My Own Personal Mt. Everest

Hugh MacLeod says “Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.” and I know what he’s talking about.

For about two decades now I’ve know that my greatest contributions to this world, apart from my personal love and service to those around me, would be my songs. And I’d say that for at least the last decade I’ve known that the Mt. Everest I need to climb is the one I create out of those songs, that I write, sing, and record. And that mountain is the catalog I build and will leave behind.

The mountains on my bookshelf are The Complete Beatles, Dylan Lyrics along with Leaves of Grass. But my medium is the Web, and my song page is where I collect my completeness.

I know that apart from loving and serving my people, the thing I gotta keep doing to keep my soul engaged, my heart alive, and brain on fire is add to that catalog as masterfully and urgently as possible. Especially now that I am a happy family man, well employed and content, it is imperative that I share my joy and not to lose that sense of urgency and craftsmanship.

Every time something interrupts my making music I am pulled off the path, and boredom and misery creep in when I am not writing songs. My job is to climb, and filter out all that does not help me further and faster up the mountain.

"Ignore Everybody" (except Hugh MacLeod)

Hugh MacLeod’s book on being creative and successful is full of frank advice. He never mentions a family but it feels like, having run the marathon of 26 years or so of adulthood trying to make it, and having made it, Hugh is scratching his fatherly itch to pass on what he’s learned.

He’s a cool, cussin’, self-appointed, tell-it-like-it-is dad to all the creative types out there who’ve  got a dream and want to quit their day job knowing that they’ll soon get discovered if they do. But with tough-love, MacLeod delivers the hard but clear advice: don’t quit your art, but don’t quit your day job either. “Getting discovered” isn’t a realistic plan.

I’m lucky to have had a “cast-a-cold-eye” mom who has always supported my art but never minced words about my needing a day job, a backup plan, so I recognize MacLeod’s advice as the tough love that I, thankfully, got. I wasn’t always thankful, but at 37, with a wife and a two-month-old baby and a great day-job, I sure am glad I had someone hammering me in my early, optimistic 20’s, about what else I was going to do but believe in my dream of being a rock-star.

When I arrived in Austin 15 years ago from DC to be the next Guthrie, Dylan, or at least Townes Van Zandt, I met most of my close, lasting friends at the Cactus Cafe’s open mic night. We were bound together by the same talent and dreams.

Many of those friends didn’t have a parent nagging them not to put all their eggs in one basket, and almost all of them have tried to make a living as a musician at one point or another. And they’ve all suffered the dream-crushing burnout that follows. Most are still in the game, but have had to come around to plan B later, when it’s much harder to start a new career or just find a good day-job.

So thank you mom, and thank you Hugh for taking the unpopular position with the wide-eyed dreamers that their dreams are not all they need. We need to hear that, though I’m not sure it’s possible till we’ve tasted enough of reality’s blows.

The book is broken up into 37 rules. Here are seven that stuck with this musician:

1. Ignore everybody.
3. Put the hours in.
7. Keep your day job.
9. Every body has their own pri vate Mount Eve rest they were put on this earth to climb.
22. Nobody cares. Do it for your self.
35. Savor obs cu rity while it lasts.
36. Start blog ging.

Somewhere along the way I modified my dream to what I call the “Willie Nelson model” which boils down to one principle: never quit doing your thing.

Tim Ferriss On Blogging

Tim Ferriss talks about blogging (50 mins). Here are my notes:

  1. he has used WordPress from the beginning, 3 yrs
  2. Why blog? Why do you do anything? To love, be loved, and never stop learning.
  3. not for income, for access to people and resources: authority equates to access to important people, events, etc.
  4. For the full list of 40 tips… Continue reading Tim Ferriss On Blogging

Our Tribes

I’ve been reading Tribes by Seth Godin, so I thought I’d try to state what our tribes are, plain and simple.

My wife Maile is leading the tribe of people who know that the right thing to do is to teach immigrants English at work.

