The CEO of Rock Blog

The Quest of a Student/Entrepreneur to Add Value in Music and Business

Countersignalling – If you have to say it, you ain’t it.

There is a quote from a well known fashion blog that said “If you have to say it, you ain’t it”. This was referring to clothing on which flattering words were written, like “hot stuff”, or “supermodel”. My hope is that by the end of this post you may laugh occasionally when you see 35 year old women wearing these types of shirts and pants (usually sweatpants) in the supermarket.

My goal, however, is that you understand a concept from Cal Newport’s Studyhacks blog called Countersignalling.

Cal’s post was originally about whether or not to do a large laundry list of things so that the sheer amount of accomplishments on the list will impress people enough to get you into a great college. He decided in his lectures that he would preach a different view.

The Brag Stops Here

To do this, he turned to a study done in 2002 by economists Nick Feltovich and Rick Harbaugh, along with statistician Ted To. These researchers found out that that smartest kids in class don’t raise their hands as much as the average.

They used a field of social science called signalling theory to find out why.  Signalling theory basically means that both people and animals take certain actions or say certain things constantly to convey that they have a higher value. Examples include peacocks with lots of feathers, Two-thousand dollar suits, and professors who insist on being referred to as “Dr” First Name.

People signal using things like this because people assume that getting these things are difficult, and since they are difficult for the average, then this must mean that those that have them are above average.

What kills the signalling strategies of so many is the side channel, or “the word on the street”. If the word on the street runs counter to the signalling of a person, that person not esteemed as highly. Such people may be called “posers”, “wanksters”, wanna-be’s, or be accused of “fronting”.

Back to the classroom. The top students are already known as being the top because their accomplishments are being evangelized by others throughout the hallways and among teachers.

The students in the middle have to signal that they have value by raising their hand frequently to answer questions. Correct answers imply that they are smart, brave, and of higher value than those who are on the bottom (who neither raise their hand, nor have word of mouth on their side)

Therefore, the best students who have the word on the street, notoriety, or whatever you want to call it, on their side demonstrate high value nonverbally, because “only a student who is truly confident about his skills can afford to avoid constantly trying to show them off.”

That, my friend, is countersignaling. The situation of having other people evangelizing your high status to the point where you rarely, if at all, need to do it yourself.

The short version of this post: “actions speak louder than words”, and “the strong actions in the right place speak louder than the weak actions in the wrong place”

You can read the full article here, or by following the link up above.

Stuff for you to take out of this

This should show you that the main goal is not to do a lot of things on your own that signal that your greatness. Your goal is to get the side channel (other people) to say great things about you.

Authenticity comes from having a strong side channel. Good examples are The Dave Matthews Band, or John Mayer.

If you continue to signal incessantly, you might come across as unlikable, even if you have a high amount of success with your music. I jokingly call this the Kanye West effect. He’s good, but the amount of times he feels the need to remind us verbally is way more than needed. To be fair to Señor West, he is not the only one who does this but is simply the most recognizable one right now.

The good news is that instead of needing to promote yourself with a long list of accomplishments, you can cut that list down to maybe one-fourth it’s size. The great, yet sometimes uncomfortable news, is that you must become the type of person that everyone else brags about, and that takes work.

Thanks once again to Cal, I can show you three paraphrased things to keep in mind to make the transition less uncomfortable:

Applying Countersignalling

1. Don’t send mediocre signals. An easy way to represent yourself as a medium ability candidate (be it for a gig, business endorsements, new fans, or a record deal) is to shout out a long list of achievements none of which are all that difficult to achieve;

for example,
“my album is out!” Buy it because it exists!
playing songs that are technically proficient but very very long
using lines like “we are taking the world by storm”…I’m pretty sure you’re not.

None of these signals convey a particular impressive trait, and the list as a whole makes you seem like someone desperate to differentiate yourself from the low ability candidates. The top people don’t have this worry.

2. Send a small number of strong signals. People are already overloaded with information as it is. Help the reviewer follow a high ability story line by having one or two activities that are really impressive — that is, required an desirable trait, like high creativity or deep values, and not just persistence. Seeing a small number of excellent things, and no low-value bragging, will convey a strong sense of confident ability.

3. Prime the side channel. In the formal model, you have no control over the side channel. In the real world, you do. Be interesting. Make people like you. Actually convey the traits that you want the channel to communicate. If you’re a hip hop group, for example, this means you should actually be thought provoking, energetic, witty people that can really tell the audience how it is. Fan’s take notice of this, and potential partners who have their hand on the pulse of the market will find it difficult to ignore you.

Sometimes, doing less can say more. Always good news in a world that constantly demands more out of you.

If you can think of artists that do low value bragging or are great at using the side channel, tell them to me in the comments.

December 22, 2009 Posted by | Business, Music Business | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flashy vs Constant

Flash is like fireworks. It gets people’s attention with its bright light and its loud bang. It remains in the public consciousness for a little while and then disappears only to be forgotten. People talk about it out of surprise, awe, or disgust, but only for awhile.

One-hit wonders are flashes. A guy kissing another guy on the American music awards is a flash. Getting a vice presidential nomination when you are governor of Alaska is a flash.

