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The Musician's Secret Weapon

"Life can be very, very hard for a musician. You're competing against millions of others, desperate to be heard over all the noise. And you've got no money.

But you've got a secret weapon. To outsiders, the music industry is sexy. People with day jobs are fascinated with the mythos of "The Rock Star".

Make the person you're talking to feel this. Make them feel like a part of this world.

If you give people a story with them as a hero, they will help you. Much more so than you would ever expect."

- Patrick Keel, one of my mentors. I didn't remember his exact wording, so I rephrased it with a little of my own flourish.


The "Total" Musician

What is it about some musicians that makes them seem to have so much more staying power than others? What is the difference between

I use the term Total Musician.

The full number of factors involved in success make it impossible to predict success absolutely. However, there are some traits that seem to be more prevalent among successful individuals than unsuccessful ones. This is my initial attempt to qualify what exactly it is that makes some musicians special. This is an informal, working list.

I'd like you to contribute to this list.

The more broad our viewpoint the better we'll be able to hone in on what it takes for us to become a Total Musician too.

Here's the list so far:
   -Maturity. Playing within their abilities.
   -Confidence, albeit in different forms for different people.
   -Wide Interests. True innovators cross pollinate ideas.
   -Hustle. Whether it's business acumen, a charismatic personality or compelling story-telling.
   -Works with many other creatives.

Let's see what we can do with this list, eh?


What Do You Do For Your Band?

Besides your instrument. Any musician can do that. What makes you irreplaceable in your band?

This is important.

Music is a highly competitive industry, and it's no secret band lineups change all the time. Unless you happen to be a prophet of the guitar like Hendrix, being "good" isn't enough to ensure you stay in a band. Youtube practicly has a dedicated channel called "12 Year Olds Who Are Better At Your Instrument Than You Will Ever Be". A Total musician, the kind of person you always want in your band, contributes something that can't be replaced by someone who can read guitar tabs.

What would qualify as something making you more valuable to the band?
   -Writing the entire story behind a 4-album sequence. Would Coheed & Cambria have existed if the story writer left?
   -Being a master promoter. Do you run the merch booth like a boss and have a knack for getting people excited about your music? That's magic, baby.
   -Managing inventory and planning all the shows for the band.
   -Doing all the graphic design and website building for the band.
   -Recording good to great demos all yourself at the band practice space.
   -Knowing boatloads more about business/money than the rest of the band.
   -Repairing all the band's instruments.
   -Illustrating all the band's merch, posters, and albums.

All of these things are more difficult to replace than simply "doing your job" on your instrument. Skills like these add value to both the band and yourself. The more business your band can do in-house, the less time and money you need to spend on outside help, allowing you to spend money on the really important things.

The best way to ensure your stability is to be invaluable.


Merch Problems are an Insult to Your Fans

As mentioned in a previous post The Album is Marketing Material, a band doesn't make its money on music. The margins necessary to finally support five or so smelly musicians come from touring and merch. Once you've got your music up to the standards it needs to be, you must get merch details right if you want a stable career in music.

Picture this for a second: you just decided to see a friend of a friend's band at some dingy bar that smells worse than a harbor at low tide. You're not expecting to enjoy the show, but you promised to go see them at least once.

Turns out the band is amazing.

So much so that you make the conscious decision to open your wallet and throw dollars at the band. Excited, you walk over to the merch table and... their merch blows.

The shirts look like an iron-on decal of a toddler's finger painting. They don't have shirts in your size. No change, "Sorry dude."

How do you feel about the band now?

When you mess up merch, you:
   -Insult your current fans.
   -Lose new fans. (If they don't have something to remember you by, it's possible you'll be forgotten)
   -Lose revenue from the sale. (Bad sizes, ugly/cheap merch is the same as taking the money the fan was going to give you and throwing it in the toilet).
   -Miss the opportunity for advertising. (A fan wearing the shirt passively increases your name recognition and mindspace.)

How much thought do you put into your merch?


Why Do Some "Supergroups" Fail?

It's a sad day when a brilliant musician leaves the band that made them famous. The band is never the same. Some bands break up (Zeppelin, Nirvana), some bands keep marching on (Pink Floyd), but it's never the same.

But what of "Supergroups"? When you take the best members of multiple bands, why do some flourish and some fail? It's clearly not lack of talent, these supergroups are the MVPs of the music world. Stick the greatest guitarists on the planet together an you get a platinum record, right?

Not always.

So what is it?

What makes a band "magical" is the quality of their interactions as a group.

When dealing with projects alone (musical, school, business, etc), the only input is skill. Obviously, the skill of the individual is the primary input into this project so that's what determines success or failure.

But when we introduce group dynamics, the formula changes. Who writes the guitar part at the bridge? Do we add a five-minute drum solo? What is the song trying to say? These decisions are made as the result of negotiations between the band members. The term negotiation usually conjures up images of "playing hard ball" and the like, but almost every interaction is a negotiation of some sort. "Should we add a second vocal part to stress these syllables?" is a question that people skills determine the outcome of.

Musical talent and people skills are TWO VERY DIFFERENT SKILL SETS. Some people have one, some have the other but the truly intelligent musician takes the time to develop both skills.

I'd never be in a band with Yngwie Malmsteen, the guy seems like a wanker bent on showing off. Sure, he's got skills, but I'd argue with him just on the principle that he's so pretentious. There's a reason he's a solo artist.

Have you ever played with a guitarist who heard an idea and immediately said "I won't play that. End of discussion."? Aside from making your head want to explode, how do you think this guitarist's personality affects the quality of the music he'll end up writing in a group setting?

Jack White, on the other hand, happens to make great music with every project he touches. He's not the most technically insane guitarist on the planet, but he writes good songs with good musicians. He's able to deal with the people side of a project to get the best music possible.

If you want to make better music, you must work on both MUSIC and PEOPLE skills.

Learn to listen to your band mates and open yourself up to new ideas and directions. Read some books on management or organizational behavior. TRY TO UNDERSTAND YOUR BAND. You'll be rewarded, both in terms of a happier band and a better songwriting process.

(The new song we're currently practicing I had to be convinced to play initially, but now I love it. You only make progress in a band setting by learning how to best utilize your group.)


The Album is Marketing Material

Last weekend, the band and I sat down to hash out plans for our album release and the issue of album pricing came up.

