Reading Your Audience

dark concertBy Vinny Ribas 2015

Any time you are performing live, it is important to be able to be able to read your audience. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a coffee house, a concert or a dance club. Knowing what your audience wants and delivering it will win them over as new fans. Building a relationship with them from the stage by saying the right things or performing the right songs will make them feel they are your best friends. Many times you don’t have to say a thing, and you can leave the audience feeling like ‘he read my mind’!

Keep in mind that you can do some of this audience reading from stage, but a lot more can be done just walking through the venue before your gig and during breaks. Of course, keep in mind the reason you are there in the first place. Is it your job to get people dancing? Drinking more? To stay after their meal? To entertain them? To set a mood (background music)? Then pretend you’re a super sleuth like Monk and scope out the crowd! Here are some things to look for. Remember that these are generalities. The more you can pinpoint your audience, the more successful you will be.

  • Mostly men, mostly women or a mixed crowd? There are certain songs and topics that men love, others that women love, and some that everyone likes. If you have mostly men, it may be futile to try to get them to dance. You can get women to dance with each other. Use a little psychology!
  • Are they all single or in couples? In many places, single men and women come out on Friday nights, and couples come out on Saturdays. Singles need prompting to get them dancing. Couples need a good love song! Play songs that your particular audience will identify with.
  • What age are they? Be sure that you are catering to the dominant age group, but don’t leave the minority groups out. If you have a mixed age group, play some classic songs that everyone will know.
  • What are they drinking? Beer drinkers naturally love beer-drinking songs and other more rowdy songs. Wine drinkers and people drinking mixed drinks might lean a bit more towards jazz, easy listening etc. The nature of the venue itself should help in this aspect.
  • Is there a large group sitting together? If so, why are they there? Are they celebrating a birthday? Is anyone proposing a toast (e.g. to a bridal party)? Are they in office attire? Find out why they’re together and play off of it from stage.
  • What are they wearing? School or team colors? Sports team shirts or hats? Cowboy boots? Suit and tie? You can learn a lot about people by what they are wearing. Use it!
  • Try to pick up on someone’s name so you can sing about him or her.
  • Do you detect an accent? If so, try playing songs about or by artists from that geographic area.
  • Does everyone look like they want to be there or were some people dragged there? You can mention that some people might be there against their own wills and then play a song that enables them to be somewhere else (like Hawaii or the Caribbean).
  • What is their economic standing? Do you see a lot of jewelry? Designer clothes? If so, you might want to avoid songs like ‘Friends In Low Places’ that they might take offense to.
  • Does anyone look out of place? If done right, you can make them feel more comfortable by asking them what they want to hear.
  • What songs are they singing along to? If you’ve struck a chord and the audience is singing along with you, keep that energy flowing with similar songs.
  • What songs are they dancing to? If you find the key to get people on the dance floor, stick with it so you don’t lose momentum.
  • What songs get the most applause? Obviously these are the kinds of songs that your audience wants to hear more of.
  • Is the audience happy with just conversing with each other? You may not want to try to break that mood (depending on the venue).
  • Have they stopped dancing so that they can watch you? If so, it’s time to turn on the charm and put on a real show.
  • How are the lights set? Play music that is conducive to the setting. Or you might request that lighting be altered in some way to help change the mood a bit.

This list could go on forever depending on your powers of observation. The bottom line is that the more you can draw fans into your performance, the better chance you’ll have of them buying your music and joining your mailing list.

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.