Constants, unlike flashes, may not grab you immediately. But when you start to pay attention, you grab onto them, not letting go until they cease to become constant.

Creating great music and performing it well all the time is constant. The google home page is constant. The leader who does what she says she is going to do is constant.

There is one evident weakness with being constant. When building a brand, constancy is repeatedly overlooked by others, and it sometimes requires a small, deliberate bit of flashiness to raise awareness of it.

Think about the flash and constancy going on in your actions. How much is devoted to each?

Maybe you can think of some examples where people are using the two well or very poorly over the long term.

Let me know by commenting.

December 17, 2009 Posted by | Business, Productivity/Goal Setting | , | Leave a comment

The Cheesy Mission Statement

I don’t want to see another mission statement whose words were designed to win playing Scrabble.

But, Señor, What Are Mission Statements?

Mission statements are simple, one to four sentence long phrases. Companies use them in advertising to bring in customers, raise funding from investors, and keep their employees working towards the same objective no matter what tool or task they may be working on.

They also can sound business-like, and boring. In fact, it is possible to read some mission statements and still not know what an organization actually does, or what to expect. Here are some examples:

Our challenge is to assertively network economically sound methods of empowerment so that we may continually negotiate performance-based infrastructures. (Dilbert’s Automatic Mission Statement Generator)

Respect, integrity, communication, and excellence. (Enron)

If your eyes glazed over reading that, or if your brain stopped working at “assertively network”, I understand and expected it. Notice the difference between those, and Amazon’s Kindle statement:

Every book ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.

This one is more reasonable. You know exactly what Amazon wants to do, and you may have even hoped for their success. Same goes with Apple’s “1000 songs in your pocket” Ipod idea.

Why YOU need a mission statement

  • It lays out what your goal is. When you know and see what you are trying to do, it is easier to do it.
  • It keeps you on track – avoiding decisions that take you further away from your goals.
  • Other people can read it and know what you want to do, as well as how they might help you.
  • Maybe you have more than one passion – a statement that tells you what you want to achieve can help you choose which passions to follow and which ones are best left for time off/vacation..
  • Potential team members who want to accomplish the same thing will follow or join you if you follow a statement that attracts them.

My advice: avoid traditional, fortune 500 style business statements.

Maybe you are working by yourself, or in a team. You could also be in a succeeding band, or involved in several different businesses. You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile (couldn’t help it).

Your mission statement, when you write it, should do what you want it to do. For example, here is mine:

My mission statement: Taking creative minds from a place of obscurity to a place where they lead, and even change, our culture.

As you can see, I do not have huge words like “infrustructure” or “empowerment for our future”. In short, if you can hear it in an oil company commercial or during a shareholder meeting, I will try not to include it in my statement. In addition to it being better-worded (in my opinion), it gives me a path to work towards in everything I am interested in (from music and business to technology and politics). Regardless of what stage I am at, I can look at that sentence and instantly create goals (action specific mission statements) that will get me there.

It is not without its flaws as well. My statement has absolutely no measurable points to let me know whether I have reached it or not. But then again, It is a path and not a destination. It is like saying I want to start a fire. The fire is working whether it is on the edge of a match or a Californian forest. Bad example…think of it instead as a creative, constructive, sexy fire.

You are more than welcome to comment if you think my statement is cool or bullshit. What is your mission statement? I would like to see what it is based on who YOU are.

November 29, 2009 Posted by | Business, Productivity/Goal Setting | , | Leave a comment

Marketing – another creative outlet!

Business can be boring sometimes, even for businesspeople. Imagine how musicians see it.

When I hear about anything going on nationwide in the music industry, however, I can’t help but be excited.

I read an interesting article from Music Globalization today that explains a fascinating trend- non-traditional retail outlets are selling more music than in the past. Stores that usually do not sell music as a main item are selling more of it than before!

Think about it for a second…how have music-related sales been performing year after year? Pretty much all physical music products (CD’s, DVD’s, etc) have been falling in sales 30-40% every year for at least the past 5 years. All I hear in the news related to retail music has been bad, therefore making it difficult for top-40 rappers everywhere to convince me their life is better than mine, but I digress.

Any place that reports an increase in sales is worth paying attention to. That is why the aforementioned article was written: how to get your physical product (be it a CD, or a USB drive shaped like an Uzi) into stores. For your benefit, I will summarize what I got out of the article here, but if you want to read the whole thing I encourage it.

How to get your stuff into retail stores

I’m going to be very clear: you probably will not get your music into an exclusive with Best Buy, Wal-Mart, or any other retail giant as an unsigned artist, nor do I think that’s what you want.

Besides, even these stores are experiencing losses in sales in the double digits every year. On top of that, these stores will only stock your product if you price it so low that even the retailer cannot profit from them, as they are willing to lose money selling your stuff only to draw your fans into their store to buy more stuff that they support more than your own stuff.

I’m not saying if you can get into Wal-Mart, don’t. I am saying, however, that in a world where you are competing for attention, eliminating all profit to participate in a system that doesn’t value you or your music is a tough choice.

