Minnesota Orchestra: – Return to Business as Usual will not Return Financial Health

The Minnesota Orchestra lockout drags, and there is increasing focus on personalities, particularly of board members and administration.

The real problem is dangerously outmoded thinking from both sides of the dispute.

I have now read literally hundreds of articles on this problem.

However this research Brief from the Rand Corporation hits all the points that are fundamental to the root cause of the problem.

This brief is worthy of study by anyone with in interest in this calamitous dispute, that threatens the existence of the MO.

Of particular note is their analysis of the changing patterns of philanthropy and their advice on not ignoring the rapid changes being brought about advances in Internet technology.

Form this and other sources I have gleaned a number of salient points.

There is no evidence of a reduction on philanthropic funding.  However there are huge changes in how these funds are being dispersed.

Philanthropy is going corporate with specific goals.  The obvious example of this is Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

Philanthropy has an increasingly global outlook.

Arts funding is becoming more local, diverse and less Eurocentric.

This relates to the changing demographics.  The new wealthy are reflecting the changing ethnicity of the country and giving to arts groups of the culture to which they identify.

The social justice movement is having a big impact on how projects are chosen.  Giving to large symphony orchestras is a poor match.

However if the MO for instance, were to make the major part of their mission El Sistema and put an instrument in the hands of every child especially in areas like the North End of Minneapolis instead of guns, this might change the balance significantly, as well as attract government support.  This would require a major change in the job description of the musicians.  However judging by what has happened in South America this would be the surest way to assure the long term survival of the MO and classical music in the Twin Cities.

Now to music distribution.

In a previous post I alluded to a recent Nielsen survey which, showed the striking change in viewing habits, especially the under 35 generation.

Only 34 % of the population attend any live artistic event in any given year.  So we have to reach them out of the concert hall.

Now classical music historically has driven audio technology excellence and not the pop culture.

Now, as the digital age progresses the technology is becoming increasingly pop geared.  This issue will be ignored by the classical music organizations at their peril.  They need to understand that audio and video are indelibly linked via one interconnect. (HDMI)

There are a multitude of technical issues that have arisen, that make excellence in classical music distribution a challenge.  One occurs with downloading.  Pop music in general has discrete compositions of a few minutes in length, where a pause between track is generally present and desirable.  However sections of classical works are frequently continuous and if tracked to aid in navigation, are inclined to have pauses and or pops, ruining the piece.  To avoid this, requires the synching of a cue file, which can not be done in a data file, so that this problem is solved.  Generally this does not happen, except on a lot of UK sites.  This was a problem I was challenged to solve seven years or so ago.

So this has made streaming pre eminent for the distribution of classical music and opera.  This helps with digital rights management, in other words copyright issues.

There are demographic barriers by age also, as I pointed out in a previous blog.  Only The BPO have the equivalent of a Netflix or YouTube icon in TVs receivers and BD players.  This is proof of the success of the BPO approach.  Manufacturers have been falling over themselves to add the BPO icon to their devices, and now includes Sony, LG, Samsung and Panasonic.

For other sites for classical music you need to be able to open a web browser on the screen of your AV system.  As I pointed out in a previous blog, many 35 and under can do this, but only about 5% of 60 year old and up demographic.

Things are slipping backwards, as Sony have now discontinued their Google TV player and their new TVs are no longer able to open a web browser.

So this leaves Boxee by D-Link, just recently bought by Samsung and the Vizio TV Player.  It remains to be seen what changes Samsung will make to Boxee.

For catching what is on offer world wide, which is now a lot, in my main residence I use and HTPC of my design and construction.  It is very fast and bests any currently available commercial device by a mile.  At our small Twin Cities town home, I use the now discontinued Sony Google TV unit with excellent results, and it gets me to the BPO without opening a web browser.

Now as pointed out in the Rand Report, the quality available in the home is now stunning and rivals or exceed most seats in the concert Hall.  I can attest to that.  I must now make a confession.  I have not missed the MO during the lockout.  The lockout last fall spurred me to develop an alternative.  I have had the best concert season ever, from my own home.  I have watched the BPO, Medici TV, streams from the DSO, Met Player and some very high quality streams from YouTube.  I have also through a VPN tunnel with software created my eldest son, been listening to high quality audio stream and TV broadcasts of the Proms.  In short my cup over flows.  It should not been lost on any one, that this is a global experience.  This fact is highly significant.

Although a senior citizen and retired, I like the under 35 demographic, like to watch and listen to what I want, when I want.  I can be infinitely more eclectic in my choices than attending live concerts in the Twin Cities.  The point of this statement is that all orchestras, need to see themselves as global and not local entities.  They need to add to the choices available.  If every orchestra programs the same works a huge advantage of the Internet is lost.

This leads me into the next point.  The Internet opens up lots of potential revenue streams.  The DSO already have advertizing on their streams, that one is obvious.  However, the Internet is interactive, the way old hard media is not.  So members can interact with artists, and could pre subscribe programs they are interested in.  The is precedent for this,  Paul McCreesh’s recording of Mendelsshon’s Elijah, was funded by Internet donations.

Now consider this. Suppose a composer has an outline of a new work and plays the general idea on an Orchestra site and gets discussion going.  It is easy to imagine how interest could build and subscriptions come in.  All would be involved at the point of creation.

Orchestra members could use the Internet to garner students world wide.

There really are virtually unlimited scenarios and possibilities not yet thought of.

There are encouraging signs.  CDs have become an endangered species, and apart from the exotic high end, stand alone CD players have all but vanished.  DVD and BD players require a screen for set up and full operation.  Many are finding watching anything on mobiles and computers, even with fairly decent computer speakers getting old fast.  I wonder what took so long!  For the first time in a long while we are seeing an uptick and AV systems and respectable Hi-Fi speaker systems.

I have been obsessed with improving audio since a young child.  I was there for the wide spread adoption of the LP, stereo LP and FM, tape, CD, DVD, SACD, BD and now the advancing of Internet AV streaming and downloading.

Now it is time for the classical music and opera companies to take hold of these developments.  This will require pooling of resources, the development of new software and websites.   Technical excellence needs to be the banner to which all rally.  Alliances will need to be formed with manufacturers and retailers.  Getting an Icon for American musical arts will be a priority.  The BPO have shown that this is possible.

An important leg of this will be consumer education.  I suspect this will be especially important for our demographic.

Set up is a lot more complicated than in the days of the LP and CD.  I see leadership in this area is vital.

A new game plan needs to be developed.  I see a bright future for the musical arts world wide with the maturing of the digital age.  We all need to be key players shaping things to come, or else be buried in pop culture.  Historically we have led with the banner of technical excellence, the pop culture has led with the poorest quality they can get away with and its dreadful.

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