You’re at a concert. Colored lights pour over puffs of fog as it rolls off the stage and over top of the crowd. The music manifests itself as vibration throughout the entire room, making the emotion and thrilling power of art overwhelmingly apparent. Looking around, eyes are beaming excitement directly onto the performers. Then an outlier: a blue light reflecting off a blank face makes itself sorely apparent. The person’s neck is craned for three songs, though there is a brief glance up each time applause erupts amid transition between them. There are more solemnly postured folks toward the edges of the crowd, but they too have their gaze fixed upon the stage, their body language being one of personal comfort and contemplation. The blue light now seems more like the beacon of a ship, which floats adrift in a sea that is far beyond its desired course.
Great crowds are not achieved through passivity. This doesn't mean you have to stage dive every time you hear a chorus you recognize, but to have an exceptional audience there must be a level of attentiveness and respect that starts with the individual. When you engage with an artist or band intentionally, space for a dialogue can be established, at which point it is no longer a one-way input from music to the listener. This is unique to live performance, whereas an album or a TV show will always play back the same no matter how much or how little you respond to its content.
So what does being a more intentional show-goer look like, practically speaking? This can vary from environment to environment, as many rock bands thrive off of intense showings of crowd energy, while a solo artist may deeply value quiet focus (of course, this varies by artist).
Adopting an attitude of sincerity is perhaps the best foundation for listeners, purely in that when the sing-a-long comes out your voice does rather than clenched teeth. From there, treat the experience like a conversation, which means giving feedback to the performers. Consider your body language and engagement with banter or activities like singalongs. If there's an opportunity to appreciate the artist, cheer, buy merchandise (if you don't like any of it, just leave a donation!), or, if feeling bold, express your appreciation to them directly after the show (remember to be respectful of personal space, venue policy, etc. And don't be a creep.).
The other half of engaged listening comes from how you consider the artists beyond the show, starting with your community. One of the most powerful ways to impact a music scene is to actually express your appreciation to your friends and fellow music-lovers. This can be done through direct conversations, buying a friend a ticket to a show, or simply posting on social media. Then, if the artist has recorded music, consider buying or streaming it not only so that they may be supported on a financial level, but so that you can further that relationship with the music you care for.
Remember to be patient with yourself and with others in the music community. There's a level of experience that comes with understanding the practice and value of support, particularly in the DIY music world. What's important is not plugging your favorite bands aimlessly like a walking advertisement, nor is it a political move that earns you scene cred. Even interacting with shows out of a sense of obligation can lead to burn out for the thing you once found so endearing.
Our hope is that you feel equipped and aware to share the life of your experience with others, which at worst will be merely acknowledged and at best will rally greater support for the artists and music experiences to continue. Take a moment to tweet a thank you to an artist you can't take off repeat, bring a (willing) friend to a show, and, if you're feeling it, dance and singalong. We all might be better off for it.