8 Types of Music Listeners You’ll Come Across as a Musician

Author: Brian Campbell | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

When I was a music student in college, I attended a Prokofiev piano recital. I couldn’t tell you the name of the pianist since it was six years ago, but he was very talented and I absolutely loved his playing.

Unfortunately, several gen-ed students were sitting in front of me. They were there for a humanities assignment and clearly hated the whole thing.

Prokofiev is classical music, after all, and modern at that. They found it boring and long, and reasoned that watching it online would give them the same experience (note: it WOULDN’T!)

Obviously, I was angry. They didn’t have to love it, because classical music does require a lot of patience to understand. But at least they could’ve been respectful and tried to understand.

Professional musicians need audiences to exist. Just like marketing a business, it’s important that you know who likes your music and who you make it for. Clearly, those humanities students were in the wrong audience (not that it was the pianist’s fault, of course).

You should know what kind of listeners you want to engage if you want to grow your audience. Like a psychologist, you want to find out why and how they are listening to your music.

If that sounds scary, don’t worry, it’s simple! This is just information to know, not something you have to agonize over. By the end of this article, you’ll be an expert!

Direct Listeners

“Direct listeners” refers to your live audience during a concert. While live audiences obviously listen differently from online listeners, it’s still important to examine some less noticeable differences.

Why? Because attention to these details brings awareness to the best methods of engaging with your listeners.

Background Listeners

Even though “background” might sound thankless, there’s a good chance background listeners are your most common live audience. This isn’t a bad thing, as we’ll see.

Background listeners refer to audiences that passively hear your music during a live event. Common examples include jazz bands at weddings or rock bands at fairs.

Most background listeners are engaged in activities besides listening, like eating food or walking. Most likely, they won’t listen too closely to you.

Many background gigs exist to create vibes for events. We all want our events to be memorable, and music is an integral part of making that happen. Relax and serve your client by providing the atmosphere they paid you to create. You’ll often find these gigs to be the most stress-free of them all!

There are several other benefits for background gigs as well. They are a great way to get exposure. Background gigs provide free marketing because you don’t have to draw them to a strictly musical event – yaaay!

Second, since the stakes are lowest, they give you lots of practice for bigger gigs later.

Lastly, since the atmosphere tends to be chill, you can talk with people between sets! This is a great way to build relationships and market via word-of-mouth advertising – the best way to advertise!

Long story short: background listeners are cooler than you thought 🙂

Classical Audiences

In past experience, I’ve noticed three main types of active audience listeners: classical audiences, popular audiences, and a third type that sort of blends the other two together. I’ll talk about that third one last.

As behavior relates to your playing, there is one major characteristic that makes classical audiences distinct from others: they are silent! In a classical concert, it is rude to make noise, talk, or even whisper.

If you are playing for a classical audience, expect them to be silent and to follow strict audience etiquette. Examples include not clapping between movements and standing to show appreciation at the end of a piece.

Popular Audiences

Popular audiences behave opposite to a classical audience. Whereas classical music focuses on discipline and academic rigor, most popular music focuses on community and personal enjoyment.

Of course, it’s important to understand neither style is “better” than the other. Their respective audiences behave differently simply because of their different goals.

Though genres may differ from each other, most popular audiences are comfortable talking or dancing to the music. Does this behavior mean popular audiences don’t respect performers’ talents? Of course not! In fact, often performers and audiences feed off each other’s energy.

Unlike classical concerts, popular audiences are encouraged to interact with the musicians. They may sing along at the vocalist’s request, or clap when indicated.

“Artistic Pop” Audiences

“Artistic pop” might seem like an odd term for a kind of listener. However, I thought it described this group well. Artistic pop audiences admire the musicianship of the performers, resulting in quieter audiences (like classical ones).

However, this does not mean they stay quiet. Interactions still occur between performers and audience, often when exemplary musicality is on display.

Jazz audiences are a perfect example of this blend between classical-like discipline and popular enjoyment. Listeners may cheer when an improviser reaches the climax of their solo. Also, they will clap after a solo to show appreciation for the soloist.

Long story short: artistic pop audiences appreciate intellectual music without taking themselves too seriously 🙂

Indirect Listeners

An indirect listener doesn’t hear you in a live context. Indirect listeners are more diverse than direct listeners because of today’s diverse media.

Passive Listeners

Like background listeners, passive listeners don’t focus too much on the instruments and lyrics you play. They hear your music in the background while focusing on something else.

Of course there is nothing wrong with this, but it isn’t much fun for you. If you’re beginning to build an audience, most people won’t search out names they don’t already know.

Interestingly, the opposite is true for famous musicians. Because your fame speaks for itself, people will click “buy” without thinking twice – in other words, even passive listeners will buy your music.

Long story short: don’t focus on passive listeners when getting started. Instead, focus on the ones below.

Researching Listeners

Researching listeners are people curious about your creative process and everything it involves, from equipment and record labels to obscure session musicians and lyricists.

Researching listeners are great because if they like your music, they will be interested in everything about you. If they look hard enough they can find really neat connections between artists.

What does this mean for you? One word: engagement.

Engage with online music communities and don’t be afraid to collaborate. The more you post about your creative process, message individuals, and build connections with musicians, the more people will discover you.

Often, you’ll find that your most dedicated followers are those who intentionally searched for your aesthetic. It’s more than a number game, and always a pleasure to connect with like-minded people!

Seeking Listeners

Seeking listeners are very similar to researching listeners, making this a short section. While researchers are interested in every aspect of an artist’s creative process, seekers focus on genres and how the music sounds.

You can engage with seekers online, but the involvement will be a bit different from researchers. To reach them, focus more on pages covering genre-specific and niche-specific music.

Perceptive Listeners

The last category is perceptive listeners. “Perceptive listeners” is my catch-all term for those who listen to music to make personal connections. They often associate specific songs with events and memories in their lives, using it to learn about human experience in general.

The great thing about perceptive listeners is that they will naturally find you if your music connects with them. They are passionate enough to search for new music that enriches their lives, so they won’t need convincing to find you.


Many musicians struggle with marketing themselves because they’re afraid of “selling out.” This is a genuine concern for artists trying to maintain artistic integrity, especially when they become more well-known.

However, marketing doesn’t have to be insincere. Rather than treating it like something you “have to do” by “selling an image,” see it as a way of connecting with like-minded people.

Just show your true self by genuinely engaging with listeners. Enjoying this process can allow your life to be equally enriched by them. After all, don’t we make music to celebrate our humanity and build community?

With that said, take some time to think about what kind of listeners you want to engage. Come up with a strategy to genuinely get to know them, and have fun along the way!

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About Brian Campbell

Brian has been playing piano since elementary school and started learning guitar in 7th grade. He teaches K-8 students in Columbus, Ohio, and writes lessons covering a broad spectrum of genres. As a child, he moved back and forth between Colorado and West Africa. He credits those experiences with opening his eyes to the cultural and artistic diversity he appreciates today. Several of his favorite musicians include J.S. Bach, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Radiohead. When not doing music and teaching, you can find Brian reading, hiking, traveling, or making just one more shot of espresso.

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