Tool #33: Know Your Audience

It’s inevitable: we all will write different music for different audiences.  Whether we’d prefer all our music to be heard only by professors, or people in bars, or moviegoers, it is unavoidable that our music will be heard by different people, and particularly, different groups of people.  So, one key issue in the inception of a composition is knowing for whom it will primarily be played.

It’s sometimes hard to grasp, but there are so many types of music listeners out there.   For example, my parents generally can’t stand anything atonal or very dissonant.  Some professors will become agitated at you if you end a piece on a functional major chord.  Here’s another example: the film and academic worlds can be very distant.  When I last spoke with a director, he was very nice and inquired what composers I was interested in.  However, we couldn’t seem to cross our trains of thought when I listed Andriessen, some of the minimalists, and other more “artsy” composers as the composers I was currently listening to.  I believe he was looking for more of a film composer repertory, for example Howard Shore or Hans Zimmer, but since I don’t know many movies well I couldn’t even scratch the surface of film composers (I’m not even familiar with “art” composers’ film scores, eg. Shostakovich’s).

So, it’s important to know your audience, not only so that they can understand and be more engaged with your music, but also because many different worlds of music are very distant.  I generally only play back more tonal compositions for my parents, and list more intellectual compositions on my website.  And, for working with incidental music, my music uses more repetition, catchy motives, and modal/tonal bases.  It’s just the name of the game, and it’s fun to adapt your voice to fit the style being asked for.  I encourage you to write in your voice, but also to make sure that you’re considering your audience in the language, materials, and structure that you use in a composition.

As an addendum, let me stress that I think blurring stylistic lines is good.  I don’t like the divisions set up by genres and aesthetic societal groups (see previous posts on this blog regarding genres being necessary but divisive), so I think it’s good to mix East and West, intellectual and intuitive, traditional and new, etc.  My point in this post is that in the end, there is usually a definite, intended audience for your music, and your writing should acknowledge that.

Thanks for reading,


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