The music tailed off.
Black-mascara tears trickled down my cheeks.
I leapt out of my chair, applauding joyously, wildly.
But… something was wrong.
I was the only woman standing. A lone enthusiast in an audience of hundreds.
I blushed slightly, but carried on whooping and clapping. I was convinced my enthusiasm would jolt them out of their passivity.
I wanted them to acknowledge how much this poor, beleaguered pianist had ripped out his heart and handed it to them. He looked frail and disappointed.
I winced at the thought he would go home and question his own abilities – like so many creatives I know….
But who’s opinion was right? Do I have superior taste in music, or had I simply lost the plot?
A tourist abroad
I had landed a front row seat at a free open-air classical music festival in Bucharest’s famous ‘Revolution Square’. It was an evening of classical music crowd pleasers. The audience smiled to the upbeat sounds of the Magic Flute and sent ripples of appreciation to the Nutcracker Suite.
The ‘lead balloon’ moment was ‘Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. A ten-minute, haunting piece evoking drama and darkness. (Hardly a crowd pleaser!)
As I was moved to tears, the crowd moved towards the exit; empty spaces began to appear and by the end, a subdued clap was all they could muster. I was cross.
Divided opinions, of course are the proof that creativity is subjective. But, when you are trying to make a profitable living from your passion. When you give your all – How do you handle it when you have an unresponsive crowd?
The business of creativity
It’s not easy – however, the best way to respond to is to avoid taking it personally and get really curious about your audience’s response instead.
The business gurus, masters of objectivity, advise that the answer is the good old equation of ‘wants and needs’. Are we meeting the needs of our audience or not?
If we judge my festival crowd. They were mostly locals, average age of 65 and judging by their responses, they wanted light entertainment. On the minority seat, I, the English tourist abroad, wanted music that allowed me to have a good cry!
Rachminoff – didn’t meet this crowd’s needs. Wrong choice for the job.
Different wants, different needs.
So, business gurus – does that mean that we suffocate our creative expression to please the majority?
The danger, of course, is that our audience dictate our choices and we start to please the safe majority, rather than be navigated by our creative expression.
In the long term, creativity becomes bland. We all sound the same.
It’s a balancing act:
Have artistic integrity and be responsive, not dictated by your audience’s needs.
There have been hundreds of famous creative failures that have then led to success. (David Bowie’s first album, ‘David Bowie 1967’ bombed when it first came out. He responded a small group’s needs, which eventually grew in size.)
The best way is to make a living doing work that you love is to nurture and be responsive to your audience’s needs too. It’s simply a balancing act:
Know that your job is to be brave. It is to express your style, your opinion and your work in your way.
Understand why people hire you or buy from you. Find out what the real needs are or what you meet in them.
Creatives who have a long-term impact have a unique voice that is their truth.
Artists who are merely self-centred do not connect or sell. ‘Feel’ the mood of your audience, what speaks to them, what’s going on in their world that you can reflect back through your work?
Audiences want artists who make them feel or think. Be opinionated and speak freely.
Audiences love to connect with your message. Be empathic, curious and remember art that communicates, sells.
Be clear on what you want to say through your work?
Have a clear intention.
Nurture an audience who truly ‘get you’. Be responsive, appreciate their feedback and allow them to grow with you on your creative journey.
Involve them, share your process and listen. Make them part of your world and they will become your best marketers.
There will be people on earth who will deeply love your work. They are the people to focus your energy on. There will be others who will NEVER get you.
Stay true to your creative heart and be responsive to your right crowd. The world will catch on… eventually.
Over to you:
Have you been thrown off course by negative feedback? If so – how did you respond to it?
If you were to be more courageous with your creative work today – what will you do?
Write a comment below on what action you will take now!
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