A Simple Reason Why Audiences Are So Small For New Music Concerts

Discussions about the small audiences new music attracts have been a constant of my life as a musician since I first entered university as a 16 year old to study composition.

I have to confess I’m getting a bit sick of the topic, mostly because there’s no mystery to these matters whatsoever, and the whole ‘debate’ ends up in the field of deliberate self-delusion almost as soon as it begins.

Last night someone said to me that audiences are small for ‘this kind of thing’ because, and I quote, “Australia is so backward”.

Something in my head finally broke after all the years, and I found myself struggling to hold back the waves of derision engulfing me. I may not have won that struggle.

I’m not going to waste my breath explaining the multitude of ways in which Australia fails to demonstrate backwardness. And before I don’t do that I’m not going to waste my time deconstructing the idea of backwardness itself. Instead, let’s begin from the beginning.

Of all the possible reasons for a concert to have a microscopic audience the most likely of them all is this one: the music has no fans.

Live concerts (or any live events) are built on a fan-base, so if you have no fans you have a limited chance of attracting an audience. This holds true for a pub band as much as it does for a purveyor of experimental sound art. Any performer needs to build an audience if they want to have an audience.

Now I do appreciate that there has been an aesthetic of writing with no thought for connection with listeners, but seriously people, if you write with no consideration of how you are building your audience you can hardly be surprised when you don’t have one.

And yeah, it’s your audience. It’s not the audience for “new music” or “experimental music” or “art music”. It’s the group of people in your neighbourhood, community, workplace, internet forums, facebook groups and twitterfeed who are interested in what you do. That’s what an audience is: it’s a bunch of people who care about your work so much that they want to participate. By being there. By being close to the action. By giving you money so you’ll keep doing what you do.

For about 8 months in pre-social media days I once programmed cabaret for a new, small but growing-in-prominence Sydney music/art venue. We had some of Australia’s finest musical theatre and cabaret talent on that fabulous, small stage, and the experience got me wised up to some fundamental truths about audiences.

The most important lesson was this: there is no general public. Even when you are an institution with a subscriber base. Even when you are a producer of a Broadway hit musical. Even when you are a decades-old rock band. The audiences you connect with are specific, and have vested interests in participating in your event, even when there are tens of thousands of them.

Some performers would tell me an hour before going on “I haven’t told any of my friends about this – I want to see what the general public looks like” and my heart would sink. “There is no general public,” I would whisper to myself as I pulled out my phone to track down even two or three extra friends prepared to drop everything right then and there to come in and bulk out the “crowd”.

Even with advertisements in the right places at the right times (including feature stories, sometimes, in the Sydney Morning Herald Metro section), the audiences for these uniformly stunning performances were invariably friends, family, colleagues, and their friends, family and colleagues. Walk-ups were rare.

Some of these shows went on to be performed in RSLs around the city/region/state/country. But RSLs have their own audiences, their own loyal fan base, their own communities with vested interests in participating. The performer is the detail. The performer has to persuade the RSL to host the performance, not the audience to attend. And so the performer experiences the delusion that the public at the RSL is ‘general’, when in fact it has been carefully inculcated over many years.

This is what a festival can bring to a performer/composer – a focussed, committed audience that is engaged in participating in the event of the festival primarily, and interested in the performer/composer as a by-product of that primary engagement.

Established venues (such as the Sydney Opera House) have in the past decade or so attempted to build this same kind of audience loyalty and invested-ness.

But the best way for an exponent of new music to ensure there is an audience for their music is to take responsibility themselves, particularly as festivals and venues who work hard at building their audiences will want to see a partnership with an artist as being mutually advantageous. And that means the performer needs to attract an audience. And if the performer can’t attract an audience without the festival/venue, then…. You see the circularity we’re dealing with here.