I hope to help lead the tribe of artists and non-profits who want to use the Web to accomplish their missions, dreams. I’m a digital ambassador teaching anyone how to create a killer Web presence and connect effectively with their supporters.

How To Succeed Like Ramit Sethi

ramit-sethiI found Ramit’s book and blog, “I Will Teach You To Be Rich,” by reading Tim Ferriss’s book and blog, “The Four Hour Work Week.” As it turns out, they’re friends, and not just because they both have scammy sounding books and blogs.

They both seem to be perfecting the ‘work smarter, not harder’ mentality, tirelessly investing in their own smarts and values to play and win the game of creating and marketing content. They also both seem to really understand and utilize media, new and old, blog and book.  So when I found Mixergy the other day, I saw an interview with Ramit on blog marketing, checked it out, took a bunch of notes and got a bunch of good ideas.

  • started for friends, found no one would show up for money talks, so started a blog
  • blogged for years before getting recognized by WSJ
  • had routinely, tirelessly emailed the WSJ finance reporters about his blog, mentions, until they covered him
  • says, “tell the right people” — like if you post on saving money for a wedding, tell the wedding bloggers
  • methodical about writing (10-15 hrs a wk) and marketing (10 hrs a wk)
  • says read, “Never Eat Alone,” “Permission Marketing,” mentions, “The Paradox of Choice”
  • make friends with reporters, find out what they need, be a resource, add value to the relationship
  • says remind yourself until you don’t forget “Nobody cares about me” (you have to appeal to people)
  • on your blog -> engage, engage, engage
  • get people on your email list (it’s a different crowd that visits your blog)
  • on email list: split test your emails to determine what works, what people want
  • provide your email list with fresh content
  • identify hero visionaries (even outside of your field), work for them for free, and knock it out of the park
  • don’t monetize too quickly, value your long-term relationship with your people more and it’ll pay off more, longer
  • the real payoff from blogging is the doors it opens like speaking gigs, opportunities, etc.
  • everyone is a consumer, be a producer of great stuff

I am, by the way, only a few chapters into Ramit’s book, because I’m still automating my bills and savings, which are his first prescriptions at the end of ch. 1. It’s got lost of tactical advise on making money management easier.

What this all made me think and how I can apply it…

  • keep writing songs, posting, figuring out the new-media game and committing to being a producer of cool stuff
  • start getting to know (perhaps persistently, but politely bugging) music reporters, local (Chronicle, Austininst, etc) and bloggers. in addition to reminding them of what i’m doing, provide them with what they need whether it’s a pre-written story with a good angle as part of my press-kit, or to connect them with the news or content that i know-of and they might appreciate
  • when i post a song called “Bananas” look beyond music people to food people, kid people, etc. for cross posting
  • keep as disciplined as possible about both producing and posting stuff but also about doing the marketing stuff
  • don’t assume people care about what i’m doing…give them a reason and appeal to what i know they like
  • i’ve started by taking Amy Mitchell, Sarah Sharp, Austin Kleon out to lunch…don’t stop there. ask all kinds of local heros out for a drink, meal
  • make more videos, lo-fi is easy, and one of the easiest ways to draw people in
  • get my mailing list going with monthly updates and special info, put a sign-up form on my homepage
  • get the podcast going again too
  • i’m now collaborating with Sara Hickman…knock it out of the park…this is the best opportunity i’ve ever had. but keep thinking beyond to other visionaries i’d gladly help.
  • don’t worry about making money with the blog (though i do want to sell t-shirts and music directly), think about who i’d like it to connect me to and connect
  • and again…make cool stuff. don’t just be a consumer, produce value

Any other ideas out there?