For those of you who know me, I am never one to be a wuss about price. If you do hard work to create something amazing, you should be compensated properly so you can do it again. That's what it takes to be an artist who continues to create beauty for their fans. Naturally, I pushed to have our EP priced where we would get a decent margin on each sale.

My guitarist disagreed and chose a price about half what I wanted. While I was initially dismissive, I listened as he said this:

Bands don't make their money from their music any more. With the birth of Napster and the freedom of distribution afforded by the internet, the fundamental economics of music changed. Supply of music was no longer limited by physical CDs, anyone who wanted a song could get it fast, and easy, for free. At the same time, millions of new musicians spread to Myspace to spread the word of their art. In both cases, the supply of music became nearly infinite, and the price adjusted accordingly. People still loved music, but they were less willing to pay for it.

Where would the revenue needed to keep artists performing come from?


You can't download the feeling of being in a mosh pit. A limited edition concert shirt can't be heard on the radio. These real experiences, unlike MP3s, are scarce.

In the music business today, the money isn't in albums. It's in merch and touring. If you can create an experience that your fans are willing to pay for, you will be able to survive as an artist. (Assuming you're not an idiot with your finances, of course)

An album is a marketing tool that tells your fans We are an experience you want in your life.

(Props to my guitarist Tito for this idea. He's the sriracha to my leftover Chinese food.)


Rethinking Practice

With the album release AND graduation coming on strong, these next two months are going to be lighter on updates but I will try as hard as I can to make time to keep delivering quality content.

This weeks I've got two great articles on how to practice/study more effectively. With as hard as it is to squeeze in practice time, getting the most out of this time is important to every musician. 

From Jonah Lehrer:

"A great deal of previous work has shown that simply presenting the stimuli to the participant is usually not enough. They actually have to do the task. This is where our group comes in. Basically, what we say is, yes you do have to do the task, just not for the whole time. The main result is that if you practice for 20 minutes, and then you are passively exposed to stimuli for 20 minutes, you learn as if you have been practicing for 40 minutes. You can cut the effort in half, and still yield the same benefit. This finding could be important for clinical training programs, such as the ones that attempt to treat language-based learning disorders."

From NPR's Piece:

Test yourself: Doing practice quizzes can help you retrieve information on test day. "Tests have a very bad rap as a measurement tool," Carey says.  But psychologists have found self-tests slow down the forgetting of material you've studied. "If you study something once, and then you test yourself on it," Carey says, "you do better than if you study it two times over." (Practice playing your parts unaccompanied, then try writing out the tabs/notation of the part without touching your instrument, mentally rehearse fingerings when you're bored waiting in traffic. I practice right hand dexterity drills using a the side of a pen to mimic my strings)
Move around: Changing up where you study can help you retain more information. "If you move around and study the same material in several places," he says, "you may be forming ... multiple associations for the same material, the same words and so on.  So it's better anchored in your brain, and you can pull it out easier."
Mix it up: Think about a football player who does strength training, speed training and drills. Carey says alternating between different facets of a subject in a single sitting can "leave a deeper impression on the brain." For example, when studying French, do some verbs, some speaking and some reading. Spending your time in deep concentration on just verbs, say, isn't as effective.  (For musicians, practice scales, warmups, technical exercises, soloing, improv, music writing etc to keep your skills well rounded.)
Space it out: Information learned in a hurry is lost just as fast. Carey likens cramming your brain to speed-packing a cheap suitcase — it all falls out. So if you really want to learn, space out shorter, hourlong study sessions. "There's no doubt you can cram your way through an exam," Carey says. The problem is that it's so easy to forget what you just crammed — and once it's gone, Carey says, "It's gone. You're not getting it back."  (One 3 hour practice session a week is nice, but not as long-term effective as six 30-minute practice sessions.)


Why is Heavy Metal an Acquired Taste?

Who wrote the first metal song?

Forget Sabbath. Blue Cheer? Yeah right. Not even Celtic Frost has anything on Igor Stravinsky.

Back in the misty land before vinyl, Stravinsky wanted to challenge his audience like never before. He wanted to reshape the public's opinion of what a song could be.

On May 29th, 1913 he premiered The Rite of Spring (Wikipedia).

There was a riot.

Police couldn't stop the fights. It was a classical mosh pit.

What was so different about this piece? Classical concerts are't really known for these shenanigans. The few times I've been they feel so proper that even clapping seems inappropriate.

First off, this piece features heavy doses of dissonance and polyrhythms. Sound familiar?

(side note, one year later The Rite of Spring was a smash hit with the public. That's like Blues Clues featuring Slayer as a musical guest)

When music is totally predictable and simple, it's reallllly boring. When music is totally unpredictable, it's stressful because your brain is trying desperately to find patterns in the chaos. (Previous Post) The music that really takes us over is music that walks the thin line between predictable and unpredictable.

All your expectations for what music can actually be and do are constructed from what you've heard in the past. As you become more and more enthralled with music, your library of knowledge grows. There's a reason that effective children's songs are simple and repetitive. Kids don't have the vast mental library of musical ideas like adults do. Because of this, the songs are simple and pleasing so the patterns are easily recognizable. (Infants smile when they hear perfect fifths and frown when they hear diminished fifths. Can't find the article at the moment.)

Now take that same baby and have it grow up with dad playing Judas Priest and Opeth on the ride to daycare and the child will start to become more familiar with the patterns and cliches of metal. The child would, so to speak, build up a tolerance for thrash, scream and lyrics a teenger would write in the margins of history homework.

Metal is an acquired taste because things like dissonance and polyrhythms don't come naturally, especially to non-musicians. It's all about developing an understanding of the bitter flavors of the beer and how they play off each other to create a symphony of hops and alcohol.

So you see, liking metal is a sign of sophisticated taste! (Haha, kidding!)

Hat tip to Radiolab for introducing me to the Rite of Spring. If you want to REALLY stretch your brain with one of the best produced podcasts on the planet, I HIGHLY recommend you start listening.


Selling Guitars for Pain and Profit

It hurt. A lot.

I barely let go.

Unh, so good. So good. I got youuuu!
Recently I sold my first custom guitar and the empty-nest feelings began right away. I loved this guitar. It was lightweight (what with all the holes drilled into it), had a diiiiiiirty metalicious tone and looked really freaking sweet. It felt magic as soon as I played the first note on it. Hell, every single track on our first album was done on this bass. (For my sound engineer readers, it was recorded straight through a DI box. That's it!)

I was proud.

