In this business, we struggle with two things. How to reach many people. And how to reach one person.
Inevitably, no matter how authentic and sincere we aim to be, as driven individuals, we look for ways to reach more people. Questions pop into our heads. How can we get more email addresses? How can we make more friends? Get more followers, likes, what have you. How can we sell more albums? Get more listens? More spins? Put more butts in seats? Can we sell the show out early? Can we add a second show? Will people come? Do they care? And if they care will they continue to care? Am I doing what I have to do now to keep folks interested later? What is it that is resonating with people? Do I really know? Should I do more of that? Am I doing enough? Is that what I want to be known for? Are my goals realistic? Fantastical? Is there something wrong with that?
If those questions aren’t happening to you *sometimes*, you either have your head in the sand or you just aren’t being honest. If they are happening to you all the time, my friend, okay… take a deeeeep breath. We are gonna take a big step back. It’s not as bad as it seems!
Like I said… There are only two things you need to struggle with. And one of them is solved by the other.
In this business, we like to categorize people. I’m guilty of it. Afterall, I am a marketer. I believe in target market segmentation and tailored messaging geared toward unique audiences. But sometimes I have to remind myself — at the start of it, we are all just people. And each time you make a connection, it’s with one person not 5 or 10 or 50 or 500 or 10,000. It’s one person.
The best way to reach many people is to reach one person.
As a marketer and manager, I’m always struggling with how to boldly pitch my clients – to represent them well.
- With honesty so whatever I say is as true to what it is they do as possible.
- With accuracy so the message reaches the right people.
- With urgency so the message is delivered in a timely manner – in the right moment for it to be received.
- And with a sense of audience. That I’m not just pummeling people with information they don’t want, but with a message that matters to them in a language that resonates.
If someone doesn’t want to hear from you, they aren’t going to listen to you when you contact them. No matter what you say or how great the music is.
So what makes a person want to hear from you?
And connection is human. Not fabricated or marketed. It is just there. It is real. Sometimes it happens overnight. Sometimes it takes years. It depends on the person. Just like all the best things.
Stop selling and start connecting. Listen as much as you speak. Anticipate where your audience might be coming from, and share what you have to say with them in a way they can connect with. In a way that feels like you are talking to them individually. Not to everybody around them. Not at them. With them.
There is this attitude sometimes – and it is infectious and addictive – that you have to pitch yourself constantly. That if you just get your pitch to as many people as possible, a certain percentage of those people will inevitably respond. That if you don’t reach reach reach for these people, you are missing opportunities. And as a manager or publicist or agent, perhaps not doing your job.
But quantity doesn’t come from quantity. It comes from quality. Quality connections are not made based on blanket impressions at a minimum conversion rate assumption. They are made over time, with repeated relevant conversations, and based on validation from third party impartial sources.
It’s not how many people you hit with your message – it’s who you connect with in a meaningful way. And do they have ability to connect with others in an equally meaningful way on your behalf? And are other people reinforcing their perception of you, so that when they want to join you, all points in their universe are encouraging that instinct?
Two music business examples to consider…
Example one. Bob Lefsetz doesn’t want your MP3s.
I heard a music industry mogul speaker at a conference recently say to an audience of independent artists and presenters, “I don’t want your MP3s – stop sending them to me.” And I totally understand what he was saying. He used the word “unsolicited” – which is always the industry’s way of saying “don’t call me I’ll call you.” But he’s only being honest. He is testifying to the mindset he is in when he is at his email. The feeling in his heart when he sees an email with an MP3 attached, before he’s even opened the email is, “This is going to suck.” And I don’t blame him for feeling that way! Do you?
Are you listening to his testimony? Or ignoring it?
I often find the basic rule of asking someone how they want to be communicated with is under-followed. People will tell you their preferences – it’s like a basic human urge – when asked it’s not something we tend to withhold. And it is a huge sign of respect, in my opinion, when someone asks. But by all means, if they tell you LISTEN and FOLLOW their advice on how to communicate with them!
Example two. Award nominations emails are making me cranky.
For the last two weeks, my inbox has been flooded with messages because I attended a music conference last year. Mass emails (technically SPAM) soliciting me to nominate their acts for awards six months later. All these emails do is annoy me. They don’t get me to do what the people sending them want me to do. They aren’t thinking about me and my likelihood to nominate. They just think if they deliver impressions maybe someone will check out their artist. Really?? Is this the way I am likely to discover my new favorite act?? I don’t think so! When I see the emails come in, I delete them right away. And almost everyone else I’ve talked to has done the same. Presumably not the reactions the senders are hoping for. I just don’t see the point. It is a whole lot of well-intentioned bright and talented people, wasting time writing emails that aren’t moving anyone to do anything. Just filling inboxes. Because maybe they feel like they have to? Obligation??
I always say, don’t complain about something unless you are prepared to offer a solution. So, what would I have them do instead? In this case my answer is – targeted conversations. Simply have conversations with some of the people they know in the community. It doesn’t take quantity to make quantity – it takes quality.
