Strong Opinions Are Like Strong Odors Or Speak Softly And Carry A Thick Skin

Hi everyone! In keping up with a semi-regular output, I thought I’d share another excerpt from my Amazon Kindle book, Selling it Versus Selling Out which may have a perspective that’s helpful for you.
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If you’re a musician, it’s easy to forget that you probably listen to music differently than non-musicians (i.e. most people).  That’s not to say that other people don’t listen to music passionately. It’s more about the fact that the number of times you need to listen to a piece of music to learn it is substantially more than it takes to merely appreciate it.  Learning parts to a song (guitar parts, vocal parts, etc) and getting those parts right requires a learned type of obsessive attention to detail that is alien to many casual listeners.

Consequently, you may find that you have a number of strong opinions as a result of familiarity with the subject matter.  You might know why you like a particular act or musician that your friends can’t articulate.  If you’re the type of person to strongly focus on one thing, you may be prone to carrying that focus over into other areas.

  • If you do something a lot that you care about, you’re likely to have a strong opinion about it.
  • If you’ve studied something intensely, you might have a strong opinion about it.
  • If you have a certain code of conduct that you adhere to and other people tell you to chill out; you might have some terse words for them.

Strong opinions are like strong odors.  Your friends won’t tell you that you’re rank, but your phone won’t ring either.

People generally meet strong odors and opinions with strong reactions rather than indifference (particularly in regards to opinions as they often feel threatened by strong opinions that aren’t their own).

My advice is to start building some calluses.

The difference between strong opinions and odors is that getting rid of an odor is much easier than getting rid of your opinion.

The good news for artists is that people are looking for strong opinions.  Audiences are moved by people who have a need to express something so strong that they need to physically manifest it.  I have collected music for years.  I have 122 gigabytes of mp3s from CDs I converted.  The last I checked, this is about 3 months of continual music without repeats…and  I still look for new music.  Even though I could never mark out the time to continually listen to all the music I already have!  I still look to be excited by what other people are doing, and many other people do as well.

People searching for something new is generally the market you want to reach as an emerging artist.

One problem many symphonies face is the demographic that had traditionally supported them is older and shrinking.  On one hand, showcasing new music (like the video game live tours) brings symphonic textures to a new audience.  The problem is that audience doesn’t want to pay $100 to hear Bach in a concert hall (which is something the people who are willing to pay that kind of money often want to hear at a symphony).  The people with money who go to the symphony generally want to hear the tried and true pieces that moved them in that (or a very similar) symphonic hall years ago.

Symphonies have a real battle in balancing contemporary programs with safe gentle pieces that won’t rattle the dentures of anyone sitting in the expensive seats.  Given the astounding production costs of maintaining an orchestra and performance hall outside financing (underwriting, etc) becomes increasingly important.  Even with fundraising, many orchestras have to tighten the belt and turn to alternative revenue streams and more diverse programming to try to get the bodies in the seats.

And now a word from Mr. Ives

You’llll have to search to find a non-vhs copy, but I highly recommend that you see a film called, A good dissonance like a man, which is a biopic about Charles Ives.  In addition to some excellent acting, the script is based on accurate historical research and comes across as a telling view into the life of a true maverick (Before people scoff at the term “maverick” – real mavericks almost never refer to themselves that way and instead let history make that distinction for them. Charles Ives was a true maverick.)

Ives also had a lot to say both as an artist and as a human being.  His comments below regarding consonance (versus dissonance) predate some sentiments expressed in this essay.

“… Consonance is a relative thing (just a nice name for a nice habit). It is a natural enough part of music, but not the whole, or only one. The simplest ratios, often called perfect consonances, have been used so long and so constantly that not only music, but musicians and audiences, have become more or less soft. If they hear anything but doh-me-soh or a near cousin, they have to be carried out on a stretcher.” from Charles E. Ives: Memos

Artistically, there’s no value in being all things to all people

Everyone wants to be accepted, and some opinions and ideas are confrontational and polarizing by their very nature, but by watering down your opinion, you also water down your message.

