Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy

What is Your Ideal Listener Profile?


Disclaimer:  This is in no way intended to step on anyone’s toes.  I love all styles of music.  This blog post is about musicians awareness of “giving value” to their listeners, regardless of style or instrument.


In case you don’t know it.  I was a stone cold, bebopping, jazz guitar player with a big old archtop guitar, running around NYC and playing every show, rehearsal and session I could get to.

It was a hectic and underpaid life for many reasons . But now I am happier and more successful now than every before .  I will delve into the shift that changed my life, in this post.

I switched to fingerstyle guitar for many reasons.  I felt the urge to entertain people, first and foremost.  Entertaining gives me more joy than anything.  The entire shift was brought about by asking myself “for whom am I playing?

My life changed…I stopped caring what other musicians thought, and started caring what the audience thought.

These days I see many musicians play and not “keep the audiences attention” for various reasons.  The musicians are usually  beyond excellent, so what’s the problem here?

I have a question for you . Are people talking through your gig?  Are you holding their attention?

In no way am I suggesting that you or anyone change what they are  doing to what I do.  I am however encouraging you and other musicians to ask themselves why they are doing what they do.

The question each musician must answer – with utter honesty is “For whom am I playing?  Who is my ideal listener?  Who am I trying to impress? What is my ultimate musical goal?”

Our sense of survival is our deepest fear and psychological button.  Back before jazz schools a MUSICIANS SURVIVAL was based on entertaining.

Fortunately, I was in many bands with leaders who came up in the era of entertainment being a MUST, and if I did not rise to the occasion, I lost my gig and did not eat.

I can remember in Harlem a band leader threatening me to stop practicing and entertain the “room” or else I’d be fired. GULP!  And I remember bored faces of bar patrons “light up” when I stopped playing a million notes and started playing the blues.

That is called a FIRE under the ASS, as it were.  ‘Scuse my French.

If you are trying to impress:

– Other musicians
– Teachers
– Yourself, to see how you stack up
– Other musicians on the internet, Youtube, etc

That means….YOU BLEW IT!  You forgot about the most important people – the PUBLIC.  Ok, that’s simply my opinion – but check it for yourself!

What’s really confusing though is that when you are in school, you feel like your SURVIVAL depends on the approval of peers and teachers….and impressing them becomes the goal.  That’s why music school has nothing to do with preparing you the real world environment of music.

Regular people, not musicians, are your main audience!!!!  Make this your mantra.

Regular people need to like what you do.  Regular people need to feel good when you play.

Take a Lesson from Marketers

Anyone marketing a product knows that they need their ICP – Ideal Customer Profile.  Well, think about your listener as if they were a customer.  Who is your listener?  What age, gender, financial bracket, etc are they?  How much of society do they make up?  Where do they hang out?  And so on….

The idea of whom one is playing music for  is so deeply ingrained in a musicians playing approach, it literally permeates EVERY note that a musician plays.  And if you’ve spent years playing for other musicians – everything regarding your tone, time touch and concept are over there.

It can feel downright weird to play music for the “audience” if you are in that other zone.  I can “hear” whom a musician is playing for as if they told me in plain English.

I am not talking about the musical skill. I am talking about the breath of life which permeates the musical thought, and intent behind the music.

I showed my girlfriend (who is not a musician) two jazz quartet videos – one old (1960’s) and one new (current) and she said “the new one – they all sound like they are playing their own thing and it is not matching up the way the old one does”.

No one could be further from understanding music than her – but  she did hear the main difference!!!!  Food for thought, kids.

So let’s close with the questions to ask yourself:

For whom am I playing?
Why am I playing music?
What is my ultimate goal in playing music?
Would I rather be “the best” or see “happiness” in my audience?

Write a full description of your ideal listener – sex, age, eductaion, financial bracket – whatever you want.  (This will tune you to thinking about THEM instead of YOU.)

What reaction do you want from them?  (Hint – joy is the right answer, thinking YOU are awesome is the wrong answer.)

In Conclusion

Be a giver, not a taker!  Wake up this way, go to sleep this way, practice music this way and talk this way.  Amen.

Author: Adam Rafferty

Adam Rafferty. Fingerstyle Guitarist. Recording and Concert Artist. Meditator. Philosopher. Lover of Groove.

7 thoughts on “What is Your Ideal Listener Profile?

  1. Great post! I have always searched for the opinion of the non-musician for the very same reason: to know how the public might receive what I am doing.

    I have recently discovered that an idea place to find our ICP is at art galleries and museums. We are a acoustic guitar/upright bass duo and play primarily Jazz (not that Jazz must remain in a museum). 🙂

    I also try to improvise with a blues or funk feel. Even though harmonically it is Jazz, the change in feel really helped me phrase in a way that was natural to me and I noticed a night and day difference in how my set was received.

    Justin Schroder

  2. Hey Adam, great insight into an aspect of my own career struggles in the music business. I play a solo guitar gig on the weekends. When I play a Beatles song or Stevie Wonder more people are engaged than if I’m playing Stella by Starlight or Dolphin Dance. I’m starting to realize that the jazz and classical music I studied over the years was a good foundation in technique and quality of the music but that one must go beyond an elitist approach to music and what my ex-wife describes as musical masturbation(in jazz) and play to and for your audience and not only yourself. Thanks, Rob Heinink

  3. Very wise woeds indeed !!

  4. Hope all is well, Adam…

    I read your blog. I wonder if some of it might have been motivated by our “jazz gig” sunday? 🙂 (of course your question is ALWAYS on musicians’ minds in different degrees)

    I think that the essence of it resonated very deeply with me, but I would argue that it doesn’t hurt to challenge listeners/folks either, in a respectful way, that is honest to an artist’s character.

