Last week I wrote about moving away from selling content as the music industry’s main source of revenue, and focusing on providing experiences around that content instead. Today Alec Baldwin released a new episode of his amazing Here’s The Thing podcast, this time an interview with Thom Yorke. Thom shares an insight into the early 2000′s.
I mean what’s weird about putting a record out now [...] it’s just the fact of volume, literally the shear volume of stuff that gets put out. It’s like this huge frickin’ waterfall and you’re just throwing your pebble in and it carries on down the waterfall and that’s that. Right, okay, next.
[...] And I mean I kind of knew the game was up a few years ago when one of our sort of team of people came in saying, “Nokia wants to offer you [...] millions of pounds because they want content for their phones.” [...] You’re, like, Content, what? ‘You know, content.’ What, you mean music? ‘Yes.’ Content. [...] Just stuff. “Have you got some stuff?” You know, and you’re like okay.
And I think really my problem with it is like it’s now like something to fill up the hardware with, you know? The music itself has become secondary to that, which is a weird thing to me.
A massive increase in the number of music releases has contributed to a change in the way we view music. We’ve gone from only very few albums making it through the gate, to an endless supply of new releases every week. From a special physical thing you cherish, to a disposable electronic wave in the cloud. From something special you might’ve camped out for, to something that’s extra stuff on a device.
This is not a value statement about the power of music. Music is still as amazing as it has always been. There’s just so much more of it to sift through these days. We have to adjust to this new reality by focusing on improving the experience around music, and find ways to restore the feeling. We have to help fans find the few amazing albums that are released every year, inside of the waterfall of disposable content, and help them discover these albums can be life changing.
Listen to the full 53 minute interview above. It’s great, even if you’re not a Radiohead fan.
Eliza wrote an insightful piece titled “Why 20-somethings Have A Hard Time Paying For Content”, ironically published by a website called PaidContent. A choice quote:
“We’ve grown up with a wealth of news and video available for free on the internet, and for many of us, we also have access to high-quality content through parents or friends with subscriptions to services like Netflix or the New York Times. We built media habits around this content from an early age, but we were never forced to actually pay for content.
And there are a lot of us. Will those companies be able to convince my generation that their content is special or unique — and that one day, we should pay for it ourselves?”
We can easily replace the word “news” with “music”, and it works just as well. Do you hear that? Those are screams from incumbent rights holders about entitled young people that should be taught a lesson. Those are the screams that are so loud that they prevent us from hearing the information our customers are sharing with us, helping us make adjustments to our business models. Those are the same screams that tried to silence NPR intern Emily White.
“Now, there’s less incentive than ever to leave Mom and Dad’s family cell phone plan, and it seems that for many of my peers, the same applies to digital subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and cable subscriptions.
It’s also possible that we’ll have to look beyond just newspapers and magazines to find media services for which my generation will pay. While I personally pay for a variety of news subscriptions, Twitter remains my most valuable source of information and I would probably pay more for access to that feed than anything else.”
This is where a variety of content-based industries should focus their attention right now. The things that customers are willing to spend money on should be more important than trying to revert customer purchasing behavior to those things they used to pay for. We should be offering or exploring premium content, access, experiences around content, and much more. A recent Nielsen study found that “there could be potential incremental revenue of $450 million to $2.6 billion if artists, managers and labels offered a better set of products and experiences to fans.” Customer spending patterns have shifted drastically, and instead of leading customers in the right direction, we’ve been trailing them. Let’s catch up.
The good folks at Billboard Magazine published a piece I wrote called “Start Me Up: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Tech Startup”. Pick up the latest issue to read the full thing, or if you are a Billboard subscriber read it here.
The Fader publisher and friend Andy Cohn recently tweeted the below. I couldn’t help but remember this sentiment when I came across two examples of loudly awful product placements.
consumers know the difference and call bullshit on these big checks handed out to the biggest stars to rep products they’d never use or buy — andy cohn (@andycohn) March 21, 2013
Both product placements happen to be for the Microsoft Surface tablet, and I suspect that their relative lack of success selling the Surface must’ve pushed the company towards desperate measures. The worst offense was in an episode of Suburgatory, see below, and this one in Elementary is nearly a bad.
To think that this kind of appearance will drive Surface sales, is just as misguided and demeaning to customers as taking a check from Blackberry while tweeting from your iPhone. There is absolutely nothing wrong with endorsement deals or sponsorships, but staying on brand is a must if we’re supposed to take them seriously. If you are clearly an Apple user, don’t advertise HP laptops. If you are a rich sportsman that drives fancy cars, don’t advertise a Buick. People are smart enough to see through partnerships that were made just for a check.
The good folks over at Fast Company published an article I wrote for them on the benefits of working from coffee shops, even when you have an office to go to. I have included an excerpt below. For the accompanying GNTLMN foursquare list of 15 NYC/BK coffee shops that are great to work from, go here.
While Team Family Records was in between offices in early 2012, we had 6 weeks to bridge until our new space was ready. During that time we were fortunate enough to be taken in as guests by awesome companies for stretches of time, and for the remainder we took over corners of coffee shops all over Brooklyn and Manhattan. The experience of working out of coffee shops was so positive that even after we moved into our new home, I made sure to get in a few “coffee shop days” each month. For carpal tunnel worries alone, I would not recommend working out of coffee shops every day, but here are some reasons why it might be great to try it for one or two days every month.
- A Change Of Environment Stimulates Creativity - Even in the most awesome of offices we can fall into a routine, and a routine is the enemy of creativity. Changing your environment, even just for a day, brings new types of input and stimulation, which in turn stimulates creativity and inspiration.
- Fewer Distractions - It sounds counter-intuitive, but working from a bustling coffee shop can be less distracting than working from a quiet office. Being surrounded by awesome team and officemates means being interrupted for water cooler chats and work questions. Being interrupted kills productivity. The coffee shop environment combines the benefit of anonymity with the dull buzz of exciting activity. Unlike working at home, with the ever present black hole of solitude and procrastination, a coffee shop provides the opportunity of human interaction, on your terms.
- Community And Meeting New People - Meeting new people always provides me with new ideas, a different perspective at existing problems, or an interesting connection to a new person doing something awesome that inspires me. Today alone I met a top Skillshare teacher whose class I will now take, a sleep consultant, a publicist that offered to help with a project and a wine consultant that recommended some bars.
“Knowing how things work is the basis for appreciation and is this a source of civilized delight.” – William Safire
Some companies keep their entire process secret, while others have come to see the benefits of sharing the creation and manufacturing of their products with their customers. I believe that sharing a company’s process helps potential customers build an understanding, and through that a deeper appreciation for what you are offering.
This belief, combined with a curiosity and passion for learning, led us to making three mini documentaries for our first product at GNTLMN. These documentaries showcase the maker of the product working with his hand, the history of the product, and it’s use. By sharing the attention to detail, the hard work, and the personal touch that goes into our products, our customers are able to distinguish between what we do and companies that are merely using “artisanal” or “craftsman” as buzzwords in their marketing efforts without being able to back that up with lasting, high quality products.
In an Etsy-fying economy, we’ll see an increasing preference for products with a story and an identifiable team of creators, and a move away from the mass-produced alternative. For many product groups we might even see the mass production factory disappear, while the importance of the factory tour will only become greater.
The aforementioned documentaries are our factory tour. For filmmakers behind-the-scenes videos are the new factory tour. For chefs video blogs and food network shows are the new factory tour. For app makers product videos are the new factory tour. For videogame creators video updates from the studio are the new factory tour. For musicians in-studio updates and acoustic videos are the new factory tour. For creatives of all kinds making a great Kickstarter video is the new factory tour.
Empower potential customers with knowledge, because knowledge leads to appreciation, and appreciation leads to a desire to reward or be involved through ownership.
What’s your new factory tour?Tweet
Kid Cudi, signed to G.O.O.D. Music/Universal Republic, posted the missive above to Twitter, lambasting his label for his lack of success at radio and in sales. This will prove counter productive. You can’t force someone’s hand by shaming them, especially if that party is a business partner but you don’t contribute to their bottom line. Signing to a major corporation means you will not be the priority, unless you earn that right by bringing in so much money that you can’t be denied. Did Rocafella break Kanye? No, Kanye could barely get signed and supported by Rocafella. Kanye broke Kanye, with amazing music and an original approach.
In Eskay’s words:
Whenever I want to a make a case against the status quo in the industry, I point to Tech N9ne and the empire he has built out there in Kansas City. I know Tech’s story isn’t typical, but I have to believe that if he can do it, so can a guy like KiD CuDi, an artist with much broader commercial appeal and the G.O.O.D. Music creative juggernaut in his corner. [...] If and you opt to sign a slave deal with a major label, the one thing you can’t do is run to social media and start complaining when shit doesn’t go your way.
I asked Steven Horowitz, writer for Billboard/Vibe, for his point of view on this situation and he shared the following:
Just like with Tech N9ne, rappers like Macklemore continue to prove that indie is the new major. You don’t need a thousand hands in the pot, or a million dollars, to gain momentum – just smart business acumen, a tight, dedicated crew and, most importantly, quality product. It’s why Macklemore debuted at No. 2 with The Heist, or why Mac Miller’s Blue Slide Park became the first independently-distributed album to top the charts since 1995. You can make a choice to go with the majors and suffer the consequences (or benefits, in many cases), or you can try to parlay touring, social media presence and self-marketing into indie success.
I have no doubt that Kid Cudi works hard, and it’s not to be underestimated how tough it is to be a touring artist. It’s exhausting and can be de-motivating, especially if you end up still being broke at the end of the day. But publicly blaming others will not get you sympathy from anyone, especially if people perceive you as an artist who has “made it” and has a lot of money (even when that is not true).
I have a lot of respect for people that give being a creative their all, against all odds. But it’s painful to watch an artist lash out and blame others for his (perceived) lack of success. It’s even more painful to watch this same artist consistently self-sabotage. It’s painful to watch them jump into the audience and punch someone during the biggest opening slot they could possibly land, resulting in them getting kicked off the tour. Or thrashing the stage at an Australian festival because he got cut short. Or being arrested for a drunken, violent tantrum in a young woman’s apartment where they’ve yanked the door out of it’s hinges. Or complaining a year ago in the exact same way about their label treating their unrelated side project as an indie release. Or being arrested holding crack cocaine.
At the end of the day, it’s your own responsibility to do everything you can to be successful, while treating everyone around you like you want to be treated. Derek Sivers recently wrote a great article called “Everything Is My Fault”, and it’s worth a read in the context of this situation. It has even inspired my own Mistake Mondays series. We all make mistakes. We all have an ego. It’s not the mistakes that hold us back, but letting our ego get in the way of learning from them.
- On Applause (Or An Artist’s Motivation Pt. 3) (read
- Success Changes Nothing (read)
- Woody Allen On Motivation (read)
- An Artist’s Motivation Pt. 2 (read)
- Stay In Your Basement (Or How To Deal With Success) (read)
- The Reward Is In The Work (Or What You Can Learn From George Clooney) (read)
- It’s Not Always The Major Label’s Fault (Or Artist’s Motivation) (read)
About a year ago BAFTA invited Charlie Kaufman to speak on screenwriting. It’s one of the finest and most honest talks I have heard in a long time. Rather than presenting a simplified “how-to”, Mr. Kaufman digs deep into the motivation of the artist, and the associated feelings. It’s a beautiful and inspiring talk, and I recommend you listen to the full hour. I have noted down one of my favorite sections below, as it relates to how Mr. Kaufman approaches his work, his reasons to create, honesty, and the way in which our creative output can truly leave the world a better place. Mr. Kaufman is a writer, but this goes just the same for musicians, visual artists, and anyone that applies their creativity to solve problems.
