About Audience Development

“Access to Culture is an essential right of all citizens but becomes fundamental in the case of those with economic and social challenges such as young people and the elderly, people with disabilities and minority groups. Supranational institutions such as the European Union as well as its Member States have come a long way towards incorporating strong cultural normative practices and principles in their policy-making. However, there is a notable gap and a lack of political and public debate on and between principles and commitments, and everyday practices of fostering Access to Culture“


There is no common definition of audience development and no consensus on what cultural operators and actors should do to foster audience development. What we aim at through 15 innovative ideas is to give an insight on how young people look at this topic and what they consider to be useful in order to grow audiences and to make them more engaged. Young people are the audience of tomorrow, so seeking their opinions and views is essential to understand what directions does audience development head to. Throughout an intensive workshop, in which we have mobilized more than 30 young people in Romania, Cyprus, Greece and France, we have managed to put together 15 innovative proposals that were generated by the participants

“The aim of Audience Development Arts Marketing practitioners is to bring an appropriate number of people, drawn from the widest possible range of social background, economic condition and age, into an appropriate form of contact with the artist and, in so doing, to arrive at the best financial outcome that is compatible with the achievement of that aim” (Keith Diggle, 1984)

“Audience Development is about quantitatively and qualitatively targeting new sectors in innovative ways to broaden the arts audience base, then nurturing new attenders, along with existing audiences, to encourage them to grow with the organization” (Rogers, 1998)

“Audience development is a planned process which involves building a relationship between an individual and the arts. This takes time and cannot happen by itself. Arts organisations must work to develop these relationships” (Heather Maitland, 2000)

“The concept of Audience Development describes an activity which is undertaken specifically to meet the needs of the existing and the potential audiences, and to help arts organisations to develop on-going relationships with audiences. It can include aspects of marketing, commissioning, programming, education, customer care and distribution. ‘Audience’ encompasses attendees, visitors, readers, listeners, viewers, participants and learners” (Grants for the Arts, Arts Council England, 2004)

“Audience development is a strategic, dynamic and interactive process of making the arts accessible. It aims to engage individuals and communities in experiencing, enjoying, participating in and valuing the arts through various means including arts marketing.” (Australia Council, 2005. Support for the Arts Handbook.)

“…a planned, organisation-wide approach aimed at extending the range and nature of relationships with the public, it helps a cultural organisation to achieve its mission, balancing social purpose, financial sustainability and creative ambitions” (The Audience Agency)

“Audience development is a continual, actively managed process in which an organisation encourages each attender and potential attender to develop confidence, knowledge, experience and engagement across the full breadth of the art form to meet his or her full potential, whilst meeting the organisation’s own artistic, social and financial objectives” (Morris Hargreaves McIntyre)

“….it is the active and deliberate process of creating meaningful, long-term connections between people and an art organisation. Strategic AD goes beyond increasing visitor numbers, aiming to build community ownership, participation, relationship with, and support for the organisation, its programme and its people” (B. Lipps, Theatron, 2015).

“Audience development is a strategic, dynamic and interactive process of making the arts widely accessible. It aims at engaging individuals and communities in experiencing, enjoying, participating in and valuing the arts through various means available today for cultural operators.”

Audience development has different dimensions, depending on its objectives and target groups:

Widening audiences: attracting audiences with the same socio-demographic profile as the current audience.
Deepening: deepening relationships with the audiences, enhancing the experience of the current audiences.
Diversifying audiences: attracting people with a different socio-demographic profile, including people with no previous contact with the arts.


Audience by habit: People who usually attend and/or participate in cultural activities, whose barriers to access are relatively easy to overcome, and towards whom different strategies are possible, like audience education to attract similar audiences not currently participating; taste cultivation to increase and diversify content and attendance. “Habit” in this framework means that those audiences are familiar with the same idea of being an audience, therefore cultural experiences are not just something they are used to do, but much more a part of their identity and self-perception.
Audience by choice: People who are not used to participate for reasons of life style, lack of opportunities or financial resources; those for whom participating is not a habit, or who rarely choose to attend a show or a concert, but don’t have any particular social or cultural disadvantage;
Audience by surprise: People hard to reach/indifferent/hostile who do not participate in any cultural activity for a complex range of reasons, related to social exclusion
factors, education and accessibility. Their participation could hardly be possible without an intentional, long-term and targeted approach.

