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You Must Play Politics

To my ears, "I don't play politics" translates to one of the following:
   1) I'm not good with people and I will burn bridges.
   2) I deal with stress poorly and I will cause drama.
   3) I'm very good at politics and I play dirty.

"I don't play politics" is a red-flag statement for me.

Unless you're interacting solely with your instrument or DAW, you're dealing with politics.

Politics is the art of accomplishing your goals while keeping the most allies possible. This is a flexible statement for a reason.

Humans are composed of moods, feelings, hunches and many other idiosyncracies that color every single interaction. If you're alive, bias is inevitible.

It's never just about your raw skill. In fact, according to MIT researcher Thomas Malone, it's the groups' intrapersonal skills that determine their collective talent, not the "average" of their talent levels. This is why so many supergroups end up as a disappointment.

Imagine you're a highly regarded promoter with bands approaching you every second of every day. Would you rather give a leg up to the band you hung out with after a couple shows, or "Band #1093703"? Whether you believe this is wrong or right, this is how the world functions.

Public relations is simply politics on a wider scale.

Your political skills will play a large part in your eventual success or failure in business dealings.

Pay attention to your relationships with others.


When Should You Quit Your Job? (2 of 2)

(Part 1)

When (if) you decide to make the leap into being self employed, you'll want to be as prepared as possible. It'll be stressful adjusting to your new job now that your electric bill depends on success. A band is a startup company, and 60-70% of startups fail within six years.

Lets think through some considerations that will help you figure out when the time is right.

1) Figure out your burn rate.
Also known as your monthly expenses. This number will determine whether you're sinking or swimming in your new career. If you've got dependents, they need to be factored here in too.

Its a simple concept, but bears repeating. If you earn slower than you burn, you'll burn (out).

2) Build up an emergency fund.

Since you'll be self employed now, there's no such thing as paid sick days. If you get struck with a bad case of the AxlRoseitis, you won't be pulling in any cash. What if your van breaks down the day before a tour? Or what if you have to post bail to get out of jail in Prague?

Random bad luck is inevitible.

An emergency fund is the difference between an inconvenience and a catastrophy.

At bare minimum you want at least two months worth of living expenses saved up before taking the plunge.

3) Figure out your expected income.
How much will you realistically make in the span of a month? Estimate this by seeing how much merch and music you sell, your income from shows, and any side income like teaching or session playing.

Now try estimating how much you'd make during a tour. Since you won't always be on tour, estimate your monthly expected income somewhere between the two numbers.

4) Figure out how to increase your expected income.
This is where the hustle comes in.

Yes, you can cut your monthly expenses to make it easier to start making money, but that's a temporary solution. There's a limit to how much you can cut but there's no limit on how much you can make. (shout out to Ramit Sethi's excellent money blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich)

Should you do vinyl releases? Private house shows? Festivals? Song licensing? Keep your eyes and mind open.

There's a million other considerations to make before going full time, but the hard numbers of "can I support myself and my family?" underly everything.

This post isn't intended to dissuade you from going full time, its about information. If you're going to make the leap, it helps to know where you want to land.


When Should You Quit Your Job? (1 of 2)

Musicians I talk to seem to view being a full-time musician as the be-all, end-all metric of success.

I get that. Playing music all day is a big slab of groovy in my book.

But we're defining success in the wrong way.

Defining success as having music as your only job is dangerous. Going full-time as an artist before you're financially ready will wreck both your art and your sanity. What you've effectively done is given up a low-paying stressful job with a low-paying stressful job without benefits or stability. Music is not an easy living. Unless your creativity is fired solely through desperation  making yourself miserable because you didn't plan ahead is silly. Ask anyone who has let The Hunger consume them.

Real success is about being happy with your only job being music.

Before you decide to make the leap, consider a few things.

1) Stability allows you to be more experimental with your music.
Experimenting with new sounds and styles in inherently risky. Failure is a very real prospect. Once the band establishes a "sound" and becomes full time musicians, everyone's ability to pay the bills relies on that sound. Would it be easier or more difficult to completely revamp your sound if your rent depending on success? (This is strictly conjecture, but I suspect this may be one reason why some bands peak on their first album.)

2) Growth eats cash
This is a cardinal rule of business. Even if going on tour will score you a tasty lump of cash, you have to pay expenses like van rentals, merch, promoters, and venues before you're able to earn that cash. You've got to eat and pay for places to sleep while on tour. Will you burn all your cash before you can earn it? Yes, you can use credit cards to delay paying for a month, but mistake with credit cards are expensive and eat into your profits.

3) Burnout
Working at a restaurant can kill the joy of its food with boredom. The same could be said of playing your top 3 hits for years on end. For some, music is an escape from boring reality. Changing music from an escape to an obligation can have a profound effect on how you view your music. The life of a full time musician is about hustle. If you're not naturally inclined to that lifestyle in addition to the process of creating and performing music, it'll be easy to get burned out.


Before making a big decision like this, you need to do serious soul searching into what you actually want out of your music.
   -Do you like writing and recording but hate performing?
   -Do you value stability over creativity?
   -How much am I wiling to cater to my fans?
   -Will I only be happy with a sold out stadium, or would I be happy having a few dedicated fans buying music through bandcamp?
   -Would I actually enjoy the musician lifestyle?

There are big questions.

Next week we'll talk about how to prepare.