2008

It’s now Feb. ’09, and I’m getting this year’s plan together for the jcouncil, so first thing to do is to take all of last year’s stuff and file it away, take a quick look back, and update the goal, strategy, and survey pages. I have posted last year’s pages below.

from the 2008 site:

About

With this site I will attempt to define my plan, gather feedback, and adapt. I spent the Fall researching and creating this plan. I owe a large part to the business strategies of three books: 1. The 4Hr Work Week by Tim Ferris 2. The Future of Music by David Kusek and 3. Making Money Making Music by Eric Beall. From these I took the following lessons.

  1. Focus on short-term goals and work ever smarter, not harder.
  2. The future of music is digital, where marketing and distribution are one.
  3. The best steady income, though slow to establish, is from licensing.
  4. Find your niche. The sharper the targeting, the more effective.

To keep the spirit of this site right, I refer to a quote from Making Music Make Money:

…the music business is such a constantly shifting landscape, with trends emerging and receding faster than any company can respond, that it may be best to keep your business plan fluid, with general strategies and flexible goals. If you want to put it down on paper, that’s great. But the important thing is to internalize your plan–so that you carry it in your head, constantly referring to is, reassessing and revising it as needed. – Eric Beall, Making Music Make Money p. 40

Thank you for looking through the site, and please take the survey when you’re done (tab-link at top).

Goals

My Dream Is To Be

Working backward from these broad goals, here is my idea of what they mean and what would indicate I was achieving them.

Inspired: Prolific Poet

Production Schedule

  • weekly song – write, produce, post song, story, versions, podcast
  • bi-annual show – great local gig with full band, production, and marketing
  • yearly album – best songs of the year, polished, packaged, promoted

by Jan 1

  • begin podcast

1 mos

  • weekly post – developing songs for next album, porch song
  • practice/record band to inform production
  • determine studio/recording needs

2 mos

  • post – share raw track with parts, get feedback
  • determine studio/recording options, make choice
  • get studio/players scheduled to record

3 mos

  • post – use solicited feedback to shape album choices?
  • finish recording all parts
  • work with designer on artwork

4 mos

  • mix, master
  • research and send to manufacturer

Recognized: Austin’s Best

Key Metrics

  • site analytics: hits, time spent on site, songs downloaded, new/returning visitors, subscribers to newsletter, podcast, rss
  • my contact list: number and quality of contacts; grow fans, but more importantly, grow industry contacts
  • press: print and online record review, articles, mentions, etc.; mp3 blogs
  • airlplay: local and national radio, internet stations; get played from light to heavy rotation; distribution/inclusion on any site or station like Rhapsody
  • screenplay: get on the soundtrack to anything on screen inlcuding films, TV, ads, online video, etc.

1 mos

  • tighten up and add to my contact list daily, get in the ‘keep-in-contact’ habit
  • find a good list manager system for keeping lists, sending/tracking emails
  • reposition my site for maximum conversion/interaction and tracking
  • begin sending my weekly email 1st Mon., Jan. 7th

3 mos

  • grow my list of 250 to 300
  • compile my list of Austin and online press
  • court local ASCAP, BMI, SESAC

6 – 9 mos

  • release my 2nd album to a packed Cactus CD release, best gig ever, record and post online
  • get reviewed in Austin Chronicle and 11 other publications (print or online)
  • get coverage on 12 mp3 blogs
  • get airplay and in-studio on KGSR, KUT, KOOP, KVRX
  • grow my list to 500 people

Professional: Music Income

In addition establishing an income stream, this first year is really about beginning to benchmark income and return on my investments, time and mony. The result will be an ongoing barometer for which of my efforts are paying off. I have begun to populate a hypothetical spreadsheet mostly to demonstrate the diversity of earning potential with revenue streams I want to develop.

Potential income broken down by revenue stream

income projections

As I have indicated, the two growth areas with the most potential seem to be, first, digital sales (of mp3s through my site, iTunes, or others) and, in the long-run, various licensing deals that produce a growing number of periodic royalty checks. I see a large part of what I am doing now as simply establishing a track record to make me attractive to industry folks. In the first few years income may not point anywhere near retirement, but this will be the equivalent of getting past the breakers, out to the ocean of opportunity.

