Build Your Tribe

Originally published as 'How To Build Your Audience' at CutCommon Mag.

There was an eye-opening post on the new Crushing Classical Facebook page recently:

“As a classical musician, the audience has always been there waiting in the seats for me to come out and play. And honestly, I didn’t care if they were there or not. It was nice if they were and it wasn’t my job. I was there to play my part, get paid and go home. I had “more important things” to worry about - like if I had an exposed part and playing in tune. Those are all valid concerns - but the audience was not even on the to-do list.”

This mindset is the result of the outdated way that young musicians are educated. Students are required to turn up and play, they are rarely allowed or encouraged to take ownership for the curation and creation of the performance. This fosters a culture of dependency and poor graduate outcomes, as the skills and motivation required to turn talent into a 21st century career have been ignored.

There is unprecedented opportunity to create our own projects and define our own success and the musicians who are thriving are those willing to build an audience for their work. 

In order to reach your audience, it’s crucial to define and identify who they are now and who they could be in the future. Who will buy tickets to your performances, who will follow you online and who will share your work with their network? By clearly defining these groups you can create strategies to develop a committed and engaged audience and communicate with them effectively.

It is helpful to break down your target audience into three distinct groups:


Your immediate audience includes family, friends and colleagues. It is easy to take this group for granted, but they are extremely important, especially when you are starting out. Numbers matter when you are booking independent gigs, and these people will make a strong foundation for your audience. 

There are a range of meaningful ways to have your friends, family and supporters involved in promoting you and your work. Building a team of people who love your work, and who speak enthusiastically about you and your work is an effective marketing strategy, especially if you develop strong connection with ‘connectors’, folks who have a knack for networking.

Think about the connectors in your network, those who can introduce you to new fans, promote your work and acquaint you with potential collaborators or supporters. Remember that quality networking is about sharing, not about getting. Developing good personal connections creates high quality, long lasting relationships to support your career. It takes time to develop a network where opportunities and information are shared genuinely with supportive colleagues.

Your team can support you in a range of ways such as distributing posters and flyers, managing your online marketing, box office duties, managing a sign-in book at concerts to build your mailing list or hosting receptions after performances so you can interact with audience members and further develop relationships with potential patrons, donors and collaborators. 


This is the audience you would like to reach next and includes people who support similar artists, frequent the venues in which you perform or follow the kind of music you make. A great first step to reach this group is to develop collaborations with artists that have a core audience you would like to engage. Are there existing ensembles or concert series that you could guest artist with to get your name know to this audience? This audience already supports music making in your community, they attend concerts and support artists so figure out a way to get on their radar.


What about engaging with non-traditional or unexpected audiences? California Symphony recently asked a bunch of millennials why they didn’t attend classical concerts:

“Almost every single piece of negative feedback was about something other than the performance.” 

So how can we innovate how we present our work to attract this audience who are genuinely interested, they just don’t like the packaging and presentation? Can you reach them by embracing new venues and performing at open mic nights, bars and cafes? Can you create new collaborations with dance, physical theatre and circus organisations?

How about taking our music to people who love culture and are prepared to pay for the experience, by curating performances to fit with literary, theatre or visual arts festivals. What about creating performances designed for families with young children? Or taking your music where there are lots of people gathered together, like programming concerts specifically for medical conferences or pop culture conventions?

These performances can be a great way of connecting with a new, untapped group of people who might be interested in your work.

Remember Your Manners

As you start to build your tribe, you can’t say thank you too many times. Write thank you notes, list names in programs, posters and on your website, introduce them at performances and receptions. Your appreciation is a substantial part of the return on their investment of time and energy in your career. 

Next Steps

5 minutes Create an Excel spreadsheet of the names, phone numbers and emails of your immediate friends and family. This will form the basis of your mailing list.

30 minutes Carefully read through the e-newsletters of artists you have subscribed to. What kind of language do they use, what images are great click-bait, how far ahead do they promote their performances? This market research will help you to define your style and give you inspiration.

1 hour Create an e-newsletter template using one of the many free e-marketing tools. You could make this a “Welcome to my 2017” newsletter with details of your plans and performances for the year. Proof read it, send it to a friend to proof read, proof read it AGAIN then send to your mailing list. Congratulations you have started to build your tribe.