Finding the Resonant Frequency
I talk to artists for a living, and one particular week this spring, it felt like all my conversations were whisked together. The more I listened, the more I realized that everyone was essentially asking the same questions; they were seeking an unlocking mechanism — one that would help them either begin their journey, “get to the next level” and break through, or simply grow as an artist. One conversation in particular encapsulated the crux of the matter, which I will share with you here. Perhaps it will provide a place for you to look as you seek to unlock your own journey through a life in music.
I had the pleasure of talking to a highly motivated and talented band from the southwest. This was not their first rodeo. They had previously been signed to a label, toured the country, and played to sizable crowds. The classic dream. And just as classically, they had eventually disbanded due to internal dysfunction.
Now, after a rebrand and relaunch, they were starting once again the long, hard slog of building an audience one person at a time – and this time, in a world where performance has been shelved for the foreseeable future. For a group of their genre and target demographic, this means building their following entirely through Instagram, YouTube and Spotify.
They were entrenched in the grueling process, all too familiar to most artists, of releasing songs to essentially friends and family without being able to reach a broader audience or gain true momentum. This can be a very challenging period in an artist’s career; despite the artist’s consistent hard work, no one seems to really care. Until they do.
I assessed the band’s project by listening to their catalog on Spotify, browsing their social media, and watching their videos, all of which were … fine. But something was missing for me in the experience. I asked them questions about their story, and while I understood the well-worn disbanding-to-rise-again narrative, I was looking for more — something for me to truly connect to. Their pitch could be boiled down to “band releases new songs with new sound”. Production-wise, they admitted they were putting together songs to appeal to a younger generation, placing the sonic appeal above all. These guys knew what they were doing musically; they were seasoned and knew how to write catchy tunes. But I have news for everyone: there is no scarcity of talented artists releasing sonically pleasing songs.
Lacking a deeper connection with this band, I certainly wasn’t hooked. So, I dug below the surface to really learn more about them. Initially, they struggled to articulate who they truly were — their ethos, their purpose as artists. I could hear the gears turning as they tried to answer my inquiries, but it seemed like they had never been put on the spot with these deeper, existential questions before. Fortunately, with some gentle and carefully phrased inquiries I got them to open up. When the walls finally came down, one of them said:
“Listen…this is it for us. We have given our life to this. This is about not giving up. There is no Plan-B.
And there it was. Now I got it.
They had my attention. Now I understood who they were and what this project was all about. Connecting with them on a deeper level had nothing to do with the sound, nothing to do with the what. It was the why, the intention behind their music. Once they opened up and spoke from this place, suddenly it all made sense — not only to me, but to them. This conversation felt like scanning the radio and suddenly landing a clear station playing a familiar song. I now had a frequency I could resonate with and we were in sync.
“An interesting phenomenon occurs when different vibrating things/processes come into proximity: they will often start, after a little time, to vibrate together at the same frequency. They ‘sync up,’ sometimes in ways that can seem mysterious. This is described today as the phenomenon of spontaneous self-organization.” — Sam Hunt -Scientific American
My counsel was as follows: Now that we have uncovered what this project is really about, instead of writing songs to sound like what you think people are going to like based on what’s popular, write FROM this intention and commitment. You want your music to resonate with listeners beyond your immediate circle? Write and communicate from this authentic, resonant frequency. It may be subtle, but it will be felt.
They had been looking in the wrong place all along, focusing on the what and seeking tactical solutions when the answer had been hiding in plain sight in the why.
When you feel that your music is sonically competitive, unique enough, and deserving of more attention but something is just not sticking with listeners, do not default to looking for tactics or finding the right person to hire to save your career. Consider that you may be lacking a resonant frequency for potential fans to align with. More accurately, you likely have this resonant frequency but are not yet able to access it nor is it the mindset you operate from.Your resonant frequency can be communicated and felt through messaging on social media, storytelling through interviews and press features, interactions with people in the industry, and subtly through your productions. When fans lock on to this frequency, this is what they ultimately share about you as they move your music around within their circles. I call this the Share Trigger, a subject I will be covering in another blog post.
Sometimes there are two components in the process of honing this frequency. The first (which we’ve been discussing) is finding and broadcasting the authentic resonant frequency that listeners and fans can connect with. The second part is finding the frequency for your own clarity. I know artists whose music is resonating with listeners (millions of them every month), but they themselves are feeling like something is just not working. Something feels off. This internal disconnect can make an artist feel separate from their own work and never fully satisfied with their efforts.
I’ll use my own work as a writer to illustrate this second concept. I don’t blog for artists because I particularly enjoy writing (I don’t), and I don’t do it because I need something else to do (I really don’t). I do it because I am on a mission to alleviate artists’ suffering and bring some order to the chaos of a life in music. It is my calling, something I have felt for a very long time. Artists and their music have saved my life, pulled me from the depths of my worst suffering, and made my life worth living. No matter what circumstances lay in front of me, you — the artist — are what gets me through.
I write from my resonant frequency and either my writing lands with you, or it doesn’t. But either way, you understand the intent. Doing so does not mean my writing will ultimately break through to a wider audience; this is not for me to decide. But what this does is make my work clear for me, and while I have my ambitions, I can live with whatever the outcomes are when the intent of the work is vibrating at the right frequency.
Most of our artistic creations will go relatively unnoticed, and in the end that is ok. Only your very best work will have a life all its own, and you don’t get to decide what your best work is or when this will happen for you. What you can control, however, is the introspective work required to uncover and broadcast your resonant frequency, and in doing so you just might find that everything starts to spontaneously self-organize and sync up — for you and for your listeners.
Everything else is just noise on the dial.
Soundtrack courtesy of “Ouroboros” by Family & Friends:
“In and out of focus
If only for a moment
Take note of the unnoticed
Just to let go of the motive”
The track is included here on The Compass Method Spotify Playlist; updated monthly with a mix of new discoveries and songs I generally obsess over. It pairs well with long stares out the window plotting your next move. If this resonated with you please share with other artists who might find it valuable and check out more of my work at www.thecompass-method.com
Patrick Ermlich is a life-long artist guide, consultant, creative director, and CMO of Gramophone Media.