Thursday, June 23, 2011

Know Thy Audience

On the heels of disagreeing with Seth Godin yesterday, some measure of agreement today. In a post entitled “The Grateful Dead and the Top 40,” Godin writes:
I wonder if Jerry ever got jealous of acts that were able to put songs on the radio. (The Dead had exactly one hit record...)

I hope not. Jerry was in a different business. Sure, he played music. Elton John also plays music. But they were in different businesses, performing for different audiences, generating revenue in different ways, creating different sorts of art.

In a world filled with metrics and bestseller lists, it's easy to decide that everyone is your competitor and easier still to worry about your rank. Worry all you want, but if it gets in the way of your art or starts changing your mission, it's probably a mistake.
I’m fairly certain the Dead were concerned with metrics – their metrics. Their ticket sells, their concert attendance. Hey, all that weed doesn’t buy itself; Jerry Garcia gotta eat. (Or at least he did. RIP, Jerry.)

Consider for a moment what great care goes into casting a show.  Reflect on the hours spent listening to monologues, reviewing resumes, and arranging headshots together to see which actors look best together.  Then you have the callbacks, the additional casting calls when you can't seem to find that one right actor for that one pivotal role.  By the end of the process, you know your actors pretty well, no?

How many of us know our audiences as well?

The Grateful Dead inspired their audience to go on tour with them.  They fostered an active "taping" culture.  They created a sound system (the "wall of sound") that provided their audience with the best possible experience of the music.  They knew what their audience enjoyed, and they did everything within their power to bolster that enjoyment.  They knew their audience, and it informed their choices.

Live performance depends on the audience as an active participant. This is Theatre 101. Once the performance begins, the audience is half of the equation.  Do you really know who's out there in the dark?  Are you doing everything you can to make their experience pure awesomesauce?  Or are your choices geared to stroke your own ego and the egos of your collaborators whilst you hide beneath the aegis, "Art?"

To thine own audience be true.

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