Monday, October 22, 2012

It's all about the story [Say "social media" one more time and I'll puke]

Earlier this year on a random Tuesday (I think) I decided to go to the season announcement event for The Hettenhouse Performing Arts Center, hosted by their director and my new friend, Peter. Besides getting a taste of the depth of programming offered at the Hett, tucked away (in St. Louis Metro terms) on the campus of McKendree University in Lebanon, IL, Peter wanted me to hear the scheduled entertainment for the evening, Brian Owens. The rest, as they say, is history (in progress).

After the event and his performance (during which his cover of "People Get Ready" made me cry), Brian and I quickly discovered that we had a number of things in common - a bunch of musician friends, a wide and varied taste in music and the opinion that the best form of marketing is to simply tell your story.

With his album release approaching in September he had marketing and "social media" firms approaching about doubling followers and likes. But we talked a good deal about the true focus being content. Platforms are about distribution and engagement opportunities. The differentiator is about what you are distributing and giving people to engage with. Brian's story is ripe with opportunity and a necessity for engagement. As a black soul artist without an "urban" bone in his body (ok, there might be a few) in a business of categories and genres, Brian faces the challenge of repeatedly articulating what specifically he brings to the table - as opposed to what it is assumed that he brings to the table. Brian had the vision to understand that investing in telling his story was the best investment he could make.

After some big picture conversations with Ben Kaplan of Act3 (to whom I refer to as The Story Boss), we sat down with Jarred Gastreich, photographer and storyteller in-the-making (as well as the father of Show Me Shows, the one-take music video series). Since that conversation in late August, Jarred has been essentially embedded with Brian at every gig or appearance. This week they are off to New York and Philly together as Brian does press for his label and a show in each city.

We talk a lot in terms of Brian's "digital profile" - not on any single platform, but generally, what do we want people to find and engage with when they encounter Brian digitally? That encounter can happen on a number of platforms, but the opportunity to engage, to peak interest, to gain a "fan" comes because of the content they find - not where they find it.

In the six weeks since Jarred officially started following Brian around I think they've produced some beautiful, interesting, engaging and most importantly, very Brian-like content. We are just starting to focus on the best ways to deliberately and actively distribute it, but Brian's already received attention and exposure that he wouldn't have otherwise. Direct feedback on the quality and personal nature of the content, allowing him to start conversations with people with some already established - and accurate - footing.  As advanced as we get technologically, everything always comes back to real people and relationships.

My favorite thing about working this way has been that we very rarely decide what we're after ahead of time. Generally, yes. A feel or a message or a thought-strand to explore or to convey. But how we get there - what form it takes (video, photography, writing), which platform it ends up on, the specific arc of the story - comes later. As we go. It's rare you get the trust of the "client" together with a team on the same wavelength enough to work that organically, but getting this chance to do it regularly has me more sold than ever that it is The Way and The Truth and in the end provides far more value.

Because, really.

"Nothing's Real But Love" from Jarred Gastreich on Vimeo.

"Real Facts Of Life" from Jarred Gastreich on Vimeo.

"I'm Not A Genre" from Jarred Gastreich on Vimeo.

Brian Owens Trailer from Jarred Gastreich on Vimeo.

Experience Brian Owens from Jarred Gastreich on Vimeo.

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