February 12, 2013
I've been complaining copiously in recent years about poor attendance to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music's mostly free student and faculty concerts — it seems such a waste of talent on one side, of listening opportunity on the other. The most recent mention of the subject, last week, calling the school to task:
The event was strange in other ways, not counting the lamentably empty 400-seat concert hall — something that happens all too often, unfortunately, but shouldn't if the school made greater effort to attract audiences to free events.
Sam Smith, the school's director of communications, replied in a frank, thoughtful message, including the following:
Just to give you an inside view, the Conservatory produces close to 500 events a year between the months of September through May. In the fall and spring months there are often three events on a single day, and all three performance spaces are in use. So you see the scale of things. We are doubtless one of the largest presenting organizations in the Bay Area.
The majority of our performances are free and open to the public. Our concert advertising budget for the entire year is, even when fully leveraged, less than $30,000, which we use to promote the Conservatory's headline ticketed events, the six or so performance series you are familiar with (Orchestra, Chamber Music Masters, Opera, and so on). I don't even have an advertising budget line for Faculty Artist Series, Master Classes, or our Alumni Recital Series.
Given the breadth of our activity as presenters, the shortage of staff and the limitations on our budget, we struggle to promote even our headline concert series performances of ticketed events, let alone free department and student recitals.
Having said that, here are things we do to promote our free performances that don't cost us money: load our free performance listings on online calendars, submit them to calendar editors, put them on our website homepage and performance calendar, include in our monthly calendar postcards, promote them on Facebook and Twitter, send to a routine papering list with school children, and so forth.
As I write this, I realize that we might work harder to offer our free performances to the many school children in the city who, despite the outreach efforts of the Opera and Symphony, still have too little arts exposure in their lives. I will give this thought more attention in future, and I and my team will continue to work to promote the education and artistry of our students.
Here, again, to help the effort along, is the school's music calendar.