Data as Your Compass

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be approached by Next Big Sound about writing a guest blog piece for them. If you’re unfamiliar with NBS, they provide a valuable service to artists and managers, tracking each of your web pages and creating both real-time and weekly reports on your digital footprint. Below is the piece I wrote for them. Originally titled “The Value of Data For Artist Managers”, the concepts here apply to independent/DIY artists especially:

Data

Today, an endless sea of bands are proudly branding themselves “DIY Artists,” and are quick to talk badly of record labels or any other “gatekeeper.” However, our current musical landscape comes engrained with a dense sense of responsibility and strategy that few artists acknowledge. As a manager, this responsibility includes examining perpetual concepts like transparency, exclusivity, community, and discovery, while still prioritizing the minutia. New channels pop up every day, while merchandise, publishing, touring, and recording still need to progress. With so many moving pieces, managers often crave a single thread that can tie it all together.

Enter data.

The beauty of data for artist managers is that it serves as a strategic compass, both on and offline. It informs your day-to-day decisions, allowing you to strategically penetrate a focused goal, rather than achieving random acts of improvement.

Tour routing is a great example. Every artist can, right this second, pull up a list of the top 10 cities where their fans/listeners/viewers are located on Facebook, Soundcloud and YouTube. With these reports in front of you, you will surely begin to see patterns. These patterns should guide your routing. Although it may require a bit more effort, it sure beats saying “well, it’s a rock band, so let’s tour the South.”

But touring is just one piece of an artist’s career. Digital marketing firms use radio spin data every day. If an emerging artist, for instance, begins getting radio play in select cities, marketers garner this information and execute geo-targeted campaigns to propagate these same communities. Also, in the land of the free (download), collecting fan data is critical. As a manager, a highly populated mailing list is not just a bunch of email addresses and zip codes; it is a report telling you who and where your fans are. Website traffic, merch sales, ticketing reports, live show draw, and your quantitative social media footprint are other forms of valuable data for a manager.

With all that said, the most important “metric” is still trust. Trust, in its most genuine form, cannot be measured, and that’s what makes it so special. It cannot be bought; only nurtured. Developing trust with your fan community is critical, and can only be done through repetition and consistency. As trust develops, so does your story and your influence.

With great tools like Next Big Sound, and free insights from your social channels, it is easier than ever before to identify your fan base. Touring, radio, web and merch reports, combined with an obsessive focus on trust, consistency and community is a winning formula.

Without data, it would be easy to wander aimlessly through the evolving music industry. But with data as your guide, the entire process becomes much simpler.

RELATED POSTS:

1) DOING IT YOURSELF vs FINDING AN EXCUSE

2) MEASURE YOUR FAILURE (AND SUCCESS)

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Jack Dorsey: Advice To Innovators

Those who have worked with me closely know that I draw artist development inspiration from the tech/digital space. Jack Dorsey, creator of both Twitter and Square, is an idol of mine. I just came across this fantastic video where he shares his “advice for innovators”. As always, artists can [should] compare themselves to entrepreneurs, creating and shipping ideas into the world.

Here’s the video, and five key quotes/lessons:

1) Never feel like you’ve made it. Constantly innovate, push yourself and raise the bar.

2) The absolute hardest thing to do is start. Get the idea out of your head. Draw it out, make it or create it, and then talk about it with someone.

3) At the end of the day, you can only rely on constantly bettering yourself.

4) Biggest mistake: lack of focus on data. Speculating on what’s happening creates debate; data tells you what’s actually happening and how to act.

5) Everyone has an idea, but it’s about executing, building and attracting people to your idea. That is the biggest challenge.

RELATED POSTS:

1) YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE EXPERIENCE

2) ATTENTION VS RETENTION

Notes From Mark Cuban

I recently finished Mark Cuban’s e-book, which is a collection of some of his best blog posts. For those who don’t know him, he owns The Dallas Mavericks, Landmark Theaters, HDNet/AXS TV Network, Magnolia Pictures, and is a partial owner in countless other companies.

When Mark was 27 years old, he was living on the floor of a 3-bedroom apartment, which housed 6 people. He was completely broke, living solely from happy-hour bar appetizers, and devoting his life to his company. The only thing he owned were his clothes, which sat in a pile on the floor.

Pile

He devoted his life to his business, and by the time he was 29, sold that business for $6 Million. He used that money to start his next business, which was eventually bought by Yahoo. Today he is worth more than $2 Billion.

