I’m drawing a line, and I think we all should
“Know, like, and trust.”
If you’ve read any marketing book or blog in the last five years, you’ve probably heard this phrase dozens of times.
The concept is simple: To be successful, your audience needs to know you, like you, and trust you.
And what’s one of the most common ways these books and blogs suggest to build the like and trust part of this equation?
By becoming more than just some designer or writer to your audience.
By giving them a glimpse behind the curtain and letting them get to know you the person and not just you the artist.
And it works. It’s great advice, it really is.
People want to feel like they know the creators they read or watch or listen to. It makes them feel more connected to whatever art they create.
But here are the questions that have been on my mind for a really long time: What if you’re part of the 1% of creators that don’t want your audience to know you? What if you’re the type of person who wants to put out your art and just leave it at that?
No day-in-the-life posts.
No relatable Instagram videos.
No funny tweets to show you have a sense of humor.
Basically, complete separation of the art and the creator.
But don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with your audience thinking well of you. I’m also not trying to come after people who are open or share a lot. Coming from me, that would be a tad bit hypocritical. Most, if not all of my blog posts, are based on personal experiences and opinions.
This post is simply about sharing the reasoning behind why I’ve decided to keep the spotlight trained solely on my art rather than myself as the artist. And, why I get personal only when it serves the story I’m trying to tell.
First, the Constant Need to Censor Yourself
Look, I’m just going to say it: Unless you actually know someone, you don’t know them.
You can read as many articles as you want. Watch interviews and vlogs to your heart’s content.
But unless you actually have regular, away-from-the-cameras access to a person, you simply cannot know who they truly are. As a fan/viewer/reader, all you’ll ever see is what the person has decided to show you. Which is likely only 1% of who they are. If even that.
And that’s not saying the person is dishonest or pretentious.
Cause here’s the thing: People are never just one thing. We’re multi-dimensional. And often in ways that seem contradictory.
But sadly, most people simply don’t do well with contradictions. We feel the need to put other people into tidy little boxes to make sense of the world around us. Is she nice or mean? Is she careful or carefree?
And that’s a problem.
Why? Because not everything is an either/or situation!
It’s possible for someone to be introverted in a crowd and extroverted with a close circle of friends. Or shy and reserved around most guys but spontaneous and even daring with the person they’re dating.
Human behaviour and personality aren’t all just black and white.
But like I said earlier, people can’t process such contradictions. Most especially when it comes to people they don’t know personally.
So what do people who leverage their personalities when building their audience do?
They lean more towards a single, more widely acceptable side of who they are.
If their audience loves them because they’re bubbly and extroverted, then that’s what they keep giving them.
If they built a following because they’re snazzy and witty, bet that’s all you’ll ever see them be.
And that’s why I tell people that “knowing” a writer or musician you follow is simply an illusion. An illusion I don’t particularly want to be bothered to create.
Because I never want to have to (or even feel the need to) hide or explain my contradictions. Or play a role to keep my audience happy.
And There’s Also the Pesky Visibility Conundrum
Let me tell you a story about an aspiring musician named Lila.
Lila decides she wants to be a singer and hustles her little heart out for a couple of years with no results. Until someone tells her to put herself out there. That if people knew the real her, they’d love her!
And so it begins.
Lila opens accounts on Instagram, Snapchat, and Youtube.
First, she starts with daily vlogs where she takes viewers along when she goes to the studio. Then, she starts sharing videos of her with her best friends on her Instagram stories. Next, come the live streams of her and her cat dancing to Taylor Swift.
Basically, it’s the whole shebang.
And guess what? It works!
Pretty soon she starts building up a fanbase.
Fans who love her sense of humor. Fans who know what her first dog’s name was, how painful her last break-up was, what she eats for breakfast every morning. Fans who’ve followed her journey since day one.
And this works out perfectly for Lila. She’s never felt so loved and supported in her life!
The subscribers go up. The money starts rolling in. And pretty soon she’s even releasing her own merch. Life is pretty darn great until it isn’t.
Suddenly Lila really starts blowing up, and then it all gets too much.
Now it’s not just her sharing anymore. Oh no! There are people actively digging around to extract details about her life.
“Sure we know who her first boyfriend was, but who’s she dating now?”
“Yeah, we’ve seen the photos of her bowling on Instagram, but we want videos!”
Lila no longer has the option to curate what information gets put out there. Now there are millions of people intensely scrutinizing every step she takes, every word she says.
And so one day Lila, full of righteous anger, records a short video on Instagram asking people to respect her privacy.
What’s a girl gonna do right? Well, you know what my advice is to Lila?
If you’re that frustrated, get off social media and shut down all your profiles.
Simple enough, right?
But what do you think would happen if she does? My guess is that her career would slowly but surely die. She’d probably be back in six months, tops.
And you know why? Cause what Lila did in the early stages of her career, maybe without even realizing, was build an audience by selling likeability. An audience that’s in love with Lila the person, not Lila the musician.
Heck, at this point she could probably stop making music altogether, start a perfume line, and still be as successful.
And you know what they say: You can’t eat your cake and have it.
And that’s the danger of selling you the artist, instead of the art itself. You can never simply say enough and take a step back.
The truth is, if you’re going to put you out there, you’re going to have to be willing to accept both sides of the coin.
But if you can’t, you need to be content to keep your head down, put in the work, and let your art speak for itself.
And I know this won’t guarantee that no one will ever get in my business. What it does mean is that when I ask them to stay out of it, I won’t feel like a hypocrite for doing so, and I’ll always have the option to step away and disappear.
And Last But Not Least, the Beautiful Bliss of Anonymity
I read somewhere that an artist in one of my favorite groups at the moment once said that if he could be successful without being famous, he would.
Because the truth is, being successful as a creative in today’s world is a lot harder without selling likeability or your personality. That’s why most people are hopping on social media trying to build an audience and personal brand.
But while it’s admittedly harder, especially in certain creative fields, it’s certainly doable.
One of my favorite examples of this is Adele.
She’s one of the biggest artists in the world, yet no one even knew when she got married!
And that’s the kind of business success I want.
Some people want fame and success. I just want success.
And neither is wrong. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be famous or well-known. It’s simply a matter of personal preference.
As a writer, I’ll also admit it’s probably much easier. Seriously, who gives a damn what writers do anyway? You could have 15 bestselling novels without anyone knowing what you look like.
And to me, there’s such a beauty in that. In being able to create something people love and then step away from your laptop or studio and out of that role of creator.
My idea of success is doing what I love, surrounded by people I love, earning an income that sustains the lifestyle I want to live, and then just being unbothered in every other aspect.
The dream would be to randomly hear people discussing something I created and maybe not even know it was me sitting next to them.
But like I said, it’s all just personal preference.