But I wasn't prepared to get multiple offers on it so quick. Wow. I knew it was good for me but the fact that someone wanted to buy it without me even asking... I was flattered and defensive at the same time, haha. Flattered that it was good, but defensive because of all the attachment I had to this guy. It was my bass.

I decided to sell it anyway.

Art is a gift to be shared with the world. That's the joy of being an artist, seeding the world with beauty. It's a gift.

Which is all well and good, but this was my guitar! What actually made me decide to share it is that it served our long-term business strategy. 

    1. This guitar is a billion times better than a business card. When people see something far out of the ordinary they often have to ask "What the hell is that?" And then the owner of the guitar spreads the word about Onward We March and the guy who built the guitar. Word of mouth, baby. Marketing is best when you're clients do it for you. You don't even have to put on pants!

    2. This guitar meant more than a sale. I absolutely adored it so I was initially reluctant to let it go. The guitar had value. The buyer understood this. And then I decided to give it up. Relationships are built off of exchanging value, be it in the form of good conversation, rides to work, time spent, or guitars. This is a relationship that I definitely wanted to continue. Selling my beloved guitar was an exercise in relationship-building.

Nurture your most important relationships, even if it's difficult. The gifts you give will come back to you twofold. Relationships are all you've got. 


What's the Frame?

Note: I realize I'm digging in to a little more psychology than usual, but as we're finishing the mixing process for The Golden Vine it's becoming more and more clear that understanding group dynamics is of the utmost importance in creative endeavors. That being said, let's get on with it.

So I foreshadowed a little bit. 

In last week's post on addressing negotiation issues from a logical versus emotional standpoint, I exposed you to this week's concept: Framing. A frame is the name for the biases and preconceptions that people view a certain issue through, thus affecting their overall judgement of the issue. Framing is the process of choosing how one presents an issue by imposing a certain frame upon the issue. For example, last week I described logical versus emotional resistance in dealing with people. The frame that was implied in my discussion was that this is the way to interpret the examples I presented, leading you to further apply this (logic versus emotions) mindset to other real-world problems. Although it was a very obvious example, the way I presented my Phở joke in the last post is another good example of framing.

While I really do believe that the frame I presented last week is useful, always be aware of how issues are being framed and how that is an attempt to influence your thinking. There are millions of ways to approach every problem, framing is a tool that can just as easily lead you to a good conclusion as lead to astray. Logic versus emotion is a useful frame, but if we take it as the only frame then we miss the true robustness of a question. What if the someone acts in a grey area between reason and emotion?

Let's look at some more examples of framing and see how that affects us.

Example A: You're playing around on an excellent bass at a music store and you start chatting with a guy next to you who mentions he plays 6 instruments. You only play the good one (bass guitar). He asks why you don't play more instruments. 

Notice the frame taken by the multi-instrumentalist; "Playing multiple instruments is good." Is it? Does it matter that you can play a djembe? It does if you recorded every track on your album. It doesn't if you're a live band and can physically only play one instrument at a time. What about the amount of practice time you have available per instrument; is it possible to be amazing at multiple instruments? Does being good at one instrument make you better at another?

The questions keep piling up when you question the frame the six-instruments guy uses. The big question: How does this frame affect your answer? Would you be apologetic for playing only one? Would you be proud? Would you make excuses?

These are the considerations you should take when evaluating a frame.

Example B: You finish your conversation with the six-instruments guy and are approached by a salesperson. She begins to talk to you about what you're looking for in a bass guitar and makes the statement, "So how's the sustain on your current guitar?" 

Frame: "Sustain in what you should be concerned about in your next guitar." Every good salesperson knows how to frame a question perfect to get their customer to start thinking their way. Is sustain even relevant for your music? Punk rock doesn't need sustain, everything is eighth notes! How much more do guitars with "good sustain" cost?

How does the way this question is framed affect your answer? It's not hard to envision how the salesperson wants the conversation to go from here.


That's a primer on framing. We'll be coming back to this.



Logic And Emotions

It's no secret that every person has a different world view and different way of approaching problems. Some people think Phở is one of the best foods on the planet and other people are entirely wrong about everything. It's the nature of dealing with people.

When trying to persuade people to our viewpoint, we must first understand how they view the world. It is only then that we can actually speak in a language that they will understand. 

One way of framing this problem is whether people rationalize their decision on an issue through logical or emotional terms. This is a key indicator of how best to talk to the person on the issue.

Make a guess at how best to talk to your fellow band mate who says these statements:

"I don't know guys. Adding the E-bow sustain during the ballad section of the song clashes with the fluid, legato 6/8 feel of the section." - Example A

"Of course this part needs a bass solo! I just bought this brand new Modulus and I spent last weekend practicing non-stop" - Example B

Sure they're cheesy examples, but you get the point I'm trying to convey. When someone has told you (explicitly or implicitly) how they evaluated the merits of their position, they're conveying how you will have to talk to them. Would the person in example A really care if you got the EBow because you saw another band do it and it sounded cool? How do you think the person in example B would react if you started trying to explain the idea of "sunk costs"?

When you're trying to talk to people about their positions, make sure you speak the same language. Otherwise you're wasting breath.


Here's a quick article by Eric Barker with some research showing when it's important to say "I think" versus "I feel".


Copyright: A Curious Case of CD Confusion

As we drift further and further away from physical mediums for art and become more connected through the internet, the real purpose and value of a "copyright" blurs. In this periodic series on copyrights, I'll take various angles on the idea of copyright and see if we can wrap our heads around the whole idea.

It's 1991, and U2 is at the top of their game with the reinvention of their sound on Achtung Baby, which later went on to go platinum EIGHT times on the US Billboard 200 Top Albums list. 

Life was good.

Then this started appearing in stores.

Fans were furious.

It was an EP featuring a remix of the song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" that the band made so famous. Except this version featured the original song mangled, kazoos, and Casey Kasem (of American Top 40 and Scooby Doo fame) shouting profanities at his staff.

Uh, what?

Turns out it wasn't U2 releasing an album called Negativland, it was Negativland releasing their EP named U2, with a picture of a U2 bomber on the cover. But people at the stores didn't know that. If you see the words U2, you expect Bono and crew doing their thing. 

It was a joke.

Needless to say, U2's lawyers unleashed their full legal fury on Negativland. Negativland (obviously) expected this lawsuit. That was the point of this artistic endeavor, to question the nature of intellectual property. The band's defense was that it fell under the umbrella of Fair Use. 