Watering down your message

(to paraphrase another Ives quote);

disappoints the artist, it disappoints the art and ultimately it disappoints the audience.

This isn’t to say that you should never compromise.  While some amount of compromise is necessary just to be human (much less an artist) you should recognize the difference between compromising and selling out.

When that little voice in your head says that people are uncomfortable with what you’re doing, you should take a long look to see if you’re doing something wrong or if other people just need thicker skin.

That’s a really difficult conclusion to come to objectively, but it’s certainly one worth investigating.

If you like this post, you may like two of the Kindle e-books I currently have out, An Indie Musician Wake Up Call and Selling It Versus Selling Out.

Deciphering What’s Actually On The Page or Don’t Believe The Hype

Sony Records sent out a press release today that will surely set the internet a flutter.  Here’s the AP (In this case – Alternative Press) Story Line:

Middle school metal trio sign $1.7 million record deal with Sony Music

Boy that sounds great!  Here everyone is talking about the record industry tanking and Sony steps up and signs Unlocking The Truth with a big-ass old school record deal!  $1.7 million huh?  Time to get those middle schoolers in your house some lessons and up on a stage so you can get that Middle School Metal Money.  (I’ll give credit where it’s due – I can’t come up with a better catch phrase than Middle School Metal.)

But the numbers here mean nothing.  Look at my underlined quotes from the AP article.

“Brooklyn, New York based middle school metal trio, Unlocking The Truth, have inked a record deal with Sony Music potentially worth $1.7 million, according to a report from the New York Daily News. The band are guaranteed two albums, with a $60,000 advance on the first, and up to $350,000 for the second. If the efforts prove fruitful, the band could reap the full benefits of the six-record, million dollar-plus contract. “

So here’s how I read this:

Unlocking the truth signed a record contract with an OPTION for 6 records.

I will bet dollars to donuts that they signed a 360 deal with Sony – which means that any revenue streams generated by the band will find a percentage going back to Sony.

That $60,000 advance will be recoupable – which means the band won’t make a dime of the record until they pay back the label for the money that the label spent on them.  You’ve seen the spotify stream articles.  How many digital plays and downloads does it take to pay back $60,000?  A lot more than any other band playing in this genre is getting right now.  Hell, probably more than EVERY other band in this genre is getting right now.

That’s IF the record comes in on budget – which it won’t – you’ll have to factor out the producer’s percentage, the lawyer’s percentage and anyone else getting a cut from this as well.

Oh..and then there’s the video.  IF the record gets released, the label will demand a video to help promote it.  That’s also recoupable against album sales so, again, the band won’t see any money from the record until that gets paid back as well.

They’ll have to tour to promote the record.  The label may offer tour support but if they do – it’s also recoupable.  That’s also problematic because if they signed a 360 deal (and I don’t think there’s any way the label would sign them and not demand a 360 deal) – the label is taking additional cuts on top of any money being made.

So in the past, tour support might be renting a tour bus and paying for the PA – but (in addition to whatever percentage of the door you got) whatever shirts or other merch you sold you got to keep.  In a 360 deal – your small percentage on shirts or ANYTHING else you have to sell – just got a lot smaller.

Note that the article says that the label will pay UP TO $350 K for the second release.  That also means that they could pay nothing and then the band is screwed because they won’t be able to record with anyone else until that release comes out.  That also means that the label could record the album and then just refuse to release it.

Guess who sits in limbo unable to do anything else with anyone else until that happens?

So:

  • IF the first record makes enough money to warrant making a second record that gets released and
  • IF the second record can be recorded and makes money

Then the label MIGHT pick up the rest of the releases with advances (i.e. money that mathematically can never be paid back) that MAY make up to 1.7 million.  Again –  IN ADVANCES – not in income.

So for the type of music the band plays -

I’m betting that this is solely a PR move.