What can new art music musicians do? Try these seven suggestions for a start:

  1. Stop blaming the people who stay away. If there’s no one in Australia ‘forward’ enough for your music then travel until you find a sympathetic community in which you can thrive.
  2. Start thinking about who you want to connect with from the inception of the creative process. So you’re composing a 90 minute work about sewer pipes – who might find that interesting? Why are you wanting to compose a work about sewer pipes? Why do you think people will be interested for 90 minutes? Answering questions of this ilk will improve your composing. It helps you edit, to synthesise. But it also helps you gear up for connecting with your audience right from the get-go.
  3. Stop thinking that the audience doesn’t matter. If you’re talking to thin air then you’re talking to thin air. If that’s your point, that’s sensational, but no one is hearing your point, so your artistic practice is probably more like a spiritual or psychological praxis. Which is fine. But now you’re not being an artist, you’re just engaging in growth. And no one other than your family and close friends care about that. See what I did there?
  4. Stop being a narcissist. Seriously, you think random strangers care about your personal growth?
  5. Start connecting with people. Whether you have a concert coming up or not. Connect via conversation, shared interests, real life dilemmas. Connect by sharing recipes, local knowledge, book recommendations, travel tips. For one thing, having people in your life who trust you and feel connected to you will be incredibly life-enhancing no matter what, but you’ll also start building an audience who really *are* interested in your discoveries and performances. Because they know you and they trust you.
  6. Use social media. You don’t need an organisation to build a platform for you – get on twitter, set up a facebook page, make a video blog. The gatekeepers of culture are no more. Start finding yourself an audience in the global village.
  7. Know who you are. Easier said than done. And really hard when ethical artistic engagement involves change as much as it does consistency. But the more you know who you are the more clarity you will have in shaping engaging music/performances and in building an audience for your work. And the less you will find yourself taking on projects that go nowhere and have no one listening.

Having something to say is somewhere between unsatisfying and stultifying without having someone who wants to hear it. Stop composing, rehearsing and performing for audiences you could have brought with you in a family vehicle. And start changing your/the world.

52 thoughts on “A Simple Reason Why Audiences Are So Small For New Music Concerts

  1. YES! I figured this out pretty quickly. And the interesting thing is that a lot of your existing friends still won’t pay to see/hear your new work because they don’t value music in general, even if they do like you. They’ll cheer you on but won’t be part of your audience.

    I’ve found my most fervent audience members are actually those who have found me via social media or through other artists. But they wouldn’t have even found me if not for the initial support of the very small audience of family and friends.

  2. Hi Elissa,

    I hope you feel better now you’ve got that off your chest – your frustration was almost palpable!

    Thank you for your excellent suggestions. I’ll be forwarding this post to all my students.

    Cheerfully,

    Carol

  3. Brilliant, Elissa! I like your way of thinking that cuts to the core without pretentiousness and bullshit. Very wise too. I thoroughly enjoyed what you wrote. The essence is true of so many areas of life: publishing, invention, speaking, politics, performance, business, religion.

  4. Bravo, Elissa! I have heard far too many composers (or performers of new music) rant on about ‘philistines’, when the plain fact is that their music is designed to shock, to alienate and to depress the human psyche. People turn to classical music to experience (among other things) delight, nobility, catharsis, grace and transcendence. Thankfully, the situation re contemporary composers is much better now than in the 60’s, when people wrote computer programs to generate musical scores. Ugh!

    • As a scholar of music of the 60s, I feel compelled to reply:
      Which composers would that be? I know a few who used systems as part of their work, but they are not more attached to that system than Mozart is to tonality. (Indeed, the Boulez’s of the world are known for not following their schemes, especially the ones that they tell other people about!) Or are you referring to the process music that does exist typically from that era, most of which has reasonably good audiences (Reich, for example).

  5. Brilliant! And the same could also be said if you replace “new music concerts” with “community group concerts”. I will be passing this on to my community orchestra members.

