Audience Research: DIY tips

This article provides methodology tips to assist live music venues, clubs or festivals’ workers who wish to start the process of doing audience research, such as surveying their audience and/or potential audience. It does not mean to turn you into a professional surveyer or statistician but rather condense in one place all the advice we were able to gather from survey-specialists from the Live DMA network. We hope this article lays the basic ground should you want to launch an audience survey process.

What is “Audience”?

The audience consist of the people who come or have come to a specific live music venue, club or festival at least once. You can divide an audience into target groups using socio-demographic criteria (gender, age, locality,…).

In contrast, we define “potential audience” as the people who have never come to a specific live music venue, club or festival.

Why do audience research?

Audience research is a great way to learn more about the people who come (or do not come) to your live music venue, club or festival. They can help you:

  • Find legitimacy for your existence (important for activity plans, subsidy applications, government support);
  • Develop programmes for certain target groups;
  • Develop marketing/promotional strategies; for example:
    • learn how and where to attract new audiences (how to reach them)
    • increase diversity and inclusion of audiences
    • increase service level / attractiveness , etc.

Different elements can be found by developing audience research: doing an inventory of potential audiences, compare demographics with your audiences to work on diversity and inclusion, for example. There are many benefits to audience research.

Regarding potential audience: it is harder to reach the people who do not come to your venue and it is a phenomenon which is under-researched. Yet, it is worth give it a try! Other things can be done to know more about the people living near you venue. For example, the Muziekclub 4AD organise every year a vegetarian barbecue with their neighbours to get to know them and present what they do in the venue. Use your imagination and hosting skills to imagine a format that works for you! In their publication “How to run a grassroots music venue” the people at Music Venue Trust advise to go knock on your neighbours doors and to go meet the shop-owners nearby to present yourself and what you do. Muziekclub 4AD organise every year a vegetarian barbecue with their neighbours to get to know them and present what they do in the venue. Maybe this will get you to have a deal with the local sandwich maker for instance!

Another example, the venue Folken in Norway have realized a survey about the people using their building and their neighbours to get a feeling of how Folken was perceived and what these people expected from Folken. This survey gave them crucial elements to work on. Read our interview with Folken’s managing director on the subject here.

What elements may I already have?

Some elements you may have in your possession can already indicate some facts about your audience. Using your ticketing data will give you some information about the people who have already come to your venue. Depending on what you are looking for exactly, this information may be enough!

As we learned from live music organisers’ expertise, and which we formalized in the Try-Angle methodology, a great thing you can do with the information you gathered with your audience is to compare it to the rest of the demographics of your city, region or country. That way, you can see if there is a difference between the socio-demographics of your audience and of the local, regional or national institute. Find here a list of national institutes of statistics which might be of help. If there’s a gap and you wish to bridge it and invite even more people to enjoy your live music events, click here to access our resource The Diversity Roadmap which gives inspiring ideas to bridge this gap.

How to survey?

What time and budget will this take?

Whatever topic and format, a very important thing to keep in mind when launching a survey process is that it takes a lot of time. For example, the venue Folken have dedicated 1 FTE for 2 years to coordinate their survey work and the writing of a manifesto that went along with the audience research they did. It is indeed best to have at least one person referent for the survey work in your team, and it is crucial to include this work in their working objectives and hours. You can also ask an intern or volunteers to work on this. It is crucial that the person in charge of audience research knows the venue, so some work-time inside the building is good, also some work can also be done outside the venue in a second time. Also, be prepared to have costs related to this survey work, so it is good to prepare quite a consequent budget for this.

What are the basic steps I need to anticipate?

A first step is to define why you want to do audience research and what you will use it for. Then, you can start to define what you want or need to know about your audience as this question will lead the entirety of your research work. A third step is to define the target group of your survey, depending upon which population you need information on. A fourth step is to define what type of data you want to collect, as well as the timing for the survey (How much time do you need to prepare the study? How much time do you need to gather the data? How much time to process the results? How much time to produce a report? Is it a one time thing or something that you will do every year or 2 years?).

What types of survey methods exist?

There are two complementary research methods: qualitative and quantitative studies.

Quantitative study deal with figures and data in order to measure and evaluate social phenomenons, generally relying on representative samples of target population. Basically, the same closed-questions are asked to a large part of individuals.

Qualitative study enable the collection of singular discourse in order to explore behaviours and attitudes, to understand the representation of one individual (what sense he puts in their cultural practices, or what are the obstacles which hinder their motivation to go to your venue for instance). The goal of qualitative studies is to collect a plurality of discourses, rather than something which represents everyone. Basically, open questions are asked to a reduced number of individual, and their answers cannot be generalized to a whole group of people: they only represent the views of one person.

As a first step towards developing audience studies, it is perhaps easier to do quantitative surveys as they are easier to put in place: the survey questions are written in advance, then you need to disseminate the survey to people and then process the answers. They give you concrete facts about the people who go to a given venue, club or festival.

What elements do I need to build a questionnaire?

It is very important that you be transparent about your methodology, either to your colleagues, subsidizers, or survey participants.

Think well in advance about what you want to know precisely and in which timeframe, as this will shape your survey. Find below some types of questions you can ask:

  • socio-demographic questions of age, gender, level of education, areas of living are necessary to create profiles of different audience profiles.
  • questions about habits (related to music) or favourite music genres can inform you about different audience profiles.
  • questions about how your venue is perceived can be very informative too!
  • questions about quality of the venues’ programme or food or location, satisfaction of the audience, either overall or on a specific point, intention of the audience to return to the venue or to a specific event or to the bar for example.
  • questions about specific areas or activities of your venue (project, food, service, security…)

/!\ It is important to try to include all sensibilities and possible profiles in your socio-demographic questions. For this, the Diversity Roadmap is a good tool to refer to!

