Discovering concerts

David P. Anderson
1 January 2024
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Concerts (live, in-person performances) are vital to the classical music ecosystem; they provide unique rewards to audience, performers, and potentially composers.

I go to lots of concerts. I discover them via email lists, web sites, and word of mouth. I decide which ones to attend on the basis of minimal information: e.g. maybe there's a piece I like on the program.

These search mechanisms are inefficient. Most concerts leave me pretty much cold. A few - maybe 10% - are thrilling and memorable; they compensate for the others. I wish there were more of these, and that I could discovery them easily.

Classical music platforms could help me in a couple of ways:

  • By letting me discover upcoming concerts efficiently (i.e. find the ones I'm going to like).
  • By making it easier for these concerts to exist in the first place.
  • Potentially by handling finances: letting me buy tickets, and paying performers and/or the venue.

What exists

Traditional concerts

Here in the SF Bay Area, concerts mostly fall into these categories:

  • Big-venue concerts: SF and Oakland symphony, SF Performances, Cal Performances.
  • Small venues: Old First Church, 501 Schrader, Music Room, Piedmont Piano, Center for New Music.
  • Concerts (mostly student recitals) at the San Francisco Conservatory. These are publicized on their web site and an email list.
  • There are a few people who host independent house concerts, with a following of friends and neighbors.
  • Meetup-based amateur music groups like BAMC.
Most of these have an email list and perhaps a web site. There are a couple of web sites that aggregate concert listings. The most complete of these is SF Classical Voice, but they only list the big-venue concerts, and they don't include the programs.

So if you want to discover concerts, it's a lot of work. You have to sift through a lot of web sites and emails. None of these are personalized. Their sources don't know anything about your musical taste. The weekly emails list all concerts, including those you're unlikely to enjoy.


Groupmuse enables a new class of concerts: house concerts, held in private homes, with class B or C performers. Groupmuse serves three populations: hosts, performers, and listeners. Groupmuse:

  • Vets performers (mostly class B, some class C and D).
  • Pairs up hosts and performers.
  • Publicizes the resulting house concerts to listeners.
  • Collects payments (credit card) from listeners and distribute most of the money to performers.

Groupmuse started in 2013. They operate in a limited set of metropolitan areas. During COVID the live concerts pretty much died out, and they switched to selling excess tickets for large venues.

Originally there was little emphasis on money. Hosts collected cash donations ($10) and gave the money to the performers. This often ended up being only $100-200. But many of the performers were class D and didn't care much about getting paid.

This changed about 4 years ago: the focus of Groupmuse shifted to paying a living wage to performers. The default donation is now $20, and the audience pays online.

This somehow changed the vibe. Things haven't returned to the pre-COVID state. There are far fewer events now, and the set of performers has shrunk: mostly class B musicians, fewer class D. The social components of concerts has diminished: people listen and leave.

I don't know what to do about this. If the ideas in this essay are realized:

  • Groupmuse should join the Classical Music Index (and link their programs and performers to the items there).
  • Collect ratings, and participate in the Music Preference Service; personalize the emails.
  • Participate in Concert Finder.

Perhaps things would then return to the pre-COVID state.


Operabase is a web site with info about past and future opera performances. It has good metadata; I don't know what its source is. It lets you search by composer, title, city, and opera company. It has links to videos of opera performances.

I don't know what the target audience is. It seems geared toward professionals: e.g. opera companies looking for singers.

There's nothing related to ratings, discovery etc.

What should exist

I want:

  • A new class of "microconcerts". Suppose, for example, that a (relatively unknown, class D) performer has learned some pieces that have a small but enthusiastic following (say, the Crumb Macrokosmos). The performer could arrange a house-concert performance, perhaps at their own house, which seats maybe a dozen people. Local Crumb enthusiasts (and predicted Crumb enthusiasts, based on collaborative filtering) would be notified of the concert, and some fraction of them would attend. The performer could collect donations if they want.
  • Generally, more small concerts. I like hearing music in an intimate environment: an audience of a dozen or two, physically close to the performer, with lots of communication between everyone, and a social component. A salon or house concert, not a concert hall.
  • A complete and efficient way of discovering concerts. I shouldn't have to scan dozens of web sites, and look at lots of concert programs, to find a concert I'll like. If someone's going to perform something I like - or more importantly, something I don't know but will probably like - I want to be told about it. The concert should find me, not vice versa.
  • More Composer-present performances. Every now and then I attend a concert featuring a piece by a living composer who is present and talks about the piece. Often it's a premiere. This is great in several ways. It helps me understand and appreciate a piece I might not like otherwise. It shows that classical music is a living, dynamic process, not a museum. There's excitement in experiencing something that has never happened before, and may never happen again. But these 'composer-present performances' are rare.

To do this all, we need a more general and powerful system for discovering live performances. Let's call it Concert Finder (CF). Here's how it would work:

  • CF gets listings of upcoming concerts, through arrangements with concert producers or by scraping their websites. Anyone who holds concerts (even a one-time informal event at their house) can register them with CF.
  • CF is connected to the Classical Music Index. The programs of concerts on CF are linked to the corresponding Composition, Performer, and Instrument items. CF knows who the performers are, and what pieces are going to be performed.
  • Listeners have accounts on CF. These accounts are linked to the Music Preference Service, which knows about the musical taste of each listener.
  • Because of this, CF can obtain (from the MPS) an estimate of how much each listener will like each concert, based on the program and the listener's data.
  • After a concert, the organizer can report the attendance to CF.
  • After a concert, CF solicits overall and per-work ratings from audience members.

CF can provide various services:

  • A listener can go to CF and see upcoming concerts, ordered by decreasing predicted rating. Or CF can send this information in periodic emails or text messages.
  • If a group of people (with distinct tastes) want to see a concert together, CF could recommend concerts that maximize the minimum (or average) of their predicted ratings.
  • A listener can say "Notify me if there's going to be a nearby performance of piece X (or composer Y, or performer Z)".
  • CF could provide a registration system for concerts (so the host can limit attendance).
  • CF could provide a reputation system for hosts and audience (to weed out bad apples).
  • Given a particular program, performer, concert location and date/time, CF could estimate the attendance. A performer or concert organizer could adjust the program and date/time to maximize or achieve a target audience size.

CF would provide a new (and free) way for performers to publicize concerts (including microconcerts), or to select a program for a prospective concert. It provides an efficient and complete discovery tool for concert-goers.

So CF could catalyze a local house-concert culture, like what Groupmuse seeks to do. But the models are a bit different. Groupmuse vets performers and handles payments to them. In my experience, neither of these functions adds much value. CF is lighter weight; it lists performances but doesn't dictate anything about them. It a performer is bad, the rating data will show this, and CF will recommend them less in the future.