Where will Broadway be in 20 years?

I saw a musical set in the future this week, and it made me wonder just what Broadway will look like a couple of decades from now.

It has actually been almost 20 years since I arrived here in Manhattan, as a freshly scrubbed college sophomore, and I’ve certainly seen some changes during those twenty years.

In 1991, 42nd St. was not somewhere you wanted to hang out on a Saturday evening.

We had just started giving seat locations to ticket buyers over the phone. (Previously, customers just bought a section and didn’t know they were sitting until they walked into the theater.)

And an ad in The New York Times actually sold some tickets.

So where will we be in another 20 years?

Will Wicked still be running?  How much will tickets cost?  Will we have more theaters?  Less?  The same?  What will be the “new way” to sell tickets? (Email blasts didn’t exist 20 years ago.)

(My answers?  Yes.  $500.  The same but 1-2 more non-profits will occupy those theaters.  And everything we do will be done through our “phones”.)

Tell me your predictions.  Where will Broadway be in 20 years?

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The shortest distance between advertising and a purchase is a straight line.

I heard a great radio spot for Wicked on WPLJ the other day.  It had a Valentine’s Day theme, so it was fresh and timely.  It featured a climactic and dramatic piece of music that emphasized the story.  And it left me wanting more.  It was easy to see why someone would be inclined to buy tickets after hearing it.

But where would they buy tickets?

The call-to-action at the end of the commercial was something like this:

“For tickets, visit Ticketmaster.com!”

If I was a 1980s robot, this is where I’d say, “Beep-boo-bop-bleep.  Does not compute.  Does not compute.  Beep-boo-bleep!”

Why would we send someone to Ticketmaster, a Walmart style ticketing department store, when we could send them straight to WickedTheMusical.com?  I’ll tell you why. Because Ticketmaster makes us.

Does not compute!

Here’s the problem with the flow.

– Customer hears Wicked commercial.

– Customer goes to Ticketmaster.

– Customer then sees the home page of Ticketmaster, which looks like this and promotes everything from Katy Perry to the NBA to the Circus.  In other words, it has a lot of distractions, so your risk of losing the customer increases.

But it’s not over yet.

– Customer then has to search for Wicked by typing it into the search box or clicking around.  The risk of losing the customer increases yet again, and there is room for error, frustration, and bears oh my.

– If a customer does type in Wicked, this is what the search results show . . . and it’s like a scavenger hunt to find the date and CITY that you want (because I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the show is quite the hit).  You guessed it . . . risk increases again, and your conversion rate has now dropped by a pretty healty percent, I would imagine.

Now imagine this . . .

“Buy Tickets at WickedTheMusical.com”

– Customer goes to Wicked‘s main site, and Wicked is able to get the customer more on the hook with images, music (perhaps the same as is heard in the commercial) etc., instead of risk losing that lead to any of the other events on the TM home page.  More hooked, rather than less.  Sounds good to me.

– There is a simple and easy to read Buy Tickets button on the home page.  See for yourself.

– And when the customer clicks on Broadway, for example, this is what they see . . . a straight through shot to exactly what they want.

Less clicks, less confusion and most importantly, Wicked‘s conversion rates increase . . . because you’ve gotten the customer to the cash register faster, which we know is more important than ever in the 2010s, which I’ve termed The Era of Distraction.

Why does Ticketmaster want the customer to go through their site?  Got me . . .

– They are not losing any money, because Wicked still ports the customer through to their site, so the full  service fees remain intact.

– Ditto with the data.  They still capture it all.

– The conversation rates for the advertising should increase, which should actually earn them more money.

– And, their customer’s experience is cleaner.

I guess they lose a bit of branding?  But really?  Is that worth more than the above?  I don’t think so.  And besides, isn’t it time they start realized that it’s the shows people want to see, not the ticketing sites.

The best e-commerce solutions I’ve seen are when there doesn’t seem to be e-commerce at all.  It’s . . . well . . . seamless.  We seem to be doing the opposite and actually calling attention to the fact that the customer is spending money.

Does not compute.

We’re sending people around the bend to get our product. It’s like driving a mile out of the way to get a gallon of milk, when you’ve got a store right next door that sells it for the exact same price.

And not only does this not compute, but it makes me say, “What the bleep?”

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How would you deal with a social media disaster?

I recently participated in a very creative panel called “Staged Social Media,” put together by Situation Interactive.  A bunch of the talented staff at Situation (who said folks in the tech world can’t act?) read scripts of social media disasters, like the Dave Peck JetBlue soap opera, the Greenpeace vs. Nestle grudge match (the video is not for the faint of heart), and a couple of positive stories as well, including our industry’s own Wicked making a cancer patient’s dreams come true by performing in her own home because she was too weak to attend the show.

