going from 7.0 to 5.7, with a lot more big names and their warhorses being trotted out.  This isn’t particularly surprising, as the index tends to bounce around from year to year, but what was really astounding was the % of the MSO 2013 program composed by Australians….2%.  Surely I’m missing something!  Did that bit of the program get lost in the mail?* They’ve got a reasonable % of pieces composed by living writers (15%), but where’s the local talent?  As the following table shows, the MSO are now squarely in WASO territory as far as this metric is concerned:


As for the rest of it, the plunge in the MSO and ASO safety index numbers needs to be put in the context of a remarkable leap in the QSO rating.  The playlist factor – which endeavours to assess what % of orchestra programs appear on those top 100/top 200/top whatever lists that abound on the web – behaves inversely to the safety index, as you’d expect.



Finally, the MSO manages a reasonable 15% on the”live music” score (i.e. music composed by people who are still with us):


Notwithstanding all this, the MSO deserves some kudos for including Conlon Nancarrow in its list.  He’s not Australian, and he doesn’t add to the live music factor (d. 1997), but as the author of numerous studies for player piano (e.g. here) I feel he warrants a tip of the hat, as here is some piano music I feel I could get to grips with.

* To be fair, the MSO did sneak a couple of locally made pieces into one of their Sidney Myer outdoor concerts – Edwards’ Full Moon Dances (which I saw last year, and is a terrific piece of music), and Broadstock’s Federation Flourish (which I don’t know at all). Including these would have lifted them to a still-anaemic 4%, but in any event I exclude free concerts from these listings as ultimately I’d like to look for the correlation between ticket sales and program content.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2013 Repertoire Safety Index

The 2013 Repertoire Safety Index is finally ready, although unfortunately it's a bit shy on detail this year as I've been unable to load up the programs for both the Melbourne Symphony and the NZ Symphony.  Both of these have adopted the (in my view daft) approach of listing individual concerts on their websites without making their actual programs accessible as pdf documents, either directly or (as in the case of the ACO) via  In the case of the Melbourne Symphony, the "request a brochure" (via snailmail!) feature on their website yielded no results at all.  A direct approach to @MelbSymphony via Twitter also drew a blank.  I think they'd prefer it if I just drove over there.

In due course I'm sure they'll make their programs available, and to this end I've enlisted the help of the MSO's associate conductor and Richmond FC booster Ben Northey (who I'm sure can spot a social media clanger a mile off).  Failing that I'll just have to go through the two websites concert-by-concert and catalogue their programs (maybe).

Anyway, there's been a bit of movement in the Repertoire Safety Index edging up from 6.6 to 6.7 (bearing in mind that the lower the number, the safer the programming).  

The ACO has had a meaningful jump from 8.9 to 9.8, although its still less than the 2011 result of 9.9.  The QSO is more noteworthy given that they've typically trailed the overall average - 2013 will see them perform a ton of pieces by composers well off their previous radar, featuring pieces by Abel, Addinsell, Arne and Arnold - and that's just the As :).  On the flipside the ASO's rating has dropped like a rock from 7.3 to 5.5, a feat largely accomplished by loading up on Mozart and Beethoven to an extent we haven't seen for years (these two composers collectively having contributed just 5 works to each of the last two years programs, but 15 to the 2013 program).

It's nice to see the proportion of music composed by people still above ground increasing, albeit largely as a result of the ACO's phenomenal increase in the use of works by living composers - a new high water mark of 36%!  And they're not all works by Richard Tognetti! Intriguing to see that the orchestra least reliant on government grants (see here) can take this position. 

Alas for our home grown composers, their proportion of pieces on the 2013 programs continues to flatline, falling to 8% from 10% (although this would be way lower if not for the ACO and CSO).  Needless to say it’s all miles away from Michael Kieran Harvey’s proposal for a 50% benchmark.  Finally, of particular concern is the SSO's contribution at just 4% - given their status as a "flagship" orchestra, not to mention their status as the recipient of the biggest government handouts year after year, you might be forgiven for expecting a little more than this.  As for the MSO at 2%???  More on this later.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Michael Kieran Harvey and Cultural Cringe

Pianist Michael Kieran Harvey has fired an impressive salvo at Australia’s arts organisations, which is well worth a read. His observations include the following: Classical music is in the grip of cultural cringe, Harvey says, where there is no Australian conductor as head of an Australian orchestra, and music by local composers accounts for just 7 per cent of concert seasons. It’s an interesting observation, and although his figure of 7% looks a little low it’s probably about right, particularly for 2011 when the orchestra with the largest program (Sydney) had a meagre 6% local content. My data is as follows:

