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Why Knowing Your Audience is Crucial to Planning Your Success

Audience at festivalWhat are you focused on? I mean with your music. On songwriting? On how well you play your instrument? On booking shows, getting a manager, or handling your social media?

Most of you know my main focus is on the live show. That’s because I believe it’s where an artist gets the most satisfaction, fulfills their calling, and makes most of their money.

But I want to get more specific today about the focus I believe all artists need to have on planning their show the right way for the right audience.

In my Live Music Method Book, my “Jaxicon” of terms defines an important element in planning a great show that will meet and even exceed audience expectations. I call it the “psychology of a show”: “Understanding the emotional makeup of an audience, why they come to shows, and delivering what they come for at the right time and in the right way.”

I can’t overstate how important it is to understand the emotional and behavioral characteristics of an audience (in general), as well as to know the effects the venue and the circumstances of the performance (specifically) play into the audience’s expectations and reactions. Here are the main points you really need to understand:

Know the relationship you have with your audience

It all comes down to a simple question: Are you dating your audience, or are you married to them? The answer is simple, too. If you are getting tons of press, loads of radio airplay, and selling thousands of CDs, then you are married to your audience. When you’re married to your audience, they’ll jump to their feet at your live show and start singing along with your first song, because they already know and love you.

I’m guessing most of you aren’t married to your audience — you’re dating them instead.  Oh sure, you may have some people who know you, and if your shows are pretty good (which most shows are) you may be starting to develop a small fan base. But for the most part, you are working on developing a relationship with your audiences when you play live. When you come out to play your first song, the majority of your audience gives you a curious stare. They’re trying to figure out who you are.

Why is it important to know your relationship with your audience? Well, imagine you’re on a date with someone for the first time. If you start acting like you’re married to them on that first date, you’ll either start things off on the wrong foot, or you may scare them away permanently! So plan your set lists from that perspective. Give your audience time to get to know who you are. And make sure you understand and rehearse the proper ways to listen to them so you get to know them, too.

Know why your audience has come to your show

Not only do you need to recognize the dating relationship you have with your prospective fans, you need to know why they’ve come to see you live. First of all, your audience wants to be captured and engaged. In other words, they want to be engrossed in what’s happening onstage.  You want them to sense that if they don’t pay attention to you they will miss something important.

The second reason they are there is because they want to experience moments. They want to laugh and to have fun. They want to be emotionally touched in a way that brings them to tears. They want to be so inspired it gives them chills. They want to groove. They want to “feel” the music, not just hear it!

And finally, they are also there because they are hoping you will change their lives in some small way. They want to leave your concert thinking about the world a little bit differently because of something you did, said, sang, or played. And if your show has been developed to be a catalyst for change, then change will happen.

Know the specific details of your event

I have a Basic Graph I use when I help an artist prepare for the “typical” 45 to 60 minute show (if you belong to our Backstage Pass, watch my video series on the Graph here…). Over the decades I’ve been doing this, I’ve found that bringing the right moments to your audience in the right order, goes a long way in building a relationship with the people who come to your show. For instance, the Opening Moment is actually 2 songs back to back, each a certain length, with the right ending to help get the relationship off the ground. That needs to be followed by what I call the Great Song Moment, so your audience can hear how great your music is. Then you need to have a Musical/Different Moment… and so on and so on.

But you won’t always be doing a straight up 45-60 minute set. So part of the psychology of the show is knowing the details about what you’ll be doing. Are you opening for someone? Are you doing several sets or a really long set? Is there someone playing before you play? All of these situations need to be part of your planning process. Is it a Battle of the Bands, a showcase in front of a label, or a 1-song audition?

Which brings us to another consideration…

Know who is in the audience

If you are playing for a crowd of people who came to sit and listen to a concert, that’s a whole lot different than a crowd who is going to be milling around and considers you background music, which is a lot different than a bunch of A&R or managers from a label or development group checking out your live performance skills!

Or, let’s take an audition as an example of why you need to know who is in the audience. If you are doing 1 song for a vocal competition and a bunch of vocal coaches, the song you choose (probably something that shows off your voice) may very well be different than the song you might choose to do for record execs or a Billboard songwriting competition (which would hopefully showcase your songwriting abilities).

There are a lot of variables to consider — but if you understand the concepts of how to bring the right moments at the right times for the right people, you’ll have a much better chance at success.


Image courtesy Flickr, Marko Ercegovic, Exit photo team, Exit Festival

Tom Jackson

Tom is uniquely talented and skilled at transforming an artist's live show into a magical experience for the audience; helping artists at every level create a live show that is engaging and memorable, teaching them to exceed their audiences' expectations and to create fans for life. Tom has taught indie and major artists of every genre. He has worked with Taylor Swift, Le Crae, Home Free, The Tenors, Shawn Mendes, The Band Perry, Francesca Battistelli, Jars of Clay, & many more. Tom also teaches at colleges, conferences and events worldwide.

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Greenroom Comments

  1. As a guitar player, I’ve found that it’s important to play with a good drummer to achieve the “groove” element.

  2. Sounds like i should write a song regarding #2 above…from the audience perspective.

  3. Tom, you take the mystery and confusion out of live performances, I love your approach! I’m trying to implement everything from your boot camp that I went to and from your book into my live performance/set list at every gig.

    Fortunately I have a new Band put together, and gave up doing the gigs just for the money (hotel gigs doing covers for 4 hours) and going back to who I REALLY AM, an original Artist, playing original songs.

    Part of it was audience members telling me they like my ‘originals’ better than the ‘covers’ which felt awesome!

    I’ve noticed a big difference from the audiences reaction when I arranged the ‘set list’ like you outlined in your book. Feels like the audience is a friend by the end of the show. I’m still working on saving up to work with you for a few days with my new ‘trio’ (guitar, violin, cajon) in Los Angeles because we’ll have some label showcases in about 4-5 months and we’ll need your help to make it packed with moments, and undeniable. We’re going to do a bunch of rehearsing and gigs first to ‘tighten’ up and try to create as many ‘moments’ as possible in our 45 min set.

    You’re like Master Yoda (we’re still the students Luke, Princess Leah, and Han trying to make it magical vs just putting on an ordinary good show). We want to give them MOMENTS!!!

    Thanks Tom!

    Hope to see/work with you soon man!
    ps..thanks for turning me onto ChildFund, little by little I’m getting more children sponsored. It feels great.

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