Storytelling Lessons from Singer Songwriter Anna Pancaldi
She’s one of the most exciting singer-songwriters of her generation – and a superb live performer – Anna Pancaldi shares songs, stories and insights on creativity and entrepreneurship on The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast
August 9, 2018
When is an episode of a marketing podcast far more than an episode of a marketing podcast? When it’s also a live performance by one of the most exciting singer-songwriters of her generation – and one of the smartest minds you’ll find in music, creativity and marketing. Step forward Anna Pancaldi, the perfect opening act for Season Seven of The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast.
I first discovered Anna when I saw her opening for the band Hooverphonic – and there was just no ignoring her voice: spectacularly soulful and powerful, and paired with songs that strike a real emotional chord. The more tracks of hers that I listened to, the more impressed I became – but there’s a lot more that’s impressive about Anna as well. She’s a creative artist who’s also an entrepreneur, a storyteller who’s made herself an expert in marketing, and someone who’s overcome stage-fright to make her increasingly confident way in what is an increasingly complex industry.
When Anna agreed to appear as a guest on The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast, I wanted to do something more than just record our interview. I wanted to give people a taste of why she’s such a powerful creative force as well. We set up one of our meeting rooms as a venue, invited LinkedIn colleagues to make up the audience, organised our film crew and recorded an exclusive live, unplugged performance. It’s a double first for our podcast: our first video episode, and our first exclusive concert.
Anna performed four tracks as part of our conversation, sharing the stories behind each one, and how they’ve related to different stages in her rise towards the top of the music industry. The result is an unplugged performance with a difference: musical inspiration that’s balanced with insights about unlocking creativity, overcoming writer’s block, finding different ways to tell stories, and staying agile and responsive to opportunities on different platforms.
Scroll down to watch Anna perform four tracks live, hear her explain the story behind each, and explore how that relates to the creative process. You can watch the entire episode in full at the end of this post, or listen to the audio-only podcast on the player link below:
The Insight: One experience can provide many different stories – depending on the perspective you write it from
Runaway is one of Anna’s standout tracks: it wears its emotion on the surface and hints strongly at deeper-lying stories that are never quite revealed. Talking through the origins of the song on-stage shed light on one of the aspects of storytelling that marketers often struggle with: the crucial difference between a story and a narrative.
Anna explained how many of her songs relate back to the same hugely important life event – but that all of those songs are different stories because they look at that event from different perspectives. That’s a hugely important aspect of storytelling, and it comes down to empathy: understanding that the same sequence of events and facts can represent very different stories to different people. Businesses are often guilty of assuming they have just one story to tell when, in reality, they have as many stories to tell as the different types of people with perspectives on them.
It’s great hearing Anna talk about the message behind this song. It’s not just about being your or feeling young, but about the most important characteristics that come with that territory: confidence, openness to opportunity, a willingness to take risks, to evolve and to learn. It comes down to embracing the need for agility: as an artist, as a marketer and as a professional. And of course, that’s not a mindset that we can afford to be age-limited.
The best example that Anna gives of this is the soundtrack that she created early in her career for the Live in Levi’s campaign. This is a great story of serendipity meets agility. Friends she made through her part-time work nannying told her about the opportunity to audition for a part in the ad, travelling around four countries in five days filming spectacular experiences of life in Europe. Then, with filming completed, she realised the brand was looking for a soundtrack for the campaign as well. Anna finished her nannying shift for the day, jumped on a train to her recording studio, stayed there all evening writing and recording a track and then made the last train home. Levi’s snapped up the song () and Anna had a crucial calling card to establish her credibility as a singer-songwriter.
What strikes me about this story is energy and dynamism that comes from embracing difficult opportunities in exacting timeframes. Creative agility is becoming a hugely powerful asset, it’s one that’s worth any marketer or marketing organisation cultivating, and it’s definitely available to you at any age and stage of your career.
This is a track that should speak to anybody who’s ever suffered from a crisis of confidence in their career. It’s Anna talking herself through a period of writer’s block – and it reflects the highs and lows of seeking to establish herself in an incredibly tough and relentlessly competitive industry. It’s a story that content marketers can certainly relate to, and I believe we can find some inspiration from Anna’s methods of dealing with the challenges as well.
Being creative on demand can be a big challenge, particularly when the timeframes of those demands keep intensifying. It’s been a common theme that I’ve seen emerging amongst content marketing bloggers over recent years: a fear that the pressure will drain them of their mojo, lead to them prioritising hitting deadlines over quality, and starting to churn out commoditised, generic work as a result. Under such pressure, it’s absolutely vital to have processes and structure that you can fall back on – but also to be able to balance this with an openness to new ideas. It’s also hugely important to find a way to maintain creative confidence under pressure. Wasting time and energy questioning yourself really doesn’t help.
Talking about these issues provided some of the most insightful moments in my on-stage discussion with Anna. She spoke about the dangers of trying to please everyone equally when writing – and about the need to insulate yourself from these pressures in order to provide some space for creativity. She spoke about the value of creative tools (rhyming dictionaries in bags, or rhymezone.com for songwriters) but also about the importance of using these as random triggers for inspiration rather than being slavishly led by them. Perhaps most interestingly, she spoke about the importance of actively seeking out inspiration from others’ work when you find yourself at a creative impasse. Anna calls this “feeding her music intelligence.” It’s not a case of finding something to copy – more a case of sampling alternative creative approaches to challenge the way you’re going about things. I do this myself all the time: film, photography, different music genres, cover art. It’s a great reminder that if the way you’ve always done things is struggling to deliver under pressure, there are always alternatives you can have fun experimenting with.
This song speaks to the magic of the emotional connection that comes through performing music, and that’s hugely important to Anna. We spoke about her rapidly growing reputation as a live act, and the importance of authenticity to her performances: ensuring that the songs you write and perform are songs you personally believe in, rather than tracks that you ran out to fit a record industry formula. However, we also spoke about live performance being just one of the many platforms that a singer-songwriter must work across in today’s music industry.
Anna believes in the continuing importance of video in introducing her music to new audiences, beyond those getting to hear her live at gigs. Anna talks about video as a sharing opportunity, and when she creates content for that platform, she’s designing it with that objective in mind.
What’s particularly interesting is the amount of work that she’s put into crafting a personal brand through video – practising how she comes across, getting used to a style that might feel different and awkward at first. It’s a great example of the commitment that’s required to master different platforms – but also the value that you get from doing so.
Perhaps my favourite example of Anna’s cross-platform branding though, is her line of Gin: elderflower-infused, and named Joe’s Gin after her brother. It shows her interest in the entrepreneurial side of the music business, and taking as creative and unique an approach to merchandising as she does to music itself. She could have settled for a line of T-shirts and hats but she saw the opportunity to create something altogether more authentic to her story, and more differentiated as a result.
From talking to Anna, it’s clear that she’s come a long way from a 12-year-old writing her first songs and dreaming simply of singing, to a savvy, agile artist who’s able to embrace and manage the commercial side of her business while never allowing it to stifle her creativity. Like all musicians successfully making their way in this digital age, she has to be a marketer at heart – and that’s why she’s such a valuable source of inspiration to any marketer out there.
Watch Anna’s appearance on the podcast in full: