Home > Name that audience. > Who is our audience?

Who is our audience?

When I was studying music in school, the composition students had a running discussion; who is your audience?  In other words, who are you composing for?  Are you writing for yourself, the audience (my professors frowned on this), your teacher, your pet turtle?  No one had an answer that was comprehensive and made sense.  One teacher mainly grunted when asked.  Actually, that was his answer to most questions.

Milton Babbitt’s article “Who Cares If You Listen” was viewed as the epitome of how a composer should think on this topic.  By the way, he didn’t give the article that name.  It was published in 1958 by High Fidelity Magazine.  Babbitt’s original name for it was “The Composer as Specialist”.  High Fidelity changed the name without his consent or knowledge.  That is not an apologia for the article.  It’s simply an acknowledgement that Babbitt is not the kind of guy who would say that kind of thing.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet him a couple of times (of course, he wouldn’t remember me from Obama) and I found him to be a gentle, Sondheim loving, hamburger loving, kind man.  Greatly unlike some other composers I’ve met.

Getting back to the topic, after thinking about this for a while, I’ve come to some conclusions.  People are quite complex.  For a piece of art to be successful, not only popular, but also not worthy of just being given grunt approval in Academe, but actually touch people; it has to address who they are.  The question then becomes; who are we?  Now we’re getting into the philosophical or maybe metaphysical realms.  Looking at it this way has become a passion for me throughout my post-academic life.  It’s led me down countless paths and taken me to scores of places.  I don’t think this problem is easy or has been universally solved.  Everyone has to find their own answer, their own voice, which is what this is about.  Mid-20th century atonalists had this question, so did Beethoven.  It won’t go away.  Every creative artist, at some point, has to answer this question.

I just attended a wonderful symposium at the ASCAP conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday with composers Stephen Paulus, Alex Shapiro, Mark Watters, and attorney and publisher Jim Kendrick.  A few times the question came up of; who is my audience?  It wasn’t stated so matter-of-factly, but the questions where there.  Obviously, composers still face this problem.

Next week: Phase 1, “where Doris gets her oats,”-John Lennon.

Until then, if anyone would like to weigh in on this topic, I’d love to hear from you.

See you next week.

Categories: Name that audience.
  1. June 22, 2011 at 8:47 PM

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