In the Guide to Audience Development , authored by Heather Maitland, three main types of audience development workers have been identified.. Their roles are paraphrased below:

Education workers largely focus on the development of the individual and on the artform as a whole. Their work usually involves participation, although attendance at events may also be involved… The results they seek do not necessarily involve the worker’s own organisation but may benefit other arts organisations in the long-term, i.e. “creating the audience of tomorrow”.

Artists tend to focus on improving audiences’ understanding of their work. They wish to bring more people into contact with the work and are often particularly concerned with ensuring the audience has an understanding and appreciation of their artistic aims.

Marketers look for results that directly benefit their arts organisation. They aim to effect a change in the attitudes, understanding and behaviour of both existing audiences and non-attenders. Their aims almost always involve attendance, although this may be in five or even ten years’ time. The projects tend to be carefully targeted at specific groups of people and have clear objectives.


How do I address new target groups? How do you put the audience at the heart of your cultural organization? What should be considered in an audience development plan?

Writing an audience development plan involves gathering and analyzing a great deal of information, consulting widely with colleagues and external stakeholders and making difficult decisions with far reaching consequences. It is vital that you ensure your audience development plan with clear, measurable and achievable goals.

1. What is the status quo? Who do you want to address?

The starting point is to be aware of the state of art, what distinguishes your work from others and for whom you want to achieve something. If you do not start the development process with clear goals, considerable concerns may arise later. What is your target group? Who is part of your current audience? Who is not included in your current audience?

Criteria to consider when assessing your existing audience and your targeted audience:

  • The age profile and the mix of ages within a family, the school and any adult groups
  • The socio-economic status
  • Ethnicity
  • Their mother tongue and maybe also their second language
  • The frequency of attendance of concerts, opera events, festivals
  • Where they live or where they spend their holiday
  • The way they found out about your event
  • Which member of the group (when the case) decided to attend the concert and invited the others
  • Their feedback towards the quality of the event– what they liked and disliked, why and what could be improved
2. Finding a Balance in Prioritization – The needs of the audience and the needs of the cultural operators

How far are you ready to go to meet audience goals? Do these goals align with your values and your artistic vision? You should be aware of how much your audience goals mean to you, as there may be a “price” to be charged that the organization would not be in the position to pay. At this stage it is not a financial question, but a question of ethics and balancing values and benefits. There are therefore aspects to be taken into account in order not question the artistic identity of the artistic or cultural organization. Do you want to adapt your cultural offer so that it appeals more to the target audience? Do you want to give up some of your power to make decisions and empower others to do so, through participation and engagement? Are you ready to share responsibility? The answers have an impact on what weight you will give to the audience and support you in focusing on feasible strategies and activities.

3. Focus, Listen and Understand

Once you agree on the audience’s role within your priorities, it is time to focus on who you want to work with and for what specific goals. In the long run, we all want to develop a whole range of different audiences. There are two main reasons for structuring and focusing this effort. Firstly, the only effective and measurable way to engage with an audience is to base your actions on recognizing their different needs. Secondly you probably won’t have enough resources to address all target groups at the same time. Where do you want to start? What do you know about your target groups? How could you get to know them better?

4. Can I do this?

The challenges you face from the audience can overwhelm your capabilities. Are you capable of facing these challenges on your own? Do you have a team that has the necessary skills? Is there a competency that you have from outside your organization that you can rely on and consult whenever needed? You could offer your team further training – in marketing, communication, mediation, reception. You might consider partnering with stakeholders. Many studies showed that the structure of capacities is crucial to initiate the change and also that extensive partnerships have led to a new composition of the audience.

5. Anticipate consequences

What impact will audience development have on your organizations over time? Can you afford it? An audience development plan requires changes that can stress your organization. Even if all members of the organization agree in principle the actions taken will have consequences, they have to be sure that they can handle them. An open process aimed at engaging and developing audiences means planning resources (human and financial) for participation and managing people’s expectations.


