Duo 5: Building National and Diverse Audiences for New Concert Music

Saturday, January 9, 2010 from 1:00 to 1:45 pm

With Russell Kelley (Canada Council) & Matthew Greenall (Sound and Music)

(The following notes are from Matthew Greenall)


Big topic! I will approach somewhat obliquely as new concert music only a part of SAM’s remit. However I hope reflections will be relevant, and touch on other themes that have run through the conference.

1. Why Sound and Music (SAM)

Feb 2004: meeting convened by Arts Council England. 10 organisations connected with new music in UK brought together to discuss ambitions for the sector. Orgs ranged from multi-cultural touring agencies to grass roots collectives, the national jazz agency, the MIC and professional development orgs for new music.

We established some common themes:

  • shared struggle to attract significant audience numbers
  • relatively low profile of our work vis-a-vis other arts forms (e.g. visual arts)
  • small scale operations leading to cycle of instability- no financial reserves- difficult to plan for growth or take advantage of opportunities

Arts Council then offered carrot and stick.

Carrot: new arts venue planned in central North London (Kings Place) next door to major transport hub (Kings Cross International Terminal). Mixed use of arts spaces (2 new halls) and office space with major arts friendly media client (Guardian newspaper) the main tenant. Opening 2007. We can move in, on preferential terms, and establish Kings Place as a new performance hub for new work.

Stick: we must combine to take advantage of opportunity to move in to Kings Place. Arts Council wants to write one cheque (implied: merge or your grants at risk).

Years of negotiation and politics followed. Two decisive turning points:

  • decision of 6 orgs to detach venue issue and its imposed timescale from that of merger, with merger becoming the lead agenda item
  • award of £1.2 million in 2007 from Arts Council organisational development funds to capitalise merger.

Eventual decision of four organisations to merge and create entirely new organisation:

  • British Music Information Centre (Bmic)
  • Contemporary Music Network (CMN — Arts Council’s own touring network for new music
  • Sonic Arts Network (SAN — organisation for sound art, electro-acoustic and acousmatic music)
  • Society for the Promotion of New Music (spnm — professional development organisation for composers)

Merger completed October 2008.

2. Audience development research

From earliest discussions of what would become SAM, clear that relationship with audiences would be a key development area.

2007-09: SAM worked with an audience development agency, Audiences London, to get a more complete picture of our core and potential audience.

Conducted first national audience survey (e-survey) of new music for many years. Some key findings:

  • Our audiences prioritised our live events profile, our knowledge base (publications, scores, collections) and they felt what we produced was of high quality
  • Postcode analysis of our key demographics showed high spike in ‘counter-cultural mix’ category (typically young professionals or students living in culturally diverse, socially mixed urban areas)
  • 75% of our respondents were male
  • Relatively low audience penetration in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Primary (e.g. in person, one-to-one) research in three areas:

  • interviews after events
  • immersive research, i.e. new audience member taken along to event and gives feedback
  • life charts: new music frequent experiencers or professionals chart their life journey to being new music ‘avids’

What we found from primary research

  • a lot of confusion and uncertainty over language and how to communicate the new music ‘experience’
  • a tendency of audiences to prefer engagement with risk and edginess in environments that were for them low-risk or non-risk
  • immersive research showed that for new attenders were deterred by events that seemed to priortise an in-crowd whilst excluding them (i.e. too long, not enough information, mis-match between marketing and event itself)

An overall view emerged of an audience outside our core of professional users that was curious, open to experiment, mobile, digitally aware, sometimes wanting a personal, participative involvement in work that went beyond role as a passive audience member.

3. How we believe Sound and Music will make a difference

SAM is still very new and has yet to fully establish its working practise. However, three areas to highlight:

Critical mass. SAM has a combined grant of £1.26 million from Arts Council (the sum of the four founders’ grants), an endowment inherited from one of the founders, and a significant reserve. This is stronger position from which to fundraise and withstand recession, from which to develop higher-level partnerships and profile events than the founders, to offer sector leadership and develop advocacy.

Working model. Our legacy from the four founders provides us with strong profile in four interconnected areas of work- live events, learning and participation, digital/web and knowledge/resources. By combining these we can provide rich content around projects or events, offering multiple entry points to our work for audiences.

Greater fluidity for artists. By working across genres and expanding the range of contexts in which we work, we offer artists, composers and producers greater opportunities to expand their own range of practise and engage with new audiences (e.g. professional development).

4. Some reflections on diversity and building audiences

Some thoughts from the perspective of SAM’s journey (in no particular order):

The UK is an environment that continually presents new challenges and new communities to address if an arts organisation is to remain relevant in a changing environment. Immigration since 1950’s and EU enlargement in 2000’s are big factors.

  • More than a third of London inhabitants now born outside UK
  • UK will soon have its first city where UK born inhabitants a minority (Leicester)
  • Approx. 10% of population of Lithuania currently lives in UK
  • Post 2004, between 2 and 3 million Poles (exact figure unknown) came to work in the UK. Many have stayed.

SAM has begun addressing some of these communities, through:

  • Artistic residencies, e.g. tabla player Kuljit Bhamra as Artistic Director — tour of Melas and projects with north Asian communities (2007-09)
  • Support for UK’s Fertlilizer Festival of new Polish music (2009)

From audience research, we have objective to collect own data and build knowledge around audiences. Trying to see ourselves as we are seen and change the dialogue with venues, promoters and presenters around data sharing to get more access..

Take seriously and address the issues that alienate potential new audiences.

Engage local communities through its leaders and take new work to them in spaces where they feel at home and can bring an audience (in UK, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group is an example of good practise)

Work with and embed leading artists to make diversity implicit rather than token in an organisation. Reflect diversity on Board and staff team.