Development Part 3 – Training Your Audience

Hey everyone, sorry I’ve not been posting lately.  My world got super busy leading up to and during a tour.  I’m back now but also realizing that I need to stop being so long winded here if I’m going to keep up my weekly posts.

Years ago, The Invincible Czars played a show with Suburban Terror Project and a few other metal bands at Trophy’s. It was the most people I ever saw in that venue. We were definitely the sore thumb on the bill. When I looked into the audience.  I saw a roomful of deer in headlights – not sure what to think.  But at least they didn’t leave.

Later, Josh Wardrip (from Suburban Terror) and I were talking about the show and he introduced me to a term I hear and use all the time now: ready-made audience. That conversation was extremely helpful for me. I immediately understood what he meant when he said, “there’s just no ready-made audience for what you guys do.”

The audience at Trophy’s that night had developed a taste for heavy metal. They hadn’t developed a taste for what we did — but at least they were open enough to try it.

That seems to be the route that you have to take if you’re doing something that doesn’t have a ready-made audience. It’s not a very fun one at first. It means spending lots of time in front of deer in headlights and hoping some of them snap out of it having liked what they heard. That percentage of early adopters in an audience is often low.

Years later, I heard Peter Stopschinski and Graham Reynolds talk about this as the process of   training your audience. Just as your music and band must develop, the audience for what you do must as well.

The first time I heard Mr. Bungle and Naked City, I didn’t have any context. It took me being exposed to the music lots of times again to understand and acquire a taste for what they did. (The hilarity of that sentence is that I often make fun of people who say you have to acquire a taste for beer. Why would I want to acquire a taste for something awful?   That’s exactly how people feel about music they’re not ready for.)

Unless you’re doing something that everyone can immediately appreciate, it takes time to for people to develop a taste for what you do. This is why cover and tribute bands come out of the gate with an audience. Everyone already likes what they do before they even do it!

Last year, I saw two very different bands with very different ways of building their fanbase each fill the Mohawk in Austin.

One was Red Fang. It’s not terribly surprising to me that they’ve built a relatively big fanbase over the last 10 years – anyone who’s ever heard Metallica or Black Sabbath can grasp Red Fang’s music and they’re very good at what they do. No additional audience training is required.  (I did feel compelled to train one kid to quit trying to pull me in to the mosh pit by throwing a can at him.) Red Fang has tapped into a ready-made audience and do a really good job of entertaining them.  Good for them!

Later that month, I saw Goblin at the same venue. This was a very different audience of people who’ve somehow acquired a taste for Goblin’s intricate, proggy music over the last 40 years.  For most of that time, the band didn’t even exist having broken up the early 80s.  Any group that might’ve been considered a ready-made audience for Goblin would have been (and still is) minuscule compared with today’s broad world of heavy metal.  It took much longer, but they finally developed that audience!

So how can you train your audience?

Good question.  All I can think to do is find what you do really well without stopping and take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Because  ultimately you don’t have control over who likes your band. I mean, you can target a large potential audience but that doesn’t guarantee they’ll like you. That’s the double edged sword of the ready-made audience – not all of them will like you and it’s hard to stand out.  Red Fang has WAY more competition than a band like Goblin that creates its own context rather than tapping into one.

But don’t fool yourself.  Creating your own audience is very time consuming.  After 10 years as a band, Goblin called it quits for nearly 20 years.  Their horror movie soundtracks kept the music alive and won new fans in the film world. People who liked them kept sharing their music. 40 years later, they played the same size audience as Red Fang did in 10.

If you can find or create a context for what you do best and take advantage of opportunities that develop around that, your audience will find you and vice versa.

On a personal-ish – note, I really had a lot of time to think on this topic while on the road.  I don’t think this entry quite nails all my thoughts and I’m still learning but I did get to experience some benefits of my own audience development efforts:  The Invincible Czars were touring with our 7th silent film soundtrack.  It was the longest tour we’ve done since 2004, nearly every show was full or sold out and I achieved the goal of booking an all silent film tour – meaning no rock shows. When I first started booking these shows outside Austin, most theaters/venues would (and still do) say, “Who would come to a silent movie?  Not interested.”

This got me thinking of the power of having your own contexts that supersede the actual art.  Hollywood might be the best example.  I love the irony of a bunch of rednecks watching movies created by the very liberal California entertainment business they rail against or the hardcore Star Wars fans who criticize and complain as they buy every last piece of a Phantom Menace memorabilia.

Now that’s a well-trained audience!


2 thoughts on “Development Part 3 – Training Your Audience

  1. Wondering, was the ready-made-audience for ththe silent film tour venues that were film/art-inclined? A lot of times I feel like we play where we can get shows but it’s really not our scene. We’ve been talking about this a lot in terms of promoting the new record and touring regionally: go to the venues where your people are… don’t play easy venues and hope your people will show up.

  2. Good question. I do think there is a ready-made audience for the “silent film with live band” thing but it’s small and there’s not a lot of demand for it. I think the main factors that made our Nosferatu tour successful were:

    1) well-known movie
    2) timing – we were doing this in the lead up to Halloween
    3) artwork – people LOVE Leah’s artwork for our CD/Poster/t-shirt
    4) merchandise was ready – for once we had CDs of our soundtrack on time for the tour.
    5) we played in a region where we’ve already established some awareness – of the 18 shows we played, we only played one city that we’d never been to in any context (Montgomery) and only two where we’d only ever played nightclubs (Lafayette and Pensacola). The first time we did a silent movie in Mobile, all of Leila’s family showed up and we played to about 40 people. Now when we play there, her family doesn’t even come to the Mobile show (we do a Fairhope performance) and the place oversells.
    6) all of that added up to word of mouth and press in nearly every town we played which only helped draw more attention. we were “the thing to do” in many weekly and daily papers.

    A lot of the people who came to shows in places like Pensacola came because the last time a silent movie with live music happened in their towns was probably 100 years ago.

    So we sort of tapped into the silent movie thing. I mean we’re not the first band to do it but we’re probably the first band from Austin to tour with a silent movie to the degree we just did. Which is to say that we didn’t just have good audiences in the big arts/music towns like Austin, SF, Chicago, LA, NYC and Seattle and bunch of dot connecting non-movie gigs in between. We built up interest in what we do by going to these same places over and over.

    I mean, to some degree, we’re all tapping into some kind of ready-made audience. Even Goblin was —- their first album before the horror movie soundtracks is an awesome tour de force in 70s prog rock a la Yes or King Crimson that obviously resonated with enough fans of those kinds of bands for the music to keep getting shared over the last few decades. They just took a left turn and started doing horror film soundtracks.

    worth mentioning – I had a long phone conversation with the Alloy Orchestra guy that I’d love to share with you sometime.

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