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Finding and Developing Your “Wow” Factor

This article has been adapted from a post I wrote for The Developing Artist. It’s my opinion that in some way, as indie musicians, we all have a “wow” factor–that element to our art that makes us unique, that makes us stand out. In a growing pool of competition, we need to discover this “wow” factor and strengthen it, now more than ever. Enjoy!

There’s a sort of intangible “something” that we look for in musicians–that thing that gives them their “star quality.” Some folks call it the “X-Factor” (from which the now-struggling Simon Cowell brainchild talent show takes its name); I sometimes refer to it as the “oomph.” For our purposes, I’m calling this the “wow” factor.

While in recent years the indie/DIY music scene has really taken off, there are a couple of potentially negative dynamics involved with it. While it’s really cool that pretty much ANYONE can put their music out there, the drawbacks are two-fold:

  1. There’s a vast amount of music out there for public consumption–more than anyone could ever listen to; and
  2. A lot of that music is mediocre at best, and just plain crap at worst.

While the music industry institutions no longer dictate what music is available to the public, the other side of that coin is that do-it-yourselfers often have little or no coaching, no voice in their life to help them polish their songwriting, or their musicianship, or their image. They just do what they do and put it out there, and all too often, it’s just not that good. But be that as it may, they are still putting out a product, and that product adds to an already over-saturated market, making it that much more difficult for bands/artists who are really good to be heard over the noise.

This is why you need a “wow” factor–something that makes you stand out. Something that grabs people’s attention in a good way, and makes them say, “Wow.”

The good news is, you probably already possess this “wow” factor in some way, or at least have the potential to develop it. You just need to figure out what separates you from the throng, and work on ways to make that aspect of your music stand out even further. While this will look different for every musical artist (and so it should), here are some general ideas to help you look for the “wow” factor in your act.

  • Become very, very good at what you do. As an indie musician, your number one obstacle to being heard is simply the abundance of mediocrity out there on the market. That’s not an easy obstacle to overcome, but it starts by producing something better than your competition. This is why, above all else, you’ll find me repeating the mantra over and over: be an artist FIRST. Hone your skills so that it becomes easy for any audience to recognize the excellence in your music. If necessary, get some more music lessons, or hire a vocal coach. Don’t settle. Make it your aim to be the cure for mediocrity, and you’ll be well on your way to standing out from it.
  • Identify and develop your best qualities. There is something about your music and your gift that is different than anyone else. Find it, and work on it. What is the best thing about what you do? Is it your voice, your songwriting? Perhaps there’s a certain inflection in the way you sing a phrase that is different than what you hear in other people. It will be different for everyone, but find that element (or those elements) in your music that naturally make you different, and work on making those aspects shine.
  • Surround yourself with honest people. We all need encouragement, but we also need people who will tell us the truth, with the intention of helping us improve. You have weak spots, and if left unaddressed, those weak spots will stop you from becoming all you can be as an artist. I’m not talking about surrounding yourself with nay-sayers–that’s a different issue entirely. I’m talking about having people in your life who can tell you what you’re doing wrong, and help you to do them right. The absence of constructive criticism is the fast track to mediocrity. Avoid that path. Get over your hurt feelings, and embrace constructive criticism. There are people who can be both honest AND encouraging, and you’ll find that these people are your greatest assets.
  • Don’t take shortcuts; avoid gimmicks and cheap attention-grabbers. The “wow” factor isn’t about hype; it’s something that occurs naturally within your gifts, something that carries its own weight and will carry you for a long time. By contrast, finding some sort of gimmick to get attention might work for awhile, but eventually the public will see the shallowness of it and move on. The use of gimmicks is one of the quickest ways to become an also-ran. The way I figure it, a long, productive career at the bottom of the charts is better than a short career at the top. Whatever your “wow” factor is, it will be able to generate its own interest without the help of gimmicks. Don’t be afraid to self-promote, but always make sure there is substance behind your style.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when looking for the “wow” factor in your act is that whatever it is, you already have it. It isn’t something foreign to you, or something you don’t have that you need to acquire; it’s something that you already possess that just needs to be nurtured and developed. That’s why it never works to try and copy someone else–their “wow” factor isn’t going to work for you. Find what you have that makes you unique, polish it, and make it shine. That’s ultimately what will help you stand out from the mediocrity around you.

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About the Author


Jeff McQ is a songwriter/composer/musician with a diverse resume that includes everything from directing music in church to scoring short films. In addition to his role as chief editor for Music Is My Oxygen (and writing our DIY Musician Channel), Jeff also covers the local music scene for Examiner.com in his hometown of Denver, Colorado, and maintains The Developing Artist [http://artistdevelopmentblog.com], a blog dedicated to offering advice and encouragement to indie musicians.

When he's not tinkering in his home studio or blogging for hours on his laptop at the local coffee shop (to the annoyance of the baristas), Jeff McQ enjoys taking in local shows, going on road trips, wandering aimlessly, and talking to himself.

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