The Try-Angle: a tool for audience development

The European audience is rapidly changing yet a lot of existing music venues struggle to bring in a new crowd.

Audience development is deliberate work, not something that happens automatically. But how do you start? And what can you learn from other venues?

After studying a series of best practices during the 2017 and 2018 Live DMA working groups on Audience Development, we found that there was an abstract structure underlying most best practices.

In short: venues operate inside the triangle between audience, artist and setting.

If you want to change the audience, you need to change either the artistic programme or the setting (time, location, context, …)  of the event.  

This triangle became the Try-Angle, a tool for audience development I helped develop with Live DMA. It helps venues discover new ways of building audiences, not by telling them what to do, but by helping them see new opportunities within their own work.

The Try-Angle is a flowchart that guides venues through a set of questions and invites them to re-think the dynamic between the three elements audience, artist and setting.

The tool starts from the belief that venues can reach new audiences not by following a uniform cookie-cutter method that is the same in every venue, but by finding unique strategies fit for their organisation.

The Try-Angle is developed by Live DMA together with European music venue professionals and it is still a work in progress. In 2022 Live DMA will issue a call for participating venues to test-drive the first version of the tool. Based on the results and feedback we aim to develop a second improved version.

 

Interested in audience development? Read all of the articles here.

My calendar was filled with other people’s meetings. Here’s how time blocking changed that.

In the time between meetings I sometimes managed to get my own work done.

I was using my calendar all wrong. First it was wide open and then it filled up with other people’s meetings. All of which were obviously important.

Time Blocking changed that.

The principle is simple: instead of starting with an open calendar, you start with one that is already booked full. If I estimated that a project for a client would take one day a week, I block one day every week for the duration of the project.

I also book Saturday and Sunday as ‘time off’

This doesn’t mean you can’t move time blocks. Sometimes it is nicer to work on a Saturday morning but then you have to find another slot in your week to trade with. This could mean spending a Monday morning reading in the park.

Time Blocking is about defending your time.

Productivity shouldn’t be about squeezing in extra work every day. It should be about doing the things you want to do and feeling good about it.

  1. I stick to three of four Time Blocks a day. Don’t split it up into 15 minute blocks or you’ll end up with a scattered calendar again.
  2. At the end of the day I usually have an hour for ‘mailbox zero and admin’ to triage new stuff.
  3. Cluster items on your to do list. I know I’m doing ‘bills, invoices and business admin’ next Thursday so those items will have to wait till then.

Maybe you’ll find it harder to fit all of your plans into a calendar this way. In that case: congratulations.

You have just started to think more deliberately about how you want to spend your time.

Forget new year’s resolutions. Here are five attitudes that will help you make the most of 2022

Instead of setting overly ambitious goals for the new year, let us focus on the way we approach things in our professional lives. Here are five attitudes I am cultivating in 2022. I would love to hear yours.

1. Finding the fun in uncertainty

The pandemic has been disrupting everything for nearly two years now. It is not a pleasant feeling, but outside of the comfort zone is where all the learning happens. So why not embrace the uncertainty and look for the adventure in all of your endeavours? After all, if anything can happen, anything can happen.

2. Drowning is a poor strategy, try swimming instead

It is very human to feel paralysed by all that is happening around us. The best antidote for overwhelm is action. Stuck with an impossibly long to do list? Start by doing the first item. Unable to choose between three options? Pick the first one. It can be that simple. Being active is the best way to snap out of paralysis.

3. Always assume positive intent

It is not hard to be annoyed by other people. When the heat is on, we have a tendency to show less empathy. But it is kindness and understanding that will help you through most of today’s struggles. What is the most positive assumption you can make about other people’s actions? Go with that one.

4. Less social media, more conversation

There is nothing social about an algorithm that decides what you get to read and who reads your replies. Treat socials as necessary evils and take conversations off the platforms as quickly as possible (“Interesting point, shall we set up a Zoom call to discuss this further?”). Directly subscribe to newsletters from organisations you like (and start your own!). And why not make 2022 the year you finally delete that toxic Facebook account?

5. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together

Invest more in collaborations. It doesn’t have to be ambitious. In times of crisis, it is tempting to fall back on familiar networks and roles. But that is how you get tunnel vision. In 2022 ask yourself “Who is working on a similar problem?” and meet up with them over coffee and/or video call.

