Pirates for Classical Music

Abstract of a Key Note held at the Nordic Orchestra Conference
on October 24th, 2018, in Stockholm, Sweden.

Pirates find treasures. How they go about finding and getting them might be unorthodox and different.

Classical music is a treasure. A great, living treasure. But we need to find new ways, unorthodox and different ones to spread our passion for classical music and the good which is enshrined in this incredible art form.

Last week I came home late from the office. It was already cold outside. I was looking forward to some quality time with friends and family, a good meal, perhaps a glass of wine. Instead I had to go out again into the cold. I had to go to a place where I had to sit quietly and uncomfortably for over two hours. I was neither allowed to check my email or update my social media status on my smartphone, nor to comment on my experience to my neighbor. Luckily there was a break in between. But the choice of either queuing for a visit to the bathroom or for a glass of wine was almost unsolvable. Doing both would be impossible in the twenty minutes available to me. I went for the glass of wine just to find myself nipping on an overpriced wine of low quality before rushing back into the hall. At last I could make my way home through a cold and dark night.

This is a typical customer journey for any concert visitor. When thinking of it that way one might be surprised that anyone is still coming to listen to classical music at all. Concert halls and opera houses do not provide for a nice night out.

When I asked people if classical music needs pirates to innovate it, 80% answered with yes. It is time for innovation in classical music, not for the product itself, which is fantastic but for the experience around it.

Innovation requires revolution. It needs something new. A new approach. Often a radical approach. Whereas evolution leads to improvement. Most classical music institutions are doing great in improving their products and services. Just think about the outreach work done all over, the use of digital tools from streaming to marketing and more.

But when talking about innovation, what is required for it? Research over many years has unearthed four issues one needs to take into account when thinking about innovation:

  1. Innovation can only happen outside of existing locations and organizations.
  2. Teams need to be able to organize themselves freely and without interference from HR departments.
  3. Team members want to be recognized – often in a hidden way – for their work and achievements.
  4. Innovation requires and independent ambassador who is respected from the innovation team and has the ear of the leadership of the funding organization.

Classical music has seen a lot of innovation over the last decade. All this innovation is almost exclusively coming from outside existing institutions. Think about all the streaming startups which popped up independently of big labels – e.g. Primephonic, Medici.tv, or Idagio. Or think about the service apps such as MusicTraveler or Oktav.

Classical music institutions do not have the size to set up their own innovation labs. They are too small in itself. Only a company with thousands of employees and a turnover in the hundreds of millions has actually the resources to set up their own innovation lab and to invest into new ideas.

Therefore, classical music institutions in a region might think about pulling resources and setting up their joined innovation lab e.g. in the Nordic region, or the West Coast of the US. A starting point could be the professionally organized Ideathon for classical music. At an Ideathon entrepreneurs, tech people, classical music wizards, musicians etc. come together over two to three days to develop concrete ideas to tackle an issue in classical music. Ideathons are derived from hackthons, a well proven process to solve programming and coding challenges in tech industries.

The winner(s) of the Ideathon can then be placed in an incubator or accelerator in the region where they will receive mentoring and an entrepreneurship program. Incubators and accelerators are locations in many cities around the world where several startups undergo a program at the same time. The classical music startups will get the contacts to the classical music institutions who are behind that program. This will provide the startups early on with feedback and sales channels. At the same time it will give the classical music institutions early access to innovation.

Innovation is happening and is needed. Everywhere. But especially in a fantastic art form which is currently constrained by a presentation developed over one hundred years ago when the first public concert halls where built. Embracing innovation now will provide generations with the values classical music can bring to people and societies.