It’s smoke and mirrors.

Sony’s gonna ride the publicity on this, record an album and then push the novelty aspect of that.  “Middle School Metal” is easier to get press on than “Middle Aged Metal”.  Then like every other novelty (“Pac Man Fever” comes to mind) it will fade.

This irritates me for two reasons:

1.  From the “news” angle – it’s irresponsible hype that sends the wrong message to people about the state of the industry.  People look at the headline and come to a conclusion that has no basis in reality for artists.

2.  Malcolm was a student of mine, very briefly, at a music summer camp I taught at.  If you see him sweep-picking something live –  it may well be a form I taught him.  He’s a nice kid and I dig his energy and enthusiasm.  I dig that he’s gotten the press and gigs that he has and I don’t want to see him get taken advantage of.

But is it a bad decision?
Oh, probably not.  But really it depends on what you think the outcome is going to be.

If approached as a money-making venture – yes, definitively it’s a colossally bad idea.

But if this is an exposure play…if this is just a springboard for them to do something else POST Sony – it might not a bad play because right now they’re 13 years old.  They don’t have to make money because they have a parent (or parents) who will make sure that they’re fed and have a roof over their head.

In other words, they’re in a radically different situation than the average band.  They might be able to afford to be indentured to a label for a couple of years.

But for the average band – the last sentence of this: which does a great job of breaking down real money for major label acts…. is where they’re really at.

Public Service Announcement:

Friends Don’t Let Friends Sign 360 Deals.

Is Music Dying?

[Please note: This is a re-post from guitarchitecture.org]

(Before we start – a quick plug for the BuckMoon Arts Festival)

As a reminder to anyone who happens to be in the upstate NY area, I’ll be performing live accompaniment for a staged reading of The Exonerated as part of the BuckMoon Arts Festival on July 12-13, and leading a series of panel discussions with working artists and industry experts on how artists can monetize their art.  You can read about both of those here.

In doing some research for the panel discussions I was listening to the CD Baby podcasts this week and I caught up on two interesting, and somewhat related stories to the panel.

1.  Apple’s Eddie Cue announced that Apple bought Beats because “Music Is Dying”

2.  Indie artist Shannon Curtis came on to promote her new book, “No Booker, No Bouncer, No Bartender: How I Made $25K On A 2-Month House Concert Tour (And How You Can Too)”

Is Music Dying?

I’ve never seen anyone at Apple make any kind of negative statement about the music industry, which is why iTunes Eddie Cue’s quote is somewhat telling:

“Music is dying,” said Cue. “It hasn’t been growing. You see it in the number of artists. This past year in iTunes, it’s the smallest number of new releases we’ve had in years.”

As quoted from  http://readwrite.com/2014/05/28/apple-beats-eddy-cue-jimmy-iovine#awesm=~oHLbiOYNIxpYCB

My guess is that he’s talking about the smallest number of major label releases, as there is no shortage of independent music being released.  and that might be true. A recent Variety article entitled, Music Sales Continue to Plummet for Albums and Digital Downloads, brought up the following statistics comparing sales for the first 1/2 year of 2014 with sales from 2013.

  • Total album sales (any format) dropped nearly 15%.
  • Sales of individual digital tracks were down by 13%
  • Streaming was up 42% (but streaming revenues for music are almost nothing)
  • Vinyl sales were up 40%, with Jack White’s Lazaretto selling over 48,000 units.
  • The year’s best seller is the Frozen soundtrack which has sold over 2.6 million units.

As the article’s author, Christopher Morris put it:

“To put the steepness of the decline in perspective: Just 18 months ago, Adele’s Grammy-winning “21” – the bestselling album of 2011 and 2012 — finished the latter year with sales in excess of 10 million. It is conceivable that such a phenomenon will not be seen in the industry again.”

In contrast, check out the story about Indie Artist Shannon Curtis who went from playing clubs to making $25,000 on a 2-month tour of house concerts.