While his book does not directly talk about music in any way, his focus on customer service, sales, competition, and extreme work ethic should be helpful to anyone.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

  • “Unless you’re already a legitimate professional, any time you get offered a paying job, whether you love the work or hate the work, you should treat it as being paid to learn.
  • “It’s not who you know. It’s not how much money you have. It’s whether or not you have the edge, and have the guts to use it.”
  • “The one thing you can control in life is your effort”
  • “Your focus should always be on learning. Most people won’t put in the time get a knowledge advantage.”
  • “Most have the will to win. Few have the will to prepare to win.”  (Bobby Knight)
  • “You must be brutally honest with yourself, and recognize where you are adding value, and where you are going along for the ride.”
  • “When you hit a rough patch, the temptation is to “turn on the thinking cap” and find something new to do. Don’t fall prey to the temptation. Focus.”
  • “A happy customers tells 1 person. An unhappy one tells 20.”

Learning From: Giuliana Hazelwood

Giuliana Hazelwood is the founder of Lovely Healthy, the all-things-wellness brand she has been building for years. I’ve been friends with her since she first launched LH and was struggling to find local schools willing to let her use empty classrooms to teach yoga. She is living the juggling act of turning creative passion into a sustainable business. Below is my full interview with her, where she discusses working in niche communities, personal branding, and shifting offline work to the web.

Enjoy.

Giuliana Hazelwood

Tell us about Lovely Healthy, who you are, and what you do.

I am a yoga teacher, wellness writer, and lifestyle coach in NYC.  Lovely Healthy started as a way for me to organize what I was researching about autoimmune disease, healthy lifestyles and food allergies during the time in college when I became very, very ill. I’ve always been interested in health and wellness, but it wasn’t really until I got super sick that I realized that there wasn’t really anything out there that suited my needs.  I wanted a one-stop resource for healthy lifestyle, healthy mindset, and healthy eating that was still relevant to modern, urban life. So now that I’m no longer sick and the blog has grown, it’s really just become a place where people can learn how best to care for themselves.

Like niche genres of music, the yoga community is tight-knit. What are some advantages and hurdles you’ve faced due to the closeness of the community?

The advantages to such a small community are really infinite. It sounds kind of silly, but it’s true: yogis are really, really nice people, so it’s nice to work with them. But it’s way deeper than that: there’s a term in sanskrit, kula, that goes back to an ancient tradition of spiritual practice within a community. Today, the term kula is more often used to a family, group, or community, but it’s interesting to note that the idea of having a close group of people walking the same path is so rooted in the ancient practices of yoga.

It’s the yogic way to help each other, to serve others, and to be kind and generous to each other. I know my teachers and colleagues will always be there for me, in any way they can. It’s such a blessing to work with people who uphold the belief that compassion and honesty are the highest values we can possess. That goes far beyond business and cuts straight to the soul.

I know I would not have been able to survive the year 2012 if I had been working in any other industry. On a deeply personal note, when my father passed away unexpectedly in May, the outreach from teachers, students, and people I have connected with through yoga was  one of the most deeply moving experiences of my life.

The downside of the industry size is that it’s a numbers game. Sometimes studios simply don’t have a time slot for a new teacher. There’s only one cover of Yoga Journal per month.

While attempting to turn Lovely Healthy into a more stable business entity, can you touch on branding yourself and what that process has been like?

The process has been amazing, and actually parallels a lot of the work I do on a spiritual and emotional level. As a yogi, I’m constantly observing myself in order to learn and then change what is not ringing true to my purpose on this Earth. I imagine it’s very similar for artists who are always evaluating what they create and asking themselves how they can create a product that more effectively represents what they are trying to say.

So as far as branding and marketing goes, it’s really been a project of asking myself:

  • Who am I?
  • What am I here to do?
  • What do I have to say?
  • How can I serve others?
  • Who can I serve?
  • Is what I’m doing in alignment with my true purpose?

When I can answer these questions, the work of branding kind of happens naturally.

For example, I pretty much just woke up one day and realized “oh this website has looked the same for three years and looks nothing like what I want it to communicate. Time to change. Boom.” I finished the re-design in a day and got a HUGE response from it. Because I was aligning more closely with what it is I’m here to communicate, and the people who are supposed to resonate with my message were able to connect more effectively.

The challenges I have faced all stem from the fact that I don’t exactly know what I’m doing here. I’m flying by the seat of my pants and just recruiting my intuition and the help of great people to figure it out along the way.  But honestly, I kind of prefer it that way.  I’ve never been a recipe-follower, and I really don’t believe there’s any black-and-white secret to success. I’d much rather be doing it my way, with integrity, and with the help of amazing people.

The work generally done in your field is live, in-person, with the client. I’ve written about turning offline activity into online growth, and vice versa. How are you using that concept in the work you do?

