What it takes to build an audience...

In June 2015, Kristin Lee and Andrew Goldstein – co-founders of Emerald City Music – set out on a mission to build a new audience of classical music lovers in the Puget Sound region. The following is Andrew's blog update on the organization's audience-building efforts.

Since our founding in 2015, two ideas have been at the core of our work at Emerald City Music. The first is "fresh approach", taking a really critical look at how we can innovate classical music experiences to attract a wider, and more diverse audience (more on that later!). The second is the ever-important phrase, "a rising tide lifts all boats."

When we founded Emerald City Music, our dream was to bring classical music to new audiences, namely millennials, families, and students. We believed that classical music should be enjoyed by all, and decided to pull our resources to grow this new audience. 

Admittedly, we ran into some roadblocks initially because we hadn't clearly defined why it was so important that these communities experience classical music. All we really knew was that these people weren't attending performances, and that existing classical music organizations were unsuccessful in reaching those groups. Our thinking was simple: bring this amazing music to those communities, get them interested in classical music, and grow the entire arts community; i.e. "a rising tide lifts all boats."

In the Fall, our Board President guided us through an exercise in defining the question:

Why Classical?

It's a question that's daunting in its simplicity. Why do these communities need this music, and why are we the ones to bring it to them? 

Part of what we decided was that classical music is unifying; it can bring a community together. We also re-affirmed that classical music isn't dying (contrary to popular belief), and that we can take a fresh approach to help it thrive in the Pacific Northwest. In this conversation, one idea resurfaced again and again:

Our work starts with community.

Let me elaborate. Many classical music presenters around the world function under the belief that "if you build it, they will come." If you perform Beethoven Symphonies, naturally, people will find out about it and attend. But what actually happens is that only the people who are looking for Beethoven find out and attend, which makes for a terribly uniform community. 

We altered all of our plans based on our "why classical" resolutions. We founded our organization with the mission, "to present, promote, and produce classical music performances and educational programs in the Puget Sound region", and re-generated our purpose into, "to be a place for a community of music lovers to socialize, develop creative energy, and discover incredible music together."

The difference is staggering; we don't tout ourselves as a destination for classical music lovers, but rather as a place for all music lovers. Yes, we're presenting the best-of-the-best musicians from around the globe, but that means nothing if the audience doesn't feel that they belong to that community. Our work starts and ends with community, and everything that happens in-between integrates this incredible art form into that framework. 

So, how's it all going?

I promised to elaborate on how our audience-building efforts are going, and I won't delay any longer! In February, Emerald City Music hosted free preview-performances in Seattle and Olympia. We were delighted to see both venues full (in fact, we had to add chairs in Seattle), and reached approximately 200 people. After that, a short series of lectures throughout the region also reached an additional 200 community members.

Since February, I've met with nearly 100 individuals from the tech, finance, insurance, and law industries throughout the Puget Sound. In addition to the outreach work of our board members, we've identified nearly 1,000 people in those communities with a background or interest in classical music. Each person we meet with becomes the entry point into the communities that we're seeking to reach, and we are continually seeking their help to expand our reach there.

In the Olympia and Tacoma communities, we are crafting partnerships with music teachers to engage further with local students. We're making it easier (and more welcoming) than ever for families with children to attend performances, and are reaching out to the region's colleges to get students exploring classical music. It goes without saying that these performances are truly for everyone, but it's so important for families and students, especially, to be exposed to chamber music while they still have ample access to other resources such as their school orchestras.

We've connected with radio stations – not just classical, but also rock, country, and talk radio – sharing our dream for music lovers of all backgrounds to be discovering classical music. In this vein, we updated our donor benefits to create membership levels that embrace all backgrounds – for instance, our $100 donor benefit is a custom-curated playlist of classical music based on the donor's favorite song in any other genre.

It is so exciting to see the Puget Sound community take pride in this project. I truly think the reason for this is simple: our work starts with each individual person. We embrace everyone's diverse backgrounds as key to our growing community. You don't have to know anything about classical music to enjoy Emerald City Music performances... you just have to come!

What that all said, we have a long way to go, and a lot more to share. Continue reading the latest updates below.

April 2016: Announcing Season One
May 2016: Here's How You Can Help: Current Needs

Until next time, and with utmost thanks for your continued support,

Twitter: @DailyClassical