So, is music dying?

Well….music itself isn’t dying (that quote is just silly) but music making is being altered in a way that professional musicians are not able to make a living at it with traditional means. The traditional major label model has moved from a terminal status to life support and musicians are having to find ways to try to make money with more revenue streams than ever, that pay less money than ever, with more people competing in the market forever.

Shannon Curtis was able to bring in some money doing house concert shows to audiences who wanted to see her in a non-traditional venue (but I’m guessing she’ll make more money from her e-book from musicians looking for a new angle than she ever did from her concert tour!)  But the real problem most new artists face is that culturally we’ve created a Vine audience with a short attention span.  One that demands immediate gratification and doesn’t want to have to wait to experience something.

Having said that, people still want to connect with things on a deeper level, and the artists that can weather the storm and actually touch people – consistently in an honest emotional way, are the ones who will be building a career and those artists are going to face even bigger challenges over the next 10 years.  Perhaps that struggle will make some great art.

Back to the panel prep!  As always, thanks for reading!

Be Yourself And Become The Curve

Some Advice from Marty Friedman

Marty Friedman (ex-Cacophony, ex-Megadeth, current full time Guitar Hero) has a new album out (and a new signature PRS guitar) and so he’s making the promotional rounds with a number of interviews in American publications.  He had a great response to a question that really resonated with me.  When asked about advice he had for players who want to develop chops, he answered the question at a much deeper level

“The best piece of advice is this: Once you find something in your playing that sounds good to you, go head over heels in that direction.  Developing enough chops to play like me or Jeff Beck or anybody is not the goal.  The goal is to acquire chops to develop yourself to a point where you’re going in a direction that you like.  Once you do that, you’re halfway home because if you have your own unique direction than no one can touch you.  Ever since I started playing, I’ve gone completely in my own direction.  The flip side is, I could never be in a Led Zeppelin cover band or something because I would suck at copying Jimmy Page or anyone else.  The point is, if you really want to grow as a guitarist, find something that you dig about yourself, exploit the living hell out of it and continue developing that forever.”

- July 2014 Guitar Player interview

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Don’t Follow The Curve – Adapt To The Curve

One mistake I see some businesses (this includes musicians and any other entrepreneurs so yes – this applies to you dear reader) make is to try to capitalize on a popular trend.  Here’s the cycle (and thus the dilemma) with this approach.

  • The trend creator starts off with a disadvantage.  They have to get people to buy into something new.  Even if it’s something familiar, getting it in the hands of people (and getting the money out of those people’s hands) is time consuming and/or expensive.
  • If the trend creator becomes the trend setter, then the trend creator has a potential slam dunk because they’re in the position to fully capitalize on it.  But what often happens is that a previous trend creator (who is now an established trend setter) sees a new trend and is in a better position to capitalize on it than the trend creator.  If you ever watch Shark Tank, you’ll see investors wrestle with this idea with entrepreneurs fairly consistently, “There’s nothing proprietary about this.  What would stop (insert major industry player here) from taking this idea, mass producing it and crushing you?  Nothing.”
  • Years ago I heard a great piece of advice that I took to heart, “By the time you read about a hot new trend in any print publication – it’s no longer a hot trend.”   That was true 20 years ago – and it’s even more true now.

Trying to capitalize on a trend is a dead end because you are rarely in the position to make  it work for you.  In the 1980’s, Yngwie Malmsteen was a trend setter for neo-classical guitar.  There were a bajillion guitarists who tried to ape that style.  The ones that just played that style recorded one or two records and were never heard from again.

The one’s who took those technical ideas and applied them to other areas are among those who kept making music and developed audiences for what they did.  They adapted to the curve instead of following it and in doing so, became their own curves.

(Incidentally, the one neo-classical player from the 80’s who’s still consistently recording and on tour as a solo artist is Yngwie Malmsteen and people are still copying him.)

