Artist or Founder? Are You Telling The Right Narrative To Earn an Audience? by Kahlil Ashanti

What do artists and start-up founders have in common? There is one rather indiscriminate fact that ties them together: the constant fight for audience attention. If you don't have an audience, you don't have sells, reputation, or legitimacy. 

This blog post was written by startup founder Kahlil Ashanti of Vancouver.  


Call them customers, clients, followers, fans, the label changes but the underlying meaning doesn't change.

Artists and Start-up Founders are creative souls who are hoping to attract an audience in hopes that this audience will choose their endeavor above all others.

For artists, this happens in auditions. Please pick me for the role, or please come see my show/film.

For founders it happens in boardrooms - pitching situations. Please fund my company, or please use my product.


We all want an audience, but are we telling a unique story to engage that audience?


Remember when the only way to get people's attention was commercials?  If you didn't see it on TV, it didn't exist.  TV commercials, magazines, newspapers or radio ads were the only way to get the word out about your product/invention/show, and creating these commercials or ads was too expensive for the average person, so it created a false hierarchy in the minds and emotions of the consumer. 'If it's on TV, it must be legit'. Even if it's crap.

Then came the internet, which opened up an avenue of communication that grew at unprecedented levels, and it started to spread audience attention thin. All of a sudden a computer wasn't just for word processing, and the audience had the power to make or break brands based on a new currency: Attention.

Social media took hold, the hierarchy crumbled and all of a sudden, everybody on the internet was a walking commercial, with the ability to reach an endless number of people, in most cases, for free. Or, as I like to put it, if you have a Facebook profile or an email address, you have a one person show. 

In the span of 20 years people went from being marginally distracted to being way too distracted and making choices not based on advertising, but based on common ground and recommendations.

What do artists and start-up founders need to focus on to gain the attention of a distracted and indifferent audience?

Two words: 'me too'.

I believe that when we go online, we are searching for a piece of ourselves in every click. Who shares my interests? Who is eating what I like to eat? Who has been somewhere I want to go? Who has been through what I've been through? 

People connect with the person, not the idea.

We are wired for connection at a molecular level. We go through life collecting experiences, going through the good, the bad and the in-between so that we can share these stories with others. But when the opportunity comes to share our story with the world, we sometimes retreat into 'bullshit bingo' mode and start trying to make our story sound like everybody else's. 

Your story can be reflected in what you do, not just what you say. Artists get their teeth bleached, or wear tight clothing, or wear 'the right clothing'. Founders spend way too much time becoming the next _______ instead of being the first __________. With each minor adjustment, our story is diluted and we become a clone of everything and everybody else.

Life experiences: the failures, the struggles, the triumphs, the shame and the silliness, are our story. It is the only thing separating us from the competition. Introducing these elements into our creative endeavors be it coding or performance is the only way to create the 'me too' moments in the minds and hearts of the most distracted audience ever. Will everyone say 'me too'? Nope. We don't want them too. Not everybody drives the same car. Nobody eats at the same restaurant. But they know what they're getting when they choose. Why? Me too. 

Sometimes 'Me Too' is controversial, like Half a billion hits and counting. 

Everybody isn't your audience. Just the ones who say 'me too'.

When you allow your story to become inseparable from your product or talent, you create an invitation for people to relate to you on an emotional level. And emotion creates relationship, which leads to conversation. Conversations welcome awareness, and others are invited. This is the real meaning behind social media. Using the Twitter/Facebook version of social media is the dunk, not the dribble. I'm not knocking it, it clearly has some value. But having thousands of followers means very little if you have nothing significant to say. Create the 'me too' conversation and your audience will spread the word for you.


A basic building block of storytelling is the 'why do I care' moment. The inciting incident.  Why do we care?

Before you introduce us to the next big thing, before you go to that next audition, start with your story. Where's the 'me too'? The root of the word audience is 'audire', which means 'to listen'. No sales pitch. No buzz words. Just you and your story. 

Artist or founder, doesn't matter. The world is listening. What will you say?

Who is Kahlil Ashanti?  

Kahlil Ashanti (Entrepreneur, Actor, Producer, Writer) thinks that dogs should never be better dressed than people.  He is best known for his critically acclaimed solo show, Basic Training. His multi-lingual work in theatre has earned him several awards including The GreyFriars Bobby Award, Scotsman Fringe First Award, NY Times Critics Pick and a Broadway Drama League nomination for Distinguished Performance. Basic Training has been optioned for television development by Barry Josephson (Bones, Enchanted, Men In Black) and Lowell Mate (Everybody Loves Raymond, Roseanne) and will be green-lit as a series this summer. Recently selected for Cirque Du Soleil as a character actor, Kahlil is constantly searching for opportunities to be a part of life giving projects that are bigger than all of us, and is one of the co-creators behind PostSecret: Unheard Voices, the first blog to be successfully adapted to an interactive Theatre 2.0 worldwide touring live experience.  As co-founder of seed funded, he finds himself knee deep in the tech world, excited to help fellow entrepreneurs who wanted to tell their stories in compelling ways. Please be advised that Kahlil barbecues with charcoal, not propane.  Twitter: @kahlilashanti