After each scene was staged, the room and my fellow panelists commented on whether or not we would have handled anything different.

It was a fun event, and I grabbed a few take-aways that I thought I would share with you:

  • Social media communication with your customers is personal.  E-Speak to them to them as you would a friend . . . or better, someone that you want to date, and maybe, someday, marry.
    • Southwest Airline’s “tweet” to Dave Peck about where he was and what he was doing took their relationship to the next level.
  • You can’t fight a social media movement.  In other words, lawyers are not always right.
    • Nestle’s lawyers trying to remove the video from the net, and their social networking strategist attempting to delete comments on their wall, only made the people more passionate about being heard.
  • Empowering your brand ambassadors (aka customer service agents) to go above and beyond the customer service call of duty creates loyal customers that will spread your message for you.
    • The Wicked event was organized single-handedly by the Company Manager of the show.  The CM got a letter, and knew that organizing that visit was not only part of Wicked‘s “For Good” mission, but it was also just a beautiful thing to do . . . and that’s never wrong.
    • And no one is empowered more than the agents at Zappos, who constantly upgrade shipping and have even sent flowers to customers . . . just because.
  • The best social media stories are plain old-fashioned human interest stories that can’t be manufactured by a press department.

It was a very unique night (and I encourage all the people out there who plan panels to take a cue from this one . . . they don’t have to all be sit-and-speak), and as you can see, it was also very educational.

The question did come up about whether or not social media has a direct impact on the bottom line of a business.

My answer is this . . . despite its appearance, social media is not a direct response mechanism.  It’s social, by name and by nature.

Think of it this way . . .  if It meet someone on the street, and I say, “Hi, I’m Ken.” And they said, “Hi, I’m Barbara.”  And then I say, “Barbara, buy this from me, buy this from me, buy this from me!”  Do you think Barbara is going to want to talk to me, hang out with me . . . “marry” me?

Nope.  She’s probably going to avoid me at all costs.

Social media is not about selling.  It’s about building awareness, making passionate users even more passionate, and communicating with your customers when you normally can’t (which is a necessity in our business, since we sell through third party providers that we don’t control (online ticketing agents, box offices, etc.)).

Anecdotally, let me say this . . .

In the past month, when I needed a tax attorney, a real estate agent in Boston, a piece of art for my living room and a plot line for a script I’m working on . . . I asked my friends on Facebook.

And I found every one of those things within 2 hours.

That’s gotta contribute to someone’s bottom line.

Fun on a Friday: my greatest wish for you.

There is nothing greater than watching an audience see something they find entertaining and then showing their love by giving it a rousing ovation at the end. Standing Os, “bravos!”, dancing in the aisles, whatever . . . it’s the audience’s way of showing their appreciation for what we do.

Well, I can only hope that one day you all get an ovation for one of your shows like the one the guy gave below to something he found unbelievably entertaining: Mother Nature.

Now, when you’re done watching, (and please, for the love of all that’s holy, watch the whole thing because it gets better), watch the 2nd video I’ve posted below, which is a parody of the first.

As “just-for-fun” as this post may be, there are a few things to glean from the parody and the original vid.

1.  This video was posted on YouTube in January.  It had only 10,000 views . . . until Jimmy Kimmel tweeted the bejesus out of it.  Now it’s got 4.5 million.  To spread your word, look for people with big mouths and a lot of people already listening.

2.  The authors of the parody found something they enjoyed (and something that audiences already enjoyed), adapted it using their unique voice, and created something they’ve monetized.  Isn’t that the same story behind Mamma Mia?  Wicked?  The Phantom of the Opera?

3.  The best viral videos aren’t made, they just sort of happen naturally . . . like, well, like a rainbow.

Enjoy both videos (trust me – watch ’em both) and have a great weekend.  (If you’re an email subscriber and the videos don’t appear in your email, click here to see them).

I mean, talk about “Rainbow High!” (Anyone know what show?)

The Tony Awards beat me to this blog.

The theme of this year’s Tony Awards opening number was the current overwhelming number of songs on Broadway stages from the popular musical canon.

Well, dangit, that’s what I was going to say!

But it’s more than just this year’s crop.  While leaving American Idiot a few weeks ago, I walked through Times Square and looked at all the marquees.  Connections to popular music are all over the Great White Way in one way or another.

Let’s look at all the book musicals (in alpha order) currently playing on Broadway and connect the popular dots:

A Little Night Music

Stephen Sondheim is not considered a “popular” composer, but ALNM features his only major pop hit “Send In The Clowns,” of the over 800 songs he has written.  It won a Grammy for ‘Song of the Year’ in 1976.

