New to the conversation? Check out my greatest hits!


Who Do We Reward More, The Best or The Most Visible?

Since you've been reading my blog and know how I roll, you can probably figure this one out. (Read this  fantastic post by Eric Barker for the science.)

The most visible are consistently more rewarded than their performance merits.

That's why Nickleback has sold over 6 million albums. They're everywhere, whether you like it or not. Magazines, blogs, radio, tv, etc. Pretty much everyone knows about them. Yuck.

So what's going on here? Why is this? Is this a giant troll that the world is going to unveil in a few years? (a la Andy Kaufman's style).

Nope. Once again the peculiar human brain is at work.

Cognitive Fluency: The ease with which an idea is recalled directly relates to how the brain processes it. Information that's easy to recall is treated as more true and important than other information.
(More Science)

Remember what I said about flyer design? If it's not legible, you're wasting your time.

Before we were Onward We March, one of the names we went through was The Cask of Amontillado (based off that AMAZINGLY metal story by Edgar Allen Poe where a guy is buried alive.) I still love the story, but whenever we'd mention our name to someone they'd get confused. Even worse, neither Tito nor I could actually spell Amontillado without looking it up. We changed our name, people remember. Lesson learned.

Flip on youtube and you'll find fifty million people who can play their instrument better than you ever will. They're 12 and they play years ahead of many professional players. Whatever. Who do we think of when we think guitar gods? It's not jUssGTR33, it's Dimebag Darrell.

Talent can only do so much. If people have to strain to remember anything about you, you're selling yourself and all your hard work short.

Be visible. Be easily memorable. Promote.


Creating vs. Honing

The more time you spend as a musician you'll begin to realize the importance of listening to your moods. Sometimes practice will be super-productive, other times you might as well be sniffing paint it's that pointless.   

Do you know the difference between the moods of creativity? 

-=Creating is when you're drawing new ideas out of the great cosmic jar of idea-plasm and giving them a basic shape. You do not criticize ideas during this phase, it's pure idea generation. Neuroscientists have shown that during phases of pure and spontaneous creation, your brain turns off self-censoring and inhibition. A new idea is highly disruptive and challenging to your current schema of the world, so it only makes sense that your defense mechanisms would kick in to shut down this idea that would cause too much of a ruckus. If you've got an over-active internal censor, you risk shutting down millions of brilliant ideas before they have had time to breathe. This is *part* of writer's block. (To be discussed in a later post)

-=Honing is where you're chiseling and chipping away the rough edges and giving definition to the idea-plasm. This is where you get fussy about how long you swing the third eighth in the second repeat. Unless you're full of more hubris than Kanye, you realize that not every idea is generation-defining, so you weed out the bad ones here. As such, make sure that when you're in this mood you're using it properly. When you're feeling analytical, now is not the time to try being creative and making music, you'll just end up pissed off that you can't come up with any ideas. Go retool an old song or woodshed some scales while your brain is in this mode.

Don't get confused of which phase you're in. It'll stunt your art.


What's your fan pipeline?

How do you turn a chump with ears into a fan so obsessive they dig through your garbage?

1. Hear your single.
2. Super-fan?
Probably not.

More Realistically:
1. Hear 1/2 a song showing up at the end of your set opening for a band the fan actually came to see.
2. Sorta remember a song. Promptly forget.
3. See your band mentioned on another flyer.
4. Hear a song of yours off myspace.
5. Buy a song.
6. Done.

Don't feel bad about something like this, you've sold a song! But if you wanna quit your day job and live off song (and I want it soooo bad!), you're gonna need a whole lot more songs sold. And apparently all your other band members want to be paid too... (pricks)

So how do you plan on getting a super-fan?

Two things.
  -Make it exciting to become more involved with your music.
  -Make a pathway for fans who want to get more involved so they know how to do it.

Don't "just" have your music. Your art is too big for that! Make it stretch as wide and deep as you can! Make people want to get sucked into your band's world.

The initial contact most people have with your music will be cursory at most, so don't bother putting your heart and soul into this. Just use these initial contact points to give people a little bit of information, then direct them to the one place you do want them to focus on. The more you can focus on one destination, the more enthralling you can make the journey. Make as many points of casual contact as you can, then lead them to your brilliantly sculpted garden.

Reward people for increasing their devotion to you!!!


Why should someone give a crap about you once they've been to one show or bought one song?


How To Make Fans Faster

How To Make Fans Faster

The band you crave, the music you listen to when you're pissed off / feeling amazing, your idols... How did this happen? How did you find them? Think for a moment.

I heard Mastodon's Leviathan at a Border's recommended music section right after I just had a friend call me out for being whipped by my first girlfriend. Hell no I wasn't whipped, rargh! (denial and youth are a funny thing).