    I learned a lot about my intentions and focus on sunday, and felt that the experience of playing next to such a dynamic performer (you), opened me up to expanding myself in many ways. But for as much as I’d like to invite in the audience’s joy/immediate gratification, I would also hunker down and be that much more committed to what I’ve been striving for (however more esoteric) so they can share my joy and what I’ve found in my “travels” that they might not get to share/experience otherwise.

    I think that JOY is a key operative word. So is CONNECTION…both vital for humans in any endeavor. Music can be a place for a musician to hide out if we don’t question ourselves. If we question ourselves, hopefully we can keep those two big concepts at the forefront.

    You are very charismatic and bring MUCH joy to audiences, putting your whole self into what you do.

    Interesting- I feel like a VERY intimate person who has the ability to be very close and related to others, however, I may be more shy or guarded on the surface, somehow. Maybe playing Michael Jackson is too extroverted for me, personally. Who knows what person in what deep place in their life might be touched by something in a profound way by what I do ( again perhaps more esoteric). That “person”, however removed from whomever/whatever else, is important! 🙂

    I’m not sure how one practices developing this, but your suggestions are practical and thoughtful. I guess I’m left intrigued looking into how to be honest with myself and to deepen the connection with myself and my audience.

    Ted Greene, for the very little I know/read about him personally, was always mindful of giving a meaningful, inspired performance, yet his videos on tube today, would probably not appeal to the masses.

    There is nothing wrong with entertainment, but there’s a lot of “fluff” out there, and that is a real sad sacrifice on the part of the consumer public out there.

    I wonder if you already feel you are getting “flack” from jazz musicians playing pop music? I’m sure you could care less, but I wonder if the possible pressure there could breed an unnecessary hostility towards Jazz or any “art” music vs. pop music?

    I would say that the reason why your playing style speaks to me is that you have the depth and training of jazz musician, which you bring to your interpretations of pop music, from your arrangements themselves,to your passion/focus as a performer.

    I hope that you can use your growing success to ADVOCATE for the virtues of being “studied” and versed in the “art”- one who is not afraid to look deeply into life/music beyond the surface, and also- to inspire musicians who live in the realm of the cerebral and counter-culture to find connection in the things that can seem so ordinary, but that make us human (the themes expressed in many pop songs etc…)

    It would be sad, unnecessary and cliche, if you only had to distance yourself from that aesthetic to validate your stance and success as an “entertainer”.

    Players who have musical knowledge/depth and showmanship are great (Miles, Stevie, Prince, Metheny, Sting) as are musicians who are primarily great minds or just dynamic to watch

    A great challenge is to make everything we do count, so that it’s less about whether it’s pop or jazz or whatever. Also that we don’t let the pettiness of being human/competitive
    bias or color the worth of who we are, where we are coming or where we are going.

    Perhaps this is what you meant, but maybe trained musicians think more about getting skills than using them to communicative means. To have the vision and need to connect with others may be somewhat separate. Trained musicians shouldn’t “cry” if their “skill” alone doesn’t constitute an artistic statement…

    Very interesting.

    As always, thanks for your music and thoughts.


    • Peter

      It was great talking to you on the phone a moment ago. In the spirit of transparency online, and so that others can be in on it, I am answering on my blog.

      Wow, I really enjoyed your response – and I need to chew on it a while. Regarding the audiences, simply put – I have seen audiences who enjoy a challenge, and audiences who don’t. It’s great to take on the challenge to expand their horizins – in fact I need to do this more.

      To recap a little for the readers, I myself have many “unanswered” questions. I love jazz and love playing jazz, and often wonder whether I am doing the right thing at this time, choosing more of a path of entertaining.

      There are many ways to play music, and just as flowers in a garden look beautiful due to variety – variety among musicians realy keeps it colorful and vibrant. I absolutely love what you do on the guitar and as I said – you are a friggin genius!

      The crazy thing though about music is the money and survival problem. This is where rubber hits the road for all of us pickers, no matter what the style.

      We all (people – not just musicians) need to provide something of value to someone in exchange for money (unless we sit on a pile of it to begin with.)

      This then brings up a whole host of issues, attitudes, problems and actually – adds “zest” to life.

      What is it that we will provide, in terms of a product or service to add value to people’s lives?

      How can we manage to do what it is we love to do, and at the same time provide value to others?

      As a guitarist, I have taught (value to students) played more weddings than I can remember (value to families, brides, grooms) played rehearsals (value to other musicians, arrangers) – all keeping my artistic integrity and growth well taken care of.

      So it’s about finding an intersection of enjoying what we do, and providing for others. This of course is one way to look at it.

      I think what I am getting at in the blog post above is not to forget about the “providing for others” part. Each of us has to find our voice and way to do just that.

      Peter, my brudda – I so look forward to the next gig and look forward to doing some globetrotting with you. You are special!

      – Adam

  5. Hey Adam I think you are completely right! That is pretty much what pop music is about: entertaining the public. Many musicians just become music “nazis” and look down at anything simple or catchy. People forget that the point of music IS to entertain people. Hope I can take a lesson from you when you are in NYC again. And also thanks for the encouragement at Tommy’s show this summer.

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