I have been going to musical performances for 45 years and remain amazed at the differences in audiences. Perhaps I am in a minority, but when I go to a musical performance, I am there to hear the music and watch the artists.
For me the best audiences are those who come to pay attention to the performers with respectful attention to their craft. More than ever I carefully choose who I go to see and avoid some venues where I know its probably not going to be a great experience for me. These days I prefer smaller venues like The Vanguard in New York which has a 125 capacity. True jazz fans know that if you get to The Vanguard for 7 pm, with the doors opening at 7.30 pm you are guaranteed being in the first two rows in the venue. There is a strict policy of no phones or recording during the set. This makes for a terrific music experience that is respectful of the performers. Its no surprise that The Vanguard has hosted the best jazz musicians for decades. This etiquette is unusual and if I had my way (which I admit I won’t) I’d extend this way of working to all live creative performances.
In stark contrast to such small gigs there are arena experiences. Of course many major artists will view these as better commercial opportunities, BUT often the audience experience is horrendous. Many attendees seen incapable of sitting still for a 90 min gig without either texting, talking and/or endlessly going to the bar. God only knows whey they buy what are often expensive tickets. The sound is also often not great as its a bit like being in an aircraft hanger with aircraft hanger acoustics. Equally bad are open air concerts where sound can also be an issue. I tend to avoid these as its in my view not the best listening experience. That said I did see The Rolling Stones play Manchester arena and they were terrific, but of course the lads have had a few decades to perfect their craft.
With some niche music genres (like the ukulele world), many attending are not that interested in watching and listening to seasoned performers, they just want to strum with friends! I get the enjoyment of social meet ups but remain totally mystified as to why anyone would pay for a festival weekend ticket plus accommodation and then avoid seeing professional performers. I’m even more mystified as these sets are often very brief so its not even a big time commitment, but that’s a personal view. One of the reason why you probably won’t see my band play any more uke festivals is that the focus is not really on the music, so its not to my personal taste. Yes a “Chas and Dave” style sing along may be great for many folks, but for me personally its like the eighth level of hell!
In “How Music Works” David Byrne talks about different acoustic spaces for different types of music and this book is an essential read for any creative artist. I fully admit that I’m in a minority in terms of personal musical taste and have a definite preference for hearing original music. The audience is of course an essential part of the whole musical experience. I have learned that you never quite know what to expect. My band The Small Change Diaries recently played a gig where I introduced on of our tracks “Adam Blames Eve” as “a song of biblical proportions” and three elderly attendees ran for the door! Whats clear t me is that as a performer its best to adopt “an Ernest Shackelton approach” who famously commented
“By endurance, we conquer”
Its a privilege to play music to any audience and I am mindful that playing only original music is not a safe bet as it challenges audience expectations. That said personally I love this aspect of musical exploration and wouldn’t have it any other way