There’s this song by Youth of Today called Potential Friends that’s somewhat ridiculous in it’s hardcore frustration but it has a good point. When you don’t put yourself out there to meet new people you pass up the opportunity to make new friends. A simple concept but as anyone who has ever suffered social anxiety, not so easy to implement. I seem like a total extrovert myself, but when I’m in a mood or feeling really raw, eye contact can feel overwhelming.
When it comes to figuring out the market for your work the same kind of pattern can develop. Nobody likes being rejected so some people never even want to consider who might like their work, so they just throw up their hands. Wrong approach. Sorry. The word market is already loaded for artists. What the hell is “my market”? What does that even mean? Simply, people who are going to get your work, who will be excited about it, who will want to tell other people who share similar interests and ways of thinking about the world. Basically these are potential friends.
Unless for some reason you’re making work for a population of people who you would never ever want to hang with, then you are basically targeting those who you would want to share a meal with, have a drink with. You know, be friends with.
For example, my show Losing My Religion: Confessions of a New Age Refugee is great for secular groups like Humanists, Atheists, Agnostics and Reason-based thinkers. So I’m the speakers bureaus for a couple secular organizations. This show is also loved by people who happen to consider themselves spiritual or new agey but have a good sense of humor around it, so I target them as well.
My show SuperHappyMelancholyexpialidocious crosses over into the same demographics but also has aspects that deal with depression so mental health advocates also enjoy the show. Again there are probably general theater lovers who love my work because they do but it’s good to get as specific about what the show’s content is about and who would get something out of it.
In general people who are interested in Humanism and talking about the cultural impact of how mental health is dealt with are people that I would enjoy having a conversation with. So from that knowledge I start to do research on national organizations as well as regional and local ones that might be interested in my work. If I’m traveling to the area where they’re located I’ll reach out and let them know I’m coming way in advance. If I feel strongly enough about an organization I may even offer to do a benefit.
Your market doesn’t have to complicated although beginning these relationships can take time. They need to be built with trust. Some organizations and leaders in the communities you reach will be thrilled about what you’re doing but some may be overwhelmed. You know those friends who you have to schedule hanging out with a month in advance because they’re so busy? That’s what this can be like. It doesn’t mean they aren’t a good friend, it’s just the deal.
Your friend also might not be able to make your show. Same with everyone in your potential market. They may want to come but have obligations. So again it’s about developing relationships through email, social media, sharing content, maybe even meeting them at a conference. Your market may be expansive and include several subgroups or may be incredibly niche but you need to lay it out and think about all the possibilities.
Get together with a friend or peer who knows your work and ask them who would like seeing your show(s). Have them get specfic. What does the person look like? Where do they shop? What do they read? What do they listen to? What do they like to do in their free time? What kinds of organizations do they donate to? What do they really dislike? What do they go off about?
Answering these questions is a step in the right direction. I asked one of my students who his audience was and he immediately answered “armchair liberals”. I thought that was great. That’s specific but could be zeroed in on even more by thinking about the last book they read. What’s a book or article that they constantly refer to and point people to? Who is their hero? How do put their thoughts and ideology into action?
Besides researching progressive groups, this performer could look through magazines like Harper’s, The Nation and Mother Jones and see who is advertising and taking out classifieds. He could find popular hastags on twitter including #ows and start having conversations about his show while also adding to the conversations already happening. There’s a ton of ways to engage with your market but you need to do it from the perspective of interacting with friends.
That makes it a lot easier and actually can turn it into a fun assignment rather than drudgery.