The internet and yoga are becoming fast friends. As yoga teachers and wellness advocates, we have the potential to reach a crazy amount of people with one blog post, one facebook status, one video podcast. It sounds ridiculous but it’s true.  So to go from teaching a class of 20 or so students to reaching hundreds and thousands of people is an amazing opportunity for people in this field.

For me personally, that means more video content, more engagement with students and readers on social media, connecting virtually with other people in my field, and getting involved with major media outlets. I used to really resent social media, communications, and technology. But the way I see it now is: if you can’t beat ’em join ’em… and inspire ’em to do some yoga and drink some green juice along the way.

5) Where can we find more from you, and what can we expect in the upcoming months?

Lovely Healthy is going to the next level. I just launched LovelyHealthyTV, my most exciting addition to the Lovely Healthy brand. I’m hiring an intern to help with crazy cray design stuff, and also just finished up with a new designer to roll out some fresh logos. I also love love love connecting via Instagram and Twitter, which I’m still a bit of a luddite with, but is a great way to connect with wellness homies all over the world.

In short, Lovely Healthy is about to become a multimedia, super-interactive, ultra-inspiring, playground for health and wellness homies to get DOWN(dog) with their bad selves. And you’ll want to be able to say you knew about it before it got too cool, so come on over and ch-ch-check it out.

For more information about my teaching, background, and philosophy, you can visit my personal site, www.giulianahazelwood.com.

Learning From: JP Bouvet

For the first installment of my new blog series “Learning From”, featuring interviews from artists of all types, I knew I had to start with JP Bouvet. JP is a good friend of mine and one of the nicest people I know. He won the 2011 Guitar Center National Drum Off, won the 2011 Roland V-Drum National Competition (and went on to place 2nd in the world), and is endorsed by a handful of the top drum companies. He is slowly rolling out what will be an amazing new website, and is extremely transparent on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Below is our complete, unedited interview. Feel free to skip around or read it all. Enjoy.

JP Bouvet

What, in your opinion, is the purpose of creating music? Would you say the majority of its purpose is for personal or public satisfaction?

Damn, Ethan. There’s no easing into this interview, huh? No “Do you have any pets and why?”

It’s personal. It’s the scariest and most rewarding thing you can do. To sum thousands of hours of preparation into a few pieces of music that might total 30 minutes and put it on a stage for the world to say “yay” or “nay” to is intimidating (or “neigh” if you’re audience is a pony). Having a group of people accept and relate to the given message is equivalent to them accepting and relating to the person who created it. Where things go awry is when someone needs public satisfaction to feel personal satisfaction. There’s no doubt that they fuel each other, but the most successful artists are honest with their music. In the end, the music is secondary to the person who created it. The fans are fans of the person. The music is simply an extension of the person.

I drum alone for hours every day. No one will ever hear most of the things I play. It’s a personal challenge, a meditation, a practice of self-discipline, and nothing makes me happier. Very personal indeed.

I assume you started playing drums without much thought about branding/marketing yourself. Was there a moment (or specific period of time) when the importance of those things “clicked” for you?

To use the term “brand” to refer to myself feels odd for this reason: A brand of cereal is created from someone’s imagination. Someone sits and draws a cartoon and gives him a voice and chooses colors for the box and that is called “branding.” It is completely fabricated based on nothing except appealing to a specific demographic.

That is 100% the opposite of how my “character” has developed. It is hard to put these examples in same boat.

My job is to connect with people in a very real, personal kind of way, whether it be from the drumset, my website, my blog, videos I create, or clinics I give. I don’t want to create anything. Of course I am conscious of how people see me, but I didn’t shave my head in order to brand myself. I shaved my head because I wanted to impress a girl. It just became a part of me. And that’s what people connect with… me, not some fabricated brand. My “look” is an extension of me in the same way, as I mentioned in the previous response, that an artist’s music is an extension of them.

When you’re dealing with cartoons, you can make them do whatever you want, whenever you want them to do it. When you are dealing with yourself, you’re not going to do the things you don’t want to do, so to be as productive as possible, you have to be as “you” as you can be. If you’re excited about all the things on your to do list, they are going to get done very quickly.

Has looking at yourself as an entity capable of being branded affected you at all, positively or negatively, in the practice room?

I equate this question to realizing why people like you instead of becoming something people like.

And yes it has, in the most wonderful way. I want to be seen as an explorer. I want to be seen as someone who is not afraid, who practices very hard, who is excited about what I do, who is passionate, who is hard working, and fearless. I want to be a good role model. That is my “brand.” For me to be inline with my “brand,” I need to be the best version of myself. I need to work harder, explore further, and push myself. This is what will inspire my audience not just to be better drummers, but to live life to the fullest, work hard, and do what they are passionate about. When I see that happening or someone tells me that that is what they feel, I realize the power of music, and that is what inspires me. It’s the cycle of inspiration at it’s finest.

