Meeting ‘Em Where They Are

That picture up there is from a night I recently worked alongside The Steve Bassett Band. They brought a VERY healthy-sized crowd to my regular gig, which was something both the band and the venue could appreciate.

There’s a secret to how they did it, a secret which I will now impart to you.

They met their fans where they were.

What I mean is that their fans wanted downbeat to be rather earlier than what it would be usually. The usual time for a performance to kick off in this particular room is “somewhere in the nine o’ clock hour.” What people wanted was downbeat at 8:00 PM.

So, Steve booked the room and asked to start early. We obliged. As I said, a good number of people turned up – and more importantly, they ate, drank,and made merry throughout the better part of the evening. It was a winning situation all around. This crowd would normally eat dinner at home and then come down for only a short time. Instead, they ate at the venue and stayed for most of the tunes.

The band listened to the desires of the crowd, catered to those desires as they could, and had a rather nice night as a result.

It all seems very obvious in microcosm, but I think it calls to mind a deeper issue. Below the surface, there are parts of the music industry that really struggle with the idea of even meeting the fans halfway. In some cases, I think the struggle comes from not even realizing that meeting the fans on the fans’ terms is something to do at all.

Zen And The Art Of Audience Capture

You can’t throw a rock in this business without hitting either a strategy or a question about “audience capture strategy.”

“How do you convince people to come out to these gigs?”

“How do we get people to Twittergram or Faceblog with us?”

“How do we make people want to just hang out in the bars and clubs again?”

The inevitable online groups start, and huge ideas are proposed, and a few folks try for a while, and some things sort of work, and lots of things ultimately fizzle. A lot of effort gets expended, and great swaths of that effort just sort of vanish into the ether.

It’s exhausting, right?

It’s exhausting because it often has to do with an underlying challenge that is tremendously difficult and frustrating to surmount. It’s the challenge of getting people to do something they don’t really want to do.

On the flipside, getting people to do what they already want to do is comparatively effortless. You just create a space (physical or mental) for folks to do it in, keep adding whatever fuels their ability to keep going, and the momentum carries. There’s work involved, of course, but it’s not a struggle. Effectively, you take the route of convincing people of things they’re already convinced about. You change their minds without changing their minds at all.

How this works in the context of my opening case-study is like this: To get that crowd to come out for a 9:00 show is seriously tough. They just aren’t inclined to go out for something that starts that late. The “event” aspect of the night would have to be enormous, requiring weeks or months of intensive planning. It might be something that could only be pulled off once a year. The show might have to coincide with a major holiday. Even then, a lot of folks might just prefer to stay home. It could all be for naught.

Or, you could take Steve Bassett’s approach and meet the audience where they are. You come to the realization that most of the fans are going to want to come early and go home at 10:30, so you plan to start at eight and be mostly done when the crowd is naturally “done” anyway. You flow along with the fans’ desires instead of trying to swim upstream.

And it WORKS. You just tell everybody that, due to popular demand, the show is starting early, and…wow, there are a lot of people here tonight! Where are the extra chairs, again?

The fans aren’t being asked to do something they don’t want to do. They’re being helped to do what they already wanted to do all along. It’s not a battle.

The audience is captured without any capturing being done. It’s very “Zen.”

Why Struggle If It’s Not Necessary?

There are so many places where this applies.

If people want to stream your music, then let them stream it. Trying to force them to buy a download they don’t want is a contest of wills. Letting them get your music the way they like is easy.

If people clearly prefer to engage with you on Facebook, why are you struggling to get them talking on Twitter? (Or the other way around.) They’re already on their platform of choice, so meet them on that platform and save yourself the headache.

If people won’t travel more than 10 miles to see your shows, then you could try any number of promotions and lineups that might entice them, and you could engage in all kinds of marketing that just gets ignored, and…

Or you could find a way to play within 10 miles of them, and not have to attempt anything superhuman.

It’s like I said over at The Small Venue Survivalist: If it doesn’t work, don’t do it.

Meeting the fans where they are, even if only in a small way, is one of the ultimate labor-savers in this business. It’s not necessarily a trivial thing, but it’s much more likely to be rewarding than swimming against the raging current of what fans have no desire to do.

  • Danny, once again I agree with your principles; trying to change the behavior of potential fans is futile. That said, I do wish more venues around here would start the music earlier. 🙂

  • hot_guitar

    Danny, thanks for a great article! As you and I have discussed, it’s more about bringing the music to the people rather than bringing the people to the music – Steve B.

  • Eric John Kaiser

    Great article. I agree. Good perspective. However from my experience, sometimes venues don’t always offer that flexibility and want the band to bring in their crowd later so they can have more business later in the evening and stay open later.

  • Jeffrey Friend

    There is something about the 8 PM start for older crowds. We started requesting earlier start times last summer, and its really made a huge difference in turnout.

  • Bill Madison

    Good Point!