What a history of changing business models for the music industry teaches us about the future

For too long the music industry had been built on the premise that albums couldn’t be copied.

And just like that one sloppy exhaust port on the Death Star, all it takes for an impenetrable fortress to fall, is a single tiny weakness. The rise of peer-to-peer technology at the end of the nineties exploited precisely that. Suddenly CDs -cheap to make but expensive to buy- went from highly profitable to almost free.

The result was nothing short of catastrophic.

The industry struck back by diversifying its business model.

On top of album and single sales (both physical and streamed) we saw live music shows and festivals take on a more central role from the 2000s on

Live shows weren’t a new thing but the central role of live music as the financial driver of the industry was. Up until the piracy revolution, live shows were considered promotional activities. You went on the road to sell more albums.

Post-Napster live music became big business.

In 2020 it was a biological disruption, not a technological one that damaged the business model again. The pandemic put an end to ticket sales and hit our industry right where it hurt.

But the industry today looks somewhat more robust. It also showed us some promising new strategies to explore.

  • 2020-2021 was a quantum leap in live streaming and other online music experiences.
  • It also proved just how much we need the collective effervescence of live music.
  • We also learned how important identity, community and belonging are.

Whatever new business models we develop, they will have to address those needs. The pandemic has brought the essence of our work back to the fore. 

It is not about selling albums or tickets, but about bringing people together.

Why the European music industry should focus on collective distribution channels not separate live bands

The best bands in every country should have the chance to tour Europe.

That’s why many countries have set up export policies to help promote the best local bands. There’s a whole network of European showcase festivals set up for that reason. Showcase festivals are basically a live catalogue of bands so international bookers can discover what’s on offer.

And in theory these bookers will then invite the best bands to their venue.

But there’s a flaw in that logic.

Venues cannot book bands out of the blue.

For a band to draw a crowd, there needs to be a story and ‘here’s an unknown Finnish band’ is just not good enough. Smaller bands don’t draw crowds to venues abroad. And most venues will choose not to book them for that reason.

So a lot of the effort of showcase festivals is in vain.

I’ve written about this before: for historical reasons every European venue knows every detail about American and British bands but no one can name the top three bands in a neighbouring country. It is this lack of knowledge that makes it harder for non-Anglo band to tour Europe.

Instead of promoting individual bands, European export policies for live music should therefore focus on building distribution channels.

Instead of investing in showcasing separate bands, it is far more worthwhile to actively build touring networks in neighbouring countries. This means setting up international collaborations between venues, booking agents and media with the specific ambition of promoting bands from the neighbouring countries.

Give a band an international show and they get to play for one night.

But teach the European industry how to set up international tour circuits and bands can tour for a lifetime.

Here’s why you should USE your notes, not just keep them.

Keeping notes is one thing. Using them, something completely different.

I have no idea how many sentences I’ve written in the twenty years that I have been professionally active. The number of emails I’ve sent. The amount of documents I’ve read.

It has to be an unbelievable amount of knowledge.

And though I managed to take some of it with me, most of the information is gone.

I used to rely on my mailbox and a company dataserver that always had some kind of structure. I was good at retrieving stuff when I needed it (hello, search function!), but leaving an organisation would mean leaving behind everything.

Not that I didn’t try. I’m sure there are hard drives with all of my old emails and work files somewhere in the house. If only I could find them.

It is not about how much information you store, it’s about what you do with it.

In the old days I used Evernote to keep my notes. Even if I’d scribbled down only a couple of things after a meeting, I’d take a picture of the piece of paper and Evernote would turn it into a useable note. The technology was great but I was a poor information user.

What’s the point of having a giant inbox when you never take things out?

When I switched from Evernote to Roam Research as a note-taking app, I finally started doing that. I now have a far better information system set up.

One that actively resurfaces information.

The other day I was asked to write a text on nightlife policy and I found more than 80 hits in my notes on that topic. How’s that for a starting point?

Having a good system in place turns the bottomless pit of information into a fountain of knowledge.

For music venues, booking great bands is only half the work

The smaller the band, the more they rely on live music venues.

While successful acts have an easier time mobilising a fanbase it can be very hard for an up and coming band to fill a venue.

Ideally, a small venue can find at least 30 people for an unknown great band at any time.

It is not enough to invite cool new bands to your stage.

As a venue, if you are working with new talent you have to do all you can to make sure there is an audience on the night of the show. That is why it is important that venues actively invest in audience development.

