November 6th, 2023
Pearle* Conversations: Asbjørn Keiding from DEOO on audience engagement
Pearle* Conversations
We continue our series of interviews with the Pearle* members, to shift the focus on the people and organisations who shape our association.

This time, we had a chat with Asbjørn Keiding, Director of DEOO (Danish Ensembles, Orchestras and Opera Institutions) for a focus on their work on audience engagement.

Gathering Danish publicly-funded institutions, DEOO works to strengthen classical music, jazz and other compositional music through its work for greater visibility, wider legitimacy and better work conditions.

One of the key challenges that cultural institutions face these days is the need to attract audiences. Bringing people back to the concert halls and figuring out innovative solutions to bring newcomers to their first musical experience is something that DEOO has been working on in the past years.


With the pandemic and recent socio-economic developments, do you think audiences have changed their behaviours? If so, how?

They have changed, that’s for sure. We know that they have, and we know how they changed because we have an organisation that's monitoring audience behaviours in Denmark. Last-minute sales have increased since people tend to make last-minute decisions on buying cultural activities like theatre plays and operas. Another thing is that some organizations sell out very fast and have a surplus and even more audiences than they had before – that's usually true for the big events while the smaller venues struggle to sell tickets. I guess it's a similar picture in many places.


What specific initiatives or projects have you undertaken to address changes in audience dynamics and preferences?

Well, we did it before Covid and before the economic crisis, when we foresaw a tendency that audiences grew older, and the core audience grew smaller.

So, we started an audience development programme: we started the preparatory work five or six years ago, starting with surveys and pre-projects. And then we finally found funding to run an audience development program for 10 of our members, meaning symphony orchestras, chamber orchestras, jazz orchestras and vocal ensembles. Their situations were very different, but we tried to implement the whole picture of what is audience development, what is the language you use within the organization, and how you implement it together with your artistic ideas. And it comes down to a lot of strategy work, new programming, and working with the brand identity of our members. Some of them admit blankly that they have no brand. Creating a brand and working with it is something that you do in normal sales organizations. So it's a change from being a cultural organization depending on people knowing about culture, into an organisation that is selling culture and finding what we call audiences - but they are basically customers.

We work with segments to try to make new definitions of current audiences. Right now, we focus on young audiences so people in their twenties – families with children and what we call "empty nesters". Each of these segments needs three different experiences, three different ways to reach them with your social media or PR activities, and they also want three different concert experiences.

On the way, we also invited a lot of new audiences within these three segments, people who had never been to a concert before. We gave them free tickets on the condition that we could interview them afterwards. That's how we published a big report on first-time audiences, which contained eye-opening knowledge.


What do you foresee as the most pressing challenges for the performing arts in terms of audiences?

Within the business of performing arts, or orchestras since this is our area at DEOO we have a lot of musicians who spend all their life learning to master their instruments on a very high level. And they pay very little attention to whether there is an audience or not – of course, it's nice if there's an audience, but it's often considered as somebody else's problem.

And we need to change that attitude but any change meets defence. Our core task right now is to integrate the narrative of audience development in the organizations. And make the people in these organisations acknowledge it, accept it and work with it.

You can still play Beethoven's 5th Symphony, but you have to frame it in a new way. If you have an interesting story to tell and you can put it in the right frame, people will come. But they don't necessarily go to hear a specific piece of music because new audiences don't know what Beethoven's 5th Symphony or Also sprach Zarathustra is. They go for a concert that reflects a mood, a special setting or something else. So, it's about staging, defining the mood of the concert.

On the other hand, the Danish broadcasting company has a channel for classical music, and they do have audiences. Even if their consumption of music is different, there is a crossover with our audiences, so we are starting to work with the broadcasting company.


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