(Part 2)

Nielson Research Confirms Radio Still Primary Source of Music Discovery

Media information giant Nielson released the results of their recent 3,000 person survey of music listening habits.

The full article is worth a read, but here are some tasty knowledge nuggets.
Radio is still the dominant way people discover music
  • 48% discover music most often through the radio
  • 10% discover music most often through friends/relatives
  • 7% discover music most often through YouTube
More teens listen to music through YouTube than through any other source
  • 64% of teens listen to music through YouTube
  • 56% of teens listen to music on the radio
  • 53% of teens listen to music through iTunes
  • 50% of teens listen to music on CD
Positive recommendations from a friend are most likely to influence purchase decisions
  • 54% are more likely to make a purchase based off a positive recommendation from a friend
  • 25% are more likely to make a purchase based off a music blog/chat rooms
  • 12% are more likely to make a purchase based off an endorsement from a brand
  • 8% of all respondents share music on social networking sites, while 6% upload music.
I was surprised that YouTube was the primary music streaming source, but I suppose I've been spoiled by Spotify. Upon reflection though, whenever I want to hear music that isn't on Spotify I immediately load up YouTube to give the band a listen.

The big takeaway from this research is the primary driver for purchasing decisions: recommendations from friends.

We are over four times as likely to purchase something recommended from friends than we are from a brand endorsement.

This isn't surprising, but it's a good reminder to where we should spend our limited time and money on marketing. Word of mouth is cheap and effective, but requires a substantial time investment. With sponsorship and ad campaigns you could spend precisely infinity dollars trying to purchase opinion with meager results. Remember Rhianna spending a cool million on a flop single or some kids who blew through $100,000 without "making it"? The internet has severely crippled the effectiveness of "he he shouts loudest wins" marketing.

Save your money for higher quality recordings, shows, and merch. Focus your marketing efforts on people and, to a lesser extent, blogs.

The game is about quality and personal connection.

Like it's always been.


Zoe Keating Releases Her Actual Pay

Add another item to the growing list of why Zoe Keating is one of my favorite artists. Hypebot discusses the numbers with her:
During a six-month period from October 2011 to February 2012, Zoe earned $84,386.86 before taxes.
Here's a breakdown of where that money came from:
Screen shot 2012-08-08 at 9.21.21 AM

A good chunk of Zoe’s support comes from her regular and super fans, who she feels remain loyal to her due to their interest in her story.

“They seem interested in my DIY-story,” Zoe told Hypebot. “Or the mechanics-of-how-I-make-music-with-a-cello-and-computer-story; or the classical-musician-gone-rogue-story; or the radiolab-Amanda Palmer-Imogen Heap-Rasputina-connection; or the I'm-a-geek-too-story, etc. The casual listeners might not know my story or anything about me.”

“Casual listeners won't [support], but they never did anyway,” Zoe added in her Google Doc. “I don't buy ALL the music I listen to either, I never did, so why should I expect every single listener to make a purchase? I think that a subset of my listeners pay for my music, and that is a-ok because... and this is the key... there are few middlemen between us.”
As an artist, you are kept afloat by the connection you have with your fans. Nourish them and they'll nourish you.


Evil Works

As does good, but it's easy to overlook that fact.

True Change requires force. Structures and habits roost upon study foundations of inertia and fear. They won't be moved except through sustained, herculean force.

Often, the only tactics that comes to mind to clear blockage are conflict-driven. You can't smooth talk a form, so getting angry at red tape at the DMV seems like the most obvious solution.

But there's a selection bias at work here.

We view our world through the lens of stories. Naturally, more memorable stories affect us more than the boring ones simply because we can recall them easier (aka cognitive fluency). .

Conflict is far more interesting than snuggling.

In fact, a 2010 Wharton study confirms that
“the most powerful predictor of virality is how much anger an article evokes” [emphasis mine]. I will say it again: The most powerful predictor of what spreads online is anger. ...
...Anger has such a profound effect that one standard deviation increase in the anger rating of an article is the equivalent of spending an additional three hours as the lead story on the front page of  (Except from Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, via Barking Up The Wrong Tree
It's easier to recall famous artist meltdowns than it is to recall skillful mediation, leading us to more easily make the connection between "aggression" and "success".

Throwing a guitar at your band mates in the recording studio makes for a fantastic story, it's "emotionally loud". Sitting down with your bassist over drinks to talk about what's been bugging her lately and where her creative block came from makes for dreadfully boring reading, it's "emotionally quiet".

You can accomplish great things by being a jerk. I'll be first to admit, that sometimes you have to get aggressive to break past resistance.

But pay attention to the leaders you admire and you'll begin to pick up on their methods. Sometimes all you need to get someone to put forth their best effort is to get them to publicly commit that they'll put forward their best effort. (see my Negotiation Without Being A Jerk series for additional tactics)

Real, positive leadership power isn't about using deception and coercion to meet your ends. "Light Side" persuasive methods use soft force, so that even if the target of the message understands exactly what you're doing, they wouldn't be mad at you. The same could not be said for gaslighting, an effective but terribly manipulative method of planting false memories and instilling doubt.

As you dig deeper into management and psychology, you'll begin to see the framework that managers act within. Most are of mixed style, only rarely will you see a pure-evil or pure-good individual.

Be aware that people are naturally attracted to others like themselves.

The strategies you use will create your environment.