A version of this story appears in today’s Outlook special section of The Oklahoman.
OKC Philharmonic uses social media to foster a love of music
For orchestras, the popularity of social media and the smartphones that make it so accessible bring new complications, from intellectual property concerns to policies against tweeting, texting and filming during concerts.
From reminding people of the homey elegance of Aaron Copland’s popular “Appalachian Spring” to sharing a mash-up of Vivaldi with the Oscar-winning smash “Let It Go” from the movie “Frozen,” the Oklahoma City Philharmonic is using social media to foster a love of music — and get people to come hear it live.
“Ultimately, it really is about bringing people to concerts, because that’s really where the relationship starts.” said Executive Director Eddie Walker. “If someone starts attending even semi-regularly, that’s where we can build a relationship. That’s where they can become a volunteer most easily; that’s where they can find their way into the leadership circles that we have. … That’s the best away to build donors, is through people who love to attend your concerts.
“So information, yes, affinity, yes, but really, it’s about ‘come hear our music.’ That’s where we have to kind of focus everything because it all starts with the music.”
The philharmonic maintains active Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, where Hospitality and Operations Associate Chris Stinchcomb promotes events and engages followers with an array of musical offerings.
“We try to have a playful mix of things serious – moments in time, historical, recognizing ‘on this date, such and such …’ – and then some contemporary things that people find interesting, amazing, enlightening or whatever. We try to shake it up and keep it fresh and keep it new,” Walker said.
“We try to have a regular presence with people. We try not to be overly aggressive. Clearly, we try to build a personality for the Phil. Right now, we’re really focused on being fun and enjoyable.”
The orchestra’s E-newsletter has high open and click-through rates, and Walker said the staff has become conservative and cautious about using email with patrons who provide an address.
“We’re flipping our philosophy and just being very clear about opt-out if somebody doesn’t want it. So it’s always changing and it’s always shifting,” he said.
The philharmonic also is planning to launch a mobile version of its website for smartphone users.
“I don’t know that I’d consider us, the Phil, to be early adopters of new stuff, but we certainly know it’s important. We have such a wide range of audience, and we are spending a lot of time and a lot of resources to try to diversify that audience. When you do that … you have to diversify the ways that you communicate,” he said.
“What we do we try to do well.”
On the philharmonic’s official YouTube channel, patrons will find promotional videos and even a clip Philharmonic Pops Chorale singing the national anthem at a Thunder game — but not videos of the orchestra’s concerts.
“The YouTube stuff, it’s a very interesting component to our industry, and it gets very complicated because on one hand, you have a very well-established mindset in terms of the (intellectual) property. And that involves the composers, that involves the performers, that involves the institutions,” Walker said. “But you’ve almost got our industry talking out of both sides of their head: We respect the intellectual property, but on the other hand, everybody recognizes that if you’re not out there on YouTube, it’s the most valuable advertising, in many ways, that you can have.”
While YouTube videos often pop up on the OKC Phil’s Facebook and Twitter pages and music director Joel Levine often uses the site for research, Walker said patrons shouldn’t expect official videos of its concerts to appear anytime soon. But fan videos are a different matter.
“We can’t do it at this point. I hope the industry can get there. … I think they’re gonna have to. But at the same time, we know we need to be out there. So if others do it, most people aren’t policing it,” Walker said. “It’s changing so fast. It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens in the next 15, 20 years.”
With people’s social media experiences so tied into their cellphones, Walker said the philharmonic faces specific challenges, especially when it comes to its Pops concert like the recent “Music of Queen.”
“People were just having a ball, on their feet, rocking out, and naturally people want to start taking their videos. And there’s some moment when the vibe and the crowd crosses over. There are moments where it’s ‘No, you don’t want anyone recording this right now’ … because it disrupts the mood if somebody is taping. There are those moments at a Queen concert when it’s part of the mood. It’s like ‘This is what everybody wants right now,’ so when an usher comes up and says ‘I’m sorry, sir, please put up your camera phone. Please don’t record,’ you’re letting air out the balloon. You’re killing the vibe,” Walker said.
“Those people are going to go home and they’re gonna upload it (the video) to their Facebook and to their YouTube and they’re going to say ‘Oh my God, I just had the best time at the Phil!’ That’s what we want. So the industry knows that, but they’re not that into the new mindset of ‘How do we all just exhale and agree that this is good for us?’ It’s just where we are. And we as a staff are trying to figure out how do you tell a team of volunteer ushers who are on five levels of the house, ‘It’s OK now. It’s all cool now. Let it happen.’”
Although tweeting, texting and taking video during Pops concerts is bothersome to some patrons, it’s hard to discourage it when “Music of Queen” singer Brody Dolyniuk and the Midtown Men take selfies during their OKC shows and then post them from the stage. For the orchestra, the official approach is to post backstage photos before shows and during intermission but not during the actual concerts.
“Some performance groups are experimenting with the blue zones or the blue sections where it is OK to just do whatever you want. And we’ve talked about it, but we’re not there yet,” Walker said.
“Everyone’s still kind of being respectful of the performance moment, but at intermission and then after a concert – Classics, Pops, both of them – phones are out. … And it’s just not the 30-year-olds who are there. It’s 50-year-olds and 60-year-olds.”
While some orchestras have experimented with high-tech trappings like interactive handheld concert companions and large video screens with live closeups, Walker said most have been rejected by concertgoers. For many music lovers, an afternoon or evening of orchestral music often comes with the side benefit of allowing them to disconnect from their phones, their technology and their worries for a few hours.
“I think that’s something that we can still offer communities. Actually, one of the oldest things feels like one of the freshest and most different things in 2014,” Walker said.
“One of the great things about most orchestral music is that there’s no narrative. So no one’s telling you, ‘You have to think this’ or ‘you have to feel this.’ So you can escape and you can relax and it’s whatever you need it to be. And that’s pretty cool.”