Learning, adapting and growing together

Over the past 2 months I have begun to initiate and deploy the first set of newly developed audience data capture forms to the talented artists on Sound and Music’s Composer-Curator touring programme. This experiment aims to give these grassroots artists the tools to capture insightful audience data, including around diversity, from their own events and activity in a useful and standardised format. This has already proved extremely insightful.

Sound and Music made a proactive decision in its criteria and when shortlisting both the projects and the artists for the Composer-Curator programme, which included a commitment that they would clearly speak to and support our diversity aims and goals; 50/50 gender split across all projects, to target and present new music in areas of low engagement and low access around the UK, and to represent equality and a variety of artists from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

As such, the 6 artists that were selected as our composer-Curator’s for 2017/18 are diverse; however their initial data shows that their audiences in comparison interestingly are not. By assessing the data provided from all 6 composers and analysing what they currently capture and know, some key trends and patterns are beginning to come to the forefront. Each of the composers represents a different region in the UK, different genders and stylistic output, yet organically has an audience which is predominantly male, limited geographical and with minimal age diversification. This insight came as quiet a shock for some of the artists, as this had not been their perception of their audiences, but as they had not previously looked to analyse their current data in such a way it proved extremely valuable.   Following this initial evaluation I have begun to support these artists   to explore this initial insight further and advising them on how they can turn this data into meaningful and actionable change.

Through this process these artists are beginning to think more deeply about their audiences, who they are, who is not represented, and why. It is clear so far that by organisations giving support artists and by placing onus on them to take personal action to review, amends and diversify their audiences; they are gaining insight, actively beginning to increase audience numbers and initiating more meaningful audience interactions and engagement. As one artists stated, ‘’By collecting audience data, I now have both quantitative and meaningful qualitative data which have helped me to change the way in communicate with my audience and has actually allowed me to reach more diversified people leading to an online growth of 15%’’.

One of the biggest challenges for theses artists, and in turn myself, have faced during this initial period is addressing and removing the stigma around data sharing, and what this means for organisations and artists alike. There is a real sense of fear surrounding the sharing of personal data and in particular around diversity.  Also in light of the new data sharing laws coming into effect next year (GDPR) there is some increased anxiety about what these changes mean and how this will affect all those collating, using, sharing and handling data.

One way in which I have begun to address this is by supporting and encouraging the artists to develop their own creative solutions to capturing diversity data at their live events, which feels authentic to them. I have encouraged the artists to think about creative ways to make data capture fun and interactive, giving the audience a voice, developing meaningful relationships and not merely a passive exchange of information. This approach is much more engaging, exciting and effective for both artists and audiences alike.  Our Composer-Curator’s have embraced this challenge and explored various ways to gather data. One artist has created a live data capture through an immersive music piece; another has run a live data visualisation in partnership with a follow visual artist, allowing real time feedback from audience members at the event.  These are just some examples of ways in which these artists’ are creatively gathering diversity data and importantly opening a dialogue with their audiences. It has been brilliant to see the artists speak one to one with each of the audience members about this experiment and their motivations, making this diversity commitment a shared one.  This has been positively received. Audiences are more likely to share if they understand the context in which information in being captured, and most importantly by whom.  This key learning is something that I will be taking forward also.

These past few months have been a significant period of change and great growth both in my own development, but also for Sound and Music as an organisation. Building on the past 6 months, Sound and Music and its dedicated team have worked tirelessly in piloting a new programme dedicated to opening up composer and talent development to artists that define as non-white British and having a disability. Through its Pathways Programme _ link here.

This proactive and essential change was a direct consequence of Sound and Music undertaking an audit of current and previous equal opportunities data from applicants to its artistic programmes. The review of this data showed an alarming lack of diversification in all senses of the word.  In 2015/16, over 550 people applied to a Sound and Music programme. The average applicant was a London-based 25-34 year old white male with a PhD who had already applied to Sound and Music before.

Out of the 470 applicants who filled in the equal opportunities form, only 7% considered themselves to have a disability and only 26% listed their ethnicity as anything other than White British. Applications from women comprised 32% of the total. Not a single person of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage submitted an application.

This is a serious issue for the future of the new music sector. New music needs a broad range of creative voices and talent to thrive, and for there to be an interesting, vibrant and relevant musical landscape.

As such, this experiment has become a part of something much bigger within Sound and Music.  Susanna Eastburn, Sound and Music’s chief executive sums it up stating, “Last year, when the new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked why his cabinet was 50/50 men and women, he simply answered: “Because it’s 2015”. This is how we feel about the data we see regarding the diversity of the composers we are supporting – which we believe reflects a wider problem across the music sector. Why are we doing this? Because it’s 2017.”

By Samara Jancovich

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