Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Finding an audience 2: describing what we do

This is a revised version of a post which first appeared as It does exactly what it says in the blurb – or not! in August 2007

Last week I pointed out that the first step in finding an audience for your concerts is to identify what it is that your choir actually does.

Describing words

Describing words by Kathy Cassidy

The next step is then to describe that in a way that people can relate to. That is the tricky part!


A few years ago I ran a workshop called Beatles acappella. The publicity said something like: “A fabulous singing workshop for Beatles lovers. Learn fun harmony arrangements of well-loved songs by the Fab Four.”

I was very pleased that a few younger women had decided to attend. But half way through the morning, after learning a couple of songs, they left. When I asked why they were leaving they said “It wasn’t what we expected.”

What had they expected I wonder? I thought I had explained very clearly what was going to happen, but obviously not clearly enough!

On another occasion I ran a workshop called The Paul Simon Songbook. Again, explaining that I would be teaching well-known Paul Simon songs in three and four part harmony. During the warm-up I made a joke that Paul Simon was stuck on the M6 and had phoned me to ask me to carry on with the workshop until he arrived. Everyone laughed. Except – I later realised – for two women who thought I was serious and complained to the box office when Mr. Simon hadn’t arrived by lunchtime!

Had they really expected Paul Simon to fly over to run a workshop that cost just £15 for the day?

It reminds me of a Monty Python sketch. A customer goes into a dry cleaners and complains when his clothes aren’t ready the next day. “But your shop is called 24-hour dry-cleaners!” “That’s just its name” the man replies.

getting your description right

We had a concert recently which I called Around the world in 30 songs. I thought that captured the essence of what we had to offer, but we only got a tiny audience. Maybe I got it wrong and it sounded too much like musical theatre or a play. Getting the description right is vital, but can never be 100% perfect.

This is what I’ve learnt over the years about trying to describe what you have to offer:

  • imagine you’re talking to a stranger in the street – don’t assume that the people reading your description know anything about what you do. It’s all too easy to forget this and to imagine you’re talking to your choir or other singing colleagues.
  • keep it short and simple – don’t use complicated words and don’t write too much. Think of a snappy, descriptive title and possibly a strapline (short sentence to go underneath).
  • be aware of different meanings – I bandy words like ‘harmony’ about knowing that I’m referring to singing, but ‘world harmony’ means something very different.
  • avoid jargon – just because you use it everyday, don’t assume your audience know what you mean. Things like acappella, polyphony, Western canon, etc. can alienate or confuse people.
  • find common reference points – mention something that people can relate to: “It’s like Pink Floyd meets West Side Story”. People need something familiar to hang onto if you’re trying to introduce something new or different.
  • you can never get it right – it doesn’t matter how well you describe what you have to offer, you will definitely be misinterpreted or misunderstood!

oh, that’s what you do!

We can try very hard to describe what to expect, but we’ll never get it exactly right. Whatever we write is open to misinterpretation. Often people hear what they want to hear. So you can expect some disappointment from a few audience members.

On the other hand, if you can just get people through the door they are usually pleasantly surprised. “I didn’t expect anything like that. It was wonderful!” What’s a little depressing though is that you thought your description was spot on, and yet obviously your message didn’t get through to that person!

Why not use this fact? Have a chat with those audience members and find out what they had expected and why there was a mismatch. You can ask them to describe the concert in their own words.

You can extend this further and get more formal feedback from your audience by handing out questionnaires. I always have a comments book at concerts, but often people just write “Great concert!” which is not that helpful. Try more focused questions and use them to adapt your description for your next concert.

are you getting your message across?

What’s your experience? Do you find it hard to describe what you do accurately? Are there audience members who say it’s not what they expected? Do you keep the same descriptions or do you constantly update them for each concert?

Next week I’ll be looking at how you get this description out there in order to promote your choir and your concerts.


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