The Artist-Audience Exchange

Several years ago I was at a Phish concert in a large amphitheater.  If you’re not familiar, Phish is a band known for improvising significant portions of their show.  Watching this show, it became clear to me that the artists and the audience were engaged in a dance – an exchange of energy and attention.  The band circled through three stages:

Driving - At times, the band would crescendo (get louder and faster).  This would send the crowd into a frenzy.  At these moments the band was clearly putting out a big amount of energy.  The audience would absorb it and the music would drive them to dance.  Imagine the energy from the band getting injected into each person.  The band couldn’t sustain this for an entire show.

Cycling – Often times after a crescendo the band would pull it back down into a pre-scripted part of the song (this part not being improvised).  At these moments the energy exchange seemed about the same.  The audience knew the words, the band knew what to play.  This is like hitting even ground on a run or going through the fundamentals at your job.  It’s kind of easy compared to the hills.  Though it was an equal exchange of energy it appeared to be a more superficial exchange.

Absorbing – Then there were the times, often for extended moments and before the crescendo where the band would open up into an improvisational jam.  Often times these started slow and open.  The music created more of a landscape that invited the listener to step into it.  It was in these moments that the band clearly absorbed energy from the audience.  In this case, the audience was “paying attention”.  With the audience investing their energy it allowed the band to recuperate a bit and pull in more energy in preparation for the crescendo.

The best concerts are ones where both the performer and the audience walks away Refreshed.  This doesn’t mean they have more energy than what they started with.  It means that they spent a huge amount of energy but they got an equal and different amount in return.

These concepts are illustrated here with music but they are universal.  Your greatest interactions are no doubt the ones where you get as much back as you put into it.  Since we are all artists of life, you could ask yourself the same question performing artists ask themselves on a nightly basis: how to we increase the energy exchange?

If you want to walk around energized and refreshed, then work on getting your balance of cycling, driving, and absorbing.  Once you get it down, you’ll feel the applause all around you.

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