I call this style of writing DJ fiction, because it’s just like a DJ spinning records. A lot of different eras of my life have been mashed together to create this hybrid form of truth and fiction. Also notable: I listened to one of my favorite albums, Purple Rain, by Prince, on repeat as I wrote this story about how to build an audience.
I was nervous about meeting him. It had been 15 years since I last saw him. He was now a famous musician probably worth millions of dollars, and I was a local concert review blogger making a few bucks here and there with my website.
I knew his tour was coming through my city, so I reached out to him through his website and I was surprised to see he agreed to do an interview with me. We weren’t ever good friends, but I remember sharing a few memories with him as we flowed through the journey of high school. He said I was only allowed to ask three questions, and I’d only get ten minutes to spend with him after his show.
So the night of the show, I jumped in my car and headed to the arena he was playing. Afterward, I flaunted the backstage pass I was given at the security gate to get into the deep corridors and dressing rooms of the stadium.
I reflected on how normal this backstage experience has become for me now that I am a concert blogger. So many people romanticize the backstage experience. They think it’s a magical place where life can transcend normal space and time. But the truth is, backstage at a concert is really just like any other work place you go in life. Some of the roadies are dirty and tired. Others are struggling with things you know nothing about. Others are just waking up, and getting ready to drive on a lonely road through the middle of the night. That’s why I love concerts so much. It’s all real life, but there’s something about it that feels magical and gypsy-like, especially when the artists are on stage performing. It’s really the only place in life where artistry and reality mix together to create an experience that can transport you to a place beyond normal life.
The concert was over, and it was past midnight when I finally got backstage and saw him for the first time since high school. He hadn’t shaved in a few days, and his hair was dark and sweaty from the show. I waved at him. He didn’t wave back. His entire personality seemed different from when I had last seen him.
Our eyes connected as a swarm of people passed between us. His eyes were dark, but I wouldn’t say tired. They were curious, and it suddenly dawned on him who I was. He finally smiled.
He walked over to me with a swagger like he owned the place, even though he was just here for a night and passing through. He pointed at his tour bus as he walked past me. “We can talk in there. ” He said it without emotion. I was surprised he didn’t even say hello, but it’s not like we were ever good friends. We were both full-grown men now, doing our jobs.
We sat down in the first seats of the bus. The rest of the bus was empty. Now that the show was over, it was everyone else’s time to work. He left his work on the stage. He was off now, and now it was his time just to be him.
He pushed strands of black hair out of his eyes and he stared at me. You could tell he was fearless in intellectual environments. I thought this was strange, because I remember him being awkward, shy, and unsure of himself when I knew him in school. Something had happened to him during the years after high school to turn him into this star I was now sitting with.
“You requested this interview.” He said abruptly, “I said I’d give you ten minutes and three questions. So what do you want to know?”
I instantly felt his presence, and how much he liked control during conversations. Even when he was listening, he exuded an aura of control. Being the writer and the interviewer, I usually felt in control during conversations. Interviews were like a science experiment to me, where I liked to dissect the unique specimens sitting in front of me. But this interview felt differently from the beginning. He liked to be in control of everything, and I let him have it.
I opened the first page of my notebook as I pulled it out of my backpack. I already had questions written down I wanted to ask him, but I ignored them. I wanted the control back in our conversation, so I decided to change the series of questions. I uncapped my pen. I stared him in the eyes with the same unshakable confidence that he stared at me with and said: “My first question is what makes you different than all the other people who dream of being a star out there?”
His bracelets jingled on his wrists as he scratched his chin. He grinned at me. “You’re not going to ask me about my new album? Or how this tour is going? Are you sure you want to go for the deep, unanswerable stuff right away?”
I tried to act confident as he questioned my strategy. “Yes,” I said. “You said I only had three questions. I want to use these ten minutes to discover the story of how you became the person you are today.”
It made me feel good to be confident and back in control with my question. This was my office now. I may have a small following compared to his, but I am just as good at what I do. I am the writer. He is the interviewee and artist. It is my job to understand him. It is his job to explain why he deserves his fans attention.
