Following on from what I was saying in the Tour round-up about playing to people who don’t get into solo bass, I thought I’d write up the story of a friend of mine who listens to a heck of a lot of me…
Ilicco is a someone I met at the Nokia Open Lab in Helsinki back in the summer. (I had, in fact, seen video online of him running around in a rabbit costume on Wandsworth Common, but we’d not met til Open Lab.)
Remember that I wasn’t playing music in Helsinki, I was there as a visiting blogger/mobile content provider, talking about mobile use for musicians. Ili and I hung out, chatted about the subjects at hand in the sessions at Open Lab, and got on great.
I’m not sure how long after we got back it was before he had a listen to some of my music, but it certainly wasn’t that he was looking for solo bassists, or ambient music, or any of the usual descriptors of my music.
No, he went to hear it because a) he knew me, b) knew I was ‘interesting’, c) had read other people in our lil’ social media world writing about having seen/heard me play.
So here’s what’s going on: I ticked three boxes:
The Contact is clearly about more than spam. I don’t consider myself to be in ‘contact’ with all the bands who ‘friend’ me on myspace. Contact is expressed in communication. We are all way more interested in what our friends are up to than we are what strangers are up to. We even recontextualise celebs as friends in our brain (ever had that feeling when you saw someone famous in the street, couldn’t quite place them, and thought you might’ve gone to school with them? that’s it.)
Just to be clear, the contact doesn’t even have to be with you – your music can and will be passed on as part of someone else’s narrative. It’s just far more likely to happen if contact with you is possible somewhere along the chain. As an example, Ilicco’s girlfriend now has her iPod stocked up with my tunes, and tweeted me to let me know how delighted she was to get the music. He gave her the music, but because I was so readily contactable, she dropped me a note to say thanks.
Narrative is all about having a story that connects – that story can be pretty much anything. My story includes geeky elements, political elements, literary elements… all of my public cultural and social DNA becomes part of my story, that people can feel some kind of shared affinity. That connection is strongest when people class you as a friend.
The Validation is also a key element. It’s the true value of reviews in mags etc. – they’re not, by and large, for people finding out about what you do, Reviews allow people who have heard you feeling OK about liking what you do. We’re pretty tribal when it comes to how we mark our territory, with music/films/books, and validation is a key component. No-one wants to make a ‘you know, I really like The Reynolds Girls‘ type faux-pas, so having our taste validated is pretty key, especially when there’s no chance of passing it off as kitsch. Validation is mostly about our friends and community promoting the things they find that are ‘good’ (once again, I refer you to the online discover genius that is David Jennings, and this post about discovery.)
So with Ilicco, all those stages were ticked, and he discovered in my music a connection that he probably wasn’t expecting. The reason for this, and the importance of this lie in something I tweeted a little earlier:
People don’t enjoy music because of the style, but because of how it makes them feel. Style is just a search tool.
Musicians all too often get caught up in finding people who like their sort of music, ignoring the fact that most listeners are wide-open to discovering new kinds of music if it comes with context, best expressed in those three areas I listed before – contact, narrative, validation. Of course, there are people who go through this and still won’t like what you do, but that’s for them to decide, not you! Don’t pre-judge the limitations of other people’s listening habits. They’re likely to surprise you.
Further digging showed that Ilicco and I have a lot of shared musical taste. Bands we love, the music of our youth. All the things that influence the way I want music to feel will come out in my music when I get it right. He heard that, over and above any solo bass geekness that was of no lasting interest to him.
So, how can you start to connect with a new audience, an audience outside of those who will find you through descriptive keywords about what you do?
(the photo at the top is from the Nokia Open Lab, of ilicco, whatleydude and I, by the lovely Phil Campbell)by