By Bill McMahon
The Authentic Personality
EAGLE, Idaho — I’ve been coaching radio personalities and studying gifted artists for over 25 years. I’ve been privileged to work with some remarkable performers like Kidd Kraddick, Jeff of Jeff and Jer, Rush Limbaugh, and Dr. Laura. I’ve observed successful songwriters, authors, screenwriters, and creators of TV shows. I’ve learned a lot about where great artists get their inspiration and how they create.
I’ve discovered successful artists across the media spectrum — those who’ve created hit songs, blockbuster movies, best selling books, top-rated TV shows, and the most listened to radio shows — are guided by a common force I’ve come to call “The Artist’s Secret.” It has three elements.
- Instinctive Reactions. The source of their ideas. The inspiration for what they create comes from inside. It begins with the artist’s instinctive reactions to what they experience in their own lives — spontaneous, raw, uncensored thoughts and feelings triggered by what they see, hear, taste, touch, or smell.
- Audience of One. Everything these artists create is designed to appeal to and satisfy an audience of one — themselves. It’s all about what makes them laugh or cry, marvel and understand. They create stuff that they truly enjoy, stuff that turns them on and rings their emotional bell.
- “I Matter.” The artist’s belief that their thoughts and feelings matter. The belief that creating stuff that reflects how they think and feel matters and can make a difference in the lives of others. These beliefs fuel the courage and passion to create and provide the creative juice that produces original ideas. They also supply performance energy, enthusiasm, and excitement.
I’ve collected many examples over the years to illustrate how “The Artist’s Secret” has influenced extraordinary artists and their works. Here are three of my favorites. As you read these stories, look for the Instinctive Reactions, the Audience of One, and “I Matter.”
We all know by now that Mel has battled addiction and obsessive behavior most of his life. What you might not know is that he is a devout Catholic Christian. When Mel was 34 or 35 he arrived at one of many difficult turning points in his life, struggling to live this faith. It inspired him to create the blockbuster movie “The Passion of the Christ.” Here’s how he described the process in an interview conducted two weeks before the movie was released.
“Every seven years you change pretty profoundly. I wondered, what’s my life about? I started looking into things that I had knowledge of, but really hadn’t fully explored. I read all the Gospels, read the New Testament, read the Old Testament. I started to go through all that just trying to maintain myself. I would imagine what was that like, really? You’re talking about the single event that probably influenced civilization as we know it now. It’s created our laws, behavior, and the knowledge of good and evil. It’s influenced art and literature. It’s affected every possible aspect of anyone’s life, whether they know it or not, it has. This is big stuff you’re dealing with. It’s absolutely everything. I don’t think it’s ever been told as it should be. It suffers in accuracy, accuracy as far as the Gospels go, accuracy as far as the extent of the sacrifice and the torture involved. Make no mistake about it, this (movie) is graphic and my aim is to profoundly change people with it. I know it’s not gonna be everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s the way I want to present it. It speaks to me that way and that’s all I know. My hope is that anyone who goes in and can manage to stay through it and can suffer through with it, that they are changed when they leave.”
Mel was experiencing a “profound” change in his life, “just trying to maintain myself”. The Instinctive Reactions started to flow. He began to wonder, “What’s my life about?” Searching for answers he read the Gospels, the New Testament, the Old Testament. The descriptions of Christ’s suffering and death generated strong thoughts and feelings. “What was that like, really? You’re talking about the single event that probably influenced civilization as we know it… It’s created our laws, behavior, and the knowledge of good and evil… It’s absolutely everything… I don’t think it’s ever been told as it should be. It suffers in accuracy, accuracy as far as the Gospels go, accuracy as far as the extent of the sacrifice and the torture involved.” Then he began to create a movie for an Audience of One. A movie that reveals what Mel learned from this time in his life because of a belief that “I Matter” — a belief that his thoughts and feelings can make a difference in the lives of others. “Make no mistake about it, this (movie) is graphic and my aim is to profoundly change people with it. I know it’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s the way I want to present it. It speaks to me that way and that’s all I know.”
John is chief creative officer of Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios and DisneyToon Studios. He’s is the principal creative advisor to Walt Disney Imagineering. Many consider him the present-day Walt Disney. John is the creative force behind the growth and unparalleled success of Pixar. He’s also the creator of “Cars” the movie. Here’s how he describes his creative process on the “Cars” DVD.
