In a former life I played records for a living and occasionally made music for dancing to. I'll spare the detail, you'll thank me for it. The most successful of my musical outings featured me faking audience cheers and whistles within the first few bars of the track starting. I knew from all my years spent behind the decks that it only took a few whoops, whistles or cheers from one or two of the crowd to get the rest of the dancefloor cheering along. So rather than relying on the audience why not build them into the track the ensure crowd response. After all we really are sheep.
I recently gave a talk on social media and radio and talked about what I now call the X-Factor-Factor. I'm not ashamed to admit that I was one of the many heralding the death of TV not so long ago. Then Twitter came along and revolutionised Saturday night TV viewing, giving us all one platform to make snarky comments about average pop-star wannabes. It made TV viewing great again. Twitter told us who to like and who to despite. It told us when to laugh and when to cry, or to feel slightly sorry for the girl whose nan was a porn star - or maybe not. We took our cues from our friends, followers and the louder Twitter voices that can almost make or break an act within the first few bars. A bit like my track.
The idea of the greater audience voice enhancing the experience, or attempting to manipulate it the way I did, is nothing new. As I pointed out in my talk, canned laughter has been used in radio and TV comedy for years, primarily to show people where to laugh. That's why it is referred to as 'sweetening'. It's also been vital in making each individual audience member feel that they are laughing along with everyone else, together, rather than alone in their livingroom in Newport Pagnell. Canned laughter has been doing this long before the second screen experience was ever imagined.
I've recently become a fan of the wonderful 'Off The Wallpost', a podcast that looks at 'digital media in the real world' which I might add has no need for canned laughter. The current episode on storytelling features the rather brilliant Matt Locke from Storythings. I was fascinated by the idea of 'Claquers', a group of people who were planted in the audience at theatres in the 19th century. Their role was to shape the emotional response desired by acting out various emotions, hoping the people around them would copy. You could say it was live canned laughter:
"This could take several forms. There would be commissaires ("officers/commissioner") who learned the piece by heart and called the attention of their neighbors to its good points between the acts. Rieurs (laughers) laughed loudly at the jokes. Pleureurs (criers), generally women, feigned tears, by holding their handkerchiefs to their eyes. Chatouilleurs (ticklers) kept the audience in a good humor, while bisseurs(encore-ers) simply clapped and cried "Bis! Bis!" to request encore".
Such is the power of the realtime commentary on TV writers are now nervous at about the response and may feel pressure to change the structure of their show. As Matt points out there is now a need to get a big bang within the fist 10 minutes to ensure you get the influencers onboard quickly. Leave it too long and you could end up with the kind of response Fearless and Famous got when it found itself spreading an hour's worth of content over a two hour show. It was brutal.
Writers such as Steven Moffat avoid social media during broadcast of their shows because they don't want the audience to dictate how they write. On the other hand writers such as Graham Linehan (IT Crowd/Father Ted) are embracing social media that brings them closer to the people formerly known as the audeince. Graham has used tools such as Basecamp for collaborative writing and invites his followers to co-create content or be part of research circles on Google+. There are a few problems with this as he pointed out earlier in the year when he spoke to Cory Doctorow at The Story, but as far as he sees it being part of 'the party' is much better than sitting alone in his office.
I don't really have a point here. I'm making no judgements. Canned laughter, Twitter bitches and Claquer have all played their part adding to the audience experience of consuming media. Looking back I do wonder whether leaving my fake whistles and cheers off my track might have had a truer reading of whether I was a good producer or not. Having said that I guess my lack of a hit gives me that answer.