Isabel Thottam is one of the coolest people I know. Not only is she a constant traveler and writer, as well as a fellow Ohio native, but she’s also a founder of Hold On Another Day, the inspiring organization connecting independent artists with a variety of causes. Between her trips around the country, I was lucky to be able to get to talk with her about her experience starting HOAD, and the challenges she faces in juggling passion with the need to make money to build her business.
1. TELL US ABOUT HOLD ON ANOTHER DAY
Hold On Another Day is a social business that connects causes and people through music, specifically from emerging artists. We raise awareness for a specific cause by essentially translating their campaign (for example, bullying) into a mixtape.
I went through a really bad depression when I was in high school and I felt very alone – except for when I was listening to music. Since music gave me the strength to keep going, I knew I wanted to do something to help other people recognize how powerful music can be.
I think it’s important because mental health is a serious issue, especially among youth, and this, to me, is a creative way to provide an alternative when medicine, therapy session and talking about it just doesn’t work.
2) PEOPLE OFTEN LOOK AT A STARTUP AS A FUN ADVENTURE, WITHOUT ACKNOWLEDGING THE SACRIFICE IT TAKES. ANY THOUGHTS ON THIS?
I’ve had so many hurdles and I continue to face them every day. Once our following began to grow, that’s when I really knew it was going to be a lot of work. Every day we still deal with the mental debate of “should we keep going? Will this idea actually work?” because it’s a startup and it is a lot harder to get off the ground than you think.
People always say to me, “If you’re not making money yet, why are you still doing this?” and it’s hard because sometimes, i’ll admit, I doubt if this is realistic too. Then I remind myself that it takes about five years for a business to become profitable and, well, this is what I love to do and is what I believe in. How many people can say that?
3) WHAT HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE WORKING WITH ARTISTS BEEN LIKE?
The artists we work with are the people who keep me going with this business. When I listen to their songs, it reminds me of how many people these CDs could help and how, when I was younger, something like this would have meant so much to me.
We did have a few bad experiences when we were looking for artists for our first CD, Songs For Soldiers, because we’d get artists that would e-mail us and say we are a ‘scam organization looking to rip off artists,’ which was funny to us because we were trying to do the complete opposite. That was disheartening, though, to think people could read our website or what we’re doing and think we were bad people. But, we also found tons of artists who believed in us, and for that, I am grateful.
4) DESCRIBE THE CHALLENGE OF PURSUING YOUR PASSION WHILE NEEDING TO MAKE MONEY.
That’s been really hard for us, a social business selling mix CDs in a digital age. As much as we love CDs, and though there are people who still buy them, there just isn’t a strong market anymore. The challenge has been in thinking smaller to make bigger profits. I’m a big thinker and a big dreamer so I usually just want to go out with my biggest and best idea, but now that I’ve been in business for a year, I’m recognizing that that mentality doesn’t work for a startup.
5) WHAT ARE SOME TIPS YOU WOULD GIVE AN ARTIST LOOKING TO PRESENT THEMSELVES TO A LARGER ORGANIZATION FOR PARTNERSHIP OF ANY KIND?
Your story is the most important part. I think we’ve had as much success as we have because people know that I am passionate. Give them a story to care about; an honest, true story that tells them you’re not ordinary. Make them cry.
8) WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM HOLD ON ANOTHER DAY IN THE FUTURE?
We’re hoping to set up one or two more benefit concerts in Boston. I’m also hoping to spread internationally – I’ve submitted a proposal to empower underprivileged children in Bangalore, India by giving them access to a music education. No matter what, you can expect another CD from us by the end of the year; more concerts and hopefully we’ll settle into a city we’ll start calling home by the end of 2013!
Music works differently for all people, but what I envision is for Hold On Another Day to become a community where people can gather and share how music helped them. So not only do we all connect over this idea that “music is power,” but we also recognize that we’re not alone.