I try to listen to The Daily podcast by the New York Times every day.
Mostly I’ll put it on at the gym or in the car. I’m all about multi-tasking. Who has time to do just one, singular thing anymore?! The Daily is a really good, in-depth look at the top stories of the day. Oftentimes they bring on the investigative journalists who wrote the story to discuss it.
It’s a 20-30 minute podcast that goes deeper than any other news podcast I’ve found – without intentional bias and without an agenda other than to inform (and get you to buy subscriptions to the NY Times of course). It’s really good investigative reporting by the New York Times
Anyway! This morning they recapped Robert Mueller’s press conference from yesterday – his only one since he was appointed as the special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
Throughout this entire investigation, Mueller has been completely silent and tried to let his work speak for itself.
The only problem was, his work did not speak for itself. Actually, many people, who did not work on the investigation whatsoever, ended up speaking for the work. And, much to Mueller’s dismay, very few actually read the 200 page report before having an opinion about it.
Mueller didn’t help craft the narrative. He didn’t want to get tossed into the political circus. After his 2-year long investigation, his office put together this extensive report he thought would give everyone all the information they’d need.
There’s just one problem. The first person to summarize the report did not work on the investigation and had a political agenda. And then everyone afterwards yelling about the report had a political agenda. And no average American is going to sit down and read the damn thing.
It was interesting how journalist Michael Schmidt, who has been covering the special counsel investigation for the Times, discussed the press conference on The Daily. He said, “we saw today the power of him simply saying out loud what’s in the report.”
Sure, the few sentences he said relating to the report were actually in the report, but they were buried amongst all of the other sentences. And they weren’t the sentences in the initial summary (not written by Mueller’s office). So no one paid attention to them!
Hearing Mueller actually say “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so…The Constitution requires a process (Impeachment) – other than the criminal justice system – to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” was really the only summary we needed to hear.
Uh, damn. Had he just come out and said that instead of telling everyone to read the full 200 page report, the country would probably be in a very different place right now.
He was stubborn. He wanted to let the work speak for itself. But, clearly, it didn’t.
So often Artists are like Mueller. They want to let their work speak for itself.
“What do you sound like?”
“Just listen to the music!”
“What song should I listen to?”
“Just listen to the entire album!”
“What are you about? Who are you?”
“Just listen to the album!”
The problem is, the work won’t speak for itself if no one consumes it. Whether it’s a 200 page investigative report put out by the special counsel or your 10 song album.
You need a narrative surrounding your project. If you don’t create one, either people will completely ignore you, or create their own narrative.
The narrative, is simply the story. What is the story of your song or album? People connect much deeper to songs when they know the stories behind the songs. People connect much deeper to artists if there is a compelling backstory on the artist. Journalists need a story to tell. If you don’t give them one, they’ll either not write about you or make one up – and you may not dig it.
That’s why you need a story surrounding every single. And the album. And you need a compelling story about you, the Artist. Why should people care about you? What is the one thing they’re going to tell their friends when they say: “listen to this song.”
“It’s about her sleeping with Ryan Adams when she was 20 and he was 40.”
“Oh? Damn, put it on!”
We live in different times. The facts don’t speak for themselves. The music doesn’t speak for itself.
The 4 page memo that was released by the appointed attorney general had his own agenda and created a biased narrative. That 4 page memo, is like a 4 paragraph review of your album by a SubmitHub blogger. If you give them the entire album and just say “here, listen.” And don’t give them a press release, backstory or foundation of why they should care about you, if they choose to write about you at all, they will write their own takeaways – and they may be way off!
Mueller went out to the podium and basically played the lead off single (that no one had heard yet because it was buried amongst the rest): “If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”
That’s the hit!
We don’t need to hear the interlude between track 4 and 5 or the 9 minute art song about your late puppy – before we hear the single! And that’s what you’re forcing people to do when you send them the link to your entire album and say “just listen, the music will speak for itself.” If song #7 is your best song, they may never get that far because you made them sit through the first 6 which may not have captivated them without proper context.
That’s why you make videos for your best songs. It gets people to pay attention to those songs. And it’s a great way to help tell the story about your project and the song.
We live in different times. Before MTV no one was making music videos. Why would they? The only way people consumed music was on the radio, on their home stereos or at the live show. Then MTV came out and fans wanted music videos. Artists that didn’t translate well through the video medium fell by the wayside. And now with YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, fans expect videos. Not only do they expect videos, oftentimes won’t pay attention UNLESS there is a video to get them to pay attention.
Jack Stratton, who leads Vulfpeck said “I have good friends who don’t even know a song is out until we put out a video.” And they are headlining Madison Square Garden!
“[Mueller’s] style was to allow his written word to speak for itself. That may not have gotten this to where he wanted it.” – Michael Schmidt, New York Times
You can be stubborn about it all, only care about “the music” and attempt to let the work speak for itself. But, if there’s one takeaway from the Mueller report, it’s: if you don’t drive the narrative, it will be driven for you. And it may run you right over.