“Only Then Do We Sign Our Work”

The first two minutes of this video are absolute gold. This is poetry. Click below to watch.

Only then do we sign our work

if everyone

is busy making everything

how can anyone perfect anything?

we start to confuse convenience

with joy

abundance

with choice

designing something requires

focus

the first thing we ask is:

“what do we want people to feel?”

delight

surprise

love

connection

then we begin to craft around our intention.

it takes time…

there are a thousand no’s

for every yes.

we simplify

we perfect

we start over

until every thing we touch enhances each life it touches.

only then do we sign our work.

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Learning From: BKLYNR

BKLYNRThe extreme saturation of the internet is a cause of annoyance for many people. Facebook users, for instance, usually enjoy the social network’s connection value, but are drained by the constant invitations (Facebook Events, Farmville requests, etc.) Today, artists and businesses alike are often focused exclusively on dropping prices as low as possible, and are willing to sacrifice quality to get there.

A recent Brooklyn startup, aptly titled BKLYNR, is doing just the opposite, though. And it’s working.

BKLYNR’s mission is to create quality journalism about Brooklyn, specifically topics that are usually ignored (i.e. they don’t write about food trucks). But this theme of quality is densely engrained in every aspect of the publication – which focuses on politics, culture, urban development and the community at large – from the stunning website design to the confident yet approachable voice in their Tweets. As a subscriber since the day they launched, I would describe what I’ve seen from BKLYNR pretty simply: they’re confident that they’re creating something truly valuable, and are willing to bet that you’ll appreciate the quality enough to pay for it.

BKLYNR 2For artists/bands, aside from BKLYNR’s prioritization of quality, there is a different (and truly massive) lesson to learn here. It is critical to recognize that, again, they are not writing about the popular, common, trendy topics. Instead, they are creating content for an extremely focused audience that most people simply don’t really care about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard new artists, whose goals are not much different than a startup business, talk about how they play an obscure genre and therefore find it too difficult to get their name out there.

In reality, though, focusing on a niche audience allows you to become a trusted source, while diving directly into your community much more easily than you would if you were trying to appeal to everyone. The beauty of the internet is that it allows like-minded people to form communities around things they love. So, if you’re a new artist worried that your music is too obscure to appeal to the mainstream, recognize that, today, obscurity is actually empowering, and that the difference between failure and success is often just a matter of embracing the pocket of the world that you identify with.

RELATED POSTS:

1) Daytrotter: How Community and Value Can Trump “Cheap”

2) The Power of Focus and the Danger of Expansion

Daytrotter: How Community and Value Can Trump “Cheap”

DaytrotterThis is the first blog post I’ve written where I came up with the title before the piece itself. That’s because the title describes the exact movement happening over at Daytrotter.com. Daytrotter is one of few companies I can think of who prioritize the creation of something truly valuable, while nurturing a fan community. This mentality goes sharply against what most businesses do (create something average and sell it for as cheaply as possible, knowing that a low price is the only chance they have at making a sale).

Last week, Daytrotter increased their monthly subscription fee from $2 to $4.

My first thought, as it always is when any company raises their price, was “People are going to be pissed.” I expected to see an angry mob on Twitter, and bloggers and music fans alike responding with a “Who do they think they are?” attitude. So I dug through Twitter, and did multiple Google searches for news on this, cringing with anticipation. But, after a while of searching, I found… nothing.

Glenn Peoples, a music business/tech journalist for Billboard did Tweet about the news. But instead of people responding with frustration, the only response was from Daytrotter’s founder, looking to connect about an exciting upcoming announcement. That announcement he was hinting at turned out to be a fantastic one: that Daytrotter was now allowing new members the opportunity to send $5 to a Daytrotter artist of their choice. While this may seem generous to those unfamiliar with Daytrotter, it likely comes as no surprise to their incredibly tight-knit community of supporters, who have come together over the years through a like-minded passionate love of music discovery.

Death Cab For Cutie

Death Cab For Cutie

To top it all off, Daytrotter is smart enough to know that, while personal music discovery is a powerful force, true community is ultimately generated through friends talking about and sharing Daytrotter-related things. With this in mind, they are known for their cartoon drawings of each artist they work with. These drawings are enough to catch your eye, and to cause a fan of the artist to share the drawing with a friend (and therefore discover Daytrotter through the “where did you find this?” question).

There’s a lesson in all of this. If your goal is to make your price as low as possible, in hopes of being accessible to everyone, you are going to have to sacrifice something in the process. That something will most likely be quality. Even further, it’s important to remember that nobody is for everybody.

It is better to be a trusted source of value for a focused community, than to only be relevant until something a bit cheaper comes along.

