What pledge have you made to your audience? How connected are you to the people who matter most?
There’s no use attracting a massive backing if you have no idea what you’re trying to move forward. Before you start building your audience, ask yourself why you want to build it. And I’m not talking about superficial whys like “making money,” “adding value” and “sharing your message.” That’s not why you build an audience. You build an audience to regift your talents; because your heart throbs for expression; to pay homage to the voices that shaped you; and because you have a responsibility to matter, just to name a few reasons.
Your mission is to sink inside yourself and touch the center of your "why". Because the deeper you question yourself, the easier it will be to begin. Remember: If your work has no sense of why, the bleachers are going to collapse under the weight of your audience. Why are you?
Although Joni Mitchell absorbed influences from a number of different art forms, she still invented everything about her music. From performance style to lyrics to genre to guitar tunings to chord progressions, there wasn’t an element of her art that wasn’t original. She conducted the orchestra, composed the score and played the music. But you don’t have to be a musician to execute this strategy.
The secret is to install a practice of constant, individual expression in everything you do. To constantly ask yourself, “If I were me, what would I do in this situation?” That’s how you become uncopyable. That’s how you become your own adjective. And that’s how you give your music a singular quality. By avoiding people and situations that seek to systematically beat the originality out of you. You just have to be willing to pick the box that says, “other.” Remember: There are no cover bands in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Are you the echo or the origin?
In an article called, “How to Recognize Your Audience,” I found a fantastic question you’ll want to ask yourself: “How many levels of frustration have you accumulated as a result of catering your life to people who have no interest in who you are and what you have been sent to the earth to represent?” Answer: Too much. If you build it and they don’t come it’s because they don’t want it. Period.
That’s the first sign that you’re talking to the wrong people. Instead, I suggest a counterintuitive approach: Be the bulls-eye, not the arrow. Turn yourself into a big, beautiful, juicy target. Let the audience define itself for you. Let your work find its own legs. The people who matter most will gladly take up their bows and shoot their way into your life. If the people who matter most aren’t in your audience, it’s time to find a new stage. Are you aiming or being aimed at?
Rolling Stone once asked James Brown which of his shows was his best. The answer he gave: “My next one.” To mirror this philosophy in your own work, consider three suggestions. First, train your performer’s eye. Walk through the world constantly asking the question, “Is this a performance opportunity?” If so, take it. Because somebody’s always watching. And they’re waiting for permission to be taken over by your performance.
Second, plant moments in your performances that give your audience something they’ll always remember. The spreadability of these moments will become your instant audience multiplier. And third, make your mistakes interesting. Instead of hiding them, highlight them. Don’t overlook the value of the unintentional notes in your life. Remember: The best promotion is a brilliant performance. When’s your next show?
My favorite scene in The Bucket List is when Jack Nicholson makes a crucial decision: He’s going to kiss the most beautiful girl in the world. Confused, Morgan Freeman asks him how he plans to accomplish that. And in one word, Jack says it all: “Volume.” That’s what all audience builders know: You have to play the numbers. You have to increase the probability of success by virtue of volume. Take the Grateful Dead, for example. If anyone knew how to build an audience, it was those guys.
But contrary to popular belief, their success didn’t just come from their legendary shows. Live concerts weren’t the sole source of their massive followership. Sure, they did over two thousand shows -- but the Grateful Dead still made records. Over a hundred and thirty, to be exact. That’s more than any other rock band in history. And if you want to keep on trucking with your audience, you have to come to terms with something: You’re not writing a book. Or publishing a blog. Or dropping an album. You’re contributing to an ongoing body of work. What level of volume has your audience come to expect of you?