He glanced away, and bobbed his head a little bit ⸺ like he was still feeling the beat of the show even though we were alone on a quiet tour bus. “The truth is,” He said, “That I am just like everyone else out there at a job. The only difference is that I was just willing to go further than most people do to find themselves. I am just willing to dig deep inside my soul to find the one-of-a-kind, creative DNA that makes me me. I then get incredibly focused on finding ways to communicate the talent I find to the world. It’s simple. That’s the only reason you’re talking to me right now and not somebody else.”
I scribbled his thoughts down in my notebook with my pen, and I looked up at him. “I want you to go deeper on that thought. I want to understand the creative process you’ve gone through to transform yourself from the kid I knew at school into this famous artist you are now.”
He grabbed a bottle of water out of the duffel bag sitting next to him and drank it until it was almost all gone. After a moment of silence sitting there with him, he finally answered. “I think too many people make the mistake believing the creative process is a journey to become someone they think they should be, rather than digging inside of themselves to find their purpose in life and transform themselves into a person they are supposed to be. That’s how I turned into this performer you’re talking to right now. I simply dug inward instead of outward. This character you’re talking to now has always been inside of me. I just dug him out of my soul and gave him confidence to be himself.”
I stared at him as he spoke. I wondered if it was really that simple. You find yourself, by fearlessly communicating the most interesting parts of yourself to the world. “Can anyone do it?” I asked him. “Become an artist like you?”
He sat up in his chair. “That’s question #2, and yes, I think anyone can do it. But it’s up to each person to discover what they want in life. Not everyone would want my life.”
He scratched his chin, and brushed his hair behind his ears. “Anyone can become whatever they want to become, but it’s up to each person to discover what they want in life. Not everyone would want my life, but I want it. It’s simple math to discover how successful you can be. The more interesting you are, and the clearer you can communicate what makes you interesting, the bigger your audience can be.”
“My third question is,” I asked, “How do you create your songs? Why have your songs made you more famous than others?”
He thought about my question and said. “I don’t feel like I ever create my songs. I believe my songs were already created inside of me. I just had to work practicing my skills to bring my best songs out of me. Great artists should spend all their time mastering their art and their skills, because when you can communicate your deepest talents clearly, that’s when you can start finding fans. Creating art is really developing your own kind of language. My songs aren’t really songs I try to ‘create.’ My songs are the language of my soul, and my fans like them, because their souls speak the same language as mine. They understand my language, and that’s why they buy my work and come to my shows.”
At that moment, he stopped talking and stared at me. His mind traveled deeply inward to explore these new thoughts fast and furiously. Then once he understood this new insight he had just found, he abruptly started talking again. “I’m actually kind of glad you came and talked to me, because I just learned how an artist creates their fans. That’s what you should title this article: How An Artist Creates Fans. You don’t get fans by becoming someone you’re not. An artist gets fans by discovering themselves, and then creating a new language with their talent. The language they create is just understood by other people, and those people become the artists fans.”
He stopped talking and stared out of the tour bus window. After a couple of seconds of silence, he said his final words of the interview.
“I became me, because I never tried to become someone I wasn’t. I simply went on a journey to find the language that my soul speaks. Then I practiced communicating that talent to the world. When I found people who’s soul spoke that same language, that’s when I started creating fans. It may feel strange and awkward at first to follow the voice of your soul, but slowly as you get better at communicating that voice, you will find other people who understand you.”
“I believe more people don’t become stars in their life because what I’m advocating is extremely difficult to do. The first problem comes when you realize how difficult it is to constantly dig inside of yourself to find what your soul was meant to do. The second problem comes when you have to find a way to communicate that voice to the world. Turn off the TV; set down your phone; ignore bad friends. Sacrifice everything you know to look for that voice in your soul telling you what to do with your life. The honest truth is that too many people want to feel the comfort of what it’s like to live your purpose in life, without having to feel the pain of actually doing it. The magic happens in life when you abandon comfort of dreaming, and replace it with the action of doing.”
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