Sell Yourself, Not Your Music
Are you able to remember the first time you realized you wanted to be a musician? Perhaps you were a young buck, bopping around in the back seat of your mom's minivan saturated with the smell of teen spirit when Nirvana came on the radio. The hairs on your arms began to stand up as Kurt's words, which seemed to be speaking directly to you, spewed out of the speakers atop a wall of high-gain guitars. You fell in love with the ruckus that sympathized with your teen angst, and at that moment you realized you too wanted to create music that others could relate to. Music they could feel empowered by. Or maybe your story is nothing like this, but surely you have a story. Certainly, there's a reason behind your pursuit of music, but do you truly know what it is? Or maybe you're just wondering why the hell it matters. I'll tell ya.
What’s Important About Why?
It's in our human nature is to want to know the juicy details of everything. It isn't sufficient enough to know what the serial killer did to his 17 victims. That's because you're sick and twisted like me and everyone else out there. You want to crawl inside his or her mind and extract all the disturbing details that led them to the act. You demand to know why damnit! In this same way, you as a musician are like a psycho killer. Whatever it is you do, eventually people are gonna come asking why. Be prepared to show them the psycho killer you are and they'll like you fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-far better.
In his TED Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek states that “people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. I recommend giving the video a view down below but basically he explains how people care more about why you’re doing something than what you're actually doing. What is a superficial question. Why is more complex, more unique, and it opens up the opportunity for a more personal association. This means you can better connect with people who understand why you're doing something.
I believe this concept couldn't be more relevant in the world of music where the product (what you do) is a form of emotional expression (why you do it). It's essential to have a clear understanding of why you make the music you do because for one, it will allow you to create music that is authentic and true to yourself, and two, allowing your fans to understand the purpose behind your music creates a stronger connection between you and them.
Understanding the motivating factors behind your music gives you a better sense of direction and ultimately allows you to become more intimate with your writing. It's not always what you do but rather the reason that you do them that defines who you are. So in a way, understanding why you want to make the music you do also means you understand who you are as a musician. The most compelling music is authentic. It's the music that comes from people who know who they are, know why they're doing it, and have emotionally invested themselves into it.
y=me(story)+x(reason)… Solve for Y
Many musicians may find it difficult to put a finger on exactly why it is they make music. They can sense it, but can't quite describe it. So how do you come to realize the motivations behind your urge to create and communicate with others through music? There are two questions you may want to consider. So affix yourself in front of the mirror and ask that sexy reflection these two things.
What do you consider to be some of your core values?
What value do listeners have to gain from your music?
Considering your core values and the moral standards which you live by is a good place to start. Your core values are deeply instilled in who you are and they likely attribute meaning to much of what you do, including music. Identifying these core values might shed some light on the meaning behind your music.
The other value you need to consider is the value your music has to offer to your fans. By asking yourself what you want fans to gain from your music, you're directly answering the question of why you make music. There must be something they gain from listening to your music whether that be the urge to dance, the urge to cry, or a new found appreciation for the church of Satan (I hope not but who am I to judge). Regardless of what purpose you want your music to serve to your fans, opening up to them and offering a part of yourself is an effective means of getting through to them.
Once you have a clear understanding of why you make music and the value your music has to listeners, you must build your brand and image around that idea. Your music, artwork, stage presence, website, and the way you interact with fans must be representative of the driving forces behind your work. Maintaining a cohesive, and truthful image will lead to fans buying into not only your music and the reasons you make it, but they'll also be buying into you. They'll be buying into your story and who you are as a human being. They'll be buying into what you stand for and what you stand against. They'll be buying into your actions and behaviors. They'll be buying into not only the vibes of your music but also the vibes emanating from your soul.
Human beings love to understand and feel connected to the world around them. It's in our nature. If you open yourself up and let your fans in to truly understand the meaning behind what you do you'll connect with them on a much deeper level than if you just showed up and gave them a shallow performance. Don't give them your music as a product, rather give them yourself through your music.