Trend creation is hard but trying to capitalize on someone else’s trend and make a living from it on the ground level is infinitely harder.  You may want to remember that the next time your fellow band mate comes to rehearsal and says, “Maybe we should write a Black Keys (or whoever else comes to mind) type of song.” ; )

As always, I hope this helps and thanks for reading!

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The Ghost Of The Guit-A-Grip Podcast (Or Lessons Learned From Setting Up A Podcast)

Hello everyone!

Episode #15

Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #15  is out and available for download/streaming.

Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:
  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:
  • or you can right-click here to download it.
  • or you can stream this episode below.
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Show Notes:

Wait….There’s A Podcast?

Yes sir or/and ma’am!  There’s definitively a podcast that was going on with the posts.  I set it aside for a while while I was looking for a house (we moved in February), and took some time to really review what went so horribly wrong with it.  The dissection of all the gory details can be found in the podcast, but the short story is that I made a series of assumptions that didn’t work out they way I thought they might and learned some good things for the next go-round!

I reference a martial arts post in the podcast, that I’m fond of (despite the knee jerk inducing title).  That post can be read here.

Overall, I feel like I may have helped some people by going over all the things I did wrong – but hopefully I’ll be able to help a lot more people in the future.

That’s it for now!

As always, I hope this helps you with your own goals – or at least keeps you amused until the next time!

See you soon and thanks again for listening/reading!

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Differentiating Between Action and Change

Physician Heal Thyself

I was reading an e-book on my iPhone the other day and hit the library tab by mistake which revealed every book in my account.

Since a lot of authors will give books away to try to get reviews (a profoundly unsuccessful tactic that I tried myself once) – there are a number of titles there.  Skimming through them  I thought about the difference between taking action and making changes.

Taking Action is often a cycle that is more of a stationary bike than anyone would care to admit.  For many of us, the cycle works like this:

  • You realize that something is wrong and needs fixing.  Perhaps you’re in a dead-end job, or you need to lose weight or you need to figure out how to get your product out in the world.
  • Realizing that you have a problem – you decide to take action to fix that problem.  You do research and find that someone else also had this problem and came up with a solution – and their book is only $3.99!  You pick it up, and (if you’re really motivated) you read a chapter and perhaps have a few “a-ha!” moments and start to carve out your plan.
  • More likely you pick it up and go make yourself a coffee or a tea to sit down and read it and then get distracted by what someone posted on Facebook and then never get back to it.

I saw (what I may have mistakenly remembered was a) TED Talk that advised people to not discuss projects at the preliminary level with other people because their likelihood to complete them would diminish.  The speaker cited a study that showed that discussing future projects with other people created the same chemical reaction in the brain as actually completing them.  It’s why some people get super psyched about a plan they’re going to enact, have their friends tell them it’s brilliant and then there’s no fire the following day to complete it.

From personal experience, I can tell you that it’s easy to confuse buying something with doing something because by buying something you’re taking action – which is what you said you’d do.

Taking action doesn’t necessarily mean making change.

Change comes from consistency.

  • Consistency means working on something repeatedly (and often daily) until it becomes an integrated part of you.

Change comes from focus.

  • Focus is a skill.  It has to be developed and nurtured.
  • Focus is easier to maintain when options are limited.
  • It is much easier to sit down and focus on a book if it’s the only book in the queue and not have a full queue and have your energy divided between which other books there you should read.

Some people are autodidactic.  They can read a book, assimilate and integrate the material and take immediate action.

Not everyone works that way though and the irony is that people who are not naturally autodidactic will often read a book, not take action on the book, assume that something must be wrong with them because they can see that the material book is working for other people and then solve the problem by buying another book.

Your book will not solve your problem on it’s own.

The actions you take from doing the things talked about in the book however, may.

So please, stop reading this post and start making the change you want to be.

But also please come back – I’ll have a lot more material up to help stay whatever course you happen to be on.

As always, thanks for reading!