I wrote a post recently about using transparency and exclusivity to build fan communities around your music. What are some specific examples of ways transparency and exclusivity have helped build your following?

Two words. Trust and Loyalty. “Transparency” = letting people not just see in the window, but come in the door. This is a huge part of my life right now and is, I would assume, the single biggest reason that the community on my fan page is as strong as it is. I have vowed to do all in my power to respond to every single message. And I have told my fans that I will. And it’s not some brilliant marketing ploy. Iwant to because I care about them. They ask me real questions about life and their futures and I respond as honestly as I can. If I don’t know, I tell them. They trust me to tell them my honest opinion, and I trust them to treat me and the other members of the group with respect.

Regarding exclusivity, that’s about to come into play much heavier as I launch my subscription-based website. I hope to build a closer family there, where more serious fans can access more of what I have to offer.

You use tools like Facebook, Twitter, Livestream, and YouTube extremely actively, as well as having a consistent blog, official website and mailing list. You’re running all of these things yourself. Many artists say they “just want to focus on making music”. I would assume you are busier than most of these artists. How have you been able to juggle your practicing, recording, touring, etc., with these things? 

In my opinion, that’s an ironic and naive way to avoid the important things that will allow you to continue making music. There are a lot of hours in the day if you don’t sleep through them all. Creating a schedule and a to-do list for the day is extremely important. Also, learn to acknowledge that things happen in phases. While Jamie Foxx is filming a movie, he is not recording his next album. Some months, I practice a ton. Some months, I don’t practice once. Some months, I’m on tour. Some months, I sit at my computer and work on building my website. I am not able to do all of these things at once. No one is. Decide what you need to do every single day (for me, practice at least a little and keep up with my fan page), allot time for it, and then focus on the bigger picture (whatever your phase may be).

Tip: Archive some excess content for a time when you’re unable to create it. Often times, when I appear most active online, I am least active in real life. I was on tour for almost two months straight last year, but I was releasing videos I had collected from earlier in the year, and being extra active on my social media (because I was sitting around on a bus all day). At times like these, people might ask how I have time to create these videos. I don’t. But I did when I was in my video phase last month.

A thought: A lot of the “just want to focus on music” people are also into music because they are “don’t want a real job” people. Guess what? Those lowly people with “real jobs” work 8 hard hours a day. If you’re above those folks, you better be spending way more than 8 hours on your career every day because you’re going to have to do the work of three people to make this happen. Even if you can practice 8 hours a day (which is impossible and would lead you to being one of the greatest musicians alive), then why can’t you spend the other 8 hours that you’re awake doing the things that will get all the awesome music you made for 8 hours today into people’s ears, houses, and iPods?

1. Things happen in phases.
2. Believe in what you are doing.
3. Work very hard. You love what you do… remember?

What advice would you give to musicians/artists/bands who are struggling with this stuff?

Your fans do not want a super hero. Your fans want a peer that they can relate to and respect. Most of your true fans don’t even want your music. They want you… because you are like them in some way or another. When you are thinking about your “image” or your “character,” figure out what makes you you and figure out how you can be you to the fullest. You won’t be able to keep up with pretending to be something you’re not and if you do, you won’t enjoy it.

CASE STUDY:

Red Hot Chili Peppers: Real life = Crazy guys. Image = Crazy guys.
Nirvana: Real life = depressed rockers. Image = Depressed rockers.
Eminem: Real life = vulgar and rebellious. Image = vulgar and rebellious.
Owl City: Real life = Ridiculously cheery. Image = Ridiculously cheery.

CONCLUSION:

Your image needs to be honest. Think of it as the world encouraging you not to be afraid to be you. Because when other “you’s” find you, you will realize the reason you share your music and all the hard work will pay off.

Stop Stealing Dreams

Just finished the amazing e-book “Stop Stealing Dreams”, which is all about issues with our education system and what our colleges (and world) need more (and less) of.

I think every parent should READ THIS.

My favorite piece of the book – worth sharing:

When we teach a child to make good decisions, we benefit from a lifetime of  good decisions.

When we teach a child to love to learn, the amount of learning will become limitless.

When we teach a child to deal with a changing world, she will never become obsolete.
 
When we are brave enough to teach a child to question authority, even ours, we insulate ourselves from those who would use their authority to work against each of us.
 
And when we give students the desire to make things, even choices, we create a 
world filled with makers.