One particularly notable observation was that as these orchestras are funded in part by the taxpayer, there should be a much greater onus on them to perform works by Australian composers. This is a fair point, although I think he’s set his benchmark a bit high by claiming that the number should be 50%. As this table shows, no-one has got remotely close to this. One thing that might be of concern is that when the ASO went with 20% local content in 2011, they saw a 13% slide in ticket sales in that year. No doubt there were many reasons for this, but presumably the concept of 50% local content might cause a few palpitations. Whilst on this subject – I haven’t finished crunching the numbers on the 2013 orchestral programs yet, but early indications are that local content has fallen even further – ASO 6%, QSO 5%, SSO 5%, WASO 3%. So, I'm not too sure about his target of 50%, but fair call about the cultural cringe factor.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

2011 Annual Accounts - Two Speed Orchestras

chart1We’ve all heard plenty about the two speed economy in Australia lately, so its no real surprise that the WA and Queensland orchestras both showed a significant improvement in their funding positions in their 2011 annual reports, both having secured solid increases in their sponsorships. However, the disappointing thing about all of them (with the exception of Sydney) is that ticket sales have continued their years-long trend of flatlining.  Some, like the QSO, have evidently worked hard at converting single ticket sales into subscription sales – this strategy may have been successful, but ultimately their ticket sales are the lowest they’ve been for many years, although the Queensland floods of early 2011 would have had an impact. 

The relative success of the Sydney Symphony raises the obvious question about what they are doing to keep their ticket sales growing and their reliance on government grants falling.  There is no doubt that they have a bit of an edge in that they’re able to trot out names like Lang Lang (2011) and Anne Sophie Mutter (2012) for Sydney-only performances, but in addition to that you have to wonder if their insistence on playing Australia’s safest repertoire is yielding dividends.  A glance at their 2011 program shows a preponderance of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Rachmaninoff, and ultimately a repertoire safety index score of just 4.5 – way below the Australian average for that year of 6.5, and miles below the leaders ACO (9.9) and ASO (7.5).  Programming of works by living composers (8%) and Australian composers (6%) is similarly well below the national average.  Other details of the 2011 programs can be found here (2012 is here).

I guess it’s self evident that programing popular works by popular composers is likely to lead to an increase in ticket sale because they are, well, popular.  So here’s your proof.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Sydney v. Melbourne Cringe

The Sydney v. Melbourne thing hit the arts scene this week with Limelight magazine making a comparison of the two cities on a number of artistic fronts, including classical music. In regard to the classical music comparison, they made the point that the Melbourne Symphony offers slightly more adventurous programing than the Sydney Symphony. Is it?

Looking just at the 2012 programs, it's clear that the MSO is doing quite a bit more, with their "live music" component (ie works composed by people who are still kicking) standing at 19% while the SSO sits at a lowly 12%.  This stat ranges from 21% in Adelaide to 8% in WA.

Another arguably more significant stat is the percentage of works by Australian composers - 10% in Melbourne, and a puny
6% in Sydney (the range is 12% in Tasmania to a mere 2% in WA).  You'd have thought that given the amount of tax dollars the many headed public is contributing to this that such low numbers wouldn't be tolerated.

Finally, the Repertoire Safety Index tells us that the MSO, with a score of 7.0, has a playlist far less loaded with warhorses and chartbusters than the SSO, with a score of 5.6.  The range around the country is 8.8 (although that's the ACO which is probably an unfair comparison, to Adelaide at 7.3 down to WASO at 5.3).

In summary, Sydney is doing considerably less than Melbourne on these measures, although neither is doing particularly well.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Terracini and arts funding

"If any arts organisation is receiving $20 million per year in funding from government, then it is not acceptable in a democratic society for that company to only play to a small number of people who are members of an elitist club. In fact, any arts organisation which is in receipt of public funds is obliged to justify that funding by doing its utmost to be inclusive of all members of society."

Some more good "long form" journalism from the Global Mail:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hipsters, hoons and Ennio Morricone

imageAdelaide gets quite interesting in March.  Between the Festival of Arts, the Festival Fringe, the world music festival, writers’ week, the Clipsal 500 car race and the Adelaide Cup horse race there’s something for pretty much everyone, sometimes all at exactly the same time.

Tonight proved to be such a case.  The Festival’s opening was a gala concert featuring the Italian film composer Ennio Morricone conducting the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, outdoors at Elder Park on the Torrens River.  They managed to sell out the 5000 seat venue (not to me mind you – call me tight but I balk at $150 a ticket for an outdoor concert), the threatened rain didn’t eventuate and the evening was perfect, but what wasn’t quite perfect was the ear splitting din from the nearby Clipsal car race (or a night time “shoot out” derivative thereof), nor for that matter the sound of an 80’s knock-off band further down the river (and we all know how well sound travels across water).

This all made for an interesting melange of sound.  Schoenberg would have been proud.  I was stretched out on a picnic rug nearby, able to appreciate the subtleties of what was on offer, no doubt in a way not possible if I was sitting the other side of the fence $300 lighter.  Fortunately the cacophony didn’t last past the intermission but nonetheless it stands as a fine example of culture clash.