Respecting Your Audience

One of the myths of art is that you’re supposed to do it only for you with no concern for what anyone thinks.

That’s an oversimplification. You are supposed to do it for your own internal gratification but you’re not an artist without an audience. Art is a communication and you need two sides for that.

The idea that art is either done totally for you alone or you’re in it for the money and fame is a false dichotomy, art should bring artist and audience closer and blur the line between them until we all feel we’re in this together.

So you have to respect your audience. That doesn’t mean you have to pander. Like loading an action movie with tits and car chases because you think that’s all guys care about. You’ll find a big audience sure but everyone knows what you did and no one feels great about it, the whole thing feels shameful.

The musical equivalent is albums with 90 guitar tracks for all the harmonizing and solos but no actual songwriting. Or when bands of comfortable suburbanites write songs about hating the political establishment. And what happens to folksy singer songwriters when they write a sad break up song and an album later it’s all they do.

As a rule of thumb when bands in a genre starting using the name of the genre in their lyrics a lot, it’s pandering.

The opposite disrespect to the audience is being pretentious. The root of the word pretentious is the word pretend, you’re pretending your ideas are better than they are.

If the audience doesn’t like you it’s probably your fault. It’s not that they don’t get it – it’s that you sucked at presenting it. That doesn’t mean art can’t be difficult. One of the hard things about being an artist is gracefully accepting that not everyone is going to like you, some might not ever give you a chance. You have to respect your audience.

My go-to piece of advice on art and audience is you gotta give’em what they want without giving’em what they already got. Respecting your audience means respecting yourself as an artist, you have to keep growing, challenging yourself.

I also think you have to respect any audience you get. If you’re playing live it doesn’t matter the number of people in the crowd or if they’re not the type of people you hoped to be playing for, you’re lucky to have them – they’re not lucky to have you.

But what to do if the audience isn’t respecting you? At first just be better, rise to the occasion, but really I say there’s no harm in cutting your set short if there’s no point. Every great general retreated at least once before the battle where they should have retreated. Because they died.

And finally I say you have to respect your audience before and after you hit the stage. This is the tough one for me, I put a lot of concentration into learning to accept praise after a good show. I’m still awful when someone tries to “help” by giving useless advice and I’m terrible before a show. In the days leading up to show I’m good at getting everyone stoked but the night-of I just want to be quietly by myself until it’s time to sing. The last show at Distortion I felt a little different because a lot of my work friends were there and I felt closer to a party host than a rockstar and I wish I could always have that and be really social with potential fans. The downside being all that shouting jokes over the house music takes a hard toll on the vocal chords.

I remember one day I was in too bad of a mood to even pretend to socialize and people just kept asking me if I was sick or something.

But you can’t always be on and not every minute of your life can be part of the show. Sometimes you have to put yourself as a person before yourself as a performer.

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Singer/songwriter, jerk.

Posted in Songwriting

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