Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Making musical sense by email, part 4

In response to Greg Sandow's request to see the actual graphics instead of text-mode graphics as shown in my first email to him, I sent him a PDF with the same text and with higher resolution graphics. I also made a few comments in response to his email (lightly edited here). Greg's comments are included with his permission.

> Thanks so very much for sending me your work. It's
> remarkable stuff, much more solid and promising than most
> of what I see. And your tentative conclusion is quite
> challenging (at least for the classical music business) -
> that the model that best predicts the observed decline in
> attendance (am I getting this right?) is the one that
> predicts no new people join the audience at all.


Thanks for your response filled with ideas and insights.
Yes, you got that right; the simulation run that best
matches your data is one in which no more young people enter
a concert hall.

> I'd make one request. I'd much prefer to see the original
> graphics. I did look at your e-mail in Courier, but it
> would be a lot clearer if you could attach the charts as
> graphics, or perhaps send a spreadsheet with the charts
> generated inside it.

I'll regenerate the graphs in a higher resolution format.
I've got a few things on my schedule today, but I'll try to
get to it before the end of the day -- no promises until you
see them, though.

> Also, I mustn't forget to congratulate you on your careful
> work with that Knight Foundation tidbit. I've seen that
> too often used to support the idea that all we need is
> music education in our schools, and classical music
> attendance will go up again. As if, in other words,
> there's a causal connection between playing an instrument
> and classical music attendance. As you rightly point out,
> the Knight study makes no such assertion, but people jump
> to the conclusion anyway. And the statement, which I
> believe they make, that playing an instrument is a
> predictor of classical music attendance does muddy the
> waters, since it rather casually puts playing an
> instrument earlier than attendance in some sort of implied
> statistical food chain. That helps people to jump to the
> causal interpretation.

Thanks! I agree with your assessment that they didn't
really claim that connection, but they didn't make it clear
that they didn't claim it, either.

> Anyhow, I think you debunked this all really nicely. My
> own predisposition is to believe that there's no causal
> connection, but that instrumental playing and classical
> music attendance are both characteristics of some yet to
> be defined demographic slice, the demographic in question
> being the one most likely to attend classical concerts. In
> other words, roughly speaking, playing an instrument and
> going to classical concerts have a common cause, rather
> than one causing the other.

That makes sense; I don't currently know what that factor

> Going back to the analysis you sent me, I do have some
> suggestions for refinements. > First, I believe your
> model posits that people start attending concerts, and
> then continue essentially throughout the rest of their
> lives. I don't know if that's true. That is, people might
> go occasionally when they're young, then not go (or not go
> very often) for many years, and then resume going, much
> more often, when they're older. This would be consistent
> with some of the data, for instance the preponderance of
> the audience in older age groups, and also survey results
> that show people most likely to attend regularly when they
> no longer have children at home. This may not have been
> the pattern in past generations, but it appears to be the
> pattern now.

You understood the model correctly. As you note later about
your numbers, this model is a surmise, too -- a
simplification of reality to see what behavior the dynamics
of a basic "aging chain" would create.

Your causal explanation makes sense, though; I'll try to get
to add that to the model. In particular, I could add a high
rate of dropping out in people's twenties, for example,
returning in their fifties. I don't know if that fits the
pattern, but it would indicate what dynamics that might
create. The real world, of course, is more complex than the

> When I made so much of the NEA's statistic about the
> number of younger people dropping off, I didn't mean to
> say that this would lead to any immediate and directly
> proportional decrease in total attendance. I was using the
> data more impressionistically. Accepting the apparent
> truth that people in this era mostly go to classical
> concerts when they're older, I surmised that this younger
> generation, once it was 50 years old, would go in smaller
> numbers than previous generations did. I should stress
> that this is nothing more than a surmise - an
> assumption. It seems reasonable, according to common
> sense, but might turn out not to be true.

One of the things about the "operational thinking" this
modeling encourages is that it leads one to make one's
assumptions very explicit. Sometimes we learn from that

> Though when I combine it with certain data about people
> who are currently 50 and above, the conclusion seems even
> more reasonable. One big change during the past generation
> is that older people aren't as committed to high art as
> they used to be. They now "consume" (if that's the word)
> both high and popular art. This makes them less like the
> committed classical music audience of the past, and thus,
> in my view, less likely to attend classical performances
> in the numbers their predecessors did. Now we have younger
> people who go to classical performances far less often
> than their own predecessors did. That suggests that when
> these younger people are in their 50s, they'll be even
> more culturally omnivorous than the present older
> generation is, and thus less likely to be committed
> classical music attenders.