They lost, but that leaves an interesting question: Is this fair use appropriation of the music of U2? Where is the line between outright stealing (Ice Ice Baby not giving writing credits for the bassline) versus using samples in an entirely original way (Girl Talk and other mashup artists)? Should we have to pay royalties to write a song in the pattern of the twelve bar blues? What do you think?

For a more in-depth covering of this incident, check out Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2 that Negativland released later in the 90s.


Why Are So Many Musicians Crazy?

Charles Mingus, Buddy Rich, Jim Morrison... There's a long, loooong list of geniuses who went back for seconds at the craziness buffet line. Sadly, people have come to accept this from artists.

The same goes for the entrepreneurs that shape our industry. Henry Ford, Jack Welch, John D. Rockefeller...

Yahoo finance just put out an amazing article on how certain types of mental illness (specifically Mania in this article), when present in milder forms, actually help entrepreneurs. Jure Robic has broken countless ultra-endurance events (8 straight days of racing across 3,000 miles) by quite literally driving himself insane. (See also my previous article on artists as entrepreneurs)

Let's think about the parallels and why this is.

Most musicians fail at becoming full-time musicians / getting famous. Most startups fail within five years. A new band is competing with every major label band for attention. A new computer is competing with every other computer business in the same field.

The odds are against you. 

From the yahoo article: "You need to suspend disbelief to start a company, because so many people will tell you that what you’re doing can’t be done, and if it could be done, someone would have done it already,” says Paul Maeder, a general partner at Highland Capital. “There are six billion human beings on this planet, we’ve been around for hundreds of thousands of years, we’re a couple hundred years into the industrial revolution — and nobody has done what you want to do? It’s kind of crazy.”"

And there we have it. It does take a little bit of crazy to think you can do something better than anyone else before.

But that's how absolutely everything we know and use everyday began.


So where does that leave us? Should we make the "rational" choice and just give up because our chances at success are so small? Should we sniff airplane glue until we believe we're the lizard king here to deliver the tastiest riffs ever picked out of a telecaster?

Not quite.

What we do, is balance.

Believe in your music, against all odds. Work, practice, hustle, sweat with the conviction that it will pay off. This kind of confidence inspires others and, more importantly, makes them confident that you actually can do the things you say.

But do not get lost in hubris. Be aware of your place in the world and what you can realistically accomplish. Set goals that are within your realm, don't plan on selling out a stadium when you can only pull 7 people to your shows. You'll get burned out. 

Success is a long distance race, not a sprint. Believe in yourself, but be real.



Courtney Love on "The Biz"

Out of the many musicians on the planet, Courtney Love is not who I expected to write such a brilliant article on the current state of the music business. It's a brilliant macro-level view of what's been going on in the last decade. Most importantly, she gets to the heart of the issue. Record labels are distributors. That's it.

And this was written back in 2000.

Without further ado:


Of Unicycles and Songwriting

Unicycles seem magic. Somehow a stick with a wheel on it being used as a means of transportation seems inefficient. But it works. A good friend of mine decided to take up unicycling as a hobby (?) a year back and now regularly commutes to work on it. He wants to start a unicycle crew and roll around town clowning on those with two or more wheels.


To an outsider, unicycles seem magic. But really it doesn't take anything more than practice and strong knee pads. It's a skill. Sure, you can read articles on unicycling, watch youtube videos of professionals in action, or purchase "super high-quality" unicycle accessories to try and get better. But it's a skill. You get better at unicycling by unicycling

The same goes for songwriting.

Is it any surprise that the great songwriters of our generation have massive song catalogs? Sure, there's trash in all vast archives, but that doesn't matter when you create songs that become cultural touchstones. 

Let's get down and nerdy.

Think of song writing skill as a percentage of good songs, similar to a free throw percentage. Assume you've got a songwriting skill of 7%, meaning whenever you write a song you've got a 7% chance of it being "good" as determined by your audience. If you only write five songs a year, what are your chances of putting out a decent album? What if you write five songs a month? A week? 

What matters is both your songwriting skill percentage AND the number of attempts you make. There are limits to how good you can make your songwriting skill through laboring over a single song, studying, or otherwise avoiding writing songs. If you want to be good at a skill, practice it! This should not be hard for musicians to understand.

And as you increase the number of songs you write, you'll get better too. Going from five songs a year to ten songs a year gives you more practice writing, performing and editing these pieces, giving you a stronger idea of what a good song is and is not. You'll understand your strengths and weaknesses, and how best to leverage the talent you've got to create a memorable piece.

If you want to write good songs, write more songs. 


Being in a Band is Marriage

I was talking with another musician about dealing with band issues, and he let slip this little gem:

"Pfft, that's not bad. The only time my band gets along on stage. We're always fighting!" Then he smiled and laughed.

Wow. Isn't that appalling? Only on stage?

A few months back I watched as a strong, decent-pulling band imploded.  All the sweat, callouses, and brilliance poured into the band evaporated in a flash. It was band dynamics; corrosive personalities ate the band alive. It was terrifying.

This can happen to any band at any time... You can lose everything at any moment. This is a truth. 

A band is an artistic vessel that requires the strong cooperation of personalities. But creativity is disruptive by its nature. There will be conflict. And it is how you handle these conflicts that will determine your success or failure as a band. It's about relationships.

When you join a band, you're married. Instead of a wedding ring you get cheap beer, but it's a full-on wedding. You must understand your partner to have a successful marriage. Does your bassist have trouble with directions no matter where he's going? Does your guitarist get touchy when you talk badly of a band he likes? Does your singer smell really bad and scare off fans? Every person has their own personality quirks and habits that range from mildly irksome to a full on terror. Your decisions and actions must take these issues into account. The only security you have against a band breakup is how well you manage your relationships to keep everyone happy.

How do you get better at this?

1. Outside Learning

Start reading relationship advice and management columns/blogs. Study books on keeping your marriage strong (I'm not kidding!). Take a class at a community college on organizational behavior to learn the psychology of how people behave in groups. Anything to help you decode the dynamics of people interacting with one another can help you learn how best to handle drama when it shows up for a visit.

2. Inside Learning

Every issue you have is an experiment. You respond according to your hypothesis, and the result either confirms or disproves your hypothesis. Take notes on band issues, how you handle them, and the results of your actions. This is a fantastic opportunity to learn how to best manage your band mates, but it's sooooooo easy to ignore. If your bassist doesn't respond well to a direct criticism during practice, you now know you'll have to adjust how to talk about issues with them. Keep tinkering until you get the response you want, then take note of what works for future purposes.