Whether it is a deal with a record label or publishing house I seek, I must first make myself desirable and legitimate. I hear this played out and stated time and time again: If an artist can demonstrate a solid and growing list of fans, songs, albums, publicity, sales, venues, distribution, and licensing, they can impress the people who are looking for artists who are ready for the next level and worthy of their investment. These people appear much more attractive to the music biz. Not only does my success, however modest, as a business make me more attractive, but it means I am in better bargaining position when the deals get made.

6 mos

  • make $50 a month through digital distribution
  • set up my publishing office, business, materials
  • make one good industry contact a month

1 yr

  • make $100 a month through digital distribution
  • get one song published (album, film, etc.)

Please leave comments below.

Strategies

produce songs > web presence > digital distribution & marketing > sales & licensing

Music/Marketing Mix

Roughly speaking I’m figuring I ought to split my time 50/50, music and marketing. Success hinges on a steady output of good new material. The first discipline I must learn is rigorous creativity, the fountain of my joy. If I can keep to the habit of creating, while working on the habit of recording and quickly producing a/v content on a weekly basis, that becomes the essence of what I can provide my audience. This will be the primary way I provide not just a product but an experience for an audience to be involved with. Freinds, fans, industry can watch and take part in the evolution of my songwriting.

Posting songs (videos, pictures, podcasts, favorites, stories, poetry) and updating fans replaces playing gigs as a more efficient way of gaining recognition and interest in this first stage of getting exposure and get discovered. Beyond becoming an Internet music-production and direct online-marketing machine, I need help from the music biz with digital distribution and publishing (getting my songs pushed and covered). The goal of the Internet-based marketing plan will be to get interest from the media/marketing industry and attract fans. A pinch of attention from the right review is worth a pound of fan interest. The goal of this phase will be to gather the type of attention that Doug did with NPR where awareness, hits, sales, shot up a thousand-fold.

Here’s the breakdown for how I spend my time and structure my approach.

  • Music Creation & Documentation – ‘In Studio’ & ‘Live’ a/v for online 10 hrs
  • Marketing 10 hrs/wk
    • Marketing/Distribution 5 hrs
      • Directly through my site – post a/v, rss, podcast, weekly newsletter
      • Through partner sites/services – iTunes, Rhapsody, Paste, Pitchfork, MP3 blogs, reviews
    • Publishing 5 hrs
      • Musicians – get covered by big artists
      • Music directors – movies, tv, games, ads

I want a rich, active connection directly to my Internet fan base as well as to my chief industry contacts.

Perhaps, as in the past, we can once again become part of the experience of music, rather than the static purchasers of it. We can be involved, we can cheer our favorite artist on, we can participate in events and react to them, and we can actually make a difference–as the audience or the creator, or both. This fits in nicely with a general trend in our society, of moving, step-by-step, from the “Information Society” via the “Knowledge Economy” to the “Experience Society,” as we will explore in this book–that is, from a place where we are mere recipients of a flow of data and information, as in the traditional media models, to a place in which a lot more value is being placed on experiencing things first-hand and unfiltered. p. 13

Digital Distribution

The real promise of the Web is to develop an online audience large enough to be my own marketer and distributer, cutting out all middle-men. I need to define and my brand presence enough to get attention that breeds more and more attention. To do this I need to balance the updating and promotion of my site with participation in other networks/communities, being an active member, getting feedback, fans.

This starts with direct marketing and distribution through my site. The first thing I’d like to do is re-work my site. I want it to quickly showcase what I do, to get people to sign-up for my list, the podcast, or rss feed. I want to grow my site traffic. If I can get people coming to me for music,

Next comes every fruitful partnership possible. This starts with the revenue from CDBaby’s direct digital sales and extends outward from iTunes to any site that can sell copies and give me a good cut. The circle quickly expands to mp3 blogs and other community networks.