So we might modify the model to show some twenties dropping
out into a two-decade hiatus, rejoining as fifties, while
others never return. We could vary the percentage that go
each way and see what happens.

> Second (returning to my suggestions for you), you might
> want to refine your model to reflect the fact that the
> total number of orchestral tickets sold includes many
> tickets sold to the same relatively few people - the
> subscribers. Currently, subscriptions amount to about 60%
> of all tickets sold. This number has declined sharply from
> the 80% or so reported a couple of decades ago, and is
> considered likely to decline still further. Still, this
> needs to be an important part of any model that predicts
> future ticket sales. It's not enough simply to predict the
> number of people likely to buy tickets. We need to know
> how many tickets these people are likely to buy, in order
> to get some idea of what the total ticket sales in the
> future are likely to be. Certainly, in the final analysis,
> orchestras are more concerned with the total number of
> ticket sales than with the number of individual people
> attending.

I'm working on a column for Drew's TAFTO series. In that
somewhat more complex model and with Drew's consultation,
there are three categories (stocks) of people: NotYets,
Nows, and NoMores. The NotYets are those who don't know if
they'd like classical music concerts because they've never
gone to one. The NoMores are those who have attended but
have left, never to return for whatever reason.

To your point, the Nows are those who currently make up
audiences. That's not the number of tickets, though;
depending upon various factors I'm not modeling, Nows may or
may not attend any one particular concert. In the old days,
Nows would have bought season tickets; today, they may just
buy for concerts they like or that fall on convenient days.

To be precise, Nows are not even the number of people. I
made the assumption that, for many of us, the decision to
buy a ticket isn't independent of others. If I want to go
and my spouse, partner, or friend doesn't, I may not go --
or we may both go; it's more of a joint decision. Thus
I'm modeling "decision-making entities", which lets me
pick the nice, round number of some presumed 100 million
total such entities in the USA out of some 300 million
total people.

In the TAFTO model, I have three factors I'm varying: media
advertising (ADS), word-of-mouth advertising (WOM), and
audience retention (RET). In other words, that model, while
only a bit more complex, does allow one to specify various
average retention rates for Nows, so it could cover what
you're describing at least in an aggregate sense.

According to my testing so far, WOM has the biggest impact
on the number of Nows, with RET in second place and ADS an
almost imperceptible third.

Now this model isn't well calibrated, so it may be wildly
off base. It also doesn't say ADS aren't useful; I'm
beginning to conjecture that ADS have their primary role as
getting Nows to buy tickets by informing them of the who,
when, where, and what of a concert.

What it does suggest is that orchestras might fruitfully
spend some significant amount of their marketing on
understanding why people leave.

I've attached a really rough draft of some results (not even
the draft of the TAFTO column) with graphs so you can see
the sort of stuff I've gotten so far. I'm suspicious of
some of the results, as I note in the text, and mindful that
I promised this article to Adaptistration first, so please
don't share these further without checking with me. Drew
will have a final version on Adaptistration sometime in
April, I believe.

> I think I'll stop here. But thanks so much again, Bill,
> for doing this careful and important work, and for sending
> it to me. I'll be eager to see more.

Greg, thanks for taking the time to think through this and
come up with suggestions for improvement. I will try to
make some of those changes and let you see what the results

More later,


For the benefit of those of you who didn't see the start of this series, the "Drew" I mention above is Drew McManus, author of Adaptistration, a blog on orchestra management. And TAFTO? Well, you'll just have to read about TAFTO yourself.

You can read the PDF version I sent Greg with higher-quality graphs. In the interest of speed, I put that document together rather quickly; as a result, you'll see blank spaces in the text where the word processor forced a graph to a new page because it didn't quite fit on the current page. Had this been an official report, I would likely have typeset it for a more professional appearance.

Which do you prefer: this PDF version or the original text version? Which do you think better facilitates dialog?

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