  6. even I am happy to agree, this is one of the clearest & most insightful things you have written on this blog that i have read.

    as far as “audiences” go, my limited experience with “success” (playing deliberately LCD pop music to crowds of around 1000 on a regular basis quite a few years ago…) is that ultimately, there is a tipping point…

    if people come & like it, they bring 2 or 3 friends next time. & then those 2 or 3 friends bring 2 or 3 friends the time after that. that is how audiences in my experience, grow from 50 to 500++

    & the reality is only a small minority of that larger audience ultimately came for the music in the first place, but their approval is the start of the snowball effect that is predominantly then compounded out of a whole bunch of ultimately extra-musical considerations….

    but this comes down to the whole issues of venues & what they offer, & if a “concert” offers no other avenue for attraction other than the music itself (no booze, no opportunity to chat, no production values…) then it will remain “aficionados only”.

    which again, as you rightly point out, is ultimately only a problem if you think it is, or someone is looking to make money out of it.

    on the other hand, as an ‘artist’ if it’s personal & creative satisfaction you are after, irrelevance i find can be artistically & personally very rewarding. although the downside is there are less chicks…

    this is probably why so many lack lustre artists make it through to mainstream popularity. the people who are bankrolling them are ultimately buying into a social phenomenon to which the musical product itself is only an accessory. I’m drifting off topic slightly here, but it does raise the Q i guess of what it is that a lot of (non – musician) audiences at more popular classical concerts are buying into exactly, & if it is only ever, always, & exclusively about the music…but that’s another discussion… & there is, after all, occasionally such a thing as both great & accessible music (making…)

    but basically yes, no one really wants to sit through a bunch of boring tat unless they can actually identify with it in some way, or failing that, at least they know they can get a drink & that some of their friends will be there…

  7. I pretty much agree with everything you said. I’ve had similar thoughts float through my head, but never allowed them to fully form into an opinion so well-considered. Thank you.

  8. I think you’re probably right, and that’s what’s so depressing, for you write at length about fans, but not about music. What about the kinds of music that resists fandom? How does one programme that? I am consistently struck by how rarely people say ‘I came to the concert because I like xxx piece on the programme’, and how much it seems to be about celebrity and fandom.
    And I think it’s a dangerous path to continue down for several reasons.
    •Firstly, because some composers and performers are completely unpleasant people and I want nothing to do with being their fan, but whose music I nevertheless want to hear.
    •Secondly, because there are rich traditions of music-making that aren’t are about the personality of a performer, and I really really don’t want people to stop playing that music. Isn’t this one of the reasons that the Cage performances this year have been so problematic? Because there’s a discourse of the removal of subjectivity involved? And one of the reason’s that Cage has been performed without Boulez (which is the obvious music to programme) in Sydney at least is because people believe Boulez on the removal of subjectivity (which is arguably nonsense) and not Cage, which is a weird kind of success. But such is the problem if one travels the way you are suggesting. And one of the most sensible progammes of Cage (Cage Etudes Australes, Zorn’s Carny and Ives’ Concord) had about 25 people in the audience – seriously good programming, seriously good performer; really, exceptional, and it’s repertoire he knows about and I don’t want him to spend any time on connecting with fans when he can play that well, since he should spend as much time playing as he can, as far and widely as he can.

    You suggest that one ‘Connect via conversation, shared interests, real life dilemmas. Connect by sharing recipes, local knowledge, book recommendations, travel tips.’ But really, what about connecting through music? Or do you think music can’t be communicative? Musical dilemmas are real life dilemmas – to suggest the opposite is to separate music from life, and that, as you argue, is trouble.
    I think it would be useful to work for greater understanding that performers, say, really do need to spend all their time working on their performances, and that they really don’t have time to become cooking experts (the world has no shortage of chefs). I don’t want to go to a restaurant that shares ideas about ornamenting 17th century counterpoint. (Would you go to a restaurant run by a chef who had time to research 17th century performance practices?)

    • I think you’ve missed the point entirely.

      Without an audience, are you really creating anything other than simply stuff for under the bed? In which case, is it really music or is it the practice run until you get to the real thing?

      And no, music doesn’t always communicate. Sometimes its like advertising. Sometimes its just some dullard standing on a mountain with a loud haler trying to be loud for the sake of thinking they get the audience. That’s not creativity, that’s a practice run on the way to creativity. That’s not applying creative thinking, its just assuming because your loud people want to hear you. Just because they can doesn’t mean they want to.