American Idiot

Composed by punk-rock super-group, Green Day, the album of the same title also won a Grammy for ‘Best Rock Album.’

Billy Elliot

Composed by rock superstar (and sometimes Rush Limbaugh supporter), Elton John, who has more Grammys than a retirement home.

Chicago

What do I have to say about this composing team?  How about this:  two words repeated.  “New York, New York.”  That popular enough for you?

Come Fly Away

Speaking of NY, NY, Come Fly Away is all pop tunes sung by pop legend, Frankie S.

Everyday Rapture

This bio musical uses pop tunes to tell some of its story.

Fela!

Fela Kuti’s tunes may not have been featured on morning radio in this country, but in his homeland, his pioneering sounds were all the popular rage.

Hair

The astrological tune, “The Age of Aquarius,” held the #1 spot on the charts for 6 weeks and is listed as the 57th Greatest Song of All Time according to Billboard.

In The Heights

I got nothing on this one, except for the obvious influence of pop music of the time on the score.  So far, that’s 8 out of 9 with a direct connection to the pop world.

Jersey Boys

A bio-musical about one of the most popular guy-groups ever, who sold more than 175 million records.

La Cage aux Folles

Not only did “I Am What I Am” rank on the charts, but Herman had a hit with “Hello Dolly” in 1964 when the Louis Armstrong recording knocked The Beatles out of the #1 spot!

Mamma Mia!

The gold-record standard of the jukebox musical still has ’em dancing in the aisles and grossed almost $800 million last week, almost 9 years after its opening.

Mary Poppins

The Sherman Bros have should get an award for having so many awards. Oscars, Grammys, Golden Globes, and more.  Their supercalifragilisticexpialidocious songs have been sung by the masses for years.

Memphis

David Bryan, the composer of Memphis is the keyboard player for a little known band called Bon Jovi.

Million Dollar Quartet

Some of the greatest classic rock tunes, and classic rock characters, are featured in this jukey musical.

Next to Normal

Outside of his musical theater work, Composer Tom Kitt is the founder of The Tom Kitt band, and his work on American Idiot led him to be hired by Green Day to provide arrangements for their latest album, 21st Century Breakdown.

Promises, Promises

Promises Composer Burt Bacharach has written 70 Top 40 hits in his lifetime, including “I Say A Little Prayer For You” and “A House Is Not A Home” which were both integrated into this revival.

Rock of Ages

Mamma Mia but with 80s tunes.

South Pacific

How many covers of songs can a composer/lyricist have?  R&H’s tunes were all over the place in their day, and are still used in pop culture today.

The Addams Family

Like In the Heights, there’s no real strong connection to the pop world here.  That makes 18 out of 20 with direct connections to the pop music world.

The Lion King

Another one by Sir Elton.

The Phantom of The Opera

Andrew Lloyd Webber is like a modern day R&H when it comes to his theater songs becoming standards.  Streisand, Manilow, and Mathis are just a few of the folks that have covered and scored hits with “Memory” alone.

West Side Story

Leonard Bernstein was successful in the popular idiom in another way . . . the classic way.  He grabbed a couple of handfuls of Grammys in his day, including one for Lifetime Achievement.  He wrote for the movies, for shows, for choruses, and more.  His stuff was everywhere.

Wicked

What Andrew Lloyd Webber is to the UK is what Stephen Schwartz is to America.  He is our most popular successful composer, with Grammys and Academy Awards and more, oh my.  “Day by Day” was a Top 40 hit, and he has even written songs for Five For Fighting.

There you have it.  24 musicals on Broadway and 22 of them with direct connections to the world of popular music.  Some looser than others, I’ll admit. And some are chicken-egg questions (Did their pop success come from the theater work or vice-versa?).

But my point is not that you need to be a successful pop artist to be a successful Broadway composer.  In many of the cases above, the Broadway success came first.

What I am saying is that the overwhelming lack of degrees of separation between successful Broadway composers and the world of pop music suggest that there may be a characteristic that binds the two.

And that characteristic is melody.

So if you’re a composer looking to get a show up on Broadway, you might want to make sure your songs have some similar characteristics to what’s on the radio.  I can’t tell you how many demos I listen to (or stop listening to) where the composers seem to be after some sort of intelligentsia award, instead of just writing a song that people might enjoy hearing in their car, or while cleaning their room, or while they are finishing a blog at 2:08 AM (Lady Gag
a is on in the background on my Sirius radio).

I’m not saying that theater songs have to be Britney-like trite or super-simplistic (God knows Green Day isn’t trite, and Elton’s stuff is some of the richest musical and lyrical material you’ll ever listen to).

But they’ve all got melody and hooks and songs that people like to sing along to.

And that will put you at the top of charts and the Tony Awards.

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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