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Symphony Aims To Be The Netflix Of Classical Music

Rob Overman and the team at Symphony are on a mission. Rob Overman, CEO/Artistic Director/Founder of Symphony Media, talks about putting the online streaming platform for classical music videos together in business-like terms.

But, Jose Evers, a musician and also an investor in Symphony, wanted to emphasize the driver behind Symphony. “Behind the marketing and all that is the passion of this man.”

“We’ve been hard working for two years,” says Rob Overman. But, he says, Symphony is an idea he’s been working towards for more than ten. About a decade ago, he realized that Netflix was the perfect model for realizing his vision of expanding the audience for classical music, and making it accessible to anyone.

“My mission has always been to share my big passion for this music,” he says.

Rob Overman, CEO/Artistic Director/Founder
“I’ve been in classical music all my life,” explains Overman. That includes,

Master, Musicology from Utrecht University;
Bachelor’s degree, Conducting from Hilversums Conservatorium;
He’s served as Managing Director for orchestras in the Netherlands from 1998 until 2003, including the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, and Netherlands Radio Philharmonic;
He served as conductor and music director of several wind bands and choruses over a 16-year period.
The Accessibility Issue
Overman’s passion for classical music led him to consider its inaccessibility to many people. Between ticket prices, geography, and other issues, live orchestral music is a privilege for a relative few. He recalls broadcasting a performance of St. Matthew’s Passion several years ago, on a now-defunct earlier platform, and out of the 100 or so viewers, he got an email from someone in Australia. They were disabled, and expressed their joy at finally being able to experience Bach’s music played live. It convinced him of the importance of what he was doing.

He says he came to classical music later in life than many, in his 20s, and wondered about accessibility from the start. “Why is it so limited to a small group of people?” he asks. As Managing Director of major orchestras in the Netherlands over several years, he was struck by budgets in the millions that only reached the same 40,000 subscribers every year.

After working with individual orchestras, he realized there was greater potential to bring the music to audiences via media. Among other ventures, he was Artistic Director Classical Music & Jazz at Stingray for a two-year period.

The Project
Ron’s focus turned more and more towards video as the ideal medium, and conductors who could tell stories that would illuminate the music in a way no one else could. “Storytelling will be the key, the bridge between orchestras and audiences,” he says.

He turned to sports broadcasting as a model, one that, as he notes, is “surrounded by stories”. There are specialists who talk about the various players, and panel discussions afterwards to discuss the performance. That’s the kind of atmosphere he’s aiming to cultivate.

Naturally, subscribers are a priority. “Mostly, we had to focus — how can we market this worldwide?”

Symphony is built on a user-friendly Netflix-style platform, one that includes suggestions based on viewing history.

His model includes the notion of bringing together “the great orchestras of the world in one space.” As he points out, creating a common video platform for major orchestras to use also includes some economies of scale when it comes to branding and promotions.

It was the onset of COVID that spurred orchestras worldwide — many of whom had been to that point slow to adopt new tech — to go online. With travel out of the question, it was easy to connect with the CEOs of orchestras online, and get the agreements with a starting roster of ten who will contribute both exclusive content and live performances, original Symphony ‘Legends’ productions, a library of symphonic music videos, interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and documentaries about composers and conductors for audiences to savour.

Market research led him to believe in the platform’s feasibility. While it’s true that, in surveys, the people who list classical music as their favourite hovers around 4%, when the criteria were extended to include anyone who had listened to the genre lately, whether it was their first preference or not, that number jumps to over 30%, and includes a sizable cohort of under 34s. He estimates that, counting the Western world along with Japan and Korea, the potential audience for classical music is perhaps 500 million or more.

He notes Symphony pays back to its orchestra members, along with offering centralized marketing and technology. With enriched content that includes behind the scenes peeks and interviews, along with a full concert, the tone intentionally moves away from the overly serious to a more personable look at classical music.

The first Symphony Night Live stream featured the Czech Philharmonic under the baton of the Michael Tilson Thomas. You can have a look here.

“We are in the middle of an enormous change in the world of symphonic music,” he says. Feedback from orchestras includes the expected goals of reaching their local markets and beyond to international listeners/viewers, as well as the ability to present themselves in various creative ways with video. It’s a new revenue stream, and Overton says many orchestra leaders were also enthusiastic about the idea of building a digital community of orchestras.

The platform will start with ten orchestra contributors, including the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, and the Czech Philharmonic, with a goal of rolling out more to total 20+ in about two years time.

“It’s quite a complicated adventure we’re in,” Overton says. It was the warm reception to his pitch by the orchestras he approached that fuelled his forward motion. Many seem grateful that a third party would take on the task of building a common platform for all of them to use, and relieving them of sourcing out the tech individually.

The platform will go fully live on September 24, 2022. Find out more about Symphony here.