Emerging Trend: The Strength of Music Organizations Post-Pandemic
Jennifer Sowinski Nemeth
Senior Consultant & Analyst
Music organizations have seen stronger sales post-pandemic relative to other performing arts organizations.
Using data to guide decision making has been more important than ever since the reopening of arts organizations after the COVID-19 shutdown. It’s one thing to have a feeling about how audience behavior has changed, but it’s an entirely different thing to actually see it in the data. One data trend that we’ve found particularly interesting (and unexpected!) in JCA Arts Marketing’s last few studies, including the Reopening Season Trends and our most recent Subscription Sales Study, is the strength of sales for music organizations compared to other artforms.
Music organizations’ trends
JCA Art Marketing’s 2022 Reopening Season Trends study found that music fared significantly better in the opening 2021-22 season than their theatre and opera counterparts. Across all performance types, organizations sold only 58% as many tickets in 2021-22 compared to 2018-19. Classical music, on the other hand, sold 73% as many tickets, and Pops music (including Jazz, Pops, and Specials series) sold 71% as many tickets. What’s more, Pops series in particular were bringing in almost the same amount of revenue per performance in 2021-22 as they were in 2018-19!
Similarly, our 2023 Subscription Study found that while sales of theatre subscription packages dropped by an average of 51% in 2022-23 (compared to 2018-19), sales of music subscription packages only dropped by 34%.
And it’s not just our research that shows this phenomenon! Colleen Dilenschneider has been reporting since the early days of the pandemic that audiences have been faster to return to music than to other forms of performing arts.
What is causing this trend?
Content at Music Organizations
There are likely a multitude of reasons that ticket sales for music organizations are doing better than other artforms, and JCA Arts Marketing spoke with a number of our clients to get their perspective on this trend.
Cassandra Swan, Director of Ticket & House Services at Minnesota Orchestra, along with her team, offers several suggestions for the success of classical music. For one, music concerts are often familiar. Audiences know what to expect when they buy a ticket to a popular work such as Beethoven’s 5th, and the experience tends to be consistent and predictable. In that way, concerts can be a low-risk way to spend time and money. On the other hand, artforms like contemporary theatre or mixed-rep dance feel riskier, because the ticket buyer doesn’t always know exactly what they’re going to get, and don’t know if they’re going to enjoy the experience. Another consideration is that music remained familiar even through the pandemic. If a classical music lover missed attending performances, they could put on their favorite recording and be reminded of that experience. Other genres don’t have quite as direct of an at-home analog, and so, audiences habit of consuming those artforms were diminished.
The Minnesota Orchestra team also points out that music organizations were often faster to return to live performances than other artforms. Orchestras were quick to begin offering outdoor concerts, which gave them more time to cultivate audiences’ return, compared with other arts organizations who remained dark for a longer period of time.
Audiences at Music Organizations
It could also be a matter of who is purchasing the ticket. JCA Arts Marketing recently conducted a census-balanced survey on behalf of a client in the New York City market, which included a question that asked respondents to identify their favorite form of performing arts. The responses for Classical Music were fascinating, with 17-18% of Millennials and Generation Z respondents choosing Classical Music as their favorite artform, compared to only 7-8% of the older generations choosing the same.
This could be a contributor to classical music’s success, as younger audience members have been faster to return since the pandemic. In fact, staff at Chicago Symphony Orchestra have noted particular success in their student ticket program since reopening. The organization expanded the availability of student tickets to inventory that typically wouldn’t have been available at the discount pre-pandemic. They attribute a portion of the volume of tickets since reopening to the success of the student ticket program.
Marketing at Music Organizations
Some of music organizations’ success could also be attributed to effective marketing shifts. LA Phil reports that, since the pandemic, they started marketing on social and digital platforms earlier than they did in the past. Similarly, Russell Kelban, Vice President for Marketing at Strategic Engagement at Oregon Symphony, sees more success on the horizon. He reports that the early subscription renewal rates for Oregon Symphony’s recently launched 2023-24 season indicate that there is a trend for subscribers returning at a higher rate than the current season. Russell attributes the strong return rate to the organization’s management of patrons’ health and safety expectations over the last two years, but also mentions that they trend trend may be a result of a fundamental shift in several key marketing strategies and tactics.
Since the pandemic closure, and continuing through the current season, Oregon Symphony has been re-directing more focus and resources towards digital marketing, generating more engaging video content for social media platforms, crafting messaging that embraces segmented marketing, emphasizing the concert-going experience in our communication, and utilizing a “storytelling” approach when discussing concert programming.
As the research and insights from these organizations reveal, there likely isn’t a single reason that music organizations are leading the performing arts in their pandemic return. But certainly, all genres have something they can learn from the success of symphonies and orchestras.
What do you see in your data?
If you’re looking for support in exploring how your organization can reengage and attract audiences, please contact JCA Arts Marketing to learn more about how we can help!