Journeys of Self Discovery (Part 2) – There’s No Such Thing as an Audience

Recap: I’m writing about making music performances (particularly jazz and classical) more appealing to more people.  In the previous post, I suggested that resolving discordant expectations and giving audiences more/alternative freedoms are the most important issues to explore.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. Here’s why:

Where Are All Your Friends?

Myriad3 has performed all across Canada in the last 6 months.  We publicize tours the only way we know how.  Press releases are sent to every press outlet in every city we visit.  Professionally designed posters are made for every performance.  We also spread the word through social media.

We go above and beyond what could be expected from a touring band like Myriad3.

At one particular venue, the turnout was poor.  So the manager frustratingly asked us: “Where are all your friends!?”

I responded: “Our friends are back home in Toronto.  Where are all your friends!?”

I didn’t say that; politeness got the best of me.  But this raises the question: Who’s responsible for attracting audiences?

It’s Not My Job

Well, it is and it isn’t.  Performing is complicated.

The question we should be asking is: Who’s responsible for performing?

A less traditional and more holistic view reveals much diversity in its nature and function. Performing is the result of many complex, multi-layered and multi-dimensional relationships.

When you go to a jazz club, who’s actually doing the performing?

  • The band
  • The manager who hired the band
  • The restaurant owner who hired the manager
  • The architect who designed the restaurant
  • The politicians who shape the policy that gives everyone the freedom to build restaurants and attend concerts
  • All of the above

Everyone has a stake in the moment that culminates when the band performs.  Here’s another one.  Who’s actually writing this blog post?

  • Me
  • The software engineers who designed Microsoft Office
  • The engineers who designed the Macbook
  • The designer who created this website
  • The Starbucks in which I’m writing
  • All the above

Everyone who has a stake in a “performance” have different functions, different goals and different means to achieve them.  If you alter one aspect of a performance, you could be throwing everything out of balance and interfering with someone else’s creative work.

For example, it’s not always clear what the function of a jazz band is.  Are they to provide ambience?  Or are they to be the center of attention?  Being the center of attention may interfere with the manager’s intentions.  However, providing ambience may interfere with the purpose of the stage, which the architect built for the musicians to perform on.  Conflict.

There’s No Such Thing As An Audience

This is when my head starts to spin:

Audiences are also stakeholders in a performance.  If audience members sense discrepancies in the purpose of a performance, this creates a similar conflict.

If an individual expects ambient, background music and instead is attending a feature performance, that individual will be bored and unhappy.  Similarly, if he expects a feature performance and the seats are uncomfortable, he’ll be unhappy.

This leads to an unconventional view of performances: that there’s no such thing as audiences.  Or at least you can’t differentiate between performers and audiences.  Everybody’s work, function, perceptions, and expectations come together – the focal point being the moment and immediate present.  Conflicts and discrepancies will cause some kind of tension or disunity in the moment.  People are unhappy, experience isn’t optimal, and the performance is less beautiful.

(This is beginning to sound a lot like George Carlin’s “Big Electron.”)

Performance is Collaboration

Such systems don’t like being tampered with, for risk of interfering with someone’s creative work and throwing everything off balance.  If we’re discussing making music concerts more appealing to more people, moving forward and proposing solutions has to be a delicate, respectful process.

One principle to observe is that performing is a widespread collaboration between all participants and contributors.

As I mentioned previously, the collaboration between the jazz club manager and Myriad3 was weak.  They’re should have been more communication about expectations on both sides.

If a presenter is boring his audience, he needs to improve his presenting skills and communicate more effectively.  This makes a stronger collaboration between him and his audience, and overall a more pleasing experience.

Similarly, if classical music audiences are being bored and embarking on journeys of self-discovery, there has been a communication break down, resulting in a weak collaboration, and a weak performance.

When companies release new products, they include manuals, software development kits, help lines, customer service, public forums and many other means to communicate with collaborators.  It’s never perfect, but some companies do better than others.

I’m not necessarily suggesting classical/jazz music concerts follow suit, but it’s important for them consider the ways some companies and organizations communicate with their community.

For My Next Post(s)…

From what I’ve written so far over the last two posts, I have two areas to explore:

  1. Giving audiences and performers more/alternative freedoms
  2. Improving communication/collaboration = improving performance

Stay tuned.


Leave a Reply