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!
(And – sign up for my free e-book thrive if you haven’t already.)
What a great message and more than that, passionate and warm and engaging delivery.
It reminds me of the saying. ‘If one person calls you a horse it could be a lie, if three people call you a horse, it may be a conspiracy, however, if seven people call you a horse, go out and buy a saddle.’
I remember back in my stand up comedy days the comedians who would always blame the audience if their act bombed.
I also did at first until I realised that I was not taking any ownership for my performance. And, if I was really being honest it was probably due to either my performance not firing on all cylinders or that the material was not the right set for that audience.
I began to realise that doing stand up in particular environments didn’t work for me e.g. after dinner events where people had not specifically come to hear comedy.
And so, I politely refused bookings.
The old adage that the audience is always right is partially true.
Hey Andrew – Wonderful experiences – Thanks so much. Yes, agreed. I think it’s so useful to get audience feedback – and to use it to reflect and consider, rather than go ‘ahhh, I’ve failed!!’. I imagine doing stand up is the perfect arena for building resilience! Something I’ve considered – but I always tend to forget the punchlines. Nicky x
Move over, Mr Motivator! Your enthusiasm is infectious, Nicky 🙂
He he – why thank you ms wing x
I haven’t bombed in a long time, but as far as I can remember it never really threw me off course. What does though, repeatedly, is when people I co-operate with fail to respond to my creative ideas. All my life I’ve struggled with negative reactions to some of my most brilliant, most thought through, and most unusual ideas on creative projects that I want to do.
How can I learn to communicate my ideas so that people will find them interesting rather than just plain weird?
Great question Lena – and I think that is a common problem for creatives. The answer is ‘pacing’. In short, most people prefer to stay with the ‘safe’, well known ideas, because familiarity is less threatening. Therefore, if you come up with new ideas, people will often reject them immediately as change feels a little scary. A better way is to start with where people are already and talk about what they know about, then build your idea onto something familiar. Try it out and let me know how you get on. Nicky x
Challenging blog, enthusiastic Nicky! I took the time to listen Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, both accompanied by and minus orchestra. I would not come in front of an inexperienced crowd from an open concert with the second one “(Hardly a crowd pleaser!)”. One idea is to make classical music more appealing to that crowd and to gain future ardent admirers, isn’t it? From Bucharest, (less experienced with classical music and english) Radu.
I have always taken negative feedback very personally and have come away thinking I should give up doing what I do.
I have not given up.
More recently though it struck me that I should be glad that people can tell me what they think. It’s a positive reflection of the relationship that exists between me and the people I work with that they are happy to be open and honest with their feedback.
That way I’m not so scared to ask for it; when I receive it it’s not quite so personal; and I can then move forward with it, taking the comments on board.
Hope that makes sense!!, and helps offer a different perspective
absolutely great that you’ve found a strategy for being with feedback as a tool for growth. I think it’s the key for a healthy happy life and a way to increase our awareness. Let’s face it – most of the best businesses respond well to feedback – and if we want to develop our careers and businesses, it’s one to be good at. Thanks for commenting!
Hey Radu – great points made and I agree. There are plenty of ways to innovate, and as I said to Lena – it is about pacing people and meeting them where they are first. Thanks for commenting from Bucharest!!
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