Performing For Different Kinds Of Audiences

club_1© 2009 Vinny Ribas

 I am not a performance coach, but I have played literally thousands of gigs. Over that time, I have worked with rock, country, jazz, pop, oldies, variety, ethnic bands and more. One thing that I noticed rather quickly is that there are many different kinds of audiences, so most artists need to be prepared to read and cater to the wants and needs of the people they are playing for.[private_freebie]

 There are many approaches to playing for varying audiences, but they all depend on why you were hired in the first place. Were you hired because you have an established show or repertoire that people want to see? Are they buying tickets to see your act? In these cases, your show is most likely pre-set; one that you play night after night to every audience. Your audience read becomes more about finding those key fans with whom you make direct eye contact with and feed off of. You only need to stay true to what your fans expect.

 However, if the venue or event already draws its own patrons without you, you may have any number of situations on hand. Go back to why you were hired in the first place. It is extremely important that you are 100% clear on the reason your particular act was chosen to play that particular gig. The reasons why you were hired will directly affect how you interact with your audience. Here are some examples of different performance scenarios within similar venues that I have encountered:

 Piano Bars

  • I have played piano bars in which I was only hired to maintain the elegant atmosphere of the venue. Engaging the audience was not recommended. I have had to turn down large tips from patrons who requested songs that I was capable of playing, but which were not fitting for the venue.
  • I have also played piano bars in which I was hired to get people drinking, singing, dancing and having the time of their lives.
  • I have also played in piano bars in which I was left to read the audience, determining how much engagement and what kind of music they wanted to hear. This was obviously more challenging, and required a strong knowledge of reading faces, listening for cues from the patrons, gauging the volume of the chatter in the room and more.


  • I have worked weddings where we needed to play cocktail music during dinner, followed by dance music afterwards. No one was supposed to dance until after the daddy-daughter dance.
  • I have played weddings in which they wanted us to get everyone on the dance floor from the word go.
  • I have played weddings in which no one wanted to dance, no matter what we played. I’ve also played some in which people starting dancing to our dinner music, and the whole room joined in long before we started playing our real ‘dance music’.


  • Many nightclubs, but especially those associated with restaurants, have mostly single men and women on Friday nights, and couples on Saturday nights. Our sets would differ on each night because the singles would want to party while the couples would want to do more cuddling.
  • Many clubs that are tied to restaurants want lighter music in the first set while people are eating dinner. After dinner, you job is to make the diners want to stay and drink.

Obviously I can’t go through every possible audience scenario here. The point is that every venue or event, including casinos, fairs, corporate events, festivals etc. hires entertainment for different reasons. You may play a variety of venues, but in every one of them your job is to know what is expected of you before you play your first note. How do you know what is expected of you? There are many ways: 

  • Ask the person who hired you what they expect from you. They will appreciate your desire to meet their expectations.
  • Ask other acts that have played the same venue what their experience was and what the venue expected of the act.
  • Read the marketing that the venue does. Do their ads refer to the music as ‘dining and dancing’ or hard-core partying? 
  • If possible, poll the audience when you first go on stage. There are 2 reasons why bands ask “Are you ready to rock?” before their first song. The first is to get the audience pumped. But it also helps to gauge the temperament of the room.
  • As I mentioned earlier, have you noticed the volume of the room getting louder? Does the audience seem restless? Are people tapping their feet to the jukebox? If any of these are happening, it may be time to pick up the pace and maybe increase the volume a bit.
  • Are the audience’s eyes on you or on each other?

Every singer, frontman, and band should have these core skills:

  •  Knowing how to accurately read an audience
  •  Knowing how to win an audience over to you when you’re faced with a non-responsive room
  • Knowing when to morph what you do to match the desires of the audience or the venue

 There are 3 of the most valuable skills you’ll ever learn, because they enable you to perform at a much wider number of venues and events.[/private_freebie]

About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.