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.

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.

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?

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?