Steve Cook Shows Us How to Program (and Market) Pops

Stephen Cook

No one marketed pops performances better than my friend Steve Cook when he was at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. These days his firm, The Cooking Group, offers a full range of pops offerings, unlike any other provider. Steve has put his marketing expertise and his experience as a creator of entertainment in the service of the orchestra industry. Merely looking at his roster of performers lays out the ABCs of programming a pops series.

Product Groups

We can see the most important categories of pops entertainment in The Cooking Group’s offerings, using their category names:


These are performers with name recognition, who are essential to getting people to subscribe to a series. The Cooking Group’s roster includes Kenny G, the Annie Moses Band, Chicago, The Commodores, Ben Folds and Kool & the Gang. The Annie Moses Band played this morning at a breakfast at the League of American Orchestra’s conference; they’llĀ enchant pops audiences.


One Broadway show is essential and two work well on a pops series. The Cooking Group offers four: Sam Harris, music of Stephen Schwartz, 3 Men and a Baby…Grand, and Broadway Today.


Brand names on a pops series sell, so incorporating a known entity to a concert works well with concerts in other genres. The Cooking Group offers circus (Cirque Musica), strings (Bowfire), dance (Ballroom with a Twist, with a Dancing With the Stars veteran) and more Broadway (sung by American Idol stars).

Standing O’ Series

Stars and brand names cost money. To meet their cost objectives most pops series need to fill in the gaps with concerts attractive by virtue of their themes. The Cooking Group has such concert templates for Christmas, movies, Elvis, country, love songs and . . . again . . . Broadway.


Whether on series or as special concerts, tribute bands in symphonic settings sell tickets. Steve’s company offers Paul McCartney, the Bee Gees, Beatles, AC/DC and others.

A New Kind of Pops

Among the acts common on orchestra brochures are some musicians from as many as fifty years ago, prompting one industry wag to call these series, “Catch a Falling Star.” The Cooking Group is already showing imagination in its pops acts. I have no doubt that in the years to come Steve’s firm will help orchestras reinvent the pops category.

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