“We were a band of white boys from Ohio that hitch-hiked our way to New York to try and make it big. Needless to say, by the time we arrived we were completely broke. We had nothing but the gear we hadn’t pawned yet and the clothes on our back. So when it came to finding a place to stay we were limited by the budget of what we were able to scrape together by busking in front of Yankee Stadium and ‘donating’ plasma.
Our first stroke of luck came in the form of a cab driver that was inspired by our tenacity and offered us the spare room in his townhouse in Queens. So we found ourselves the proverbial ‘fish out of water’ in a neighborhood that was racially, culturally, and financially worlds away from anything we had ever known.
Honestly, we were scared and intimidated. We really weren’t sure we were in a position to find any success in such unfamiliar territory. What we discovered was that music is a bond that builds bridges across unknown expanses. Beyond the differences separating us from the community that had taken us in, we realized that we were all blue-collared Americans looking to blow off steam after a hard day’s work.
We quickly established a reputation as the neighborhood good-time band by playing house parties and getting paid with fried chicken and cheap liquor. And from there it snowballed into steady gigs at the hottest clubs in the city and a national touring circuit that took us places we never imagined. We became more than just a band of musicians. We became cross-cultural ambassadors for sonic manipulation!”
It’s true that there are bands out there whose music is so compelling and instantly connects with such a mass audience that the story doesn’t matter. But that’s a one-in-a-million shot. You would be better off buying a lottery ticket. But then you’d have a story to tell.
The truth of the matter is that if you want to take a proactive approach to getting attention for your music you have to think about that kind of stuff. Whether you are looking for some press or simply to connect on a deeper level with your fans, your story matters.
That’s right. Not only do you have to write and record the songs, but you also have to tell an engaging story.
What stories are people looking for?
Press and fans alike want to know what makes you stand out, what makes you unique. You’re awesome voice and catchy melodies are actually pretty much meaningless. That stuff is white noise because it doesn’t separate you from the competition. That’s not to say that skills don’t matter. Your musical ability is the first thing you must master on your way to becoming a professional musician. However, it is the context with which your present your music that will give you the edge when it comes to getting the gigs, fans, and attention you will need in order to sustain your career.
The good news is that the stories are already there. All you have to do is develop the narrative. Think about that throughout your creation process so that it doesn’t sneak up on you. What you will discover is that you have a way to present your music with context.
Did your crazy producer help you develop your sound by locking you in a basement full of vinyl and throwing hammers at you? Did your neighbor call the cops on you because of your noisy rehearsals, thus inspiring you to steal his girlfriend and write a song about it? Was growing up next to the airport the catalyst for your love of tube screamers? Did a spiritual journey to the homeland shape your vision of the world? The key is that you have to dig deeper than, “We showed up in New York and paid our dues.”
The stories are imbedded in your life, your music, your career, your lyrics, and your inspiration. All you have to do is apply a simple process to formalize the narrative. Then you can string a thread from all of those pieces that illustrates an overview of your entire career and creates a philosophy that resonates deeply with your fans.
Go though every song you have ever written or played and ponder the most interesting thing about each one. It could be something you are doing musically, a technique you are using, your inspiration, or an idea you are trying to articulate with the song. It could have something to do with the instrumentation, the lyrics, the arrangements, the context of the music, or the band dynamics when you recorded the song. It could be about the traditions that you are drawing from, adapting, or changing. It could be an experience from your tour or feedback from a fan. Well, I think you get the idea.
For each song, write that singular element on a post-it note and stick it on your wall. Then rearrange, expand, and rearticulate the narrative as your catalogue grows and your music matures.