What orchestras need to learn from Airbnb and Apple


We as musicians sometimes scoff at corporate America’s seemingly profit-oriented morality. But as we scoff, we’re tapping away on our iPhones ordering sushi that will be delivered by a driver from Uber Eats before we start the newest season of Orange is the New Black on Netflix and browse Airbnb for places to stay during that audition in Chicago next weekend.

Imagine–you’ve just finished five hours of rehearsal, the conductor ragged on you for being flat even though it was clearly the guy playing second bass oboe, and to top it off you spilled a liberal amount of black tea on the rental part you just picked up from the library.

Now run yourself through that iPhone–Uber Eats–Netflix–Airbnb scenario. Pretty nice way to chill after your rough day, right?

We can’t resist the products and experiences these companies offer because they have US right at the center. From its inception, Apple has designed products with the user in mind, aiming to revolutionize the personal computing experience. Uber, Netflix, and especially Airbnb began with people in mind. As they’ve grown, these innovative companies have placed Customer Experience (CX), close to the center of their business models.

Why we should care

But really, why should orchestras care? Because in 2017, we are competing with these companies. While you were watching bold women in orange jumpsuits plot one another’s demise and eating three entire spicy rainbow rolls, the LA Phil was performing Mahler 9 in your city’s hall as part of their national tour. You knew about it but didn’t want to get dressed up, go out in the snow, park downtown, and sit in a stuffy hall for three hours. Even thought it’s one of your favorite orchestras…and you’re a musician! But you had better options that night, or at least ones that were designed with you in mind.

Mmhm you know I do (Giphy)

Our challenge is to show potential audience members who watch Netflix that an orchestra concert is a better and more fulfilling way to spend their time and money. That’s quite a feat, but as musicians we know that it is undoubtedly a more fulfilling experience (no matter our allegiances to Tina Belcher) because orchestra music changes people.

Airbnb is known for being beautiful, relevant, and human. While an orchestra will never scale like Airbnb, we can put people at the center of Patron Experience (PX). We can bring audience members closer to music we wholeheartedly believe will change them.

The small things add up

One of my musician friends recently told me a story about hosting a dinner party with several of her non-musician twenty-something friends. At one point when they were sitting around the table, eating some incredible meal she had surely crafted, my curious friend asked them a simple question: “What stops you from going to an orchestra concert?” She made it a multiple choice question.

I don’t remember all the choices, but it doesn’t matter because they all picked the last one: “I’m intimidated.” By the audience culture, by the staff, by the formality, by the concert hall itself. It’s just not for them, even if they like classical music.

We can come up with complex reasons for why attendance at classical music concerts declines and young people seem indifferent about hearing orchestras play, but it may be much simpler than we think–our parking garage is notoriously crowded on Friday nights, our ushers are unfriendly, our seats are uncomfortable, our hall doesn’t permit drinks in the performance space. Of course the musical product must be extraordinary, but in world where we can tailor our days and lives to be personalized to a tee, these small things add up.

In several case studies, Harvard Business Review found that companies with the most CX success place emphasis on “cumulative experiences across multiple touchpoints and in multiple channels over time.” Basically, they design experiences for their users that are conceived as holistic, end-to-end journeys, not just plopping a Dollop of Daisy® here and there by hiring nice people to work at the box office or placing beautiful flowers in the lobby.

Think about your favorite coffee shop. The logo on the door. The baristas’ attire. The fonts on the menu. The decor and lighting and smell. These elements are integral to your experience. You go there because the summation of these elements, including most critically the quality of the coffee, add up to an irresistible experience. Even though you might be able to make almost the same thing at home MUCH cheaper at a slightly lower quality.

Our secret weapon

Orchestras and concert halls no longer rule the market of great music–you can hear most of the best orchestral music ever written by the best orchestras to ever exist on Spotify. But as orchestras in the twenty-first century, we have a unique offering that none of these companies will ever have: 70+ artists working in synchronicity to engage people in life-changing musical experiences. Infusing this divine power with a beautiful, relevant, and human-centered PX will make the orchestra experience irresistible.

The Mahler hammer is the other secret weapon (Giphy)

So how do we maximize our secret weapon?

Shout out to administrators out there: unify your vision–ushers, front of house, box office, marketers, artistic, and production–to design and execute an irresistible PX across all touchpoints, from pre-concert to post-concert, that houses your orchestra’s incredible artistic product. Step into the shoes of your target audience member for a particular program and ask “what would ––– hope to see upon walking in?” or “how might we create a special welcoming experience for new patrons?” or “how can we integrate Lyft drop off into our PX?” Facilitate opportunities for your current and potential patrons to make choices, granting them freedom to personalize their experience. Ask patrons for feedback. Learn from brands and organizations of all kinds that people LOVE. And most of all–be sure that connecting people to music is always always always at the very center.


Great resources for CX design from Stanford’s d.school and the management consulting firm McKinsey and Co. Stay tuned for more posts about PX.




classically-trained, future-oriented | Service Designer at GoDaddy | former Knight Foundation fellow | alum of Juilliard and New World Symphony

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Zach Manzi

Zach Manzi

classically-trained, future-oriented | Service Designer at GoDaddy | former Knight Foundation fellow | alum of Juilliard and New World Symphony

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