A band is a marriage. If you want it to last, learn everything you can about your spouse and your relationship. It's all you've got keeping the ship afloat. 


Side Project: The Great Nothing

To blow off some creative steam while the The Golden Vine slowly coalesced, I decided to buy a bare bones copy of protools and put together an ambient / doom side project to give my OWM writing skills a rest. Sometimes the best way to get fire up your creative energy is to do something new and totally unrelated to what you're accustomed to do.

I'm very pleased with the result of this project, and I feel very revitalized to start writing for our next album already.

The Great Nothing is a 20 minute, four movement piece about the creeping of nihilism that haunts our steps towards improving the world. Time coldly erases all. It is about facing the part of ourselves that wants us to fail at any cost. It is a scary piece, for sure, but ends with hope. The fight can never be won but we must fight regardless, for all we have is our actions. We must be good.

We must be good.

In this song, I play using only guitars I've built (a doubleneck bass/guitar and a p bass), my voice droning, and sound effects from objects in my reach including a squeaky chair and a computer keyboard. I avoided doing multiple passes on each track to correct mistakes, it felt better with chopped and chipped notes. The musical lines are threads of thought, attempting to make sense of The Great Nothing, with imperfect results. No matter, minute details are of little importance. It's about the journey, and it's about the cause.

This EP/really-long-song is best administered in a quiet room with headphones. I made the track downloadable so you can carry it to wherever would be best to listen to it.

It's a personal journey.

I won't name the movements. I won't explain the stories behind each section. I won't impose any more meaning beyond what I've said.

Like all of life's experience, it's only you who can imbue it with ultimate meaning.

It's a personal journey.


How NOT To Social Network

Myspace, as a medium for social networking, is useless. The signal to noise ratio has plummeted so low that there is essentially no point in trying to reach fans through MySpace. It's all comment spam, automatic "friending" programs, and bots. Most myspace comment boards look like this:

Do your fans really want to be spoken to in this way? What does it say about you as an artist if you use the same tactics that mass junk mail operations to reach them? Does ANYONE ever have meaningful conversations through this medium that lead to a minor fan to becoming a superfan?

Let's think about this. You are a musician, and you have limited time. Presumably, you are much better at music than most other things and should be spending most of your time on it if that's how you intend to create a career. As such, you should always be conscious of the return on your investments (ROI), whether you're spending time, money, trust, or fan attention (yes, it IS a currency). If you put in x amount of time putting up myspace comments, how do you expect this time spent to pay you back? If you're sending out spammed messages, you're spending time, attention, and trust.

Would it take 10 of these comment posting to lead to someone buying a song? Probably not. How about 100? A 1000? Ask yourself, when was the last time you saw a comment posted on a MySpace page and thought "Hmm, I should give these guys ten bucks" ?

Think on it.

Yeah, that's what I thought.

When you are choosing how you're going to market your music and talk to your fans, be very conscious of your ROI. You've got limited resources. When you spend, make sure that you'll be getting more back than you spent.

Unless, of course, you really want to get burned out and quit music forever. Then by all means spend frivolously!


"The Scene"

Grunge in Seattle during the 90s (now it's Indie Rock), Rap in Chicago and Atlanta in the mid 00s, Jazz in New Orleans since always, these are some of the famous scenes and sounds that define them. 

This didn't happen by accident. A "scene" is more often than not consciously created by similar bands who decided they wanted to make a difference.

"Power" in any industry comes from like-minded people helping each other out.
 Like it or not, humans are social creatures. Friends of friends are the primary engines of progress.

Why are you ignoring your community?



We compose our songs initially using tab writing software so we can write parts for everyone and play with more complicated ideas. Plus, it's fun to write parts you can't even play without massive amounts of practice.

In the process of passing around ideas, I noticed that some (what I thought were) seriously good ideas were flopping. It was frustrating, especially when I had that feeling of knowing this song was good.

So I began to ruminate, and after many cups of tea I realized something. We all saw the same music file, but only I got the full picture. I was hearing a different song than everyone else. Every time.

Although I wrote in a guitar part or a bass part, the rest of the instrumentation I didn't transcribe. Even though they were an integral part of the song, I assumed that the drum parts were obviously implied complements to the melody I wrote down. "Why bother writing them down? Everyone knows what I mean!" And another song would flop.

Bad assumptions kill communication. By not completely transcribing the music I heard in my head to the software program, I was effectively "spking n brkn st n o ne cld ndrstn me." Talking like that is not persuasive. Hearing incomplete, stuttering music tracks is not moving. It is not fair to your song to improperly communicate it.

Effective communication is clear. Don't mumble. Don't make assumptions. Spell it out.


You Are Only As Profitable As You Are Differentiated

I love this business school mantra because it captures the music world perfectly.

Read it again: you are only as profitable as you are differentiated.

No one cares about "the new AC/DC". If people want AC/DC they listen to AC/DC (or a tribute band with tiny guitars). No one is interested in a band that bases themselves off AC/DC's sound.

It's tough to play music different than the rest of the scene. But it's essential if you want to have long-term success.

It's was tough to play rock n' roll in the 50s too. Cities would ban bands from stepping foot into any of their auditoriums, citing a "riot danger" (For more reading on rock and roll censorship). But the Stones did it. And they broke down many of the barriers we would still face today if they had not.

If you are creating music, do something new with it. Otherwise, you're a cover band.



When I was an (unoffical) teacher's aide working at a technical school for music for a summer, I only remember meeting one guy there. He was nice enough, but I couldn't really take him seriously after hearing about his "big idea"!

His whole band played miniature instruments.

Making yourself easier to talk about is fantastic, there's nothing wrong with wanting to increase the velocity of your word of mouth. But don't forget that the medium is a part of the message. Are "tiny instruments" the hallmark of a breakout success band or a cover band at a bar and grill? It all depends what the band's goal is.  I know I wouldn't take their music seriously, but if they were in the background at my pub I'd be OK with listening to them.


If it contributes more to your art than it distracts, it's art.
If it distracts more than it contributes, it's a gimmick.
Where that line is, however, is the audience's decision.


Musician Time

"Musician Time" is one of the most frustrating aspects of dealing with musicians. Load in time says 7 so, the average person would assume you should show up at 7.


Bands and everyone start sauntering up to the venue maybe 7:45 to 8. And this happens every time. Being as punctual as I am, this constantly drove me insane. It wasn't until I read Zimbardo's The Time Paradox and took a class on international strategy that I finally got it.

