Bringing Digital Program Books to the Concert Hall

An Interview with InstantEncore's David Dombrosky


Sometimes it takes a dramatic change in the environment for an innovation to take hold. That's the story of InsideGuide - a new platform for creating digital program books for concerts and events from arts technology company InstantEncore. Before COVID-19, there were several reasons that a digital program option could make sense for many arts organizations - including increased editing flexibility and lower shipping and printing costs, to name a couple. Then, adopting new safety measures and decreasing touch points became a priority for arts organizations, and this new driving force ultimately led InstantEncore to develop its new platform for digital programs.

David Dombrosky, InstantEncore's chief marketing officer, is right at home with choruses and the Chorus America community, just like he is with emerging technology platforms. A past Chorus America Conference speaker and former chorister himself, David has witnessed a great deal of evolution in technology over his career, and is knowledgeable about helping arts leaders overcome the challenges of adopting new tech - as well as realize the exciting upside of the benefits. David spoke with Chorus America about his own story with technology and the arts, and InstantEncore's new InsideGuide platform for creating digital programs.

How did you become involved in the arts, and technology – and the intersection between them?

David Dombrosky:  It started with joining my school’s choir in junior high. That experience fortified my self-confidence and led to auditioning for school musicals and plays. I continued performing with choral groups in high school and college. Then, I focused on theatre and pursued degrees in performance studies. 

After college, I got a job as a box office manager for Jomandi Productions, an African American theatre company in Atlanta. This was in the late 90’s, and they were doing everything manually. The extent of my computer knowledge at that time consisted of Microsoft Word and America Online (AOL). So, I taught myself Microsoft Access and created a database to help track ticket inventory and patron relationships.

From that point forward, I focused on identifying ways that technology could alleviate pain points, maximize efficiency, and propel arts organizations forward.

How has InstantEncore evolved as a company as technology has changed over the last 15 years?

DD:  In 2007, InstantEncore launched with an online community connecting classical music fans with artists and organizations. We then created a service to help artists and smaller organizations create and manage their own websites. Our early services were designed for desktop computers. As smartphones began growing in popularity, we could see how mobile devices were changing everyday life.

In 2009, InstantEncore created Appscension - a platform for arts and culture organizations to create their own branded mobile apps. Over the years, we have added new features as technology evolved - push notifications, mobile tickets, digital membership cards, one-tap donations, etc. We launched our first app with the New York Philharmonic. Since then, Appscension has powered millions of patron experiences for hundreds of arts and culture organizations.

In 2018, InstantEncore partnered with The Philadelphia Orchestra to launch LiveNote 2.0 - an interactive performance guide delivering content to patrons’ mobile devices during events. Organizations use LiveNote to shatter barriers between the art and the audience with live program notes, captions, translations, and more.

And now, we just launched InsideGuide - a new platform for creating and managing digital program books.

David Dombrosky, chief marketing officer of arts tech company InstantEncore, became involved with the arts by joining chorus in junior high school.


Why did you create InsideGuide? What opportunities were you seeing for cultural organizations that you wanted to help them realize?

DD:  In 2020, Mirvish Productions (which operates several theatres in Toronto) approached us with the idea of creating a platform that would allow them to create digital programs books. They were looking for ways to make attending events in their theatres safer for returning patrons. Shifting from a printed program to a digital one would reduce physical contact points onsite. 

Of course, there are other benefits. You can cut printing and shipping costs while generating ad revenue.  You can reduce waste by adopting a greener practice. You can take patrons behind-the-scenes with multimedia content. You can deliver programs to patrons before the concert and keep an on-demand archive for them afterwards. You can do all of that by making one change.

We knew this was a service that arts organizations needed. So, we partnered with Mirvish to create InsideGuide.

What is the biggest hurdle in making the shift from printed to digital programs, and what advice would you give to overcome it?

DD:  Recalibrating patron expectations. Patrons walk into a choral concert and expect to have a program handed to them. Some patrons expect to take the program home as a souvenir. This is what they know. So you need to walk them through the changes. 

When you introduce digital programs to your patrons, focus your message on the reasons for the change. How will the change to digital programs help your organization? How will it benefit the patrons?

Some of our clients are creating simple 4” x 9” dual-sided rack cards with basic information as a souvenir. They print the cards in small batches and make them available upon request. The rack cards promote the digital program for more information. Patrons can scan a QR code on the card or type in an address.

Are there any particular advantages that digital programs offer right now, as performing organizations and audiences alike are still adjusting to changes brought by COVID-19?

DD:  Yes! The ability to make changes up until the last minute. Because the program is digital, you can change it at any time. If a singer is unable to perform on the night of the concert, you can add an announcement for who will replace them. No more inserts! 

It’s also a great tool for conveying any changes to your health & safety policies. As mask policies and vaccination requirements change, you can display that information prominently in your program. Giving patrons advance access to your programs gives them the most recent information before the show.

The digital program can also be integrated into other digital services like mobile apps, which gives organizations the ability to reach patrons via push notifications. Those types of integrations marry content and direct communication.

What trends do you think are ahead for the audience experience at cultural events as people return to in-person events?

DD:  I think we’re going to see an increase in the use of mobile transactions for upgrading the audience experience. For example: Helen receives a notification on her device asking if she would like to upgrade her seats for tonight’s concert for just $25. Tapping the note prompts her to pay for the upgrade with Apple Pay. As the use of smartphone wallet apps grows, more organizations will offer mobile upgrades for their patrons.


For a closer look at creating digital event programs with its new InsideGuide platform, InstantEncore is hosting a free webinar on Wednesday, May 11, 2pm EDT. Learn more and register here.

This article is sponsored by InstantEncore. Thank you for supporting the partners that make Chorus America’s work possible. If you are interested in learning more about sponsored articles, please contact us at [email protected].