I talk about Folk Alliance International a lot. I go to the conferences where I hear most of the musicians we host and keep up with other presenters and folks involved with this music community. One of the frequent topics of discussion among presenters is concern over aging audiences. Folk Alliance decided to actually do some research. A report was just published with the results of the first round of research. It raised as many questions as it answered, but it is a starting point.
This is a portion of the introduction to the report:
The folk music community is a feisty lot that enjoys vibrant debate and is proud of its uniqueness, values authenticity, and encourages free speech and storytelling. Folk music has a history, full of myths and legends, based on shared experiences. Some of those myths have become threaded in the fabric of the community, and are evident in the decisions about programming, benefits, and how it serves.
But some questions deserve unpacking…
Is folk music niche? Who is its audience? What is its commerical footprint and potential?
The folk music community is committed to having a “big tent”, naturally welcoming to newcomers and non-judgmental. But has it always been that way? Is it truly now? How can it welcome more and do better?
Some say the folk audience is aging. Why do they think that? Is it true? What is the relationship between generations and how can that relationship get the best of our community?
Though the folk community is diverse in many ways (some visible and some invisible) it is our common love for music that brings us together. FAI determined it was time to bust or affirm the myths, and to understand our community with more certainty, and less assumption by conducting stakeholder research to make data driven decisions.
It is an interesting report but still leaves a lot of questions for those of us who are presenters about who our audience is and how we build and keep an audience for the future. The one really happy news in the report is that artists are the youngest group. We just have to get their generational peers involved as audience members.