People's different beliefs in time affect their behavior and interpretation of the world. The conditions someone live and work in shape the person. It's simple, but often overlooked.

In Project Time, a product is done when it is absolutely perfect and has spent the last few months being tweaked. This is why albums take so long to put out, there's no concrete schedule (in most cases) other than when an artist thinks his work will be "ready'.

In Linear Time, a product is done when it's time to ship. This would be many business situations, where if you don't ship your product on time you're out of a house. Sure, there'll be bugs, but it's more important to be on time.

(Roughly) Most musicians live in Project Time, and most businessmen live in Linear Time. Being aware of the time perspective of who you are dealing with will make life much easier. Always understand how these differences in time perspective may affect people's behavior. If you think linear, (like myself), it's easy to get frustrated that nothing is ever on time with music, but by understanding the project viewpoint of "hey, as long as I'm on stage when it's stage time, we're good" it makes it much easier to work with.

Regardless, I'll still be waiting outside the venue at "load in time". It's how I think.


Science: How To Improve Your Practice

Practice is more effective if you vary between different tasks, such as between dexterity and improvisational exercises.

Courtesy of The Situationist:

“While it may be harder during practice to switch between tasks … you end up remembering the tasks better later than you do if you engage in this drill-like practice,” Winstein said.


Sustainable Fan Growth

Getting people to come out to your shows is the name of the game, but who you bring is just as important as how many you bring. Fan growth has to be sustainable for you to have a future in music.

Lately I've seen some local bands that miss the "sustainable" aspect of this formula. The band just printed off a new set of t-shirts (that look quite fantastic!) to help cover costs and plan for their next album. Cool, so I helped them out and bought one.

As we talked, however, I started to realize that the only people they were selling t-shirts to were other bands, not approaching new fans at shows.

It's not that it's bad to give and receive support from other bands, it's quite important actually. But this isn't sustainable fan growth. Musicians, (surprise!) have limited time and cash. There's a limit to how much each person can give.

Selling one shirt to another band will make you a couple bucks. Selling one shirt to an honest fan will make you a couple bucks now, plus increased devotion to your band. The real value in selling merch is helping your fans express their fandom to others. (Remember my post on
fan identity?)

You've only got so much time and energy to sell, make sure you focus your efforts on the
long-term. Are you selling to the right people?


Everything That Went Right At The Granada

I saw Sage Francis on his last tour at The Granada in Dallas and I was once again reminded why I love that place. There's a reason they're the best music venue in Dallas for three years running; they know how to do the business side of music without ruining the music itself.

On the back of a cocktail napkin I wrote down everything I saw that The Granada did right that night.
-Whenever the bands are loading onto the stage, three giant projector screens display upcoming shows in a genre similar to the artist on stage, music videos for those artists, and various ads for local eateries. I'm especially fond of the music videos aspect, as it takes a captive audience and exposes them to new music they're likely to enjoy. Brilliant!

-At the door when you get your ID checked, the staff urges you to sign up for the email list for this show to get free pictures of the event emailed to you the next day.

-There are separate email lists for indie, hip hop, country, etc. You only sign up for the genre you're interested in.

-It was a smaller show so they roped off the balcony. It might not seem like much, but having a smaller packed venue is more important than a larger sparse venue.

-In the lobby area they serve super-greasy bar food, ideal to capture the post-concert drunk-munchies before any other restaurant gets their cash money.

-The patio / smoking area is giant and open, which encourages fans to "hang out" there before and after shows. This helps both to build social proof and place the Granada in the fan's mind as "a place to hang out". Many venues don't have "chill" areas like this that enable it to become a "scene", so to speak.

-They give away earplugs at every one of the bars. That makes me smile. DON'T GET TINNITUS, IT IS NOT FUN. WEAR EARPLUGS.

-When Sage Francis walked off stage to greet everyone after the last song, the venue was cool with it. They turned up the house lights so everyone could see, no bouncers hustling people out of the doors at all. It seems simple, but events like this a fan will remember. It doesn't matter that it made the venue close down much later than it would have; you've just attached your name to a powerful fan memory. 

I really, really dig this venue both for business and music purposes.


A Change of Direction

So I'm cutting the "Influence" articles idea. My number one priority is to not waste your time. After reading through the book again I realized that for music, many of these truths are a little obvious and I've already harped on them a million times before (social proof, I'm looking at you).

Sometimes a song isn't good. Simple as that. Go write a new one.

Back to business.


Influence Applied to Music: Reciprocity (Part 1 of 6)

Reciprocity: People tend to return favors.

Simple. Profound.
The best way to get help is to give it first.

When you play a show for a new promoter, print up fliers with your own money and pass them around, making sure that the promoter knows you were the one who did it. Then talk to them after the show and ask "Hey, can you guys put us on with the next national act that comes though?" Not only does the promoter know you'll help them do their job and thus make more money, there's the social obligation to pay back those who help you. Don't underestimate this effect.


A Shotgun of Persuasion

Robert Cialdini is the man when it comes to persuasion. This short video is a shotgun blast of information on how to be a more effective communicator. (For a more in-depth view of these arguments, read his book.)

Watch this video, and in the following weeks I'll explain how you can apply this knowledge to your music.  



Record Labels Are Venture Capitalists

Venture capitalists are one of the engines that fuel our economy but, as sexy as they sound, they're not always the best route. Sure, you get capital up front, but you give up control. The amount of control you have to give up varies, but expect to give up at least 51% ownership. This means you gave up control of your business. Venture capitalists aren't there for cuddles and s'mores, it's all about return on investment (ROI). If a business doesn't produce enough cash for the venture capital firm, that business will get dropped.

It's a business.

Record labels are the exact same. They choose to "invest" in your band if you show promise to make them more money. You get an advance (capital) in exchange for control. If you're not a strong member of their portfolio (artist catalog) then it's quite likely you'll be dropped from the label and owe them that fat advance back. If you're not making them their money back plus interest, they'll drop you. If they don't like the direction you're going, (jazz band moving into crust punk?) they'll drop you. If you say something controversial, they'll drop you. Its a business.

Be very, very careful giving up any control of your music. Once you've given it away, you'll never get it back.

Never stop asking yourself, "What is in my music's best interest?". No one cares more about your music than you.


"Going Viral" Is A Waste

Please don't waste your time trying to go "viral". Trust me, you don't want it.