Niche music. Audience development in Classical Music

The lack of audience in concert halls, especially young audiences, is one of the main problems of the classical music sector in the 21st century. In order to address this problem, finding a new approach to the performance and communication of experimental classical music is compulsory. In the last decade, many ensembles, organizers or concert venues have begun to reconsider the way the concert is presented. We studied the international context and the alternative approaches for the existing classical concert model and we will provide some examples below:
– Budapest Festival Orchestra – proposes the series “Midnight Music”, in which the decision to start the concerts at midnight is a conscious choice to ” find an hour when young people are awake and others are asleep ” (https://www.bfz.hu/en/bfo-cares/midnightmusic-2)
– Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) – In addition to the regular concert program, ACO creates collaborative projects (with visual artists) for new audiences. Moreover, ACO has an interesting digital strategy, turning some of their recordings into virtual experiences in which people have to achieve certain goals, in video game-like environments, in order to go through those compositions. (https://australiandiscoveryorchestra.com/tosca/)
– Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) – In addition to the regular concert program, ACO creates collaborative projects (with visual artists) for new audiences. Moreover, ACO has an interesting digital strategy, turning some of their recordings into virtual experiences in which people have to achieve certain goals, in video game-like environments, in order to go through those compositions. (https://australiandiscoveryorchestra.com/tosca/)

Both in the world of art and in the world of scientific research, the lack of the public in the concert halls, especially of the young public, is a frequently approached topic. In a study conducted in Australia by Daniel Bertolini it was found that in one year only 8.9% of the population participated in classical music concerts (compared to 32.6% of the population who participated in commercial music concerts). The situation is similar in other states (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/299646120_The_modern_audience_for_classical_music_compared_to_popular_music_in_Australia_and_future_development_among_young_audiences). For example, in a 2015 study in Spain, researchers found that 24.5% of the population attended pop music concerts, 23.2% went to a theatre play, and only 8.6 % participated in a cult music concert during a year (https://www.bbva.com/en/un-classical-concerts-draw-younger-audiences/). Also, in the United States, the frequency of classical concerts has decreased by 30% in recent years, the phenomenon being more visible among people under 50 (https://www.bbva.com/en/un-classical-concerts-draw-younger-audiences/). Based on this information, our goal in designing the project was to increase public interest in classical music and bring young audiences to concert halls.

Following the distribution of questionnaires among the young population, Heini Mielonen noted that there are four main reasons why they do not attend classical music events:
– Young people do not identify with the traditional way in which classical concerts are organized;
– From the perspective of young people, classical concerts lack entertainment;
– The methods of marketing and promoting classic events are not in line with the current lifestyle of young people and are not attractive enough;
– Young people consider that such events do not satisfy their social needs.

The lack of entertainment that young people feel when they participate in classical music concerts is supported by other studies. A research project coordinated by The Guildhall School concludes that such events are passive, unsurprising for young people (https://www.bbva.com/en/un-classical-concerts-draw-younger-audiences/).
NewAud members also warn that “the lifestyle of young people is incompatible with the rituals specific to classical music in general, requiring the invention and adoption of new, modern rituals.” (https://www.newaud.org/working-communities/engaging-young-people).

In the same study conducted in 2015, Daniel Bertolini, argues that in Australia the issue of the rigidity of cultural events is becoming more visible, with some concert organizers already trying to introduce a more relaxed atmosphere.

Barriers to access

Traditionally, issues related to access have been associated with physical and financial barriers (indeed, such barriers are still among the main obstacles compromising the accessibility, especially in the case of “disadvantaged” groups), while only recently greater attention has been devoted to more “intangible” kinds of barriers, such as sensory and cognitive barriers, cultural barriers (i.e. individual interests and life experiences), attitudinal (having to do with the institution’s culture and overall atmosphere), technological barriers, psychological barriers (e.g. the perception of cultural institutions as elitist places, targeting the well educated and sophisticated people; the refusal of specific forms of cultural expression, perceived as uninteresting or offensive; the low priority given to cultural participation).

