What is audience development?
The task of audience development is this: giving great experiences to people through ongoing creative work.
Beyond the obvious – the audience is the people, and creative work is what you do – each part of this definition deserves clarity:
- You develop an audience through giving, not making or transacting. And what you give must be great: a memorable gift.
- You give the people experiences, which allow them to come away with associations and memories.
- You give experiences on an ongoing basis, or the audience will eventually disperse.
Doing this task properly is what attracts and retains an audience. So, you can measure audience development two ways:
- How many people join the audience (universally known as “growth”).
- The percentage who leave in intervals of time (in business, “churn”).
Whose responsibility is it?
Often, adding people to your audience requires you to pay expenses (also in business, “customer acquisition costs”) which make profitability hard to achieve; the price you pay to reach people will approach the value of what you earn from them.
But once the people have joined, you can retain them without such costs, thanks to the positive associations and memories they have with you. Therefore, the best path to long-term profit in creative work is through audience development.
Responsibility for success along this path falls to different people, depending on a creative project’s commercial intent: the importance of profit to its owners.
The appropriate level of commercial intent, for any creative work, is subjective:
- When the intent is high, responsibility for audience development falls to the project's owners – which could range from artists and creators, to businesses like record labels.
- But in lower-intent projects, the owners have decided that profit isn’t important; and they might prioritize social status, political impact, or artistic fulfillment instead.
The lower the commercial intent, the more the responsibility of audience development falls solely on the artists and creators.
Conversely, the higher the intent, the more partners the artists will have, to share this responsibility.
Are you actively working on this?
I work in genres of music (“jazz” and “roots music”) which often have low commercial intent.
Given that, I aim to help artists enjoy the responsibility that is theirs to take (and also try to enjoy it myself). I help artists do this mostly in two ways:
- gathering and sharing useful information
- building a local media outlet that can enrich our scene.
What crazy ideas do you have on the topic?
Here's a big one:
"Social media" as we know it today is entirely corrupt, and the highest vocation of audience-builders is to replace functions of social media in people's lives; that's what we can do to make the biggest positive impact.
Some ideas that I’ve covered in past articles are:
- small grants are usually bad for emerging artists
- “pre-saves” don’t work
- “monthly listeners” is a useless statistic unless you present its change over a period of time
Others that I haven’t published yet would include:
- artists shouldn't release the same music on all platforms and/or at the same time
- uploading directly (and only) to TikTok would be a viable strategy to begin an artist career
The fact that I can make that last point, and also ponder whether social media is corrupt, speaks to how convoluted this business can get.
But audience development is well worth thinking about. In fact, it might be the only thing in the music business worth an artist's thoughts on a regular basis.