Sure, it's a sexy buzzword. Sounds downright fun to get a million youtube hits in a week; "Woo woo! We're gonna get a million dollar record contract now, lets go out and buy golden toilets!"


Speed of adoption is inversely correlated with longevity. Or, to put it more plainly:

The faster you rise, the faster you're gone.

The Beatles didn't "Go Viral", they worked their asses off on their music night after night after night. Michael Jordan didn't make a video of a cat playing a keyboard next to footage of him playing; he worked his ass off on his game night after night after night.

I'm not denying that the idea of getting your "Big Break From The Internets" isn't sexy. I've fantasized about the magical "discovery of our band" too. Sounds fun.

But don't forget how short memory is on the internet. Getting attention for the sake of attention is a waste of time. The only endurable way to build your musical future is to get attention because you've worked your ass off night after night after night, when your stage performance is so brilliant that anyone who sees you will tell their friends "Hey man, these guys are INSANE on stage! I want to steal their garbage they're so good!"


Music Lessons Make You Smarter

Once again, an amazing post by Eric. More info at Newsweek and in the book This Is Your Brain on Music.

Music really is awesome for you. Let's take a look at everything music does
-Childhood musical training creates a sustained increase in IQ.
-Musical training improves math skills
-Musicians have a 10-15% larger corpus callosum, the brain structure connecting the left & right hemispheres

However, it has yet to improve musicians' ability to arrive on time. Bummer.


Protect Ya Neck - Your Rhymes Will Be Bit

Songs Get Stolen. (That's right, Zeppelin stole the into to Stairway to Heaven)

It's devastating when someone is out there making money off of your baby. It hurts. Just pray they're not more famous than you which, in the public's eyes, means the bigger group wrote the song. (If you were proactive enough to get a copyright, by all means go after them! You're lucky!) But often issues such as this might get overlooked, or not be properly covered, the copyright is only good on a full moon, etc. 

Often, there is very little you can do. The internet is the wild west; once a song is out there, it's out of your control.

Don't despair. Don't freak out. Don't give up.

You should probably be flattered when someone blatantly steals your art. It means someone else believes your art is good enough to be worth stealing!

Remember, the greatest value you have as a musician is constantly delivering high value content. If you become known as a fountain of good ideas and songs, then you're power to defend your competitive advantage is iron clad. You're famous for songwriting not that one song.

People can steal your songs, but they can't steal your brain.

You should be constantly creating new and better songs to build up your reputation as someone who makes good songs. It's the same as with the software industry. New software can usually be reverse engineered and pirated within days of release. How do software company's stay profitable and keep competitors from swooping in copying their product at a cheaper price? It's the brand name that keeps you strong.

Apple makes well designed devices, not brilliant, super-high-tech gadgets using the most state-of-the art materials and software packages. Their customers think "Apple makes well designed devices that 'just work'". It doesn't matter than many other companies jump on the bandwagon to copy the iPhone. The iPhone is strong because of Apple's reputation for making well designed devices.

If David Byrne is in on a new project, I want to hear it! Yes, he wrote song great songs with the Talking Heads, but he's famous because David Byrne writes good music. You can't take that away.

Yes, you should get a copyright (PR & SR for my US readers). But it's not copyrights that protect you. It's your ability to constantly deliver high value content.


The Fine Line

As a young band, it's very tough to get the attention of taste makers without a fan base. And it's hard to get a fan base without taste makers.

Why is this? Why do so many people in the music industry seem like they live to ignore your music?

Let me introduce to you my buddy, the slush pile.

This is what music industry professionals see every day. There is essentially inifinite music on the planet now. It's inevitible your music will get lost if you don't do something. (That's what this blog is about; getting through the noise)

So in the beginning, we're left with the very unappetizing but very necessary task of bugging people until they listen. Excessive promotion/hype backfies, (you didn't actually need this scientific proof for that, did you?), and not-promoting isn't an answer either.

So how much is enough?

Sadly, there's no easy answer. This is one you have to learn for yourself. Every person you deal with has a different threshhold for how much promotion you can wave at them. Always be concious of how much you talk, what you're saying, and how the other person reacts. The more you learn how to empathize and read people the more effective your marketing will be.

Is your producer battling with an unproductive but very lucrative major label band that's behind deadline? You should probably go easy on contacting them. Stress means a shorter fuse. Is your promoter thinking about cancelling your event? Might be a good time to offer to chip in for flyers and help run them. Think about people.

Yes, this is very simple  stuff but it has a profound effect on how people will react to your promotion. You don't want to be a no-name band who is too pushy / stupid / not pushy enough. You'll stay no-name.

It just takes practice.


Digital Royalties

Won't amount to much if you're working for a label.

Here's the number of monthly track sales a solo artist needs to make in order to be earning the equivalent to the US minimum wage. (Inforgraphic) (Spreadsheet)
The problem with making money online from music isn't piracy. Music pirates spend over twice more on music than non-pirates. Music pirates are the ones who cannot get enough music, they're the industry's number one customers. The guy who has 12 terabytes of music on his computer is the same one willing to drive eight hours to pay see his favorite act and pick up a t shirt. And they're the ones the RIAA is suing "on behalf of the artists." It's like if Apple were to start arresting people who stood in line for hours for the iPad in order "to make way for paying customers."

No, it's not piracy. Today, the problem with making money online is outdated cost structure. Back when the only was to move music was pieces of plastic, the cost-heavy structure for major labels made sense. It was essential to have access to many distribution, promotional, and retail channels. There was no other way for the music to get out. 
Now music has left the physical medium and returned to it's natural state, in the air floating into your ears. It's music, that's what it does. The only difference is that people now have access to even more music than before.
Now look back at that chart and compare what a self-released CD earns for the artist versus a major label released CD. 
If a self-released artist sells 10,000 CDs they're AMAZING.
If a major label artist sells 10,000 CDs they *might* have broken even. No royalties to the artist unless the advance was covered (it wasn't). Only one in ten major label backed albums turn a profit.
Makes you rethink what being signed means, doesn' it?


On The Efficacy of Flava Flav

Flava Flav is a fascinating case study in the psychology of fans. He's credited with popularizing the role of the hype man in rap groups, yet often gets unfairly hated on for this role because it appears "simple" and "pointless".

This is incorrect. Flava Flav had a profound effect on improving Public Enemy.

