The audience is for the most part on the receiving end of musical communication. The performer or composer attempts to communicate her ideas to the audience. But the audience's role involves more than just listening.

Especially in improvisational music, the audience provides the performer with feedback. The performer presents ideas to the audience, notes its response, and presents more ideas based on that response. Steve Howe says of the power of audience reaction, "You start kind of directing yourself at the audience. Well, you get this kind of call, almost" (Bailey 61). Ronnie Scott believes that in improvisational music the audience is a crucial part of the performance: "You can't divorce playing [improvisational music] from the fact that there is an audience, you can't play it in a vacuum. It's got to be something that communicates otherwise it doesn't mean very much. I mean, you could sit in your front room and think you are playing fantastically and if there's no audience it doesn't mean anything" (Bailey 61).

In jazz, the audience is especially important. Charles O. Hartman writes that "jazz arose out of highly participatory music in which the audience were also performers. While we attend to the players before us, the sense remains that we are being allowed to participate in something irreplaceable" (Hartman 74). Jazz great John Coltrane believed the audience was an important part of the performance. "It seems to me that the audience in listening is in an act of participation, you know. And when somebody is moved as you's just like having another member of the group" (Leonard 69).

By contrast, other performers believe the audience is a detriment to musical performance. Paco Peña, a flamenco guitarist, takes this view: "Playing before an audience is always a compromise." Viram Jasani, an Indian classical musician, echoes this sentiment, saying that "a musician obviously will try to put on his best performance before an audience, but he feels restricted. He's very careful" (Bailey 62). Charlie Parker found the audience to be so detrimental to his playing that he played while facing away from the audience. "A bit extreme, perhaps, but musically speaking, it's doubtful if Parker would have done better prostrating himself before [his audience]" (Bailey 63).

The audience is a necessary part of musical communication. Some performers deal with audiences better than others, but all must eventually face an audience in order to communicate their ideas.