Monday, June 27, 2011

Putting Yourself in Others' Shoes: A Step Toward Success

Photo by Maegan Tintari
You all know how much I like my shoe collection, but right now during this time in my life, I'm trying to learn how to be more empathetic with others in my personal life by figuratively putting myself in other peoples' shoes.  In addition to that, I'm often telling my clients that in order to really reach your audience you have to think about what they will respond to, and incorporate that with your genuine self in order to be a successful artist.  Whether you are an artist seeking a label deal or pursuing your own venture independently, your success will often depend on learning how to put yourself in others' shoes.

Other peoples' shoes include the shoes of your fans and potential fans. When your fans attend your shows, they're coming not just to hear you, but also to see you, and they want to see you at your best in how you look and in how you perform.  "Image is important; consumers want their stars to look better than they do," says Joe Galante, former Chairman of Sony Music Nashville in the book It All Begins With the Music: Developing Successful Artists and Careers for the New Music Business (Don Grierson and Dan Kimpel).  It may begin with the music, but obviously that's just one layer to an overall successful artist career, which also includes layers of image and live production.

In writing this, I am reminded of the thoughts I often have when watching the America's Got Talent auditions.  While I like the fact that the contest is open to ANY kind of talent, and I find much of the talent very fascinating for the 90-second audition, I eventually start asking myself the question, "Would I want to watch that for a full hour and a half?"  Because, keep in mind, the winner of the show gets their own year-long Vegas show.  Yeah, it's breathtaking to watch a man juggling 500,000 volt stun guns while standing in a tub of water, but do I want to spend an hour and a half of my life watching him do that at the price of a Vegas show ticket?  I don't think so.  So then I start asking myself the question, "Do these people not ask themselves beforehand whether or not the audience wants to watch them swallow swords (or what have you) for that length of time?"  This is what I mean by putting yourself in your audience's shoes.

The fans however are just one segment of your audience.  You also have to put yourself in the shoes of the media and figure out how to make yourself attractive to them so they will want to give you exposure to their audience which is made up of even more potential new fans for you.  They are looking for a story to deliver to their audience.  Are you able to tell your story in an interesting and compelling way in the bio you send to the media?  In an interview with a magazine?  In a radio or television interview?  Are you putting yourself in their shoes by trying to find ways to make their job a little easier?   

Also, if you are seeking a label deal, then your audience additionally includes the label executives.  Here's where you have to learn to think like a label executive and put yourself in their shoes by trying to be as objective about yourself as possible (this means also learning how to take criticism in a constructive and humble way).  Former Sr. VP & GM of Universal Records South Fletcher Foster says, "To meld the music and image together in a cohesive package can definitely move you to the front of the pack of artists looking for a deal." 

But even if you are an artist who is not seeking a label deal, it helps to learn how to think like a label executive when pursuing success independently.  Ask your "CEO/business owner" self the same questions a label head would ask about your "artist" self.  Galante talks about when at Sony what questions he used to consider once he signed the artists:  "At the end of the day, you sign the artists, [and] then it's their repertoire; everything after that is about their look and the choices we make.  The first and second singles?  Which touring partners?  The image of the video?  The image on the album cover?  What are they doing live?  Is there a live coach that we can bring in?  Should we improve their interview skills?  We spend a great deal of time doing that with our artists.  We're looking at the process and working to always make it better."

Ah, there's that word "process" again.  You may remember my blogs on how image development is a process, just like Tom Jackson also indicates live music production is a processIt's ALL a process!  You have to objectively look at yourself and be humble enough to admit when you need help with the things Galante mentioned, such as image development, choosing the right photos, improving your interview skills, and working on your live show.

Here again I'm reminded of America's Got Talent when a duo that just couldn't sing responded to judge Howie Mandel's criticism with a rather immature "You're a hater!" declaration.  I loved Howie's reply:  "I'm not a hater, I like you.  I just didn't like you're singing."  This is where you have to learn not to be so touchy and not take everything personally.  Remember, you are choosing a career path that is filled with all sorts of rejection.  Learn to handle it tactfully.  By doing so, you'll develop the image of a professional and serious artist.

If you are doing the independent thing, then you must be cognizant and aware of how you are coming off to your audience (your fans, your potential fans, the media, those who can help you take your career to the next level).  If you are unable to develop that ability, then perhaps the label route is something to consider pursuing.

Either way, you need to surround yourself with a team of people who can help you succeed in either route, such as a good manager, a good publicist, etc.  Trying to do everything yourself can be overwhelming and you're bound to miss something that could potentially take your career to the next level.  How do you find the right team?  Ah, this is another segment of your audience that you may have never even considered as an audience.  But, as I discuss in my workshops, the better the image you're already presenting, the better team you're able to attract and therefore the better you're able to progress in your career.  This is why image development should be one of the first (and continuous) layers of your music career process.

In my book Advance Your Image:  Putting Your Best Foot Forward Never Goes Out of Style, I discuss ways to develop an image while keeping each segment of your audience in mind.  You can purchase a copy of the book for $12.99 by visiting my web site.

Remember, it's important to take the time to walk a mile in your audience's shoes, no matter how uncomfortable or awkward it may feel!

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