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Why Ignoring Labels is the Best Way to Get Signed

Although the music industry is evolving, it is still hard for artists to get out of the “pick me” mindset, which has been drilled into bands’ heads through a combination of the traditional record business model and endless stories of A&R scouts signing bands in dirty bars.Crane Game

I often hear artists declare from day one that their goal is to get signed to a label. The problem with this line of thinking is that it distracts you from the unbelievably difficult task of building a fanbase and developing fantastic material. You might argue that you can do both, and that, in fact, the goal of signing to a label will only excite you further and drive you to put more effort into your work. But I wouldn’t believe you.

I believe starting a project with the goal of making the most deliberate music possible, coupled with an absolutely relentless focus on turning your supporters into a true community, is a much better use of brain-space than having phrases like “would a label want this?”  in the back of your head every step of the way.

Labels don’t sign artists that want to be signed by a label. They don’t sign artists who know in their hearts that, if only a label signed them, they could do big things. Labels sign artists who are already starting a movement and turning heads. They sign artists that are completely engrained with conviction in every song they write, every stage they step on, every mailing list email they send, and every post they make on their Facebook page.

If you take it upon yourself to start your own movement and truly create something that spreads, labels will come to you. It may seem backwards, but ignoring labels is the best way to get signed. If you begin by hoping to be validated by someone else, you’ve missed the point completely.

Pick Me

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John Mackey: Conscious Capitalism

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, is known as an advocate for what he calls “Conscious Capitalism”. Here’s a fantastic summary video of his line of thinking, where value and purpose are the top priority, and profit is simply the item allowing you to continually expand those priorities.

This is similar to last week’s “Advice to Innovators” video from Jack Dorsey, in the sense that artists can learn from entrepreneurs. Some artists may have a tough time watching this and seeing the connections to their music, but the connection is definitely there, and it’s worth the challenge.

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Megan’s Pick: Laura Mvula – “Sing to the Moon”

Laura Mvula Sing To The Moon.jpg

Megan’s Pick: Laura Mvula – “Sing to the Moon”

Genre: Soul/R&B

Label: RCA

Release Date: April 16, 2013 (US)  | March 4, 2013 (UK)

Key Tracks: “She”, “Father, Father”, “Sing to the Moon”, “Green Garden”

I have developed a weakness for Soul/R&B and Jazz/Blues music, and have an album here that I have had on repeat for the past week. When I discovered Laura Mvula, I was instantly hooked. Her music reminisces classic soul, similar to Nina Simone even, but with a modern twist.

Sing to the Moon is pretty incredible. Though a combination of old time jazz and film scores, her music still feels new and intriguing. One of the key elements to her music is, as declared by Stephen Thompson (NPR), “heavily Vocoder-enhanced choruses, a la Imogen Heap.” The surprising and exciting harmonies on “She” were the first thing that caught my attention, so I was ecstatic when I stumbled upon her April 2013 release Sing to the Moon.

My favorite track off the album would have to be “Father, Father”  – a track so pure, so honest, and so simple, I could listen to this song on repeat for hours. You can see a stripped down version of the song here.

BBC named Mvula one of the ‘Sound Of 2013’ artists, just like Jessie J, Adele, and Florence + The Machine have all been in the past. She is sure to pop up all over the place following the release of her debut album, so make sure to give Sing to the Moon a listen.

– Megan

Find Laura Mvula Online: Website // iTunes // Facebook

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Horizontal vs. Vertical Strategy

I touched on this in yesterday’s post, but wanted to elaborate on when I claimed that premature expansion was dangerous. As a new artist/band, the variety of areas available to pursue often feels unbearable. Here are just a few possible priorities:

  • Writing music
  • Creating Facebook, YouTube, Soundcloud, Instagram, Pinterest, and Bandcamp profiles
  • Holding consistent Twitter conversations
  • Designing merchandise
  • Rehearsing
  • Configuring Facebook apps
  • Booking shows
  • Designing logos, artwork, etc.
  • Recording
  • Filming music videos
  • Booking photo shoots
  • Determining image

A common mistake is when a new artist tries to do all of these things at once. This “horizontal” approach leaves you dabbling in each area, without seeing or feeling a true sense of arrival.

The alternative to the horizontal approach is, as you may have guessed, a vertical approach. With the vertical mindset, you begin by identifying the core areas you want to focus on. Once identified, create a thorough plan – both long and short term – for each area, and then devote all of your time to executing that plan, while consistently adjusting, learning and improving. [It’s important to note that the key to all of this is a combination of patience and focus. It might take a year before you are successful enough in one area to pursue the next.]

As you begin to see results in these first few areas, you can then stack a new piece onto that, and focus fanatically on the success of that specific layer. As this unfolds, you will find yourself making a large splash in each field, rather than dipping your toe in the water and seeing if anyone notices a ripple.

Water Ripple