You should scout for potential audiences the way you scout for new bands.

  • What does your audience look like?
  • What is it they need that you can offer?
  • How can you build a better relationship with them?

When you are trying to deepen your relationship with your audience it is crucial that you understand where they live. Not (just) physically, but in terms of where they get their information.

The conversation you have with your audience begins way before you are trying to sell the first ticket.

Audience development is the key to growing your small venue, both in terms of vistors and in terms of artistic styles.

If audience research sounds like boring marketing babble, try and look at it like this:

Most music venues have an explicit love for the bands they book.

Then why would you not want to show the exact same interest in the audience that comes to see them?

No Email November. Why email gets in the way of new forms of team collaboration.

Here’s a joke.

John studied German abroad for a year and it had been a succes. Everybody in the German bar had tremendously improved their English.

If you move to a new country, it is easy to pick up the local language. Unless of course, you come from an English-speaking background. People will always switch to English as the default language when you are around.

Sticking to the default makes it hard to learn new things.

Email is a lot like English in that regard.

It holds the position of default communication tool in every organisation. Over the years we have developed various better techniques to work together on projects but email still claims a central role.

We use email not because it is perfect but because it is the norm.

It is a one way street where people send you stuff whether you like it or not. It is always a request for attention, never a collaboration.

And it gets in the way of new forms of collaborating.

Just like in the German bar, as soon as one person in your team sticks to email only, everybody switches to email. By doing this, all of our attempts to become better at collaboration are turned into ‘extra work’ not THE work.

What would it be like to ban email from your team for a while?

Imagine that ‘No Email November’ was a thing.

  • How would you prepare your team for it?
  • What arrangements would you make?
  • What would be the biggest challenge?

I have indeed met English students who learned a new language during their year abroad.

The way they did it, was by politely but systematically refusing to switch to the default.

Want to build new audiences for your music venue? Here are three things to keep in mind.

The music speaks for itself, right?

Live music venues do not have a tradition of audience development. Deep down we believe that if you put on great shows, the crowds will come.

It doesn’t work that way.

Precisely because we are so passionate about the music we put on, live music venues can get stuck in a closed loop. You start to think your audience consists of the type of people who like what you do. And that if you pick great bands, the audience will automatically follow.

Closed loops always lead to a dead end. It’s the law of diminishing returns.

If you don’t actively seek new audiences, who is going to come to your venue 5 years from now? Let alone 15 years from now?

Here are three principles for building new audiences for your venue.

  1. Be curious. Remember when you started out listening to your favourite bands? How you delighted in discovering new stuff? Cultivate that mindset for new genres and styles. Building new audiences means growing your curiosity for them. What do they need? How can you help them?
  2. Start from love. Don’t just tick off boxes. Actively move from ‘It doesn’t hurt that you are here’ to ‘I WANT you in my venue’. This also means being really picky about the kind of new audience you invite into your house.
  3. Adopt the gardener’s mindset. The world no longer needs gatekeepers. People care about the music, not about your opinion of the music. Instead try lovingly looking at the music that is happening around you and thinking “how can I help this grow”?

If it is true that the music speaks for itself, then audience development is about actively listening to what new music has to say.

Why you should get on that Zoom call with a European colleague in the music industry today

It took a virus to teach the music industry how to do video calls.

In Europe restrictions are slowly being lifted for live music venues. The future might not look as bright as we had hoped yet, but at least we are looking at a future. Not too long ago that wasn’t the case.

Rebuilding a European live music scene will take a lot of effort.

More than ever it will require international cooperation between cities, music venues and media.

  • Cities are putting policies into place to encourage live music. Governments should help music venues to thrive again. It makes sense for policy makers to talk to their European counterparts to learn from each other how to do that.
  • Music venues can leverage the fact that the next year is going to be mostly about smaller local shows. They should work together on a European level to set up tours for European bands.
  • Radio stations and broadcast media in Europe now have the chance to promote European artists more than ever. Ideally live music bridges the gap between broadcast media and people meeting in real life again. This too will require international cooperation.

The next couple of years are going to be about rebuilding music scenes.

Undoubtedly there will be a focus on localism. But at the same time we have to make sure that we learn from each other more than ever.

Localism cannot mean parochialism.

If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that our international partners are but a Zoom call away these days.

So let’s invent this future together.
Who are YOU giving a call today?