      If you haven’t worked out what you’re doing to the point where you have an idea of who your audience is, as a creative person you have a responsibility to find out. The whole hang out in your bedroom and muck about and then “build it and they will come” era is over, if it ever existed at all.

      Fandom doesn’t mean celebrity, unless that is all it means to you. People don’t have to like someone to connect, its why we enjoy villains and trainwrecks so much. Just because someone is brilliant at what they do doesn’t mean we expect to like them. Where in the rulebook does it say somsone has to be likeable and nice for us to connect with them on an emotional level? Connection doesn’t mean buying them trinkets, asking for autographs or fawning all over them. Connecting means developing some kind of emotional tie to the creator or their creation that invites you to experience their work on a deep level, a deep enough level for you to want more. That isn’t sugar sweet lolly pop goo gah stuff. It’s curiosity, intrigue and relevance.

      I have no idea why you think connecting with people has anything to do with talking about cooking so I’m not even going to even try to unravel that jumble.

      • (It wasn’t me who raised the cooking point, since that’s in the original post…)
        When I go to concerts, galleries and the like, I go to find out new things, and to experience new thoughts, and to seek new ways of experiencing life. Whenever I hear arguments about relevance, it always seems to lead to discussions of numbers. And that worries me, if for no other reason that some of the best musical experiences I have had involved tiny audience numbers. (Some have involved full concert halls too.)
        I’m all for people connecting with other people, but my dictionary’s listings under ‘fan’ are all about ‘personalities’ and sport, stars, heroes, celebrities, amusement and devotees. And the religiosity of the terms still looms large in my conception of that term, at least. And none of this seems to me a helpful to performance, listening etc…
        I do think too many discussion are about numbers, audience sizes, etc… I’ve been to too many concerts with people who seem to be there for some reason other than listening, and it’s boring for those who are trying to concentrate.

  9. Thank you for an excellent article. I’m in a string quartet that has lost audience in the past 3 years. We really do have to take a more active role, don’t we? We will try your ideas!

  10. lol. in other words the sky is blue and water is still.. wait for it.. WET
    play rock music. all the kids go cos all the hot girls go.

  11. Fark this is a hot little article. I really wish people in freelance, startup and small business would also take a leaf out of this blogs book. Seriously. So many people sitting around with their thumbs firmly up their clackers moaning about why people aren’t mystically floating through the door.

    I’d kiss you, but people would talk. Thanks for being brave!

  12. I’m not sure it’s true that “The gatekeepers of culture are no more”, but that doesn’t make the rest of the post any less valid

  13. This is true everywhere. I live in the States, about 30 miles west of Philadelphia, and nobody ever said we were backward here, there are universities all over the place, but the audience for anything artistically interesting is still very small. There’s a potential audience but it’s fragmented and you have to do the steps to reach it.

  14. The post is hitting a lot of buttons. I am a classical musician, and I believe everybody should adapt to the way music is heard and attracting fans. You will never attract to a classical music concert people who only listen to rock, pop, country, etc. It really depends on the percentage of people who have had musical education, and , usually, they are not the majority…
    With adapting, I mean exactly what Elissa is saying about social networking.
    She really put to words my feelings. But I also agree with Michael. As with everything, you cannot put all “new music” in the same basket. There is “listenable” and not “listenable”. The problem with “new”, is that it is often very calculated, so there is no emotion to transmit as a musician. Art is about emotion. Also I agree that times have changed and people want more than just listen passively to something, about which, many times (relatives or friends for example) they know nothing. They read the program and its a foreign language for them.
    In my concerts, I like to make them feel at ease. I usually say a few words for the composer or the movements, put in a little joke, etc, and, when possible, I say something for the era the piece was written, or show some slides (not too many, or they take their attention away!)
    I also agree that, when possible again, there can be something offered as a supplement, food or wine afterwards, etc.

    • I presume, if you win the popularity contest, and your music is any good at all, you’ll have an audience. Alternatively if your music is brilliant (David Garrett) and you are a sensation, I guess strangers will love you too. Also keep in mind that different genres seek different types of listener.

