Finding Your Voice Through Style
In this post, I’m gonna show you one of my stage looks from my time out with Little Big Town, but I’m gonna use this as a chance to talk about developing your personal style, and finding your voice. And Little Big Town is one of the perfect examples of a band who’s personal style, and sound are very much their own…it took them years to fine tune it, but one of the most powerful things about Little Big Town is that they have a very specific, believable identity as artists.
Finding our voice, both literally and figuratively is one of the most important works we do in the course of our life. And finding your “style” is a similar process. To be honest, while I love fashion and love beautiful things, I’m far more interested in the heart wearing the clothes (and the story that heart has to tell) than I am the items themselves. To me that is the difference between vanity and beauty. And the difference between materialism and style. The person, the heart, the body, the wholeness of the being in the clothes and makeup, is ALWAYS more interesting than the trappings.
But it is wonderful that you can display an outward reflection of who you believe you are. This is particularly important if you are a creator. You must be something. And you must be something rather specific. And you must stick with it. Your fans and customers and champions will be confused if you don’t know who you are, and aren’t continually driving home that identity in your brand.
I had an interesting meeting in February of this year that the record label set up for me with someone who is an expert in social branding, particularly with youtube talent. She told me that I got to pick three words. THREE WORDS. Three words to describe myself, and that everything I put out in the social media realm had to be filtered through those three words….if doesn’t didn’t fit, I couldn’t post it.
Now, as a woman, I was simultaneously intrigued and turned off by this assignment. I’m a WOMAN, I’m FREAKING COMPLICATED. I CHANGE MY MIND A LOT, and I LIKE IT THAT WAY. However, while I don’t think you personally, (or myself personally) should be limited to three adjectives, I understand the exercise. Think about successful brands, artists, songwriters, products. I bet we would all describe certain brands the same way—and that’s intentional on the part of the brand managers.
So try it for yourself, what is your personal style, what is your personal brand. And if you’re an artist, then your brand and your person are pretty interconnected, so you need to look like your brand, and you need to be your brand. It’s a good exercise.
Another tweak on this experiment is to think about what three words best describe you, and also what three words do you WISH described you (or your brand?) What can you change, what can you do so that your those three words could become reality? And give yourself some grace. If you’re 23, you don’t need to know exactly who you’re gonna be at 33, but it’s not a bad idea to be focused on who you would like to be, and what goals you want to achieve by the time you’re say, 25. You don’t have to be looking way off in the future…just look a few years ahead.
I wanted to share couple quotes I love:
Real style is never right or wrong. It’s a matter of being yourself on purpose.” -G.Bruce Boyer
Yourself on purpose!! How good is that?
Fashion is about dressing according to what’s fashionable. Style is more about being yourself. -Oscar De La Renta
SO these quotes are about technically style, but I think they’re also applicable to more than just the fashion world.
For a lot of my life, I wanted to please people. I wanted the affirmation of my family and my community. And because of my story (upbringing) I was particularly afraid to push any buttons. Because I learned at an early age, that can be dangerous. People might get mad. They might hurt you.
But I’m here to tell you, as an adult….push buttons. If they’re your buttons, PUSH THEM.
Early on this was really hard for me because I had a lot of people telling me what kind of music I “should” be making and what I “should” sound like. (I’ve since tried to throw “should” in the garbage can.) It wasn’t until I started experimenting with my sound, and trying to make music that actually pleased ME, that I started getting any traction. And by no means do I think I’ve “arrived” but I can tell you that the more I’m able to lead my team, and connect to fans with my own specific voice, they more naturally they want to follow (and empower) where I’m going.
The more you are trying to please other people, the less you are being yourself. The art of being yourself comes more naturally to some than to others, but you can work at it. Develop your sense of self like you would any other skill. What is it that you do that no one else does? It might be very subtle or minute. That’s OK. Amy Winehouse was not the best singer in the world, but she ABSOLUTELY was the best, retro, truth telling bad-girl, soul singer. Luke Bryan is not THE BEST SINGER in the whole world, but he is without question the best fun-loving, self-deprecating, sincere-smiling, booty-shaking, tailgate-sitting entertainer that Country has ever seen. (This is to take nothing away from the singing of either of these folks…in fact, I tend to think that LUKE is rather under appreciated as a singer, cause in person, dude can really sing.) Adele is
NOT THE BEST SINGER, OK Adele is probably just the plain old best singer in the world…but you get my drift. Whatever the hell you ARE. DO that, and do it better than anyone else.
Don’t obsess over criticism from others. (THIS IS SO HARD, but just don’t.) If you are being yourself, some people will ABSOLUTELY not like it. Not everybody, but some people. THAT’S ACTUALLY THE WHOLE POINT. If you’re completely “likable” to everyone, chances are no one actually LOVES you. Which means they may not turn your song off if they’re listening on the radio, but they’re not gonna spend 99 cents on it. And they’re not gonna buy tickets to your show. Don’t be afraid to be a little divisive. And this really does apply to whatever your passion is.
While I was out with Little Big Town a few weeks ago I was thinking about this a lot. While the individuals in the band are super-well respected (probably the only people in town I’ve never heard anyone speak ill of,) their music is a divisive. That’s on purpose. Pontoon, their hit from 2012, was a MAJOR risk. If anyone tells you they KNEW this song would work, they’re lying. It was DIFFERENT, it was very very risky. It was bold. And it really paid off. And the band has a real identity. You know what a Little Big Town song sounds like. You know what the band looks like. They do not blend in with the rest of the country world, and my guess is that is completely intentional—not contrived—but intentional. And there’s a difference. Because it’s believable.
So be encouraged. If you’re an aspiring singer-songwriter, designer, small business owner, student, WHATEVER, be inspired to develop a greater sense of yourself. People will want to come with you. The more you know who you are, the more they will want to follow you, and be a part of what you’re doing.