Finding your identity as an artist is a crucial part of your career development. Drawing on your own personal experiences and building a “story” creates a unique foundation for your musical identity. For this month’s DIY Musician Podcast feature, we pulled an interview from the archives that instantly became a listener favorite. The interview features Lisa Lepine, an artist consultant/mentor in Portland, Oregon, who has helped countless artists develop and discover their musical story. This is just an excerpt from our conversation with Lisa, so you’ll definitely want to listen to the entire interview just Click Here! You can also subscribe to the podcast from the iTunes podcast directory.
When an artist comes to you, what sort of questions do you ask of them to help figure out where they’re at?
What I really advise people do is [to figure out] “What’s your story? What’s the big picture of who you are and where you’ve come from?”… I start with “Where were you born and how did you come to music and what is your experience?”… Out of hearing people’s stories about their life, suddenly this picture comes into play. One guy had this really interesting story about his ancestors, his grandfather had given him a guitar. As he said his story, it became really clear that he was bringing forward an energy from his grandfather that was now manifesting in a really unique and interesting way. And he [said] “Oh my god, I didn’t ever see that or think of that!” … The most valuable thing you have as a musician is what makes you different. That’s the part that people are going to pay for or want to connect with you rather than someone else. As that story unfolds, I’m looking for what’s unique… You can’t tell a very effective story until you know your story.
Once you know your story, where do you move forward from there?
It comes back to the idea of packaging, marketing, branding. What’s your image, what’s your persona? There’s your story and then there’s the persona that you’re going to create that can carry the story and the music into the world. If that persona is accurately built, it will resonate with people and will help move you forward.
Can you elaborate on what you mean by “persona” or “brand”?
This is not about appealing to everyone; it’s more like how can I create a persona or brand were people will be drawn to me who should be drawn to me? How do you choose a band name that really works? The name is so integral to how the world perceives you; if you haven’t chosen a name that reflects the totality of your story, you’re already starting at a disadvantage. I learned the hard way, with a couple different bands, about names. Both these bands would have really succeeded in a much different way if the names had been changed. If the name doesn’t work for you, it can work against you.
I’m sure there are artists who think they don’t need to worry about persona or branding… can you explain why those things are important?
Music is the last thing that’s important. If you’re an act that’s hoping to get booked or get the attention of an A&R person, the process that happens is going to be [sending] a press kit. [A given newspaper or booker] will have a stack of 70 press kits that came in that week, so which one gets opened first? You start with the outside of the package, and then the package gets opened, and then things get sorted, and this one that’s mimeo’d and [shrink wrapped] with no imagery – is that the one that I’m going to open? Or the one with full color and a handsome picture? Now I’ve read the bio and it looks cool and I’m excited, then finally, finally, finally I put the CD in. Now it’s the last thing that’s important, and now it’s everything. If it sucks – end of story. If it’s great you’ve probably got a booking or they’re going to come see you. Think about all that stuff – that marketing and that communication – that has to be together to get them to the point where they’ll listen, then the connection can be made.