“Say who you are, really say it in your life and in your work. Tell someone out there who is lost, someone not yet born, someone who won’t be born for 500 years. Your writing will be a record of your time. It can’t help but be that. But more importantly, if you’re honest about who you are, you’ll help that person be less lonely in their world because that person will recognize him or herself in you and that will give them hope. It’s done so for me and I have to keep rediscovering it. It has profound importance in my life. Give that to the world, rather than selling something to the world. Don’t allow yourself to be tricked into thinking that the way things are is the way the world must work and that in the end selling is what everyone must do. Try not to.
I [...] believe you have a wound. I [...] believe it is both specific to you and common to everyone. I ]…] believe it is the thing about you that must be hidden and protected, it is the thing that must be tap danced over five shows a day, it is the thing that won’t be interesting to other people if revealed. It is the thing that makes you weak and pathetic. It is the thing that truly, truly, truly makes loving you impossible. It is your secret, even from yourself. But it is the thing that wants to live. It is the thing from which your art, your painting, your dance, your composition, your philosophical treatise, your screenplay is born.”
Over the past few years I have been fortunate enough to be able to hire, collaborate with, or bring on board dozens of people across different fields. From short-term contractors, to long-term collaborators or employees. From leather craftsmen for a GNTLMN project, to videographers, camera people, administrative assistants, projects managers, A&R folks for Family Records, community managers, producers, and the list keeps going. The process of hiring has been one of delight and horror, in nearly equal measure. The latter mostly due to mistakes I have made in the process of either selecting or on-boarding the new hire.
I think of the costs associated with bad hires (time, energy, money) as a tuition fee for the lessons I’ve learned. And boy, lets just say I now have a PhD in hiring. Some of my lessons learned:
- Hiring Based On Friend Potential - When you first start hiring, and your team is tiny, it’s easy to fall into the trap of hiring someone because you get along so well during the interview process. It’s very alluring to hire someone based on the fact that they’re so cool and you can imagine being buddies, burning the midnight oil together at the office, working equally hard to make this happen and then go for a drink after. This is not a healthy expectation. The other person has a life of their own, and having a job at a company doesn’t usually bring the same exact emotional motivation as being a founder. Assuming this hire will blossom into an equal friendship comes with a certain level of invisible pressure for the new hire. You’re still their boss and they’re dependent on your relationship being positive to keep their job. This can lead to resentment, and a bad performance. This is not to say you can’t get along with your team, have retreats and work drinks, and a great team vibe, but remember the underlying relationship, and don’t hire someone just because they fill in that “partner in crime/buddy” spot. Hire them because they’re a quality person that adds tremendous value to the team, even if they go straight home when they are done with work for the day.
- Hiring Based On A Gut Feeling - Somewhat related to the above. Do not hire someone based on one conversation because you have a good feeling about them and they seem to know what they’re talking about. Have several conversations with the candidate, let others in your organization talk to them too, have them work on a test project with you, present a case or two from the work floor and ask for their take on things, talk to their references and former employers, ask about their personal goals and how this job could help them accomplish these, etc. Hire slow.
- Hiring Without A Clear Work Agreement – If you do not spell out what is expected from a new hire, then it’s unfair to get upset with them if they don’t live up to these secret expectations. Provide not only a description of tasks, but also determine clear and measurable mile stones and goals for their job. This is something that needs to be thoroughly discussed during the hiring process, so everyone is on the same page. Doing it later on creates a strange dynamic and they might have to adjust their original expectations, because you didn’t make it clear at the right time.
- Hiring Too Early – Sometimes you may be in a financial position to hire a person onto the team before it’s necessary. You may come across an amazing person who just recently lost or left their job, and feel like while you don’t have a position for them right now, you need to scoop them up because they’re an A+ player. Don’t do that, especially if you’re a tiny company. If an A level players joins a team that doesn’t have a clear need for their skill set, they will not perform well, and you will spend more time coming up with things for them to do then you will benefit from their presence. Wait until you feel the pain and need to add that new person. Then hire the right person for that job. Don’t hire a great person and then find them a job.
- Hiring Too Late – Don’t wait until you are so fraught with stress and overworked to hire a new person. You run the risk of rushing the process and grabbing the first warm body that seems to be able to sort of get the job done. Start the process earlier, and wait til you find the right person.