  • Other barriers belong to the domain of policymaking, such as:
    lack of recognition (mainly in terms of national policies) of the significant roles that culture can play in relieving social exclusion, and thus the lack of resources for the development of accessible cultural services;
  • failure in balancing territorial and social unbalances, which represents one of the main factors of legitimacy of public intervention in the cultural field;
  • deliberate choice to keep the “elitist” trait of some cultural offers;
  • acknowledgement by many public bodies of the number of visits as the only key success indicator (and not, for instance, other indicators such as participatory planning and the active involvement of communities).
Commercial music

Over the years some have referred to pop music (“pop” as in what is popular today) as commercial music. Others think of anything that is heavily rotating on the radio as commercial music. Whatever its definition, one thing is often overlooked: commercial music is the heart of the music industry, which pumps the blood that keeps it alive. Then why are so many music artists resistant to commercial music? Maybe because they do not want to “sell out” their creative integrity by conforming to an industry version of what is popular or what is currently being sold. It becomes very obvious that the problem is not commercial music, but the perception and definition of music. The misconception is that the music industry created this superficial definition of commercial music in order to monetize the art and true identity of artists for this purpose; to force artists to write songs that the “masses” will enjoy. The truth is that the public, not the industry, dictates what is commercial and for decades they have gravitated towards, embraced and bought into a commercial music format. If commercial music is the rule for success and sale in the music industry, there will inevitably be some exceptions, but unfortunately the tendency for music artists is to try and be the exception. Put simply, the rules of commercial music success haven’t and won’t change. They exist because it is human nature to reject the unknown. In the music industry, similarity is the cornerstone of acceptance. That is why many popular songs sound similar and contain familiar elements. It is a rule that prevails in every genre and on every continent. There are artists who masterfully observe their own artistic values while fine-tuning the demands of commercial music by industry professionals. Artists like Prince, Sting and Björk have been pushing the boundaries of creativity for years. But artists of their caliber, who possess such sublime talent and vision are rare.

Succesful commercial music could be structured in songs that have:
1.) A STRONG HOOK / REMINDER CHOIR. If nobody knows the name of your song, they cannot request it when they hear it on the radio. More importantly, they cannot buy it from retail stores or track it down on the internet to illegally download a copy of it.
2.) GOOD MELODY. Commercial music is characterized by good melodies (e.g., verses, choruses, and sometimes bridges that get stuck in your head and make you sing along). What do the best-selling hip-hop acts of the last 10 years (Tupac, Notorious BIG, Jay-Z, Eminem, and 50 Cent) credit for their success? Good tunes (not cool beats) that increase the commercial value of their music.
3.) WELL-PRODUCED. In the RB background, producers are a central part of commercial music success. Perhaps since the record label often hires top-notch producers to improve the quality of the songs (through their musical expertise) and enrich the records (through their experience and skills in the recording process), they should ultimately make them more enjoyable to listen to and listen to, you guessed it… more commercial!
4.) POETRY ACTIVITY. The text does not have to be deep; people just need to be able to connect with them emotionally and approach them spiritually. Saying unusual things in an unusual way gives your lyrics an edge over the songwriter whose song is about the same subject. Write about what is closest to your heart for credibility and sincerity, and others will be able to relate to your songs—especially if it’s about a topic they know or have experienced.
5) THE LENGTH of your songs to a maximum of four minutes. Jazz and world music are exceptions. A song that is well written keeps people hearing it over and over and over again. The longer the song, the less likely it will be → Check the length of your favorite songs.
6.) TALENT / WELL-PERFORMED. Most outstanding singers are often surprised at how low this rule is on the list. The fact is, there are more mediocre songs performed by great singers than there are mediocre singers performing great songs. A good song played well gives it an edge, but if the song is missing all the screaming and vocal acrobatics the singers use to compensate won’t make a better song, although it might help the singer to attract better songwriters to work with. If you lack talent and it’s a really good song, someone more talented can sing the song and do it better.

Gian Fiero is a recognized commercial music authority and Independent AR Specialist, best known for writing insightful reviews on Muse.com. He was an influential factor in obtaining record offers for artists signed to RCA, Bust It!, Gasoline Alley and Interscope Records. He currently represents Grammy-nominated music producer Cori Jacobs (Beyonce, Katzenkatzenpuppen, Lauryn Hill, Teedra Moses, Brooke Valentine and George Clinton) and is Adjunct Professor of Music Industry at San Francisco State University.

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