Whenever there is a situation where we don’t KNOW what the path to selection is, when we don’t KNOW the way to proceed, when we can’t SEE the path that has always worked before we got here, it is a natural instinct to cast a wide net and see what we fish in. That is what is happening here. The fact is, people don’t really know HOW nominations happen, so they are doing blanket outreach in hopes they might hit on it in the dark. I would suggest – when you see others casting the net wide and you feel that urge – question it. Think. Ask yourself, “What message would reach me?” And then follow your own compass.
So those are music business examples. How does this translate with performance and fans?
It is obvious when an artist is performing in front of people versus when an artist is connecting.
I’ve heard a lot of people write about and argue the purpose of the creation of music. Those who are art for art’s sake say that musicians create from themselves first, that creativity is pure, and audience reaction should have no bearing on the value of art. Those who are art for commerce’s sake say that musicians must factor audience when they create, as the purpose of music is to reach many – and the perspective of the many must be considered in order to be reached.
My favorite recent quotes about this were from three different people:
- Jon Strymish, music photographer: “Art is not a job. It’s a way to communicate. Which seems so obvious, but seems like something society has completely forgotten. And I feel inspired by these people who make music as a way to communicate.” (from the short film IF I SHOULD FALL BEHIND by Rose Cousins)
- Meg Hutchinson, singer-songwriter: “Creativity has always been an act of transformation for me. When the work is honest, when it strikes a nerve at the center of ourselves, it cannot help but resonate with others.” ( www.meghutchinson.com )
- Bob Lefsetz, blogger: “personal, when done right, is universal.” (from post at 9:34pm yesterday – www.lefsetz.com )
Each artist has a different relationship with the extent to which they consider fans when they are writing and when they are performing (and often the extents differ). And at what stage they consider fans. And in what ways that is or is not exhibited. And then ultimately, the fans vote in their reactions at shows, in their purchases, reviews, remarks and recommendations.
What are the songs that resonate most with fans? The ones that feel personal to them, even though they were personal to the songwriter first. Each individual listener feels the song is telling their story. They feel the songwriter knows something about them. One to one to reach many.
What are the jokes that get laughed at most? The ones we relate to. The ones that make us say, “Yeah, I’ve totally been there!” Ellen Degeneres and Seinfeld both formed entire careers on the basis of humor that is personal and universal. Notice they never get laughs at the expense of others. Their laughs come from the individual experience that everyone has had. Ellen can get more laughs out of how difficult it is to open scissors packaging – because everyone has been there. What reaches one reaches many.
What are the stories that get repeated most? The ones that feel like they could have been ours. Ones that recount a specific experience, but an experience that can be told just as effectively by others. The message feels as relevant to the re-teller as it was to the original teller.
What are the Facebook posts that get shared most? The Tweets that get retweeted most? Personal and universal. Your observation, photo or video first, but it’s one others share and can reflect and remark on. In fact the whole notion of social media sharing is based on the basic human trait that we have a human drive to identify our connections – the preferences, experiences, observations, realizations and epiphanies we share mutually. Profound and mundane alike.
And on that note I will say – in a final thought – that it is important to make time and space and open your mind to whatever the connections may be. Don’t be so focused on results that you over-control the situation and miss out on a meaningful connection. Don’t get too caught up thinking what someone can or can’t do for you that you aren’t open to seeing or hearing what their real connection is with you.
All too often, I’ve seen people at conferences miss connections they have with others because they were so focused on handing someone their CD, or getting a business card, or shoving showcase info in their face. I’ve seen folks look puzzled and try to turn a normal human conversation toward what they think will be a “more productive topic” to discuss – when they didn’t realize that taking a moment to simply be human together IS the where connection starts.
I’ve done it myself. In fact, it’s such a strong urge at conferences and in limited timeframe business meetings, that I often have an inner monitor that keeps me in check. If I sense myself racing forward to the action, the next steps, wanting to be productive and efficient and overly drive the conversation in a way that feels forced – I hit the inner “hold up” button. In these moments, I just have to stop orchestrating, clear my mind, and LISTEN to the person who is talking. That controlling instinct is a natural thing that happens – because we are all driven people, we are type A personalities, we want to accomplish a lot, we are invested, we take our work seriously, and we sincerely don’t want to waste anyone’s time. But you know, sometimes wasting time isn’t a waste at all. It’s not wasting time if it is in the interest of authentic connection.
This is a long-term business. Not a short-term one.
I understand the urge to self-promote. I believe in being bold. In speaking your mind. In putting an emphatic foot forward. In first impressions. In being social. In getting yourself out there. Absolutely absolutely. But it’s important to find a natural way to form connections. To have the confidence to let your work and your reputation lead the way. And if you don’t have much work and you’re still forming your reputation – that’s ok. Be patient. Persist. The word DOES get around. If you share with the right people in the right moment in the right way.
The folks who find a way to do that are the ones who get listened to most – meaningfully so.
Focus on the one person, and you will reach the many.