Developing New Jazz Audiences

By Harry Schnipper

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AUTHOR DISCLAIMER: This article is a continuation of my first “Business of Music” article which previously appeared in the November, 2018 edition of JAZZed magazine. It is not intended to cover all of the references one needs to know in “Developing New Jazz Audiences” but merely written from the point-of-view of a veteran jazz presenter.

Developing new jazz audiences is as critical to the professional musician commencing their career or in mid-career as it is to an artist with an established reputation. This article will focus on the two primary precepts of audience development: marketing and branding. Marketing can be further broken down in to the following four components: tiers, advertising, guerilla marketing, and its sister, social media. Your targeted demographic contains two tiers – your industry and your listening audience and they are interchangeable. Without one you do not have control of the other. It is essential to understand this medium before proceeding on to any additional points. These two tiers contain your advertising strategy and can only be achieved by understanding that advertising is fundamentally finite and that marketing is manifestly infinite. How one goes about advertising will ultimately determine your audience profiling results and, in turn, financial profitability.

There are ever-evolving and ever-changing advertising methodologies and the devolution of print is possibly the most poignant. The three most prolific forms of advertising in today’s crowded marketplace are cable radio programming, college radio interviews, and composing industry articles. The first and foremost point of advertising is to gain name recognition with your above audiences. The second form of advertising is social media with my four favorites (in no particular order): Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Remember to keep in mind that social media is a portal to new audience development. Without name recognition, social media may be irrelevant to marketing. Marketing is all about assembling the necessary tools in your musical toolbox of compatibility and comparability. These two formulations contain your branding and your brand sets you apart from your counter-part competition. Once you have established your brand with your audience you need to set about cultivating your audience through your website.

Your website is your audiences’ anchor and is a platform for continuing to inform your audience. The website is your calling card in the new millennium – it is your brand speaking to the world and it is the primary disseminator of your brand’s musical content. Through your website you can develop portal partnerships, collect contact data, develop a business network, and physically deliver your music to your audience, potential presenters, and individual radio hosts. You are your own music products’ most inimitable spokesperson and the advent of the internet enables a musician to reach around the world to the greatest number of audience recipients in the least amount of time.

The artist as their own brand ambassador. I have previously advocated building your own business plan and incorporating your own personal vision statement. A simple way to go about this process is to measure the number of visits to your website, measure the number of “hits” or “unique” visits on social media, and then create individual benchmarks to build the foundation for your own success. As the owner of one of the world’s most celebrated and successful jazz clubs, we can boast 100,000 weekly e-mail subscribers with thousands of unique daily visitors. While we can similarly boast of having presented the jazz names we all know and love like Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughn, Tony Bennett, Betty Carter, and others, Blues Alley continually prides itself in identifying emerging talent early on, too. Some of the acts and artists who have graced our stages include a young Wynton Marsalis, Arturo Sandoval, James Carter, Anat Cohen, Sean Jones, and the late, great Roy Hargrove. These names are rapidly becoming known as the elder statemen and women of jazz society today.

Branding is Blues Alley’s business and it is also an individual jazz artists’ resume builder. The first lesson of branding is that music is not transferable from one music market to another. Blues Alley prides itself in taking these artists from one night to many and to the larger concert hall engagement. This translates from 300 seats sold to 1,200 seats sold to 2,500 seats at a renowned concert hall, but this type of audience development requires a lot of hard work. I shall now commence to define your developing audience as students, teachers, agents, adjudicators, and presenters to help master your own potential income streams. Income streams, and multiple income streams in particular, are the formula for your financial success.

Once again I shall reference constructing your own vision statement and the idea that the presenter is your silent partner. The key to understanding that the presenter is your silent partner is that every presenter in every market is different; that both the artist and the presenter possess compatible and comparable missions and that income streams are consistent with both of their missions. In a lecture at the Jazz Congress in January of 2018 the famed artist, composer, and producer Maria Schneider declared that she had become less and less a live entertainer and more and more a “mobile merchandise mart.” Selling your products at venues is a profitable income stream and making your product available to an ever-increasing audience requires hard work. I shall now discuss brand development. Brand development is audience development and you must get the presenter involved in your brand by offering to provide on-air interviews (both radio and television), volunteer for public radio, provide fundraising giveaways, act as an educator by offering to provide free clinics, provide a summer camp master class, volunteering at academic institutions, develop a publicity list, and cross-promote your audience with other like-minded musicians and promoters. The end result will be to allow your existing audience to be your most vocal musical advocates. Wynton Marsalis did not become the iconic face of jazz today overnight without enlisting all of the above references, becoming his own brand ambassador, and empowering his audiences to become his strongest career advocate.

Which brings me to my final branding points in developing new jazz audiences. The individual’s ability to determine one’s own self-worth or value in any given music market is key. If you have followed me this far it is essential to understand the importance of performing and recording to as many people as possible. You must – and I cannot emphasize this enough – interact with your audience both before and after any performance, if possible. Furthermore, reach out to local jazz print and radio journalists and invite them to attend an upcoming performance in exchange for a review. After your performance, reach back out to the venue talent buyer for feedback. Ask these talent buyers how you can improve your performance and what you can do to increase audience attendance and revenue in the future. Most musicians and most presenters negotiate an artist contract that contains a back-end percentage clause to incentivize the artist to increase audience attendance. If you are always willing to accept the face value of the guarantee you will grow complacent and never achieve new audiences. These steps will help to determine your own price-point on a market-by-market basis and will include researching your own individual past performance history. Lastly networking is a key to your final success. As a compulsive marketer I have joined countless professional associations from the local Chamber of Commerce to the local Board of Trade to the Jazz Education Network. I never cease to build the Blues Alley brand, expand our product offerings, increase our income streams, and be a tireless advocate for artists and so should you. Good luck and good gigs.

Harry Schnipper is the owner/operator of Blues Alley Jazz in Washington, D.C. Blues Alley Jazz is America’s oldest continuously operating jazz supper club. In addition to acting as owner, Schnipper is the executive director of its non-profit nightclub namesake. He is personally responsible for the oversight of series, concerts, festivals, and nightly performances. Blues Alley Jazz produces, promotes, or presents performances at least once a day, every day of the year.

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