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The Trickle Down Theory In Action

I was listening to the radio as I was driving home last night (I had finally caught up with all my pod casts on my iPhone) and the local classic rock radio station was playing a syndicated run of the Sixx Sense (Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue’s) radio show.  On the show, Nikki mentioned a statement Joey Kramer of Aerosmith made in an interview that Aerosmith wouldn’t likely be releasing any more full length recordings.

“It would be great to make another record, but it’s almost (like) ‘Why bother?’ Records don’t sell and they don’t do anything….There’s really no money per se to be made on records. We used to make a lot of money on records. Now all of our money is made on touring. Artistically, it would be fun to make another record and it would be a beautiful thing if we can put it together. But to what avail, I don’t know. There’s almost no reason to do it, you know, judging from the last one and how it went over.”

(This quote was taken from this article).  - http://music.msn.com/music/article.aspx?news=864585

Aerosmith’s 15th release, Music From Another Dimension sold “only” 63,100 copies during its first week U.S. release – a substantial downturn from previous efforts.

Sixx went on to talk about how no one buys albums anymore and about the business model for releasing singles going forward for both Aerosmith and for his band.

A completely unnecessary plug for Seth Godin

For those of you who have any interest in music as Business – I can’t recommend the completely free Seth Godin’s Start Up School podcast enough. (You may want to take a moment right now and go ahead and download the episodes.  Don’t worry this post is staying right here).  Mr. Godin talks about a number of great things that are applicable to making money in music in the podcasts, but one area in particular can be direct relation to this post.  In one episode, Mr. Godin said that people at the top are always the last to be affected by an economic downturn.  So, for example, Van Morrison will still have people go out and buy Moondance because it’s Van Morrison.  He might not be making the money he was making before file sharing, but he’s making more money than a new, unknown act would be making from music.

So, the fact that a large band is now coming to the same conclusion as every other working band on the planet this late in the game isn’t surprising.

But I think that their strategy is all wrong.

I think it’s all wrong because I’m guessing that they only learned half the lesson presented here and will execute the strategy in the wrong way.

The Dinosaur And Creating False Scarcity

The bands that get momentum from the “singles” models (and I put singles in quotes because I honestly think that only people over the age of 30 even remember what I single release it) get momentum from an aggressive release and touring schedule.  They might release 2-5 eps a year.  They have new tracks out constantly because it’s the new tracks that drive traffic and attention to them.

It’s an aggressive promotion strategy and one that requires a lot of flexibility.

Aerosmith is a large corporate dinosaur – even if they’re not signed to a label anymore.  They need to self-fund releases (and it will give them pause to output money before bringing more in) and, quite frankly, given that every past effort has involved spending years recording, mixing and promoting a new full length release – they’re not going to be able to strip it down and knock new releases out one after another in quick fashion.

But I also think they got it wrong.

Know Your Audience.

Yes, a number of people who are willing to buy music will buy a single rather than an album.

You know who buys albums, by and large?

I’ll give you a few groups off the top of my head.

Metalheads

Prog Rock fans

Jazzers

Those are some specific sub-genres that have fans who get behind bands rather than singles.  People who dig Animals as Leaders will buy whatever new release they have.  Ditto for King Crimson or Allan Holdsworth fans.  They’re not in it for the single.  They’re in it for the experience.

Aerosmith may look back at the ‘80s when 40,000 units sold might not even get you a top 40 release in a given week, but they don’t seem to realize that 60,000+ units is a LOT of units sold in the contemporary music market.

I’m guessing their fans will wait for a new album.

Will they wait for the same length of time for a new single?

There are a few related lessons I’m gathering from this extrapolation on a statement.

Know your audience

know what they expect from you

know your ability to meet those expectations.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens down the road for Aerosmith.  They might have enough backlog to be able to get things out quickly and prove me wrong, but it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out for them in the future.

That’s it for now.  As always – I hope this helps in some way and thanks for reading!

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