  15. A great appraisal, as the question is not any different for orchestras and rock bands than it is for composers, they are just more actively engaged in audience building.

    However, audience building is much easier when you band together with others. Yes, you can build your own network from scratch, but the simple truth is that most human beings don’t have what it takes to be successful at marketing (at least not without losing their sanity in the process). So collaborate with other people you have something in common with and grow your audiences together.

  16. Interesting food for thought. I once heard a performer say that the performer has to “have love” for the audience. Even if you play to the minivan audience, if there is a true connection there (a corollary to your rule # 4) those same people will come back-and bring others.

  17. Terrific article. However, for ‘new music’ or ‘art’, lets just call it ‘music’. That’s what it is and this article is relevant no matter whether your music is recently composed or not. Nor does it matter what style of music you make.

    I’ve been making it for over 20 years. Music. I love it, I have an audience who loves it, but that audience fluctuates dramatically, depending on where I’m making music, the time of year, the venue, the country, how much time I’ve spent on publicity & promotion, who else might be on the program, the weather, you name it. There are myriad reasons why people will or won’t come to hear your work. But as Elissa says, if you don’t make an effort to find your audience in the first place, don’t whinge about not having one. It ain’t rocket science, folks!

    My two favourite concerts I’ve ever performed involved an audience of 1000, and an audience of 30. There’s no figuring how or why a concert will work. You connect or you don’t. If you do, it’s an incredible, magical thing. Whether you sustain interest beyond the live show, is completely up to you.

    I’m having an incredible time in another country at the moment, on tour for the first time here. One of the musicians we’re working with is considered to be at the top of his field in the world – not just his own country. He’s properly famous. The other two have incredible reputations here and are very well known. Our first concert here was cancelled because there weren’t enough bookings. Nobody here has heard of my band. Why should they come?

    We’re learning incredibly valuable lessons here. We’re playing beautiful concerts with musicians we’ve only ever dreamt about playing with, to tiny audiences. And we give every ounce of ourselves at every single show. Because that’s what you do – you connect in any way you possibly can. And that’s what makes people come back and bring friends to your next concert.

    Maybe that’s not everyone’s experience, but it’s mine, for sure.

    Whether you’re a musician or a music-lover, all the best to you in your search for all that makes you feel…anything :)

  18. every artist walks their own path – the audience shouldn’t matter to the process of the artist – now if an artist is concerned about making money from their art, then i think the artist is immediately placed in a compromising position – i for one imagine a world where people will realize money is not necessary for everyone to enjoy a high standard of living on this planet – since artists of all kinds would benefit so much from this, i believe they should do all they can to take the lead to make this so (check out the film Sacred Economics with Charles Eisenstein)

  19. While on the topic of badly advertised…

    First of all, great post. You really hit the nail on the head. I could use another cliche (or two), but I think most of the comments above say anything I could sensibly add without making my comment an essay.

    That said, your blog is a great example of bad structure. I came to this post via a FB link. Then my interest was roused. I wanted to know what the blog was about generally, and if it were worth following. Guess what? No “blurb” telling me the info I needed to know.

    And who was writing the post? Yet again, no info.

    And what other posts might be worth reading while visiting this blog for the first time? You guessed it – no info again. No quick links, no back links, nothing.

    If you want people to read your stuff regularly, you might want to think about making it *possible for us to do so without having to work damn hard*.

    Why is this relevant to the post at hand? Because a lot of choirs think the same way. They assume people will go out of their way to attend concerts. They figure the world owes them an audience. That people have nothing better to do than turf out of an evening and listen to a group of people put their faces down in their scores and, generally, sing badly.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m a keen ex-chorister and lover of music, and a composer of choral music. But we need to think differently about getting people to read / listen to / perform our stuff. We’re performing the service to the audience. Not the other way around. And until we realise it, things ain’t gonna work too well.

