As a recognisable individual within a number of subgenres in the world of amateur music, I often receive messages on social media from unknown bands and artists asking me to ‘check them out’. A typical message from such an artist is formulated like this:
Thanks for the add! I am a member of band x. If you have some time check out our music here (insert link); If you liked our music, you can support us by purchasing one of our albums in CD or digital format.
Once again my apologies for disturbing you. Thank you for the support.
At first sight, it’s hard to fault this carefully crafted message. The author is aware of the fact that their message can be perceived as spam, and has taken the time and effort to ensure they don’t come across as intrusive and inappropriate. He/she clearly directs you to the link where you can listen to, and if you like, purchase their music. What could possibly be wrong with that?
Nothing, except of the fact that I can’t remember ever following any of these links, and ‘checking out’ the music. This is not at all reflecting on my perception of the music itself and its potential. For all I know, this could be the ‘next big thing’. It could be exactly what I have been looking for to quench my appetite for new and original music, after years of fruitlessly searching at the outposts of creative endeavour. And yet, I don’t even give it a chance, and I am pretty sure that hardly anyone does. Why?
Creative people usually shy away from business terms, but there are some similarities between bands/artists on the one side, and (small) businesses on the other. Both of them need to define themselves one way or another, and both need to connect to their potential clients or audience. A successful business often has an effective positioning statement at its heart. This answers, in a few sentences, what the business does for whom, how it does it and ideally (and in my view most importantly) why it does what it does. This is not different for artists who want to develop their own creative identity. Unless you have invented a new, completely unheard of musical genre (in which case congratulations, but also good luck with finding an audience for it), the questions you need to ask yourself are:
- What is different and unique about my artistic identity compared to other artists in the same genre?
- What is my ideal audience?
- How do I want to come across to my ideal audience? what do I need to do in order to connect with them?
As it becomes evident from the above, the artists asking me to ‘check them out’ are skipping a number of steps in the process:
- Other than the name of the band and the genre they (say they) play, I have no idea about what makes them individual and unique (often called a USP, Unique Selling Point, in business)
- They make the assumption that I will be interested to listen to, and potentially buy their music, without knowing much about me other than the fact I play (and hopefully listen to) music in the same genre they do. In short, they assume my commitment to their sound and musical identity because we share a number of characteristics.
Unfortunately, the three questions above cannot be ignored and sidelined. It takes time and effort to connect to an audience. The good news is, that if you are aware of the steps you need to take, you can be ahead of the competition in how you go about developing rapport with your ideal audience. The following tips might help:
-> Be natural: in a previous blog I wrote about the importance of finding your inner voice in order to amplify it for all to hear. Listen to your instincts and experiment. Use your senses. How do you like to sound? What is your visual identity? How do you behave and move about on stage? How do you want your physical output (cds, vinyl, t-shirts, other merch) to feel? If you don’t have any physical output or merch yet, visualise how you would like it to look. Imagine how it would feel to hold that CD or shirt in your hands and commit to making it happen.
-> Define your audience: it is very tempting to believe that everyone should listen to your music and could potentially like it. After all you are passionate about it and strongly believe in it, right? Why wouldn’t everyone else feel the same? However, as we have seen above, just because other people are passionate about music too, it doesn’t mean that they will be naturally tempted to ‘check out’ your band. Unless you are able to connect to them first, you will be just a drop in the vast ocean of music, giving them no incentive to find out more about you. So concentrate on those most likely to connect with your artistic identity (they might not be who you think they are!). Perform live in a number of various settings, and observe reactions to find out who are the people most likely to be interested in what you do, as well as what is the ideal setting in which your musical identity best comes to its own.
-> Get to know your audience: you may have an idea of who your potential fans are, but unless you show genuine interest in them, you won’t get them to be interested in you either. Talk to them before and after your gigs. Frequent the places they go to, whether it’s online forums and social media, bars, live venues etc and engage in conversation with them. Who are they, and what do they look like? What are they interested in? What is it about today’s musical scene they like, and equally what do they feel is lacking, and what frustrates them? You may be able to fill the gap!
Once you get to know your audience and you show genuine interest in them, you have started to create rapport with them. It may take time, but remember that once people are committed to what you do, they are likely to follow your activities for a long time to come. Furthermore, the more they get involved in what you do, the more they will become a living advertisement for your work. Even in this day and age of social media and technological advancement, word of mouth still remains the most effective method to spread the word and get others interested in your artistic identity too. When a friend or someone you know well sends you a link asking you to ‘check out this band’, chances are you will actually follow through this time and listen to the music. Because you are already connected to them, you are more likely to commit to sharing and enjoying the same interests, and there aren’t many things people will want to share more than music!
Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
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