“Cars is a very personal story to me. Not only is it inspired by my love of cars, not only is it inspired by my dad, who is a parts manager at a Chevrolet dealership, but it’s inspired by something that happened to me in my life. I directed ‘Toy Story,’ ‘A Bug’s Life,’ and ‘Toy Story 2.’ By the time I was done with ‘Toy Story 2,’ it was 1999. Nine years had passed. We had had four boys and my wife said, ‘John, we’ve supported you in making all these films and the building of Pixar and all like that, but you better be careful because one day you’re gonna wake up and your boys are going off to college and you will have missed it.’ So, I took the summer off. My wife and I bought a used motorhome. I wanted to stay off the interstate highway system and travel America. And you know what happened, we got so close as a family. It changed my life. I came back knowing what I wanted this movie to be about is a character discovering what I discovered — that the journey in life is the reward. I started thinking and all of a sudden the story just started coming out. It’s got to be about a race car. I imagined this being the personality of a character — it’s like nothing else matters but achieving it as fast as you can. Winning. Getting that championship. I thought this is the perfect character to all of a sudden be forced to slow down. That’s what this character needs to discover. And so we started taking and merging the two worlds of the automobile that we loved so much — racing and Route 66. We all discovered something we weren’t expecting. You know, it’s just like life. You start down the path not knowing where it’s going to lead you, but you enjoy the ride.”
Did you recognize the elements of “The Artist’s Secret” in John Lasseter’s story? They’re all there. Instinctive Reactions to a life experience. “My wife said, ‘John we’ve supported you in making all these films and in the building of Pixar and all like that, but you better be careful because one day you’re gonna wake up and your boys are going off to college and you will have missed it’. So, I took the summer off. My wife and I bought a used motorhome. I wanted to stay off the interstate highway system and travel America. And you know what happened, we got so close as a family. It changed my life.” Audience of One and “I Matter.” “I came back knowing what I wanted this movie to be about is a character discovering what I discovered — that the journey in life is the reward… It’s got to be about a race car. I imagined this being the personality of a character — it’s like nothing else matters but achieving it as fast as you can. Winning. Getting that championship. I thought this is the perfect character to all of a sudden be forced to slow down. That’s what this character needs to discover.”
If you want to experience and truly understand “The Artist’s Secret” get the “Cars” DVD and watch the “Inspiration for Cars.” It’s amazing and powerful.
Howard is widely known to have more than a passing interest in sex. Some years ago, actor Mickey Rooney was on the interview circuit. I don’t remember why, probably a book or movie promotional tour. Howard wasn’t interested in the book, movie or whatever. He wasn’t concerned that most of his audience would not know Mickey Rooney. Howard creates his show for an Audience of One with a belief that “I Matter.” Somehow he learned Mickey had slept with many gorgeous starlets of his time. Howard’s Instinctive Reaction to this revelation, “How did that ugly little runt seduce all those gorgeous women?” Howard had to find out for himself. He invited Mickey to come on the show. There was an obligatory reference to the movie or book at the end of the interview, but the vast majority of the conversation was devoted to finding out how that “ugly little runt” made it with women Howard couldn’t imagine being with. It was extraordinary guy radio whether you knew Mickey Rooney or not.
Radio personalities who embrace “The Artist’s Secret” distinguish themselves from everyone else on the radio
When they start to notice and record their Instinctive Reactions to all their personal life experiences the magic begins. An abundance of original ideas that reflect the full range of human emotion comes into view.
Fearlessly creating and presenting content for an Audience of One — the stuff that turns them on, the stuff that rings their emotional bell — gives them the best chance to relate to their listeners. Human beings share the same set of emotions no matter what their status in life. We all feel love and hate, fear and anxiety, joy and sadness. Emotion is the universal human connector.
When radio personalities come to believe, “I Matter,” they become originals like Mel Gibson, John Lasseter, and Howard Stern. They acquire the courage and unlock the passion to create fresh and new ideas that reflect their own thoughts and feelings. Their performance energy, enthusiasm and excitement seemingly have no bounds. They establish an emotional connection and bond with their listeners that is nearly impossible to break. They become the best they can be.
Bill McMahon, CEO of The Authentic Personality, is a longtime talk radio station and talent consultant who has played a role in the development of the careers of many leading hosts over the past three decades. He can be phoned at 208-887-5670 or emailed at Bill@AuthenticPersonality.biz.