    • Leanne, I couldn’t agree more! You’ve visited my blog while I’m in the middle of reformatting it, and the blog is missing all its widgets, making navigation impossible (I’m so sorry!!). On the plus side the blog looks better than it did on a tablet device app such as FlipBoard, but it’s not supposed to be missing all the navigational tools.

      Ironically, I’m in the process of making the blog more user-friendly than it was 24 hours ago (when it did have links, recent comments, recent posts, subject categories, and so forth)…

      There *is* a whole category called “About Elissa Milne”. Which yesterday you’d have been able to explore. :-)

      I’ll have it back to usable before the New Year is upon us, I promise!!

  20. I’ve been playing in bands since I was 14, and I now play drums in Melbourne based band ‘Honeybone’. We play garage rock, similar to The Datsuns White Stripes, Led Zeppelin etc. What I find most difficult is trying to make people care about our music. Why should they bother going to a live show when they can access music they like at home, via internet, television and radio. We are not an overly ‘weird’ or ‘experimental’ band, I believe we would be played on mainstream rock radio. We have over 700 likes on our facebook page and regularly update our social media pages. We release free downloadable music often. We connect with people. But we still play to an empty room.

    I wouldn’t say Australasia is backwards, but the way people find new music is no longer in the live music scene (most people anyway). In the 60s and 70s, everybody went to gigs to dance and party. Now, they go to night clubs to dance and party. They stream music from smart phones at home.

    I may sound very cynical (and I think your blog has great tips), but the fact is that people are lazy. Why should they go out on a weeknight to see a local band in a shoddy bar when they can access their favourite bands in the comfort of their own homes?

  21. Well thought out and presented article that hits a lot of marks. One aspect that I used to consider was an outmoded concept, is the “cultural cringe” – I now believe that it still exists. I know the “prophet is without honour……”, but is frustrating when an act, that one knows will really go over well at a festival or venue, is not booked because the gatekeeper, the holder of the cringe, is nervous about “what the audience will think”. Frustrating!

  22. Hmm… I’m not sure about pitting ‘individual development’ against audience interest. What about development of the art form? I think that kind of thinking can lead to demoralisation and a real conservatism of artistic expression that in fact will do little to increase audience numbers (i.e. writing what people “want to hear”). What is wrong with performing passionately to a crowd of 50 passionate people? (Apart from the lack of financial renumeration for a hell of a lot of hard work, but that is nothing new for progressive artists.)

    I do very much agree with a lot of your method for increasing audience numbers, and reaching new ears. However, the general abandonment of what is often termed a ‘modernist’ style in Australian composers is indicative of a pessimistic disposition towards the ability of our audiences to ‘digest’ ‘difficult’ music (which is, anyway, just music that demands time and repeated listenings in order to *analyse* – this doesn’t preclude it from the possibility of enjoyment by those that don’t wish to engage in such critical appreciation).

    This certainly doesn’t mean I have in my head any idea that Australians are ‘backward’ – in fact, in my experience Australians can be more open to different kinds of new art music, and are far less judgmental of it than their European/American counterparts (once we get past the “I like it/I don’t like it” – the idea that one must have an immediate response of taste/identification), allowing composers MORE room to explore. I think it probably is the economic imperative and the idea that to be a “professional” composer – or performer – one must be earning the majority of their income from their creative practice, that has meant many Australian musicians develop a conservative taste in the name of populism (which can then come back to bite you in the backside – look at many of our orchestras!).

    Sticking to your guns and, yes, sticking to your own development and the development of the art – so long as you keep in mind finding a way to communicate to actual and potential audience members *why* this is important to you and your community – can actually win you more faithful followers. Have a project! That would be my advice.

    What I definitely agree with is your frustration at the people with these very negative views! Our small new music ensemble in Brisbane is quite proudly modernist, and have gained the support of a venue – the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Art – despite not fitting their current mission statement, because we have a strong vision and thematic organisation of our concerts. A strong vision is only possible with a realistically positive outlook. We don’t get huge audiences, but we play in a small venue to a full house (around the 50-60 mark). This year we are also JUMP mentorees (Australia council), in a project that will bring a similar European new music ensemble – ensemble interface – out to Brisbane to work with us, and I personally received an ArtStart grant (also OzCo) to pursue my work with young composers in Australia and internationally.

    How does one measure success? Is it only a dollar value? The audience headcount? Or is it the satisfaction of talking to 20 different people who came to your concert, and finding out that they all have very different responses to the pieces, and interesting perspectives – whether or not they are musicians/music ‘educated’?

  23. Reblogged this on The Wind Blows and commented:
    My thoughts on this blog post:

    I’m not sure about pitting ‘individual development’ against audience interest. What about development of the art form? I think that kind of thinking can lead to demoralisation and a real conservatism of artistic expression that in fact will do little to increase audience numbers (i.e. writing what people “want to hear”). What is wrong with performing passionately to a crowd of 50 passionate people? (Apart from the lack of financial renumeration for a hell of a lot of hard work, but that is nothing new for progressive artists.)

    I do very much agree with a lot of your method for increasing audience numbers, and reaching new ears. However, the general abandonment of what is often termed a ‘modernist’ style in Australian composers is indicative of a pessimistic disposition towards the ability of our audiences to ‘digest’ ‘difficult’ music (which is, anyway, just music that demands time and repeated listenings in order to *analyse* – this doesn’t preclude it from the possibility of enjoyment by those that don’t wish to engage in such critical appreciation).

    This certainly doesn’t mean I have in my head any idea that Australians are ‘backward’ – in fact, in my experience Australians can be more open to different kinds of new art music, and are far less judgmental of it than their European/American counterparts (once we get past the “I like it/I don’t like it” – the idea that one must have an immediate response of taste/identification), allowing composers MORE room to explore. I think it probably is the economic imperative and the idea that to be a “professional” composer – or performer – one must be earning the majority of their income from their creative practice, that has meant many Australian musicians develop a conservative taste in the name of populism (which can then come back to bite you in the backside – look at many of our orchestras!).

    Sticking to your guns and, yes, sticking to your own development and the development of the art – so long as you keep in mind finding a way to communicate to actual and potential audience members *why* this is important to you and your community – can actually win you more faithful followers. Have a project! That would be my advice.

    What I definitely agree with is your frustration at the people with these very negative views! Our small new music ensemble in Brisbane is quite proudly modernist, and have gained the support of a venue – the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Art – despite not fitting their current mission statement, because we have a strong vision and thematic organisation of our concerts. A strong vision is only possible with a realistically positive outlook. We don’t get huge audiences, but we play in a small venue to a full house (around the 50-60 mark). This year we are also JUMP mentorees (Australia council), in a project that will bring a similar European new music ensemble – ensemble interface – out to Brisbane to work with us, and I personally received an ArtStart grant (also OzCo) to pursue my work with young composers in Australia and internationally.

    How does one measure success? Is it only a dollar value? The audience headcount? Or is it the satisfaction of talking to 20 different people who came to your concert, and finding out that they all have very different responses to the pieces, and interesting perspectives – whether or not they are musicians/music ‘educated’? I guess this is a benefit of ‘small audiences’ – a better back and forward. Don’t confuse a ‘small audience’ with ‘no audience’!!

  24. Yes Got it. However, (a couple of things) I think those engaged in writing music that is not in the realm of the diatonic will never attract the size of audiences that a pop artist will. Or will never sell as much sheet music as someone who specializes in writing music for Associated Board exams re: Elissa. Does that mean it shouldn’t be written. Do “Artists” think about the desires of large audiences when creating. If they did we wouldn’t have Stravinsky, John Cage, Webern, Stockhausen, Picasso, Braque Duchamp etc etc etc. An artist will always be in front of his/her audience. If they are not then they are in state of stagnation regurgitating (re-creating is kinder) music that had a favourable reaction at their last concert. Its like a scientist re-inventing the light bulb – we have that thanks, can’t you come up with something else. If you are constantly considering how your audience will react to what you write you will probably never put pen to paper. I write this from the perspective of someone who is lucky enough to make my living as a composer. I make money often regurgitating musical ideas created by others simply because commissioners in Theatre and Film ask for it and I supply it.(and I enjoy doing that because I enjoy research and study and transcription). However, I spend as much time sitting in my studio asking questions, experimenting with form and timbre – creating my own briefs. BUT I make a distinction – the former is my CRAFT the latter is my ART. When it gets played – sure the audiences are generally small and it’s never going to get airtime on the Alan Titchmarsh show or even Loose Ends. According to Ellisa I am not an artist – I am a naval gazer who doesn’t want to communicate to a large audience and so are the aforementioned above. James xxx Carry on Elissa