- Hiring Based On Talent Over Work Ethic And Personality - Sometimes you meet a super talent and ignore their personal defects just for the opportunity to bring them on board. We convince ourselves it will be worth the extra management time and the effort to keep their motivation up, because they’re just so great at the technical task at hand. This never works out. Talent without a great work ethic, and the right personality, is just about the most dangerous thing for your organization. They can ruin the atmosphere for everyone else involved, are often entitled and have their own agenda that is unlikely to be aligned with the company’s. You’re better off hiring someone that is half as talented as the superstar, but adds twice as much motivational power for you and your team, and works relentlessly until they complete their task in a way that adds tons of value. Do not ignore red flags of any kind, especially not personality based ones.
I often get asked which tools I use and can recommend for other folks in the start-up or creative field. Below are a few of the ones I use and love, and they get used daily when I am working on Family Records or GNTLMN projects. In no particular order:
IAWriter - This is the simplest of apps. It’s just a white screen to write on. No options, no real features aside from it taking over your entire screen, and greying out all but the most current sentence you’re writing. I use it for blog posts, important emails, writing out strategic plans, and anything that requires 100% of my attention without distractions. I am great at procrastinating and even better at getting distracted. This app helps me to keep that part of my brain in check.
TextEdit – Yes, the tiny little program that comes with every Mac. Again, very few features (though more than IAWriter), and the fact that it’s so lean and minimalist allows me to use it in a variety of ways. Mostly I keep a running “Current Notes” file in my DropBox, which is linked to an icon on my desktop. This allows me to use it from any computer, not just my own. This file is always open and serves as a place for me to jot down any thoughts at they occur and they’re, split out into the following sections.
- To Do Now (urgent, important)
- To Do Later (less urgent, still important)
- To Do Some Day (not urgent, possibly important in the future)
- Notes (which can be anything really, and mostly gets turned into To Do’s)
- Payments To Make (to keep track and batch all payments into one day each week)
I shuffle items from one section to the other and at the end of my work day I move the stuff in To Do Now into TeuxDeux. Speaking of…
TeuxDeux - A tiny, simple web and app based to-do list manager. The biggest benefits for me are the satisfaction of checking something off after it’s done, and the ability to look back and see when I did what, when I need to. If you didn’t finish certain to do’s they automatically move to the next day. And it’s real pretty.
Readability - I strive to be in the zone and hit a certain flow every day so I can work uninterrupted for a few hours per project. As a person that is easily distracted and wildly curious and hungry for learning and information,this can be challenging to achieve. Taking reading breaks when I come across interesting stuff takes me out of my flow. Readability is a bookmarklet in my browser that let’s me save articles I come across to read later on, mostly when I’m on the subway on my iPhone. I love it.
Dropbox – You’re backing up everything right? I use it for all Family and GNTLMN business documents, personal files, and all of my photos. It even auto backs up my iPhone camera roll. Dropbox also allows me to access all files from their iPhone app, and it keeps my computer hard drive clean by allowing me to check the “cloud only” check mark on certain folders. For example, I don’t want all 40 GB of Family Records packaging art files on my computer. I just want to be able to access them. It’s easy and it just works without much hassle. Worth the money for my peace of mind.
Boomerang - This Gmail plug-in lets me write emails now but schedule them for sending later, and it also reminds me to follow up when someone hasn’t replied to a request for information yet.
Bufferapp - I love Buffer. It allows me to save tweets and schedule them for sending later. It does the same for facebook posts, though I don’t use that feature. Great for announcements, product launches, news, and to avoid sending 10 tweets in a row when you’re on twitter.
Finally, I use a bunch of other tools (always pruning though!) that most of you should already be familiar with, but just to mention them: WordPress (this blog!), Tumblr, Sparrow (my email client of choice), Skype (for all meetings, video or audio), Google Docs (for Excel and Word), Chrome, Highrise (for contact management), Harvest (for time tracking and invoicing), and Note (for taking notes on my phone that automatically send to my email).
Do you use anything that I didn’t list that you can wholeheartedly recommend? I’d love to hear about it.Tweet