Audience Building From First Principles

One of the things I love doing over school breaks is catching up on my well-intentioned Instapaper queue. I really like some of Aaron Gervais’s thoughts on audience building in this article I just caught up on from last year. In it, he addresses some of the failed attempts at audience building, and how we can and should be doing it better.

He describes some of the trendy classical-music-as-night-club events, and why they might appear to succeed, but fail in the goal of audience development because they are showcasing a type of experience that is in many ways fundamentally different than the thing we’re trying to build the audience for.

On a mashup of DJ sets and classical music:

Once the bouncer explained to [a group of nightclub attendees] what was happening, they left abruptly. People come to nightclubs to dance, so when these clubbers saw that the context of the nightclub was going to be taken over by some kind of classical music thing, their reaction was, “Let’s go somewhere else.” … There were obviously attendees who were there because they were regulars, but more than half the room of what looked like 200-300 people were clearly there either for Mason or one of the ensembles who were playing. … The end result didn’t feel like audiences coming together, it felt more like classical music colonizing another genre’s space.

Gervais makes some really interesting points about what communities are, and how we can use our understanding of communities to build one (or several) of our own. Crucially, communities are fundamentally exclusive. That isn’t to say that they’re snobby, just that they don’t include everyone, and that’s ok.

 Often in new music we are afraid to ask our audiences to push themselves. That’s a mistake. People like meaningful experiences that they have to work for. The trick is convincing them to expend the effort in the first place. To get there, we start with the advice above: build communities, then guide people into greater depth using MAYA [most advanced yet acceptable] techniques.

We have to assume that our audience is there to focus on what we’re presenting with an open and curious mind.

If you have any interest in presenting concerts and building an audience for what you do, this is a great read.

Aaron Gervais: This Is Why Your Audience Building Fails

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