Licensing

Of course, the real steady money in the music business is in publishing, where songwriters, due to the compulsory mechanical royalty on all records sold and the revenues that flow from public performance, can often make a decent living over a reasonable period of time–nickels and dimes from a multitude of sources…Publishing and all kinds of licensing will likely be digital cash-cows for artists and writers, in the future even more so than today. p.108+110

Ultimately, this is probably my best bet for actually retiring comfortably. Though initially I will focus on making and releasing a new album, press and getting digital distribution growing, I want to set some simple goals for getting this up and running, the number of contacts I make per month, and one good song placement by the end of the year. Following the release of a new CD, I will have a new product to offer as soundtrack material. I need to set up my publishing business in time to promote the next CD onto the screen, discovering which type of screen that may be.

30 Questions: Define My Niche

  1. What is your primary market?
    Adult album alternative (also triple-A, AAA, or adult alternative) is a radio format album-oriented rock format, its roots may have been established sometime during the 1960s from what was called underground music and later progressive. The radio format has a broader, more diverse playlist than most other formats and tends to appeal more to adults than to teenagers. Less-played tracks are also common. Musical selection tends to be on the fringe of mainstream popular music and rock music music genres such as alternative rock, alternative country, jazz, folk music, world music and blues. The musical selections tend to shy away from hard rock and rap music. Some Triple-A stations bill themselves under the slogan “World Class Rock”, “Quality Rock”, or “Finest Rock”. Music selection also includes tracks from albums that are not singles, which leads to the enhanced and larger playlist. -Wikipedia broadcast mostly on FM. A spin off from the
  2. Who is your competition?
    Damien Rice, David Gray, Jack Johnson, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Mathews, Iron & Wine, John Fogerty, Spoon, Tom Petty, Toots & the Maytals, Jimmy LaFave, Lyle Lovett, Micheal Fracasso, Ryan Adams, Kelly Willis, Patty Griffin, Donovan, Suzanna Choffell, John Dee Graham, Beck. – KGSR and my sense of competition http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_adult_alternative_artists
  3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the leading companies in your particular market?
    Similar to county, in that airplay is the big money earner. Right now, adults are buying more records in ever-increasing numbers, so this is a growing market for the first time in many years. The goal is to write a classic song. If you do, you can get it cut a dozen times. – Eric Beall, Making Music Make Money
  4. How can you imitate those strengths?
    With a real solid alt band and presentation.
  5. How can you exploit the weaknesses?
  6. What strategies have been used successfully in this market previously?
  7. What does your target audience look like?
    Baby boomers http://images.jupiterimages.com/common/detail/11/82/22778211.jpg http://peacecorpsonline.org/messages/imagefolder/cateandwaynehillard.jpg http://www.theage.com.au/ffximage/2005/06/09/biz_beach_1006_wideweb__430x268.jpg
  8. Is you market growing or shrinking?
    Growing.
  9. In what city or cities are most of the companies in your market based?
  10. What are the advantages and disadvantages of your current location?
    Many local artists.
  11. What segment of the market is the most crowded with with competition?
  12. What is the most under-served part of the market?
  13. What reactions are you getting to our songs?
  14. What part of the market is reacting most positively?
  15. Which is reacting with the least enthusiasm?
  16. What are the musical strengths and weaknesses of your catalog?
    Many styles.
  17. What are your strengths and weaknesses as a business?
    Not defined.
  18. How can you best utilize your strengths?
    Write classic songs.
  19. How can you best compensate for your weaknesses?
  20. What information do you need to compete in you market?
    How to break in, get championed, get exposure, find good partnerships.
  21. How can you get that information?
    Learn the industry.
  22. More importantly, what relationships do you need to have in order to compete?
    Jay Trachtenberg, Jodi Denburg, Jeff McCord
  23. How can you meet those key people, or people that know the key people?
  24. What relationships to you already have?
  25. What are you doing now to establish you songs in the marketplace?
    Post songs and things to my blog. Sometimes advertising.
  26. Is it working?
    Some.
  27. If so, why?
    It’s quick, cheap, easy, creates a connection.
  28. If not, why not?
    Not regular, post or marketing.
  29. What equipment or supplies do you need in order to operate effectively?
    Email manager.
  30. How much money do you have to depend on you business?
    1-3k/yr
  31. What’s the biggest obstacle to your success?
    Informational–Lack of knowledge regarding the industry or business in general?

