On relating to audiences and connecting with fans
Everyone wants to be loved; maybe artists more than others. We need that feedback, that visceral moment when our hearts seem to connect. We need to know we are appreciated and that someone gets us. It’s often the reason we do this.
But – and here’s the thing – is there a difference between fans and the audience? Are they the same thing or two completely different animals? Can we have one without the other?
I have been playing music and speaking in front of people most of my adult life. I am comfortable in front of people. I like being the centre of attention. When I started writing my own songs, it changed. I stopped being comfortable. I found it hard to find a place to hide. For years, I tried to be like other artists. I was entertaining, I was funny, and I was determined to please as many people as I could. It had nothing to do with me. It was all about the audience experience. I remember being devastated when someone left in the middle of my set. I thought I had failed.
Over the years, I started playing more and more of my own songs and finding it harder and harder to get the audience to connect with me. I wasn’t selling many CDs. I had little traffic to my website, and shows were often poorly attended. I stuck to my guns and kept playing my own songs often to no one. It was a hard road, and I eventually gave up.
I remember thinking I wasn’t cut out to be this – an original artist and a successful entertainer. In 2018, I came back to music and recorded a new CD. I played very few concerts. I cherry-picked. But I discovered something interesting. This time, I made people cry. This time, they seemed to connect. This time, they became fans.
I was astounded by this. I still had an audience, but it didn’t seem to matter whether I was entertaining or not. These folks wanted to hear the songs from the heart. They wanted to cry and laugh along with me. They wanted to be emotional, and they left asking for more. I had found my tribe.
When I slipped into the role of entertainer, I lost them. It fascinated me. What was the role of a fan? It sounds so 1960s. They should be running and screaming or sitting as an audience, mute and full of expectations. And that’s the point. It’s the expectations that are key.
I believe fans will follow you wherever you go – providing you give them the same experience they’ve come to know. Alter that experience and you run the risk of losing them completely. But fans will go with you when you dive beneath the surface. Fans will hold your hand and thank you for the shared feelings. They will lift you up in ways you can’t do alone. They will shout your praises to anyone who will listen and make sure you have whatever they think you need.
How is that different from an audience? I think the audience as a whole is a faceless non-entity that moves with a hive mind. When the majority are with you, the others tend to follow. They are only invested in your performance for the cost of the concert ticket and expect only that from you. They wouldn’t have bought the ticket if they weren’t interested. It doesn’t mean they’re fans. They may still listen to your music for free and expect nothing more than the CD sound duplicated for their pleasure. They want the experience to be one they’re used to from an artist they have compared you to or what their friends have told them. They want nothing less or more. I think this is the hardest way to perform. I always feel it’s my job to win as many as I can into becoming fans. It’s not easy to do. We have become desensitized to the human nuance of the art form. There are so many factors that go into a stellar performance.