Audiences and Openness

Now here’s a contentious topic: the relationship between music and audiences. Cue all kinds of stereotyping, wild generalisations, radical rejections, stalwart traditionalism and utter confusion. I mentioned in my introductory post on openness that three things come to mind instantly at the mention of openness: open notation, open instrumentation and open form. Okay, that’s true for me and lots of people I know. However, open notation, open instrumentation and open form are mostly the concern of composers, performers and analysts. The majority of audiences probably couldn’t give a damn about these things. Audiences do, generally speaking, care about what it is they’re doing with their evening, what they’ve paid for and the experience they’re having. Musicians should be thoroughly concerned with this, too. After all, art is nothing without its audience.

It goes without saying that there are lots of different types of audience. Some are made up of specialists (in whatever area), some are loaded with sets of expectations, some are made up of a random cross-section of the general public, and so on. Each type of audience will react to the same performance in a different way. Much more crucially, every person will react to the same performance in their own way. One of the music industry’s worst sins is forgetting individual listeners and focussing instead on statistical masses of consumers. Commercially speaking this is basically unavoidable – it’s the way our economic system is set-up – but we don’t have to think only in commercial terms.

I’m going to pose lots of questions – implicitly if not explicitly. I’m not sure I have answers to them and, if I do, I’m not sure how long they’ll remain relevant. An audience (and an audience member) is a living breathing thing that’s not just connected to contemporary society but is contemporary society. Audiences and their needs change… constantly.