Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the story you tell about an artist. The story and the way it’s communicated is important. So important in fact that next to the actual songs, I think it’s the largest determining factor in an artists success. Definitely more so today than 20 years ago but even so far back as Silverchair when they first broke out. The thing that captivated Australians maybe even more than ‘Tomorrow’ was the idea that these were kids still in high school. They won a band comp and went from there to become one of Australia’s biggest bands, a story that every kid with even mediocre guitar skills could grab on to. Or a more recent example would be Adele. Not your typical pop star either in looks or sound, she has sold a staggering amount of records and crossed in to multiple territories without major label reach and ostensibly off the back of some incredible songs. But there is more to her success than that. Her story is of the poor girl born to a single teenage mother. She just happens to possess one heck of a voice and is beautiful but could still be described as fairly “normal looking”. Of course the music is incredible but her story is one that we can all relate to and that has helped carry her records to the top of the charts.
A lot of artists get caught up with the actual communication tools. They will think of a band name and sign up to Twitter and Facebook and start sharing. It’s easy to share your story and to communicate with loads of people. The hard part is figuring out what you want to say and how much you want to share. In an age where it is so easy to share I think instead of asking which social network to use, which blogs to hit and how to get reviewed on that Knifefork website, artists should be asking themselves exactly what their story is and how they should be telling it.
The lifespan an artist has is getting shorter and shorter. Audiences seek out artists they know little about and once they learn all there is to know, the artist becomes less interesting. For the fan, the hunt and the chase is almost more important than the reward.
When an band is new and little is known about them there is an excitement to finding them, an energy amongst those that have found them. This energy is contagious and it can spread like wildfire, which in a lot of cases is the goal but you have to be careful. Spread too much too quickly and you’ll use up all your fuel and the fire will burn out as quickly as it started. The art of it is creating enough mystery in the story that at every stage of the artists career there is more for the audience to discover. WU LYF are an example of an act who have recently built almost all of their success off mystery. No one knew who they were, where they were form or even how to pronounce their name (another stroke of genius, it’s almost phonetic so there is another reward for the fan when they find out they’ve been saying it right all along). You couldn’t even get in touch with their manager, who they called War God. More can be read about the strategy here but it was actually genius. Instead of signing up for all the requisite social sites and working hard to build their likes and followers, they went in the opposite direction and the story was compelling enough that they found a manageable amount of success. From the audience’s perspective, becoming a fan of WU LYF was at once intriguing and rewarding and every bit of infomation that was drip fed only served to create even more interest in them.
My advice for bands starting out would be to sit down and have a good think about who you are, what you want to be, how much you want your audience to know and how you’re going to keep the attention of a generation of kids whose attention span seems to get shorter and shorter every week. Choose wisely because it’s a story you’ll have to live with for years to come.