File Under: Creating and Maintaining Your Persona
Most people who will hear your music will never meet you in person. Instead, they’ll meet your music, your videos, your images, your live show, and your merch. Even the people who see you play live will never really get to spend time with you. As a musician and public figure, who they’re really meeting is your persona. So, the question is: have you created the persona you want them to meet?
A persona, or personal brand, are reflections of you and your music. It’s not about creating a false version of yourself. The best ones are true to your personality and take some effort to put together. Once this process is done, it can make it easier to make your music, create new merch, inspire live show ideas, and drive genuine engagement with your fans and your art.
To uncover the secrets of creating an authentic personal brand, we talked with personal branding expert, Katy Goshtasbi. Katy (pronounced "Katty") has been consulting on personal branding for musicians, creatives, and other professionals for years (Puris Personal Brand Solutions). Katy shared some of her techniques that she's proven with many musicians. While it's clear it helps to have someone like Katy to give a personal touch to draw out the best version of yourself, we captured some of the steps you can use to develop a personal brand that you can apply today.
1. Start with your story.
One way to start is to make a detailed history of your music background. Another is to create three stories about you and your music. But the goal of defining your persona is to go deep -- beyond your music. When Katy works with her clients, she asks them to write a draft of an in-depth autobiography of their life. It’s an exercise to help clients be introspective. It requires thinking back to when you grew up all the way up to today.
As Katy said, "The purpose of the autobiography is to stop and really focus on your own awareness of yourself. When you wake up in the morning what kinds of thoughts are you having? What motivates you? What do you stand for? It's beyond music. The #1 obstacle as an artist are doubts and self-confidence issues. In fact, it's everyone's issue as a human being: trying to be true to yourself and not sell out."
When she works with clients, she says the autobiography can take as much as five to six hours for her clients to go from their first memory until the present. The autobiography exercise can take you to places you don't want to go, but all are necessary parts of your story in order to reach a better understanding of who you are. As Katy said, "If you skip this part, you might miss why you do what you do. But if you can put it all together, it's a natural driver. Your autobiography will give you clarity and consistency beyond a personal brand, but as a human."
2. Describe yourself in five adjectives.
If someone saw you from across the room at a bar, what are the five adjectives you’d want them to use to describe you? Those adjectives should align with your story and be true to who you are, but they should also help drive your decisions on how best to represent yourself as the person you want to be. Katy adds, "If you don't own your persona, how are you going to make sure that they walk away with the perception you want them to have?"
3. Figure out the physical.
Once you have a clearer idea of who you truly are -- with your story and adjectives in hand, the next step is to focus on how you want to appear. This is what Katy calls, the "outer packaging." It’s at this stage she can work with her clients to help them decide what they want to wear, and how they appear onstage as well as offstage. The goal is to create a persona that’s authentic and in tune with who they are. As Katy notes, you are not just the music you create. What also resonates with them is who you truly are and how you portray that on the public stage. In the end, Katy emphasizes "most of what people think of you is not based on content, but how you make them feel. That’s the likability factor. It can be defined nine million different ways. But yours is unique and must be based on what works for you."
If you’re looking to build your persona, try the three steps above. We recommend using your friends as a "mirror" to find out if you're succeeding at capturing the persona that you not only want to represent to the world, but also is true to your personality and music. After going through this process, and adjusting your attitude and look, ask them what adjectives they would use when describing you (without telling them the ones that you have in mind!) and see if you're still on target. Then get their suggestions on how to adjust it.
The most important part of this reflective process is to be authentic and true to yourself. "You need to understand your ‘why’," Katy said. "Once you know what motivates you fundamentally, you can get to whatever you want and stay true to who you are.
Challenge: Try Katy’s autobiography and adjective exercises on yourself to build or fine-tune your persona.
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Photo credit: Ashley Webb