“Artists who learn to be a ‘leader’ of their audience will experience loyalty at the worst times, and commitment at the best.”
BUILDING AN AUDIENCE IS A KEY TO ARTISTIC SUCCESS
Gospel artists perform to reach an audience with a Christian message using music. Juliet Fletcher looks at how artists can build a following, connection and support from an audience
Whether writing, singing, acting – everyone in the creative world needs an audience. The music business takes AUDIENCE deadly seriously. Audience is at the heart of why we do what we do. Caring about audience includes intelligent business practice. Just ask radio stations like Premier Gospel & UCB Gospel! If there is no audience reading, listening AND participating (interacting), none of us would be able to make a living or run a professional business based on what we do!
In my experience, developing an audience is a continual cycle of finding, leading, maintaining and growing practice.
Most gospel artists start with the audience they have immediate access to – their local church. Gospel stalwart (Rev) Marvin Winans wisely said that you start local, reach regional, rise to national prominence, and then go for the rest of the world. You must strike a chord in the heart of your initial audience, which resonates and begins that outward filter. In other words, create a ‘noise’ that gains a platform for wider attention.
I remember when the notion was: be a support act for a big name, and you’ve got an audience. No! You’ve just got exposure.
Finding your audience is predicated on your artistic ability; how you present yourself, and what you begin to represent to that audience who found you! You cannot mean more to an audience than what the audience wants to either take from you, or by what you are giving them to meet or exceed their expectations.
These days’ audiences are very discerning, BUT they still like to ‘follow the leader’ and keep up with the trends. Artists who learn to be a ‘leader’ of their audience will experience loyalty at the worst times, and commitment at the best. You may say, aren’t these two things the same? Of course they are similar, but the nuances are determined by the circumstance.
In the US, for example, when Kirk Franklin spoke of his pornography addiction, his audience remained loyal to him, even though he was at fault for giving in to such weaknesses. Donnie McClurkin spoke out about his homosexual experiences due to abuse during childhood. He held commitment to his ministry, because his audience sympathised with him, and their devotion remained. Both artists experienced forgiveness and, indeed, have increased their audiences through their public confessions.
In the UK, our tendency is to talk of these indiscretions privately and, where the person has shown humility and change, audiences will forgive just the same. The key is whether the artist has both a genuine anointing and genuine leadership, and whether TRUST has been restored. So the key question is: How are you leading your audience?
Once you’ve established an audience, how are you maintaining their interest? What are you saying today, or prophetically for next year? Are you speaking up for them? Are you expressing their heart, and still meeting their spiritual or moral needs through your music? Do you make them feel valued for faithfully supporting you? If you are going to move forward to the next stage of growing your audience, you need to look at how you are maintaining what you have – whether big or small. Please note Zechariah 4:10.
Growing your audience moves us back towards the start of the cycle – finding. Seeking to grow your audience will help keep gospel music – for you and others – fresh! Is it an image or music change? Consider associating yourself with an event that has a strong purpose. In the context of this article, Kingdom Worship Movement is a fine example of a visionary event that has extended audience for the genre of Praise & Worship.
Managers, promoters and event organisers are always looking for artists who are willing to stretch themselves towards new audiences. What evidence can you show to a would-be sponsor/investor that you started out with X audience size but now it is Y? Have you kept a verifiable method of proving your last album sold 3,000 copies – and it wasn’t over five years?!
It’s now easier to find and grow an audience, given the platform of the Internet and the various social networks, particularly YouTube, but singing in front of a single camera is very different to being on stage before thousands and entertaining for hours. Mastery is required in both cases.
AUDIENCE – WHAT’S OUR RESPONSIBILITY?
The last word has to be to you and me – the AUDIENCE! In the early days, British acts would say, “PLEASE BUY!”, “PLEASE SUPPORT”! That was because a lot of people were illegally copying and sneaking into events without paying. It was bad. Real fans (for the ‘super-spiritual’, that’s the modern term for a faithful audience) and real Christians don’t cheat their artists. Our home-grown talent has earned our support, as they reach people we cannot. Let’s be a better audience to our better artists.
Juliet Fletcher is a former BBC Producer, founding Executive of the GMIA, and Director of GreenTree, a specialist music consultancy and production company. Visit www.gmia.org.uk for more details, or phone 020 3086 8348