Local Artists Share the Keys to Finding Your Authentic Image and Audience

WILMINGTON, NC — Let’s be honest, there was a moment when your music dreams woke up to a harsh reality. You formed the band, you held rehearsals, you invested in some expensive equipment, and in time- finally- the sound started coming together. It’s time to go public and showcase your talents throughout the town.

 That’s typically when you learn the lesson that slaps the face of so many creative people. To make it as a local performer sometimes knowing the music is less important than knowing how to market yourself. Wednesday night, we got a peek behind the curtain with some of the people you might see on stage at local venues around town.
The Painter and the Poet and Voice and The Pen, a songwriter series which showcases local musicians, held its first Creative Career Workshop to discuss branding and finding your audience. Performer Delia Stanley served as the emcee for the discussion.
It was an eye-opening, nearly two-hour discussion of the many, many things artists need to consider.  Let’s just say it’s more than simply tuning their guitar and letting it rip.
A seemingly innocent-sounding question of how to describe your music can prove to be complicated.
Rebekah Todd, who has been performing for nearly two decades now, says her biography credits her music as “cosmic soul rock.”

“Even I’m like, what does that mean?” Rebekah Todd joked. “It’s hard to summarize basically your whole life into five words, which is what the industry wants.  They want it specifically on the streaming platforms.”

Todd joined Mlk Jacobs, the poet and a force behind The Painter & The Poet, Emily Burdette, a local performer and one of the founders of Voice and The Pen, and Brian Vasquez, guitarist with Escape Velocity, a progressive instrumental band, to discuss branding and finding your authentic audience.  It was the first session of a series called “The Creative Career Workshop,” which is working to bring local performers together to share best practices and inspire creativity.

The artists not only discussed the inspiration behind the description of their music, but also the fonts, the logo design and even the choice of venue to perform their music.

Authenticity was a key topic of the Wednesday evening discussion.  Vasquez says at the beginning, his band, which has been performing together for about six years now, took an approach of figuratively throwing a dart at the board and seeing if it stuck.  The trial and error eventually paid off.

“It gets infectious, people start moving around and drinks get spilled,” Brian Vasquez said.

Mlk Jacobs, who moved to the area about two and a half years ago, added that consistency is a key to building an audience.  Jacobs added you have to stay true to yourself along the way and being real with people helps connect you with the audience that best serves you.

“We change the N to an M. We don’t have fans. We have fam,” Mlk Jacobs said when discussing the approach at his venue.

But being true to yourself comes at a cost.  Vasquez mentioned that he’ll hang out after shows at the merchandise table to talk with fans.  He says sometimes fans can come on strong, so it’s important to have boundaries.

Todd noted earlier in her career it was more of a challenge to be authentic.

“The sexier you dress, the higher slot you get,” Todd said in describing an industry axiom. Todd says she has moved to a point in her career where she doesn’t want to wear the stiletto heels on wooden stages.

Todd described a recent incident in which she stood up for herself after feeling uncomfortable about a booking and backed away.  She said the backlash did lose her some social media following, but she gained 400 new followers in three days “for being my authentic self.”

“It’s creating space for me to be who I want to be,” Todd noted.

Continuing that authenticity for art, Emily Burdette started Voice and The Pen with Jarrett Raymond two years ago to give local artists a showcase for their work. Burdette now hosts with CB Johnson.  She says the aim was to create an intimate listening room experience.

“It drew a lot of creative people and real music lovers. Not JUST the people who want to hear (the famous Lynyrd Skynyrd song and frequent cover tune) Free Bird,” joked Emily Burdette.

Burdette did say in the next breath that she does not shy away from covers though, as she knows people connect with music on different levels.

“If someone wants to hear that song, I am here to entertain you,” Burdette said.

Toward the end of the night, each panelist was asked to describe their definition of success and it produced some fantastic advice, not just for performers.

Todd mentioned she’s achieved many goals she had at the beginning of her career, but even when you see that success, you still have the same potential issues.  She encouraged people to embrace the whole journey, including time away from the creative process.

“Look at the break as its own odyssey,” Todd said.

“Don’t give up. There are times you think maybe I should stop doing this.  Do what you think is authentic to you,” Burdette said.  “Success is growth as an artist, but also a person.”


You can watch the full workshop on Facebook Live right now on the Voice and The Pen page.  Here’s a link.

The next workshop is scheduled for October 25th from 7pm to 9pm at The Painter and The Poet and will focus on developing business relationships.  It’s running low on available tickets at the time of the publication of this article, but you can learn more here.  Upcoming discussions in following months will include gear selection and social media/marketing.

If you want to catch some “cosmic soul rock,” Urban Soil and Rebekah Todd will be performing at The Palm Room on Saturday, September 30th at 10pm.

Todd also mentioned she’s working on a retreat for women in Raleigh in late October.  You can learn more about that here.

Escape Velocity will be part of the upcoming Port City Blitz at Reggie’s 42nd Street Tavern on November 3rd and 4th.  More details here.

The next Voice and the Pen show is October 4th at Live at Ted’s featuring Nick Vernon.

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