Being in the music business, we’re often taught to focus on growing our audience. Court as many folks as you can. I propose this: How about we purposely keep our core audience as small as possible—an exclusive club if you will. Why? Because sometimes we have to be willing to say, “Take it or leave it. This is what I do.”
I’m a firm believer that if you’re making music for everyone, then you’re not making music for anyone.
Try this: The next time you go into a Starbucks, ask for a two-piece with a biscuit and mashed potatoes. They’ll probably send you to the nearest KFC. (Keeping the food analogy.) If someone came to my gig expecting to hear jazz saxophone playing correctly over the chord changes, I’d probably recommend Smoke Jazz Club, or perhaps Small’s on West 10th, and respectfully explain that what they’re looking for is not on my musical menu.
As artists, just trying to survive doing what we do, we can be too willing to alter what we do to fit in. The flip side of earning permission to join Club Popularity, is you’ve now given people permission to ignore you. I guess the grass is greener on the other side.
I’m reminded of a micro short story I wrote called “The Invisible Man.”
Young boy: Were you always invisible?
Invisible man: No. At one time I was prominently seen by all.
Young man: What happened?
Invisible man: I tried to become like everybody else, and succeeded.
There are a few benefits to excluding certain people and catering to a select membership.
- We have people in our circle who really want to be there.
- Not having naysayers and skeptics in our inner circle, allows us to maintain our artistic focus.
- We’re more likely to have folks around us who will help spread the word about what we do.
Instead of casting a wide net, I suggest casting a purposeful one. Keep those unwanted fish at bay. Invite only those whom you wish to devour to your musical plate.
I was inspired to write this piece after a recent performance at the Hartford Public Library as a part of their Baby Grand Jazz Series. I played there with Cooper Moore on piano, Hilliard Greene on bass, and Reggie Nicholson on drums.
It’s difficult to see on the video, but the crowd was really into it. They even gave us a standing ovation. But then there were several people not into it. Many saw fit to get up and leave, very early into our set. Probably not the brand of jazz they were looking to consume. And I’m glad they did. (Another food analogy.) If we’re grilling burgers, I don’t want folks hanging out, getting pouty because they’re no hot dogs. “Nathan’s is down the street,” I say to those folks.
Enjoy our set!