We Need A Classical Music Incubator!

When I spoke at the Nordic Orchestra Conference in Stockholm this fall, I argued for an incubator for classical music. My reasoning was pretty simple – although classical music is still in a great place it is in dire need of innovation. And innovation rarely comes from within systems.

My push for a classical music incubator was probably seen as an utopian idea from a different planet. At first, I was surprised by a polite but reserved reaction until I realized that this was really a provocative idea for anyone in the arts and classical music world.

Having worked my whole life in tech and classical music I have had the privilege to be part of some of the leading incubators – Plug and Play in Silicon Valley, the very first incubator there was, Runway in San Francisco and WeXelerate in Vienna. I even co-founded a new one at a research university in Austria. But if you hadn’t hat the opportunity to see that why would you bother?

A few days ago, I came across an interview with Lisa Phillips, Director of the New Museum in New York, in the podcast In Other Words. The New Museum founded NEW INC in 2014, a cultural incubator dedicated to supporting innovation, collaboration, and entrepreneurship across art, design, and technology. Every year 100 people are chosen to become Members of NEW INC, to work together, explore, experience and learn. NEW INC provides working space of 750 sqm with the usual office space but also special equipment for artists and designers. 

While living in Silicon Valley I came across Zoo Labs in Oakland. They offer a fourteen-day intensive program for musicians – mostly non-classical ones. They teach all the business essentials a musician has to know. But they also provide studio time, social events and more.

So, the incubator idea is not as far from the art world as one might think. But it is still missing for classical music. And that even though there are more and more classical music startups. Already in 2015 HELLO STAGE organized a Classical Goes Tech Day in San Francisco bringing together several startups working in classical music. The Karajan Institut and the Salzburg Easter Festival started a similar day in 2017 – the Karajan Music Tech Conference. So there is a growing entrepreneurial scene in and around classical music.

Now imagine that you combine that entrepreneurial force with some of the leading classical music institutions in the world. The impact of that would go far beyond our wildest dreams. No more moaning about aging audiences but driving a cultural good for the benefit of society and the development of individuals. A dream to work on in 2019.

Photo: Runway, San Francisco, by Bernhard Kerres