[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Angela Mastrogiacomo.]
Think about the last thing you bought. Now tell me—why did you buy it?
Whatever your answer, I’m willing to bet that there was a story behind it. A story you told yourself about how that thing was going to improve your life. For instance, I just bought a water bottle. Do I need a water bottle? Not really. I have plenty of glasses, I even have a few water bottles. But I don’t want to drink out of a glass because it’s not as convenient, it could break, that would be stressful. And quite frankly I just don’t like how the other water bottles look and if I’m going to be looking at something all day, I want it to be aesthetically pleasing.
So I bought this water bottle. And I bought this specific one because I heard their story on a podcast and I liked the founder’s story and I liked how the bottle looked, so it was an easy decision. Because in my mind, this water bottle is both solving a problem and giving me something to look forward to. It’s going to make my days better, it’s going to serve a purpose so I can justify it, and it’s just going to overall make life more pleasant.
So, what was the story behind the last thing you bought? Maybe it was new gear and you told yourself it would help your music sound more polished, help you be a better player.
Maybe it was a video game you bought, telling yourself that this would be a fun way to unwind, connect with friends.
Whatever it was, there was a story behind it. And that’s what’s almost certainly missing from your marketing.
So many artists and entrepreneurs are quick to try to sell to the people around them. Sell new music, sell them on the idea of following them or coming to a show. But there’s no real connection built, no story around why. We assume people should just do it because we want them to, but be honest—when was the last time you did anything just because someone else wanted you to, with no real motive for yourself?
If you truly want to build a thriving brand instead of just shouting into the void, you have to begin to get good at storytelling.
What Stories are your favorite artists telling?
Every great band/artist tells a story.
It could be through their lyrics, through their social media, their email list, or their live shows. But they weave a story into all that they do. Odds are, if they’re doing it right, you won’t even notice. But for the sake of learning, I’m going to ask you to think about your favorite band and look at how they tell a story—and how it’s influenced the way you view them.
For instance, take The Front Bottoms. One of my all-time favorites that went from DIY to signed to Fueled By Ramen in about eight years time. Everything they’ve done from their merch, to their lyrics, to their live show tells the story of a couple of average guys from New Jersey, with aaaaall the New Jersey blue collar pride you can stand, who just love to hang out, party, and bring their brand of wit to the table. When they first started, their recordings were terrible. A few years later, the recordings were better but their sound was extremely niche, and their lyrics even more so. This is a band that was very clear from the start on who they were and who they wanted to get in front of, and they weaved that story into everything they did.
You can see this consistency in their lyrics (frequently mentioning New Jersey, talking about very ordinary things like getting a haircut or going to college, interwoven with more complex things like the feeling of growing up, of leaving your hometown, of getting what you want and still not being happy) to their videos, which are goofy, and silly, and have just that little bit of bite to them, to the energy of their live shows where they joke between songs and let their personality shine.
The story they’re telling? If a couple of goofballs from New Jersey can go from making really rough mixes in their basement to touring on a Warner Brothers-owned label, anything is possible—including your own hopes, dreams, and desires.
So, what is the story your favorite band/artist is telling?
How do you know what your story is?
There’s this great quote in Donald Miller’s “Building a Storybrand” (a read I recommend to everyone) that says, “People do not buy the best products. They buy the ones they can understand the fastest.”
This is 100% true. Don’t get caught up trying to be overly complex, unless you’re willing to take the time to really help your fans understand what it is your doing. We’re not reinventing the wheel here—the simplest route is often the best route.
So my first piece of advice is: Don’t overthink this. Odds are you know what your story is, and even if you don’t, the only way to really find out is to start experimenting.
Think about the common theme in your lyrics, and where you draw inspiration from. Think about the feeling you want to leave your fans with. Do you want them to feel hope? Do you want them to feel less alone? Do you want them to chase their dreams? Do you just want them to have fun and dance for a few hours? Do you want to help them through a dark time? Find out what their story is, the one you’re most attracted to, and in that, you’ll likely find yours.
How do I get my story across?
This is the fun part! Your story comes across in everything you do, from your lyrics, to your music videos, to your promo photos, your live show, your merch—everything. So how do you get that across?
Step One: You need to understand your fans. First figure out what it is your fans are struggling with. Again, see above. Are they lonely? Hurt? Happy? Do they want to just have fun and party or do they want to journal and be introspective? The way you talk to those two people is very different so first, be clear on who your ideal fan (the person who will go crazy for your music and go to every show you ever do) is.
Step Two: You want your music and your message to be the solution to whatever they’re going through. If your ideal fan is introspective and deeply sensitive, and just wants to understand themselves and the world better, then not only do you make music about that (which, if this is your ideal fan then you already do make music that reflects that) but you start to bring it to everything else. In your social media posts, you talk about things that are personal learning moments, introspective thoughts you’ve had, the things that helped you find clarity. Your videos might be on the art-y side rather than vivid, fast paced videos. Your brand colors might be soft and muted rather than loud and bright. Your live shows might include a few stories about the songs rather than rowdy banter.
Step Three: Have a plan to get your fans from Point A to Point B. This means knowing what Point A and Point B are. For instance, do you want them to share your music? Or buy a shirt? Each action you take (a social media post, a live show, etc) should have an action tied to it (come to a show, buy our merch, join our email list) and a clear way to get your fans there. If it’s not easy, it’s not happening, so make this as linear a process as possible.
Step Four: Show them all that’s possible. This means giving them a glimpse into what life with your music/merch/show/etc looks like. How will your music help make their life better? How will going to your show make them happier? How will buying that t-shirt help? This can be altruistic like, “Buying the shirt makes them feel good because they know they’re supporting local music in a time when local music is suffering.” But you have to then use language that describes that. You can’t expect your fans to be mind readers
Step Five: Celebrate! Celebrate your fans, celebrate yourself, just make sure you’re taking the time to really soak in all the lives you’re changing and the difference you’re making.
When it comes to storytelling, we’re all naturals at it. We all have the gift of being able to relate to others, share in their triumphs and fears, and to connect.
Finding clarity in your story and being able to truly share that in everything you do is the difference between making your mark, and going unnoticed—and for the sake of all the fans and lives you can change with your story—for goodness sake, let’s make sure you get noticed, shall we?
Want more fans? Join me for my free masterclass, How to Get Your Next 1,000. Fans to learn how to attract more of your ideal fan, boost engagement, build followers, and start seeing results.
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR, where her artists have seen placements on Alternative Press, Noisey, Substream, Spotify and more as well as the THRIVE mentorship community—an online community that provides indie artists with affordable year-round mentoring from music industry experts, and much more.