I heard Radiohead's Kid A by picking it up because it had cool artwork and I'd sorta heard about them. I hadn't listened to the CD yet so I brought it on a CD player to a friend's house in high school. After one minute everyone in the room got noticeably pissed off, "What is this crap, Derek?!?". I loved the band instantly.

I heard about Kaki King through my mom's recommendation. I was dreading the listen as her musical taste is incorrect. Mom was right for the first time since ever.

So what's the common thread?

(dramatic pause)

(go get a cup of coffee or something, so it's like a biiiiiig pause)


Music is not experienced in a vacuum, it's a social art form. Not only do we go to shows with friends to see the actual band, we judge music based on the social cues we receive. We expect to see world-renowned concert violinists playing in carnage hall. We expect to see mediocre violinists in the subway. Guess what happens when world-renowned concert violinist Joshua Bell plays in the subway? No one gives a crap.

There are effectively an infinite number of bands out there today. It's impossible to weed through every lame, or even mediocre band, there's too many. So we look to our guidance from friends, family, reviewers, bloggers, bands, anyone to find out what's worth listening to.

Even more so, we want to be able to connect with people. When someone says to you, "Hey have you heard the new ____ album?" you want to be able to go, "Hell yeah, that album was amazing!" Music, like TV, news, gossip, art and history is cultural currency.

If you want your art to support you, you must realize this and use it to your advantange. Social Proof is powerful.

People can recommend music explicitly by playing a show or wearing a shirt, or they can recommend implicitly by simply being a member of the crowd for a street performer. Smart bartenders salt the tip jar before people show up.

Which do you think would be better in the long run: Selling 100 tickets to a 200 capacity room or selling out a 50 capacity room?

You will have to fight for your first fans. If you're smart, it won't be long before your fans fight for you.

EDIT: Just to prevent confusion, when I mention salting the tip jar I don't recommending bribing people to come to your shows. Don't go the payola route, because once you get caught you'll lose ALL your credibility, and credibility is one of THE MOST important things you as a musician own.  Mercenary fans are not good, what you want it fans that willingly go out of their way to spread how much they like your music.


How To Design a Flyer Update - More Science!

Here's some science backing my How To Design a Flyer Update and font readability. (Thanks Boston Globe!)  

"One thing that fools us, for example, is font. When people read something in a difficult-to-read font, they unwittingly transfer that sense of difficulty onto the topic they’re reading about. Schwarz and his former student Hyunjin Song have found that when people read about an exercise regimen or a recipe in a less legible font, they tend to rate the exercise regimen more difficult and the recipe more complicated than if they read about them in a clearer font.

Playing with legibility can also change perceptions in subtler, less predictable ways. Alter and Daniel Oppenheimer, a psychologist at Princeton University who also co-wrote the stocks and fluency paper, have found that when a personal questionnaire is presented in a less legible font, people tend to answer it less honestly than if it is written in a more legible one. Alter and two other psychologists, Simon Laham and Geoffrey Goodwin, also found that, when presenting people with written descriptions of moral transgressions, increasing the contrast between text and background to make it easier to read the description made people more forgiving.
To Alter, it’s a demonstration not so much of the power of fluency but of its opposite, what psychologists call “disfluency.” Even at the level of a trickier font, the experience of disfluency makes people wary and uncomfortable. That sensation, Alter argues, is enough to make them less forthcoming and also less forgiving in their moral judgments.
“Disfluency functions as a cognitive alarm,” Alter says. “It sets up a cognitive roadblock and makes people think, and it triggers a sense of risk and concern.”"

Short version:

If you're clear-spoken, people will be more likely to listen.
If you mumble, people will be more likely to brush you off.

It must be easy to go to your show and easy to become a fan.

Yes, yes, our brains are wired to be irrational and "that shouldn't matter" blah blah blah. It's the way we're built. Accept the human brain and you'll benefit. Fight it, and you'll be forgotten.
And before you say it, no, it's not "OK" to have a difficult logo because your music is about a sense of risk and concern. People just won't listen.


The Neuroscience of Music

Quick link to one of my favorite bloggers / writers of all time Jonah Lehrer talking about how the brain predicts musical structure. (Part 1) (Part 2)

The point I wanna call out is this: "The second takeaway is that music requires surprise, the dissonance of "low-probability notes". While most people think about music in terms of aesthetic beauty - we like pretty consonant pitches arranged in pretty patterns - that's exactly backwards. The point of the prettiness is to set up the surprise, to frame the deviance. (That's why the unexpected pitches triggered the most brain activity, synchronizing the activity of brain regions involved in motor movement and emotion.)"
This leads me to some interesting ideas. Could musical tastes for avant-garde musical be genetically predisposed based on how good people's inherit ability to predict musical structure? In essence, are people who are not able to predict patterns able to be more satisfied with simpler music while people with better capabilities at prediction require more complex music to get the same "high"? It seems plausible that people with more musical education are more likely to appreciate more challenging music such as Frank Zappa or Necrophagist.

What do you think?