Earlier this week, Questlove of The Roots posted a clip of the U2 eXPERIENCE & iNNOCENCE tour in his IG story. The production design was incredibly innovative and some of the design elements were reminiscent of sci-films such as The Fifth Element and Blade Runner 2049. Midway through he shared a pan shot of the entire stadium, and it was jaw-dropping at how many people were in the audience, all experiencing the show in unison.
As a performer, when you think of the needs of an audience and the fact that they have chosen to spend two or more hours of their time with you—given that time is much more expensive than money—it is a major show of trust when they commit to your performance. Aside from financial gain, there is also an opportunity to leave them with a lasting communication or experience that transcends the opportunity to share or expound on your creative vision.
In Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues, there is an infamous debate between the protagonist, trumpeter, Bleek Gilliam and saxophonist, Shadow Henderson, about the superiority of art over commerce and vice versa. However, there is one overriding criteria that supersedes that argument in importance and that is intention. The intention at the heart of your performance will determine whether the core needs of an audience will be met (or neglected). Illumination. Enlightenment. Exploration. Empowerment. Innovation. Joy. Beauty. Peace. Optimism. Healing. Community. If you can deliver on any of these in a genuine, selfless way, consistently in your own voice, your audience will always be fulfilled, even as you continue your own search for growth and satisfaction. As an artist, you have the ability to lead the search. You have the option to take the audience on a ferry ride along the coast, which may bring them comfort or a sense of security, or you can take them on a new adventure that will challenge their perspective and experience. The greatest artists and entertainers of any genre or era can immediately read their audience and determine which direction is needed most throughout their performance.
Being sensitive to the needs of an audience and resisting the urge to pander to trends for likes or financial gain ultimately results in surpassing the goal of fan conversion and leads towards building a continual conversation rooted in appreciation that transcends branding. Both your intention and artistic integrity are what people respond to and remember; your audience grows to trust you with every performance. As artists and performers, we must keep pushing ourselves towards a higher intention and integrity—both of which hold the redemptive power to restore balance and beauty and engineer constructive change to the culture we create in.