Sunday, September 06, 2009

Is your audience just friends and family?

Does your choir actually have a public following, or are you just kidding yourself?

When a choir first starts performing in public, most of the audience will be made up of friends and family. We hope that they will then tell their friends how wonderful we are and they will come to our next show. Word of mouth will spread like wild fire until we have a huge following.

But is that how it is for most performing choirs?

Looking at a breakdown of our summer concert audience this year and last, it turns out that many familiar names pop up. In fact, a large proportion of last year’s audience came again this year!

Does that mean we have a core audience who follow us around? Or maybe some people only come to our summer concerts rather than, say, our Christmas ones. Or are we kidding ourselves, and this ‘core’ audience is our only audience? Is it, in fact, the same group of friends and family (and maybe a few other ‘fans’ thrown in for good measure) who have been following us from the start?

Although we are a largish choir (80+ voices on the books), we don’t really play large venues. Our audiences usually only number between 100 and 130. We have become used to this, and possibly this is normal for a typical choir performance.

Not only does the word ‘choir’ conjure up a particular image and perhaps put off some punters, but we also don’t sing the usual choral repertoire. So even if there are choral enthusiasts out there, they probably aren’t the sort to appreciate our repertoire (“We want more songs in English!”).

Now that you’ve read this far, you might be expecting some answers. I’m afraid I don’t have any though!

My hunch is that, yes, much of our audience is made up of friends and family. And yes, we do have a small, core bunch of fans who follow us around. Trouble is, what do you do when you’ve exhausted these people? After all there are only so many times your mum and dad want to come to the same concert!

I remember reading in Simon Callow’s book Being an actor about the time when he was in his first long run of a play. He talks about friends and family coming to his dressing room after the performance. Gradually, over the months, these visits begin to drop away as all his friends and family have seen the show. Eventually nobody visits his dressing room and he feels rather alone.

It is at times like this when we see who our audience really is. After the long run of a play, or a long concert tour, or many years of choir performances, friends and family may fade away and we are left with true fans of our work (if we’re lucky!).

So I guess my next question is: how can we widen our audience beyond just friends and family? Assuming that there is an audience out there for our work, how can we reach them?

Have we become lazy in promoting our work and presenting concerts because we imagine that there is an audience? But in reality it’s just the same core group of people following us. Time perhaps to rejuvenate our approach, brush up our repertoire, put some pizazz into the show, push our publicity. It’s never the wrong time to re-examine how you might reach a new audience. Complacency is the enemy of good work!

I’d love to hear of your experiences with your choir. Do you just have a following of friends and family? Have you found ways of widening your audience?


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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