Musician John Mayer gave a talk at Berklee College of Music where he asked students a simple question: “Do you want people to listen to your music?”
“If you do,” he went on, “that means there are certain rules, like no song is longer than 4 minutes. You can write 10-minute songs and talk about how people don’t understand you, but you can’t complain that no one listens to your songs. Of course they don’t, it’s ten minutes long.”
This advice is applicable beyond music. People often try to compensate for their own insecurities by pretending other people don’t “get it” when they release something that doesn’t go as well as they hoped.
They say, “Oh, well if you were smart enough then you would understand this article/book/song/product I released.”
“Oh, if you had better taste, you would like this thing I made.”
And, sometimes, this is a fair thing to say. Everyone should have their own standards and be willing to hold to them. Trying to make something for everyone does deteriorate the quality. I tend to notice this on Twitter in particular where most accounts that rapidly gain followers do so by catering to the lowest common denominator and posting really simplistic, naive views.
However, there’s a balance. In many cases this attitude is counterproductive and a way of hiding. Instead of admitting to yourself that you care whether other people consume your work, you simply hide behind your “superior” taste. Nothing is for everyone, but most people want to make something for someone. Technologist Kevin Kelly has proposed that the right number is 1000 True Fans. It’s different for everyone but the number is something greater than no one and less than everyone.
One important part of getting people to consume is a certain form factor. Every medium has a certain form factor that people are used to.
For pop songs, that means the song is no longer than 4 minutes.
For books, it probably means you can read it linearly and it’s no longer than 80k words.
For podcasts, it probably means less than 2 hours.
Whatever you’re making, there is probably some form factor people are used to. You can make tweaks to it to differentiate, but if you try something totally different then your odds of getting a critical mass, go down markedly. Maybe that’s ok, but if you’re trying a radically different form factor, it’s your fault, not the audience.
People are used to reading a book sitting in their living room with a coffee, if your book is a web book with 40 different links then fewer people will use it. Basically, everything I wrote in my book The End of Jobs was posted on my site for free. Yet 10x more people read the book than read those essays on my site. Why? Because people are more used to reading 60k word books than binging 60k words on a blog.
Copywriters like to talk about the advice to “enter the conversation going on in your prospect’s mind”. Just as important is to “enter the habit loop going on in your prospect’s life.”
People have times where they listen to podcast or music, read books and blogs, and if your content doesn’t fit into those times because it’s so different, then you aren’t going to go too far.
Of course, these aren’t hard rules. Bohemian Rhapsody is 6 minutes long and really weird and what would the world be without Bohemian Rhapsody?
I think Pablo Picasso summed it up best: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
Last Updated on February 22, 2021 by Taylor Pearson