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How to make your gigs accessible and broaden your audience

Story Published Friday 29 January 2021
Songwriter, musician and Accessible Arts' Liz Martin performs (photo by Jack Mounsey)

Morwenna Collett writes on broadening audiences through accessibility

There is an opportunity to replace existing ways of live performance to make it more inclusive and accessible to audiences and artists with disability

Being inclusive doesn’t have to be hard or expensive

Use venues, marketing materials and other services to make your gigs and music accessible

It's good business sense - support people with disability to support you!

As we dive into 2021 with renewed optimism, there are certain lessons from 2020 that we need to take with us.

By returning to live performance, we have the chance to replace existing ways of doing things with new methods.

Last year shed light on various inequalities within our society, from people having different levels of COVID19 vulnerability to global campaigns such as ‘Black Lives Matter’.

The recent ‘Audience Outlook Monitor’ report by Patternmakers/Wolf Brown showed that audiences with disability are more cautious than the general population about returning to venues. However, this cohort’s experience of being able to access the arts has improved with the larger number of digital arts events now available.

As artists and musicians, we want the broadest audience possible to share our work with. So what can we do to make sure all members of the community can engage with us?

Five simple ideas to make your work more accessible and inclusive

Here are five ideas on how you, as an artist, can make your work more accessible and inclusive for the 18.3% of Australians who live with disability. People with disability are in your fan base, they are artists playing alongside you and they are bloggers/journalists who want to review your work.

Disability is a very broad church, including not just wheelchair users but also include people with other mobility impairments, people who are Blind or have low vision, people who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing, people with intellectual disability, people with mental health conditions and people with other non-visible impairments and chorionic health conditions. We need to consider access and inclusion from all angles.

Being inclusive doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. All the ideas below are simple, practical and many have zero cost.

1. Plan, improve and learn

Keep access and inclusion at the forefront of your mind and plan for it. It’s much easier to plan in advance, rather than retro-fit it access in at the last minute before a performance.

Include a line for access costs in your gig budget templates and make sure you have conversations about access with your promoters or venues early.

Seek feedback on the access you provide at your gigs and use this information to make improvements. Find opportunities to learn more about disability, access and inclusion, by undertaking training, joining a networking group (such as Accessible Arts’ Accessing The Arts Group) and learning from other organisations and artists doing this work well.

There’s always more we can all learn about accessibility, so be curious, inquisitive and have an open mind.

2. Choose accessible venues (or find alternative solutions)

Choosing accessible venues will enable more people to attend.

Consider physical aspects:

  • can your venue be accessed via accessible public transport?
  • does it have an accessible toilet?
  • does it have step-free access to all sections of the venue open to the public (e.g. bar area, box office, performance space)?
  • does it have a quiet room (a space away from the main gig space that is set up to give people a break from noise and crowds)?

Consider other aspects:

  • does your venue offer companion card tickets (a free ticket made available to a person with disability who has purchased their own ticket but who needs to bring someone to assist them in order to attend)?
  • does your venue have accessible seating or viewing platforms for standing gigs?
  • does your venue have a relationship with a program such as Gig Buddies (a program which connects adults with disability who want to attend events with others who want to attend events, who can provide support and company)?

If ‘no’ is the answer to any of these elements, try to find solutions – e.g. locate the closest nearby accessible toilet to the venue and let people know in advance, ask the venue to consider hiring a portable ramp, encourage the promoter to offer companion ticketing etc.

Tell people about these solutions via your promotional material, and/or refer people to the event website for more access information, so people with disability can make informed decisions about attending.

3. Use inclusive marketing material

Any marketing or promotional material you produce should be able to be accessed by all members of the community, and you should provide clear access information online.

Some useful things to think about are:

  • does the venue have an ‘accessibility’ page, telling potential audience members what access is available at your gig?
  • have you shared access information for the gig on your website, flyer and/or social media event page?
  • have you provided a contact email address inviting people to ask questions if they have any?
  • Can people who are Blind or have low vision engage with your content online? To do this, it’s a good idea to use Alt Text for all online images, and use Image Descriptions and #CamelCase hashtags in your social media.