Marketing Questionaire

Message/Audience
1. What is the primary message you wish to convey to your audience with this site? You’ve found a mature songwriter who knows how to dress poetry up in pop. Big, active catalog from Austin’s best young alternative songwriter.
2. What are your secondary objectives and overall goals you hope to achieve? To symbiotically build a large catalog > web presence > digital distribution > sales & licensing income.
3. What goals does your organization intend to reach with a new Web site?
4. Who is your target audience? Is it different from your current customer profile? Describe in detail. I don’t know. I guess my current customer profile starts with my friends and fans. They are 25-55. They are professionals and artists. When I think in terms of the AAA niche, my audience is tomorrow’s adult alternative consumers. It is discerning listeners, who want to hear the lyrics. It is aging hippies, KUT and KGSR listeners, but also KOOP and KVRX too. I wonder if my current customer is younger and more Web-centric than where I should be fishing.
5. How does your music differentiate itself from competitors? Sophistication, meaning: interesting lines over alt-rock jazz. Ultimately it is because my songs have meaning that I stand out. My stories enjoy clever progressions. My audience enjoys my competition but winces when they throw in a vague, cheesy, or a cliche pose for a lyric.
6. What are the key reasons why customers choose your music? Engaging, fresh songwriting, wordplay, sweet melodies, sophisticated hooks.

Perception
1. Use three adjectives to describe how the site should be perceived by the user. (examples: conservative, progressive, friendly, formal, casual, serious, experts, humorous, service-oriented, professional, etc.) Smart, fresh, original.
2. Is this different than current image perception? Maybe, slightly, but I reach so few people now compared with who I am shooting for. I am largely unknown. Whatever may proceed me should not be a problem, but I need to define more specifically/helpfully my market positioning.
3. What do you feel is the biggest challenge in getting your image across to customers? Getting feedback from users that would help me narrow my AAA niche down. Is it sensitive stoners, web progressives, jazz swingers, innocent creatives, smart sophisticates, all the above? Is this AAA? If it’s not, do I look outside that niche, or do I burrow within it?
4. Describe any visual elements or styles that should be utilized from your current Web site or existing marketing materials or collateral (logo: j-hook?, color palette: lightblue and brown, navigation, typography). Please provide existing samples. I need to come up with some design preferences to hire a designer.
5. How is your music currently perceived? I don’t know. I need to test. Do you wish to carry through the same kind of message through your Web site?
6. How does your music site fit into various Web groups/networks? my site, mp3 bloggers, recommender sites, reviews,
7. Is your relationship to the fans/biz clearly defined? If not, would you be interested in strengthening that relationship? If not, please explain.
8. List any URLs of sites you find compelling. What do you find the most interesting about these sites?
9. List URLs of competitor sites and briefly state what you like and dislike about their overall site.

Action
1. What is the primary action you wish your target user to take from the main page of your site? (examples: download, browse, move along specified path, email, order, explore, click button, call, etc.) listen to a song, comment, browse songs, download a song, sign up for updates about new material, buy direct, buy iTunes/whatever.
2. What is the primary action you wish your target user to take before leaving your site? Listen to my music. Is it the same action? It is. If not, describe why.
3. What elements are key items you wish to have available to the user on every page? Subscribe to my mailing list. Buy my albums.