/!\ Be careful with sensible questions! Ex: no question about ethnicity are allowed in France or in Finland whereas they are in the Netherlands. Make sure all your questions are not intrusive or rude for your respondants and that you comply with the law of your country.

/!\ Be also very aware of the GDPR rules linked to the collection of personnal data.

In France, regional live music association Le Pôle have drafted a template questionnaire (only in French), which you can find here.

Any tips for disseminating my survey?

Once you have built a strong and relevant questionnaire (see some tips about this below!), it is crucial that you disseminate your survey effectively.

  • Online: your website and social media to reach a broad audience or targeted newsletters to reach more specific audiences, communities or groups on social media, etc: internet is a great tool to disseminate your survey, especially if you have an online survey (Google forms, survey monkey, etc) as it will be faster to have the results in an Excel sheet for you to analyse. But internet does not reach everyone: young and middle-aged women are in average the ones who answer online surveys the most. If you decide to only use internet to disseminate your survey, keep in mind that the people you will reach will not necessarily be the most representative, especially if you decide to use a broad dissemination method such as your social media page. If you decide to disseminate your survey online, it is better to chose targeted channels of communication.
  • Sending it by the post: this way of dissemination costs a lot of time and money, but can be effective if you want to reach a specific area, such as your neighbourhood for example. You can print out the questionnaire and ask people to come give it back to the venue or by post, but this then it will be very time consuming to process all the written results into an Excel sheet. Also, it demands a lot of efforts from potential participants which might discourage them from answering your survey.
  • Asking people on the spot at a live music event: you can ask someone from your team to go meet the people who have come to the live music event with a smartphone or tablet computers and ask nicely if people want to take part in your survey. This method is quite effective as the results can be easily extracted to an Excel sheet. Also, it feels quite humane to have someone asking you to take part in a survey, although this may unconsciously change the respondent’s answer as they may feel “watched” and they may answer more positively to your survey questions. Also, this method is good to know more about your audience but of course this is not how you will reach the people who do not know you already! If you decide to choose this method, be careful in choosing the music events

Our best advice is to use various channels and methods of dissemination in order to ensure that your survey reaches the people you want, in all their diversity of habits and behaviours.

How can I motivate people to answer my survey?

Some researchers have found that giving an incentive for responsents to answer a survey is a great way to motivate them. Of course, you are asking something of people which is very valuable to you, and you should never forget to thank them for their time and the effort they put in it. But why not propose them a special gift, such as a concert ticket or a drink at the bar, some goodies from your venue, stickers… It’s always nice to be rewarded! Keep in mind that these gifts and incentive might cost you some money so be sure to include them in your survey budget!

Who can help me in my survey process?

Many venues ask their local university for help in developing an audience or non-audience study. This can also be a way to get dedicated students, trainees or academic workers on the audience research while limiting costs and your own workers time. This is what Folken (NO) have done to develop their study, read more about it here.  

You can also try to work together with other cultural places in your town or area to mutualise resources on audience research.

Municipality or other public institutions can be of help in your audience research, by providing budget or other resources.

You can always ask your national or regional live music assocation for examples of other venues’ surveys or methodologies!

Some examples of audience research:

  • Le Chabada, Angers (FR), 2019 – Survey to analyse their current audience and their impression on a future room they want to implement. Survey done with an external private cabinet. Read their survey here.
  • Folken, Stavanger (NO), 2016 – Survey to see how the venue was perceived by its users, neighbours and the city. Folken collaborated with Stavanger’s university to develop their survey. The results of their survey helped them draft a ten year vision document and mission statement. Read more about Folken’s process here.
  • Finland, festival barometer and youth audience research: https://90c1ba84-4c53-46b8-b98c-9145bf3d711c.usrfiles.com/ugd/90c1ba_4659d1d6fff04082b85eabf6b146826e.pdf
  • Kinnunen, M., Honkanen, A. & Karjalainen, T-M. (2020). The characteristics of a Finnish metal fan: Comparative study on music festival attendees. Metal Music Studies, https://doi.org/10.1386/mms_00014_1  
  • Kinnunen, M., Luonila, M. & Honkanen, A. (2019). Segmentation of music festival attendees. Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism https://doi.org/10.1080/15022250.2018.1519459    
  • V Wood, E., & Kinnunen, M. (2020). Emotion, memory and re-collective value: Shared festival experiences. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCHM-05-2019-0488   
  • Luonila, M. & Kinnunen, M. (2020). Future of the arts festivals: do the views of managers and attendees match? International Journal of Event and Festival Management. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJEFM-04-2019-0028   
  • Kinnunen, M., Uhmavaara, K. & Jääskeläinen M. (2017). Evaluating the brand image of a rock festival using positive critical incidents. International Journal of Event and Festival Management. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJEFM-05-2016-0035
  • Kinnunen, M. & Haahti, A. (2015). Visitor discourses on experiences: reasons for festival success and failure. International Journal of Event and Festival Management. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJEFM-01-2015-0003

This article was written in April 2021 and stems from private interviews done with Arne Dee (Live DMA Survey coordinator) and Maarit Kinnunen (Festival researcher, LiveFIN) made in late 2020. It is also inspired by the Guide méthodologique des études sur le public (France, Direction Générale des Patrimoines, département de la politique des publics, October 2020).