He's offering a proper introduction to the rest of the group, thus increasing the effectiveness of their message. Take a speech making class and you'll realize the importance of having a proper introduction. It's hard to start a dynamic, riveting presentation when you're introduced by Ben Stein on valium. First impressions matter and shape the rest of the all future interactions. You want the audience primed for you.

Mr. Flav was like an opening act that always brought the energy of the crowd up in a manner that fits what Public Enemy envisioned.

So people were primed to have an awesome concert experience because Flava Flav got them riled up and in a good mood. Awesome. But this gets even more interesting. It's well known that Public Enemy was a very political act and, even though Flav seemingly was less involved in this aspect than Chuck D or Professor Griff, he still served this aspect of the band. People in positive moods are significantly more persuaded by a message and less likely to critically process the message in depth.

Flava Flav gave Public Enemy's message the extra persuasive strength it needed to really resonate with their fans.

Powerful stuff.

Flava Flaaaaaaaaaaaav!

So this part is important. Before you get off stage, always make sure to hype the crowd up for the next act. Do them a favor, and when it gets returned to you, be grateful. If you have to, go up and ask them to do this before your set. You've got another band bringing you some Flava.

All the bands win when the crowd is in a crazy-excited mood.


The Salesman With A Bow Tie

(Continued from last week's post on bragging)

So now we know the most effective way to brag requires that the person we're talking to bring up the subject we want to brag about.

But how do we get people to regularly bring up the topic of our band without goading them?

I knew a salesman who wore a bow tie in an office with an (understood) dress code advocating a normal tie. And he wore that tiny, audacious little bow tie all day, every day.

I was puzzled, to say the least. If the whole point of being a salesman is to become liked and trusted, why a wear a beacon like a bow tie? It's all I could focus on when I was talking to him, like one of those 600 pound pumpkins in a stack of regular pumpkins. I don't trust giant pumpkins.

So I asked.

His explanation, "It's makes my sales easy. It's different. People notice it and, since almost no one wears them, they always ask the same question. 'How do you tie that thing?' Since I know what they're going to ask before they ask it, I have a planned conversation where I guide them into asking me questions about my products. Once they ask, it's clear sailing."

Whoa. That's deep.

So the message is wear bow ties.


It's about the idea of the bow tie. You want to have something, either physical or verbal, that people have predictable responses to so you can build a well-crafted response that is effective at promoting your band, while still not coming across as uncalled for bragging.

  -Talking to a coworker who wasn't aware you were in a band.
       Coworker: "Hey man, how're you doing today?"
       You: "Meh, alright. I've got a little writer's block is all, but I just got my TPS report in on time so I'm happy about that."
       Coworker: "Writer's block? About what?"
       You: "Well, my album..."
They asked, which gives you permission to brag. Score.

It could be something simple as when you open your wallet to show your ID at a bar, having a guitar pick placed precariously so it falls out on the bar counter. Neat!

UPDATE: This just happened to me. There's a chain around Dallas that touts itself as a "good 'ol hometown diner", the kind of place where you envision every waitress is named Flo. Awesome, love it.

Anyways. I'm idling while my friend gets his wisdom teeth eviscerated so I'm studying my copy of Tour Smart coated in sticky notes.

As the waitress brings my waffle, "Hey guy, so what are you studying?"
"Eh, we're going on tour this summer and I'm kinda scared about how complex this whole thing is, so I'm studying this."
"Oooh, sounds tough. So you're in a band? What type of music do you play?"
"Heavy metal."
"I love metal! Metallica is my soul!"

Whoa. Flo knows how to party.

Me: "Right on, that's awesome! Here, let me give you my card. We've got our album coming out this summer, and I think you might like it!"


 NOTE: The trick is in the subtlety of your delivery. If you go overboard, like have a guitar tattooed on your face, it'll be too obvious that you're fishing for comments. That's exactly the same as a badly executed brag. Don't be a wanker who brings an acoustic guitar to a small house party. You want it to seem as if you've just casually mentioned something band-related without harping on it. Remember, if the other people believes they were the one who asked, you'll have a good brag.


How To Brag Without Coming Off Like A Wanker

Now this is a brilliant post from the BPS Research Blog.

Quick Version: We've all met that one person whose sole purpose in life is showing off their new car, job promotion, paternity test etc. Not only is it annoying, but it's counterproductive. Repulsing the people you're trying to convince to like your work is not a sustainable strategy.

The alternative of avoiding self-promotion is also not an option. Remember, the most visible reap the most rewards. Playing only to your fifteen cats and extensive porcelain doll collection won't have you selling out stadiums. (Might get some YouTube hits though.)

So what is it that makes one brag effective and the other off-putting?

For a brag to be effective, the person receiving the brag must have brought up the topic.
If someone asks you, "Hey, how's that friend peanut butter and banana sandwich?" and you reply, "Good, which reminds me about our album due out next Spring which will feature...." That's off-putting. They wanna know about that sammich.

If someone asks you, "Hey, how's your band doing?", you've got free reign to fire away with your best elevator pitch. They want to know about your band, so let em have it.

Now this is good stuff. But how do we take advantage of this?

Check out next week for the answer. I'm excited to share this with you.

It's good.

Real good.

By the way, if you've just started reading I'd love to talk with you! Leave me a comment, follow me, shoot me an angry email, whatever! Conversations make us smart.


Musicians Are Planets (Total Art)

When I visited La Pedrera in Barcelona, I came upon an idea that Gaudi built into his architecture: the idea of Total Art.

Total Art was the idea that every single detail related to a work was to tie to together and enhance the experience, blending seamlessly into real life.The architecture of Gaudi was the perfect example of this; his houses were built not only for grand aesthetics but for functionality (the weird-looking door handles are designed to fit a right hand perfectly). We live in his art.

This is exactly what today's music must now be.

Your band is a planet. When people come to your show, it's your duty to take them into your total art and really become a part of your music.

Do you make music people listen to when you're lonely? Then colonize that planet, own it.
Do you make music to beat up your best friend? You'd better be able to get your audience angry!
Do you make music to wiggle butts? Shake yours.

But your planet is bigger than just live shows and your music.

-What language do you speak to visitors to your planet? (humble? bubbly? aloof? giggly?)
-What type of artwork and aesthetics let a visitor know they're on your planet? (skulls? flowers? emus? huge butts?)
-What's the weather like? (moody? dancy? frigid? sweaty?)

Create a planet worth visiting. Create somewhere for your fans to get swallowed up in when they're tired of Earth. Create total art.