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Study Shows Increase in New Classical Music Audiences

Audience researchers have released results on their examination and survey of audience numbers in 2023 across all genres of the UK arts sector


Indigo, the audience research specialists group, has released a full report titled “Tomorrow’s Audience,” a research project created in collaboration with the box office software provider Spektrix and a consortium of many leading arts organizations in the UK. 

Involving an examination of aggregated sector ticketing data, a UK-wide audience survey, and focus groups with new audiences, the report explores the behaviors, motivations, and attitudes of first-time bookers and first-time attendees to performing arts companies.

This research follows Indigo’s work in 2022 of “Missing Audiences,” which surveyed the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on audience numbers. In 2023, this concern remained across organizations.

However, results from “Missing Audiences” found that although not all pre-COVID audiences had returned, there were anecdotal reports of more ‘new’ audiences attending.  

Subsequently, the more recent “Tomorrow’s Audience” further evaluates the profile, behavior, and experience of first-time attendees to the performing arts and what organizations can do to attract them and see them return.

Involving both quantitative and qualitative data, this sector-wide research examined over 10 years of ticketing data from 340 UK performing arts groups and represented a cross-section of companies from the largest to the smallest.

The project also encouraged its participating 72 arts organizations to distribute a survey to their audiences asking about their experience attending arts events for the “first time since COVID.”

The survey ran for three weeks in October 2023 — during which 32,677 complete responses were gathered. 

Participating UK organizations included the Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Opera, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Shakespeare’s Globe, and the Three Choirs Festival, among others. 

“By combining booking data from theaters and arts centers right across the UK with expert analysis and survey responses, we’ve learned that there’s a real opportunity to develop new audiences,” said Spektrix’s director of sector strategy Liv Nilssen on Indigo’s website. “This unique consortium has brought together technology and consultancy with leading arts organizations to create a truly connected view of audience behaviors and to understand how arts organizations can revitalize connections with their visitors.”


“Tomorrow’s Audiences”

Image source: “Tomorrow’s Audiences


In January 2024, equipped with the survey results, the project created online focus groups with 15 audience members who had identified themselves as being in the “new-to-arts” category.

Key findings in Indigo’s resulting 86-page report found that in 2023, there was a significant increase in audience members booking for arts and cultural events, and more than half of audiences were first-time bookers.

Overall 2023 ticket sales were 101.6% of what they were in 2019 — the last complete year of data before the COVID-19 pandemic. The study states that in January 2023, sales were just 92.4% of the same month in 2019.

Further, first-time bookers comprised 54% of all attendees in 2023 — a near record high in the decade. In 2013, first-timers made up 55% of bookings, and 50% in 2019. 

“As audience specialists, we want to empower the whole sector with an understanding of audiences,” said Indigo’s CEO and founder Katy Raines in the report. “In partnership with Spektrix, we have been able to bring together long-term ticketing data trends, quantitative and qualitative audience insight from multiple organizations — and together we hope we can find ways to build a stronger sector.”


“Tomorrow’s Audiences”


According to the data, regardless of the effects of the pandemic, the last decade has seen a downward trend in retention rates. Additionally, larger organizations saw a steeper decrease in retention than smaller ones.

“Tomorrow’s Audience” reveals that more first-timer audiences are returning for a second time — 19.5% of new bookers from 2022 returned in 2023, a rate of re-attendance not seen since 2016.

Further, an average of 62% of first-time bookers had attended the organization before, while an average of 20% of first-timers were new to the arts. In the bar graph below, “new-to-you” refers to the related arts company. 

New-to-the-arts attendees tended to be younger than those familiar to the arts — 18% were under the age of 35 (compared with 14% for the new-to-you audiences). The younger new-to-the-arts respondents were also more diverse. 


“Tomorrow’s Audiences”


Of the new-to-arts audiences, 70% said their experience was better than they expected, and 88% said attending an event increased their wellbeing. Barriers to attendance included financial and transportation challenges, while motivators included going out as an occasion or to spend time with family and friends. 

To address and improve the accessibility and likelihood of audiences returning for events, the report suggests the use of more effective email and social media automation tools, referral schemes, “special occasion” packages, and easy-to-use booking systems. 

The report’s other suggestions to improve audience experience included focusing on value rather than price, which may take the form of customer testimonials and satisfaction ratings, rather than memberships and discounts.

Additionally, organizations could maintain a data sheet of new attendees and “to keep listening to new audiences” to encourage loyalty to them. 

“This is the first research project to truly understand and quantify the opportunity that new audiences post-lockdown present within the performing arts,” said Indigo’s associate director Kerry Radden on their website. “Despite the challenges of recovery from the pandemic, our UK arts organizations are not only bouncing back, but managing to attract significant numbers of new attenders - many of whom have discovered the performing arts for the first time. Armed with the insight we have uncovered together, we’re confident that the sector can build these new attenders into the audiences of tomorrow and beyond.”

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