The relationship musicians have with their fans is pretty fascinating if you think about it. What would music mean if it wasn’t heard by anyone other than the artist that created it? A song has a world of meanings and intentions on behalf of the songwriter, but once that song is put in front of a listener, it evolves into something else entirely. Without listeners, musicians are still musicians, but their music doesn’t have the same purpose. For musicians intent on having an audience connect with their music, being able to relate with listeners in an honest way is paramount. Unfortunately, saying it is easy but putting it into practice can be a challenge for some musicians.
Embrace vulnerability in a way that honors your audience
It’s usually not a great idea to write music with the express purpose of pleasing an audience to make money, but working with the motivation of creating something that resonates with people on an emotional level is something musicians can build and sustain careers with. In the same way that there’s no single formula for writing a great song, there’s lots of ways to approach relating to your listeners. One of the best places to start is by approaching songwriting with true vulnerability. Does this mean you need to cry on stage and publish your most intimate thoughts over social media? No (unless that sort of stuff really serves the music you’re making).
Real vulnerability in music is about songwriters embracing who they are and letting that truth inform the way they make music. More than just writing honest or raw lyrics, this sort of vulnerability informs every aspect of the songwriting process and results in work that audiences see and feel themselves in. It’s not easy to explain or to put in practice, but as a listener, once you’ve experienced vulnerability in an artist’s music, you don’t forget it. The mixture of vulnerability and artistry in songwriting isn’t something most musicians master off the bat. It’s a goal they return to every time they sit down to make music.
Don’t just know your audience—know people
Knowing what sort of people make up your audience is definitely important, but it doesn’t hold a candle to knowing and thinking about what it means to be a human being. What do people care about? What does it mean to love someone or to be loved by someone? What happens to a person when they lose someone they love or are never loved by anyone at all? The inherent drama found in humanity is endless. This means that if you’re having trouble relating to your audience, you’re probably not looking close enough at who you are and what’s happened in your own life. Vast emotions don’t need to shape your music necessarily, but the real needs, thoughts, and desires of humanity should to some extent. It’s easy to want to make music and have your work resonate with people, but it’s a lot harder to embody and create the music you want to experience out in the world.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.