At some point in the last decade, the focus of promotional materials pivoted from an exploration of the art itself to something more focused on the personalities of those behind said art. The problem is, there is a lot more that goes into most of it than just someone’s character. You may have heard a saying about how the funniest people often feel the most pain, and the same thing goes for music. Those able to make others feel better usually do so by first trying to heal themselves, but just because you make others’ pain go away does not mean yours will too.
The same thing can also be said for writing and any other part of the music business. We’ve all succumb to this temptation of believing people’s personality is wholly representative of who they are. Maybe they’re the quirky Twitter commentator who has held a longtime publicity job, or perhaps they’re the angry critic whose takedowns of music notables has paid their bills for last five years. Maybe they’re a musician who sings about exorcizing demons, so we believe finding peace is possible, or perhaps they’re a really positive promoter who always thinks about the artists on the come up. We learn to see people as caricatures because it’s comfortable both in the short team and over the long haul. When we get close things tend to get messy.
Now if we all do this and we all know we do this then why is it so hard to break the cycle? When did it become taboo to let your flaws be known? In an era where the idea body positivity is finally getting the kind of widespread acceptance it has always deserved, we seem to have become comfortable allowing the confidence we have in our outside appearance to speak to our confidence in about other areas of life. We see a smile or hear a laugh and think, at least in some small way, that person’s life must be pretty good. After all, only people who have figured out something about this crazy thing called life could have that kind of expression.
I too have fallen prey to this kind of thinking in both of the ways described above. I have taken people’s personality as a sign of their mental and physical health. I have also used my personality to mask my struggles, such as hiding pain with jokes and writing about nonsense when really there is something very specific I wish I could discuss. The simplicity of only understanding a person or thing enough to categorize them as something in your head (good, bad, beautiful, ugly, smart, funny, etc.) is a plague, and it’s making us lose connection in an age where we claim to be more connected than ever.
To combat this in my own small way, I started sharing my story, warts and all. It was not easy at first, but in time it got easier. I challenged myself to write about myself every day, and every time I told a story I tried to add at least one detail unique to that story that told people something about me. Maybe it was a way I thought about some bigger concept, or perhaps it was just a turn of phrase. Sometimes I detailed the things I ate and why, but other times I would just mention a song and its inadvertent relevance to whatever events were unfolding.
You know what I found? The more I exposed my true self to the world the more people seemed to give a damn. All the pushback and negativity I expected to encounter never amounted to much if anything. Instead, I was inundated with messages from people of all ages, some of whom were complete strangers beforehand, telling me how much they connected with some part of my story.
They say in marketing you only have a few seconds to grab someone’s attention or you may never get such an opportunity ever again. That may be true when it comes to physical products, but in the game of life and art, the real success is found in strong, lasting relationships. It’s not just about grabbing someone’s attention, but connecting to them on a level so deep they hunger for they grow to have a kind of dependence on that connection. A longing, if you will. And you, the creator, will feel it too. Because at the end of the day all we have for sure is one another, and there is peace to be found in the communities we build together.
Whether you’re an artist trying to bring attention to your work or a person trying to connect with the world around you, the clearest path to success – not to mention the only real chance at happiness any of us have – is through the true expression of self. Let people into your world, show them ‘the process’ of being who you are and working towards who you want to become. Allow people to understand better that they share this journey called life with you, and through doing so hopefully, inspire them to create as well. Even if all you do is entertain them, you’ll know they’re taking in something real and true and representative of the struggles you overcome to do whatever it is you do.