Relating to audiences
by Lisa Martin
No one ever said that relationships are easy. Every day we
experience many different types of relationships and interact
accordingly, often based on past experiences, good or bad. The
psychology is more complex than we even realize and there are
few hard and fast rules to follow. One thing is certain: the
success of any relationship is determined by how much we are
willing to put into it and how much we are expecting to get out
As musicians, our main focus is on creating and playing music,
always striving to grow stylistically and to perfect technique.
As performers, the focus becomes much broader, requiring a multi-faceted
approach in order to "entertain" the audience. The
perfect execution of a song is no longer enough. We must engage
the audience in ways that make them laugh, cry, reflect, join
in and connect with our "humanness." This is easier
said than done because, like people, audiences have different
personalities, which can make relating a challenge. This article
will explore several audience scenarios and offer strategies
that can be used to make the most of each situation. There are
no failures only learning experiences. That will be our
"glass is half full" approach.
One of the most dynamic components of the performer/audience
relationship is energy. The energy you convey can affect crowd
response, and likewise the energy from the audience can affect
your attitude. If you're upset or in a bad mood when you get
on stage or look like you'd rather be anywhere but there at that
moment, the audience will sense it and may react by being tentative
or indifferent until you make them warm up to you. Similarly,
if the crowd has low energy and you're pulling teeth just to
get them to react to each joke, that will drain your energy and
make your work a lot harder and your experience less than satisfying.
Maintaining a positive attitude is the one element you can control
regardless of crowd response.
This perception of energy is often what a performer will use
to gauge the success of his/her performance. This is a dangerous
practice because audience response is not a true or consistent
reflection of your performance. Response varies depending on
the type of crowd you have. If you rely on this external measure,
you may have many nights of self-doubt. Instead, try to use internal
benchmarks to evaluate your performance.
The ideal scenario is when both the performer and the audience
are exerting equal amounts of energy, each feeding the other
and creating an exciting, mutually fulfilling experience. You
can generally do no wrong in this case and are quickly forgiven
if you do. When you have this kind of audience, go with it and
enjoy every second of the experience!
The listening room
It is always a pleasant experience to play to a listening
room. This group has purposely come out to see a show and is
interested in how you sound and what you have to say. This audience
can be of high or low energy, but is always attentive to you.
The drawback is that they will have higher expectations of you
as a performer and are listening with a more critical ear. The
importance of conveying a relaxed, confident attitude along with
interesting stage banter and good musicianship is crucial with
this audience. Work on honing these skills at every opportunity
as experience comes with trial, error and time, a.k.a. paying
The non-listening room
The experience of playing to a non-listening room can be likened
to beating one's head against a brick walland is often more painful!
These gigs are the most challenging because you are playing to
an audience who has not specifically come out to see a show or
be entertained. They have other agendas: meeting friends for
drinks or coffee, conversation, etc. You provide the ambience
for the room, the "background" music. It's difficult
to engage this crowd because they are generally noisy and inattentive.
Remember the musician who gauged the success of his/her performance
based on the audience response? This is the scenario that would
make us all quit tomorrow if we relied on this as a measure of
So why do these kinds of gigs? For the most part, playing
to non-listening rooms pays better, unless you're at a level
where you are headlining at medium-sized or larger venues. There's
an abundance of these rooms compared to the number of listening
rooms available. Also, every second you spend in "performance
mode" allows you to hone your skills so that you are ready
to play effectively to that listening room when the opportunity
comes. Consider it a paid practice session and make peace with
it as such.
Even in this environment you are bound to reach a few people.
Not everyone is able to totally ignore a musician. Be aware of
who is listening and play to them, make eye contact, smile, etc.,
make them feel included. Banter with them, offer choices for
cover tunes or, if you're really brave, allow requests. Even
if you don't have the whole room at your feet, touching a small
percentage of this audience is a considerable accomplishment.
Build your audience one fan at a time.
You get what you give
In relationships there are givers and takers. Audiences can
be givers and/or takers, but performers must always be givers.
Why? Your job is to please the audience. Pleasing someone is
difficult to do if you're not giving anything. Audiences are
most captivated when you give a genuine, heartfelt performance...in
other words, you give of yourself. Talent and skill are important
ingredients in any performance, but the power of delivering a
song from the soul and making the audience "feel" it
is comparable to nothing else. The music and the performance
will soar to another level and so will your spirits. The personal
satisfaction you get from knowing that you gave it your all is
the best measure of success.
[© 2001 Lisa Martin]
Lisa Martin is a singer-songwriter from western Massachusetts.
She released her debut CD, Set Me on Fire, in March. Her CD and
live performances are catching the attention of audiences and
reviewers. Learn more at www.RedLionRecords.com
or e-mail her at LisaMartin@RedLionRecords.com.
Comments? E-mail the editor at email@example.com.
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