Wanting to create things to share with the world can seem stressful for many creatives. They spend a lot of time wondering things like, What will people respond to? What will they be willing to pay for? What will get them to follow me on instagram?
Other creatives scoff at those types of questions and say things like, I don’t care what other people think. I’m not a sell-out!
But let’s be real. You’re creating something and sharing it with the world because you want others to be somehow touched by it. So, you do care how they feel.
At the same time, you’re not here to produce what others place an order for. You’re not a waitress. Instead of wondering what others want from you, ask yourself want you want to give them. Stop taking everyone’s orders and start showing them what’s on the menu.
When you know who you are you can fully be that person, and then your peeps will find you.
So, let me ask you again. Who are you?
For creative folks, a more targeted question to ask is, Who are you as an artist? – Or musician? – Or solopreneur?
“I’m a singer,” or “I’m a painter” are equally insufficient answers. They tell us the medium through which you’ve chosen to share yourself with the world.
But who are you?
Decades ago, I was in a cover band called CoolBernie. At the time, the people around me considered me a person who lived a bit on the fringe. Now, really fringy people wouldn’t have agreed, but to mainstream folks, I was out there. I was pretty transient, I worked incredibly flexible nowhere jobs to support my music habit, and I adamantly refused to be anyone’s girlfriend. I also swore a lot, never heard a statement that made me blush, and pissed off a lot of women with my views on wedding and marriage rituals (ask me some other time).
But look at me in this gig flyer (female on the right). Does that match anything I just described? I look as though I’m about to take tea with other Ladies Who Lunch. Where is my personality?
I’m not dissing myself or my looks – just pointing out how I was still avoiding getting to know and embrace who I was. On a deep level, I was afraid to ask myself the question – afraid of the answer. I was suppressing fear and artistic self-worth issues to pretend they weren’t there.
I didn’t put a clear artist persona out into the world.
I see it in others all the time. There are amazing singers out there who can sing almost anything well. And because of that, they sing almost anything. And because of that, we the audience don’t know who they are.
No, defining who you are as an artist isn’t selling out. This is business. And business is marketing. And marketing today is branding yourself. I heard a great quote recently, and I find it frequently bouncing around my head as I work from day to day.
There are no original messages, just original messengers.
This can be translated into, There are no original songs, just original singers. So how do you find your uniqueness? What songs should you sing? What kind of act should you create? How should you dress, behave, and interact on social media?
All these questions become easy to answer once you’ve answered the biggie: Who are you?
You must be so sick of this question by now. So, let me get you on the road to answering it using the following three steps. Ready?
1. Collect Data: The life you’ve lived thus far has a lot to tell you. The trick is listening to it. Sometimes we feel there is a certain way we should live, or a certain kind of singer we should be. And because of those arbitrary rules we’ve treated as gospel, we don’t allow ourselves to change or be how we really are. Looking honestly at how things have made you feel in the past tells you honestly who you are. Some questions to ask as you begin data collection:
- What songs/projects have felt the most rewarding and made me the happiest both during and after completing them? Are they the songs that I think SHOULD make me happy, or the songs that made someone else feel happy, or did they really make ME happy?
- What songs/projects have gotten the best response from others? Do these things line up with my answer to the previous question? If not, can I find/create more that appease both?
- What general feedback have I gotten over the years? Do people tell me I’m funny? Caring? Crazy? Weird? Have I been showing this side of myself in my work? How can I inject more of these traits in my creative pursuits? If people are drawn to these traits in your daily life, they will also appreciate them in your creative life.
2. Examine Your Relationship With The World: Putting your creative self out there requires a balanced relationship with the world. Are you trying to share yourself as a peer with your audience or are you worrying about pleasing them (like a subordinate)? Do you see yourself as an imposter (a post about imposter syndrome)? Do you struggle with performance anxiety (another post)? Is the social chameleon in you stopping you from knowing yourself (yet another)? Working through these sorts of things will make a world of difference in your performances, both artistic and everyday performances.
I also encourage you to put aside all your expectations and ideas about how you SHOULD be in the world, and take an honest look at who you naturally are by pondering questions like these.
- How do you want to be seen by others? Notice, I’m not asking you how you think they see you or want to see you. How do YOU want to be seen?
- What do you want people to think of when they think of you? What values, strengths and quirks would you like them to see?
- How do you want to be remembered? When you leave a room or performance, what human feelings and impact (beyond “what a great singer!”) do you hope to leave behind?
- Are you making decisions in your life (artistic and in general) that align with your above answers? If not, what stops you? Is it fear? Are you trying to be something that isn’t a good match for how you truly are?
- What can you tweak, add, or eliminate to better align your day-to-day life with your above answers?
3. Assess Your Craft: A common question I get from singing students goes something like, “How do I know what songs are best for my voice?” I won’t say this is a bad question, because it’s not. But it’s the wrong question. This question supposes a right-or-wrong approach that is determined by outsiders or other external sources. It also assumes that you can’t further hone your craft in a way that you want.
Outer feedback is merely a tool for collecting data or improving skills, never for determining who you are as an artist.
The artist inside you is the only one to consult for that. Here are better things to ask yourself:
- How do I want to feel when I’m singing (or creating any project)? What kinds of things do I want to express? Do I want to make a party? Make people think? Make people rebel? Not every song or project will be the same, but what’s the overriding emotion or perspective I feel drawn to expressing right now?
- Are there feelings that I’m not capable of putting across in my projects? What skills can I hone to better express those feelings, or how can I inject my current skills in a different way to get the desired emotions across?
- What things about myself or my craft have I considered flaws up until now, and how can I turn them into features? A breathy and almost weak voice has worked great for Suzanne Vega. Some might call that kind of voice flawed, yet every time I hear one of her songs I know it’s her because no one else sings like her. That sounds like a feature to me. What are you calling a flaw that you could turn into a feature?
Collecting data from your life, examining your relationship with the world, and honestly assessing your craft are the three primary categories to delve into as you learn who you are as an artist. I hope doing so will help solidify your path as you pursue your creative goals. Just keep these two last things in mind:
- You will change as you grow. Revisit these questions periodically in your life and allow yourself to evolve.
- You may learn that something you were certain was true is, in fact, not. That’s okay. Add that knowledge to the data you collect and change your conclusions.
Did I leave anything out? Let me know…