4. Offer Access Services

Thinking about access doesn’t stop once you’ve selected a wheelchair accessible venue. You may also wish to provide access for other members of the disability community.

Some additional types of access you might want to provide at your event could be:

  • Captioning of lyrics can be really useful for people who are hard of hearing and/or deaf. Captions can appear as words on a screen to the side of the stage or on people’s personal devices via an app. These can be provided by a paid service provider or you can do them yourself using a laptop, TV screen slideshow software (more details in the DIY Guide here).
  • Auslan interpretation is used by members of the Australian Deaf community. For some, Auslan is their first language and this may be preferred over captioning, where English is someone’s second language. Auslan interpretation is provided by trained service providers, who usually stand to the side of the stage to interpret song lyrics and expression. An example is available here.
  • Audio Description provides a live narration of visual elements onstage (e.g. actions, costumes, scenery) for people who are Blind or have low vision, usually via a wireless receiver pack and ear piece. This is often provided for musical performances where visual elements are very important, such as opera, musicals or music films.
  • Relaxed performances are becoming increasingly popular and provide access for people with sensory sensitivities (e.g. people with Autism). With a more ‘relaxed’ approach to movement and noise, they incorporate adjusted sound and lighting levels, alternative seating options, additional staff support and quiet spaces.
  • Livestreaming/digital content can remove barriers for some people with disability, who may not usually be able to attend concerts, either because of venue access issues or particular health conditions.

If you are providing any of these access services, it’s important that you tell people about it using your marketing materials. You can also use access service providers or disability organisations to help spread the word about your accessible event and build your audience.

5. Work with and support musicians with disability

Musicians with disability are making original and innovative work, in Australia and internationally. Our stages should reflect the diversity of our community - people with disability should be represented on stage as artists, as well as supporting us from the audience.

Organisations such as Wild At Heart work closely with them to provide support and develop their careers. As an artist, you can seek out the work of musicians with disability and get to know them.

Festivals such as the recent Isol-Aid ‘Access All Areas’ festival and Dylan Alcott’s Ability Fest have provided useful platforms. Consider artists with disability for collaborative opportunities or to share your stage as a support act at your gigs.

You can also get involved in mentoring programs such, as the Arts Access Victoria Music Makers program.

As composers, it’s also useful for us to be aware of assistive music technology and the possibilities it offers for working with and writing for musicians with disability who use adaptive technology. Drake Music in the UK are leaders in music, disability and technology and have come up with many creative solutions to music making, using technology such as MiMu Gloves and the KellyCaster (more information here).

We all have a responsibility to make the world a more accessible and inclusive place

Sometimes we may think that as an artist, we are at the mercy of the venues or festivals we perform in. But we can play a part in helping our music industry be more inclusive, by asking questions, making suggestions and encouraging more artists with disability to make exciting work.

By using these proactive measures to make your gigs more accessible, you will be opening your music up to a much wider potential audience. By building stronger community and fan connection, you will be creating new fans eager to listen to your music, buy tickets and merchandise and share your music and gig photos with their networks. Support people with disability to support you!

Further reading

  • Morwenna’s website has a series of free resources, including her Churchill Report ‘Building a musically inclusive future’ and other downloadable information guides.
  • Attitude Is Everything is a UK based disability-led charity with 20 years of experience supporting non-profit and commercial organisations to make what they do more accessible and inclusive for Deaf and disabled people. Their DIY Guide has information about how to book and promote an inclusive tour, how to book disabled artists, how to make flyers accessible, what access information to include on your online event page, what to do if your regular gig is in an inaccessible venue, and a bunch of other gig hacks for accessibility.
  • The Melbourne Fringe ‘Producers Guide to Access’ is aimed at helping artists, producers and venues with making their art and shows more accessible and inclusive, so that everybody wins.
  • Previous APRA articles on similar topics include Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility: tips and opportunities and APRA AMCOS Ambassador Justine Eltakchi's accessibility tips.

Author bio

Morwenna is a disabled musician and arts consultant, specialising in diversity, access and inclusion. Having previously held leadership roles at Accessible Arts and the Australia Council, Morwenna provides strategic advice, training and other support to arts organisations and artists to help them increase their inclusivity and engagement with people from diverse backgrounds, including people with disability.