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Audience Development: Reaching out! Bimhuis Radio

An appropriate present for the 40th birthday of this legendary Amsterdam venue, the launch of Bimhuis Radio in 2014 was designed very much as a forward-looking development, as well as having an archival quality, as Huub van Riel explains: “The basic idea was a very long term ambition, to have Bim concerts available. Even if radio stations remain, their quality, diversity and risk taking are totally disappearing, so we felt we had to do it ourselves.  The radio was part of our 40th celebrations but it’s more about looking forward than looking back, and it’s something we are going to continue to do.” Despite limited publicity for the venture in its first year, viewed as a trial period, the online station has attracted listeners from all over the world – typically more abroad than in the Netherlands – and their listening habits are encouraging, with audiences listening for an average of 25 minutes per visit. 
During its first 18 months, more than 90 concerts were recorded and archived, available first as a live stream on the website then for a year for free through a dedicated site.  Around 5 concerts per month are streamed and archived, and the archive includes concerts by Kaja Draksler, Han Benninnk, ICP Orchestra, Lee Konitz Quartet, Marc Ribot Ceramic Dog and Avishai Cohen.  The radio presents more than just the music, though – two well-known hosts from the Dutch jazz scene interview musicians and ask them to select their favourite tracks.
As it is a free to air service generating no revenue, the musicians who agree to participate are not paid an additional fee but their response has generally been positive.  Exceptions may include more high profile artists with significant recording contracts – themselves a rarity – but van Riel attributes the success of Bimhuis Radio to its existing relationship with artists: “In part the history that we have with those artists as Bim and how the place is perceived, its function more being a tool than a goal in itself, may help getting a positive response because we have had the chance to build these relationships over so many years. Bim has always been the supporting the music for the sake of the music and we're not in it for the business.  This is well perceived by many people over the years who sort of grew up with us so it gives us an advantage compared to the average organisation. The stronger the relationship of a venue or a festival with the artist, the better the response will be. I imagine that if smaller, deep content festivals take up this initiative they would also get a very good response.”
The costs of running Bimhuis Radio – approximately €700 per concert – do not necessarily translate into audience numbers, as van Riel explains: “The basic ambition follows from our original function to promote the music, the types of music that the organisation was started for, and this isn’t a business model.  It’s about widening and expanding the audience, and one of the great things about it, of course, is that people who cannot make it to the concerts for whatever reasons, people in places remote from music of this nature can listen it, and that’s fantastic.  Even if it might make it easier for people to stay at home rather than come to the concert and buy the gig, it will be by far compensated by an increase in interest in musics that can’t be heard anywhere else on radio these days.  And then when you hear it, you want to be there too – I’m totally convinced of that.”
Part of the success of Bimhuis Radio is the recognition of how fundamentally life online has changed audiences’ relationships with organisations, and van Riel sees the future as a more integrated online relationship: “We will expand Bimhuis Radio so its website is more integrated into the website than previously. This is part of a new vision about how a website can be a tool for communication with audiences and artists.”

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