The two fears of audiences

Artists and creators know that for their success they should build an audience. In order to make the art we want to we need to find the people who want it. I notice two fears that artists creators seem to have about building an audience.

The first fear of building an audience is the fear of no one showing up. Early on you have no audience.  No audience is born fully formed with teeth and full head of hair. This fear makes it easy for us to tinker and hide our work waiting for the audience to materialize. Audiences always start small. The way to start is to share with your network. Your friends and peers. If you make something good enough, something worth talking about, it will spread. It will grow beyond your network and you’ll begin to find your audience.

The second fear is the audience being out of your control. Artists become afraid of being part of something big. We become afraid of what angry fans will do or being targeted by them. This fear prevents us from creating the work that connects, because it is the fear of making something that matters to people. Unruly fans aren’t a new thing, it’s just catching up to us that now everything is “Beatlemania”. What’s changed is the access that people and fans now have to the creators. Social media has given us the access to disturb people.

I don’t have a really good answer for this, I think as a culture we are still figuring it out. One good answer is from Seth Godin. Seth writes a blog everyday including Sunday. His blog doesn’t have comments, his twitter just posts his blog posts. He made the conscious choice to mostly opt out of social media. It’s definitely easier for him as he’s been at this a long time. It also makes some sense of creating a little distance between oneself and one’s audience. There is choice in what level of access you give the audience. The reason I bring up an extreme like Seth Godin, is because it shows that there is a spectrum. You don’t have to share your life with an audience to be popular. It’s all a choice of what you want to offer. It’s also recognising that work changes when it passes from creator to viewer. Their reception is the final part of storytelling. How involved with that part is up to you. I was listening to a podcast with Brian Koppelman (co-creator of Billions) and Alton Brown (Good Eats, Iron Chef). They talked about how back in the day the only metric they cared about was if they got to make more of their shows. It might be a little distant, but in the end it focuses on what’s important and everyone wants, more of the thing you are creating.

That’s the goal we want to create things for people who have been waiting for this specific thing to be made. That’s the reason to try to bootstrap and create indie. Is that you want to find a specific audience who wants the story you have to tell. If you get it right, then what you make will get passed around, and you’ll get to do more. You’ll have doubts along the way. If you want to make something don’t let fear distract you. Making something surprisingly special for a group of people is a wonderful thing. The world would be less if you didn’t try.

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