    • :-) James, I don’t think I set about defining what an artist *is*, I just spoke about the act of believing that we are entitled to audiences, and our expectations as creators that everyone will be as fascinated and engaged with our creatings as we are.

      I don’t think there is no audience for difficult music, and I’m certainly not advocating writing music that is less artistically satisfying. I do think that composers don’t think about who their audience might be and why their audience might want to connect with their work. I do think that composers exhibit limited creative thinking when it comes to the presentation of their work, and those composers who *are* more creative end up connecting with a more interesting and interested audience.

      Thinking about how your work belongs to the experiences your community might have in the future is not a dumbing down or a selling out or a lessening of artistic integrity! Just as a good composer will craft their notation to best connect with the performer to produce the musical experience the composer has in mind, so the composer will think about how to best connect with an audience. It’s a 20th century conceit to believe that great art takes no account of anyone bar the composer….

      • Hi Elissa. Cheers for the reply. In terms of whinging I think we are definitely on the same page. Sitting at home whining about not being recognized is pretty fruitless and “Art music” is a niche and that has to be accepted. Some of it will come to the forefront in the future some of it will not. I do have concerns though – I think it would be a good thing, that it is encouraged and recognized (not that I need this myself) particularly by funding bodies, as Art. Don’t get me wrong here – I really don’t blame people, who’s lives are filled with stress trying to survive as one of the 99% (been there/am there), for not having the head space to be challenged. So many funding bodies get obsessed by building audiences and how much a piece of work connects with the community. This lead to compromise and, to be blunt imposition of a form of censorship – e.g compromising a project to fit in with the Arts Council agenda. The Arts council, by definition, was founded to fund Art not easy listening that will attract large audiences. When it was suggested to Maggie Thatcher that perhaps composers may need to be funded, she replied composers don’t need funding, look at Andrew Lloyd Weber. (I rest my case) Since her regime, every application form has these tick boxes – box office expectations, social relevance i.e pleasing the aforementioned, education i.e metaphorical basket weaving classes for those seeking relief from tedium of survival imposed on them by uncaring governments and large profit seeking companies. It is the true nature of humanity to be creative (I believe) to have a seeking, questioning spirit. Survival is in the realm of Animality. Most of us have been reduced to this – which is abysmal at this time with the resources available to us. But, does this mean that we should forget about Art for Arts sake, forget about being immersed in processes that bring us closer to what we truly are? In a perfect world everyone would be involved – as it is now, it is up to the few to carry the baton. James – delivering his Sermon on the Mount – Just kidding xxxx So to sum up – I’m with you on the whinging – I’m with you on connecting to the player – no point in writing unplayable music – but not sure about the rest. Nice to connect with you anyway. James xxx

  25. “Stop thinking that the audience doesn’t matter. If you’re talking to thin air then you’re talking to thin air. If that’s your point, that’s sensational, but no one is hearing your point, so your artistic practice is probably more like a spiritual or psychological praxis. Which is fine. But now you’re not being an artist, you’re just engaging in growth. And no one other than your family and close friends care about that. See what I did there?”

    Not true. Definition of an artist: a person who creates art. Not, a person who creates art that has an audience. If an artist is creating and exploring his art form but has no audience, it is totally wrong to think that he is “not being an artist”. A composer doesn’t start to become an artist when his symphony is heard. This would mean the only value he’d have of himself as an artist would be how many listeners he has, dismissing the creative process he has experienced and the art itself that he has created.

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