Smaller, independent music stores are more achievable, but they don’t have enough high-profit items to justify selling records that they are unsure will sell. This means that top-40 artists will be given preference here too, because a smaller store cannot afford to take risks in a market that is losing money that fast. While you might get in, I want you to make a lot of money doing what you love, and only getting into a few small record stores won’t get you all the way.

What’s an independent artist to do? Aim for the non-traditional retail outlets.

Non traditional retail stores are smaller, solicited by artists less often, and are more likely to value what you have to offer, especially if it is relevant to their image.

Let’s see how it’s done

1. Build an Infrastructure

This is a key principle in business: If you want people to join your team, prove that you don’t need them. (But don’t act like you don’t, because that’s just rude). Businesses that are already making a profit can easily get bank loans. Hot girls/guys who already have lots of dates have no problem getting more dates.

Retailers will takes risks, but they want to see something that tells them you can sell. Show that you have sold 500, or 1000 copies (at gigs, or anyplace) and retail owner’s fear of taking a risk is seriously reduced. To quote Music Globalization’s M. Frascogna: “infrastructure lets a retailer know you’re hardened, not scared to promote, and won’t rely on someone else to “sell” you. Hint- this is attractive to the business world!”

(Note from Me: This principle will also help you get gigs, record deals, manager’s who know what they are doing, and media mentions)


2. Expand a Retailer’s Market Don’t Just Enhance it.

I am going to quote the Music Globalization article completely here, because first, it does a better job, and second, I want to watch Family Guy.

“Non-traditional retailers know who their market is, as should bands. If the two groups share the same market it is unlikely a store will be attracted to a partnership as the band simply enhances their store. Stores are looking for expansion- help in capturing a new market while keeping their image in tact.

For example: Chain store A has 100 skateboard shop locations, and attracts customers ages 13-18 who are punk rock listeners. The store is looking to expand into 20 new cities but wants to sustain customers for a longer period of time, 13-30. It isn’t in store A’s best interest to partner with a band that already shares these same market demographics as the partnership would only enhance the stores image. Store A stands to benefit by teaming with musicians that appeal to ages 19-30 in order to expand their brand. More than likely this will no longer be punk rock listeners, so Store A needs to capture a band who expands them into a 19-30 listener demographic. When it comes time to meet with non-traditional retailers it is important to focus on what you can do to “expand” their market. This isn’t difficult, rather takes some business detail in updating your bands market analysis and researching beforehand a target non-traditional retailers current market.”

(me again: This helps me a lot because I always thought your chances of getting into stores was higher if you appealed to their current demographic. Now I know that when you help a store expand their market, you are fulfilling a genuine need in business, and therefore you are much more valuable. In this case, you have two circles of customers: the retailer itself, and your individual fans. Keep both as close as you can.)

3. Think Global

People from different places of the world may be attracted to your music because it is different, edgy, and exotic. Companies/Business Owners wanting to expand are always looking for partners to make the transition easier for them.

“International talent can essentially be free for them because of the mutual benefit. Bands should be happy to potentially capture a new market without spending marketing dollars. Front-end money isn’t the motivating factor, rather sustainable sales over time.”

You might need to sacrifice a little profit in the beginning, but if you can tour, sell more merchandise and prove to the retailer that they could benefit from selling even more stuff of yours, it is worth it.

Regardless, if it doesn’t work out well, there is no harm done, and you have lost very little if anything (you can always get your merch back if it doesn’t sell there). Furthermore, if no one bought anything of yours in a new area because nobody knew you, your image has not sufferred.

One more quote from the actual article: “If you don’t have international business knowledge, nor know which stores to partner with, no worries. Non traditional retailer partnerships have advertising companies drooling. Identify the major players in advertising within your desired country, unleash your ideas, and they will be chomping at the bit to pick up a new account.”

This is a new concept to me, and would be a wise thing for myself, artists, and anyone hoping to manage artists to understand this. What do you think? Could marketing to advertising companies so you can establish the right relationships with the right retailers be an interesting blog post?

If so, I promise to give it a cooler title than that.

P.S. I found a cool video where the thinkGeek folks created a nonwashable, but ridiculously awesome shirt with a playable guitar woven into it. The video is below…maybe this could be a gimmick you could use soon.

November 18, 2009 Posted by | Business, Music Business | Leave a comment

22 Ways To Get Tribes On Your Side.

If you are an artist, and wrote some songs, you may want other people to know about them. While you may use social networking, just blasting out a message that you have a new song may not be enough. Getting someone to scream your tweet from a rocky cliffside won’t help much either, no matter how funny it may be.

There are literally millions of tribes, and you are a passive or active member in many of them.

Seth is the most well-known person to use the term, having written a whole book about them. A tribe is a group of people (ranging from 2 folks to a multitude of millions) who come together due to a common element of interest. One tribe may be your church, another may be employees of BestBuy, while a third might be your college drama class.

For an oversimplified example, watch any high-school movie to see how one large tribe easily breaks down into many smaller ones.

Ultimately, you may get to the point where people connect with one another out of love for your music. (i.e. deadheads, grobanites, etc.)

Here are several tips based upon knowledge of tribes that can help you grow awareness of your tunes. Some of these ideas are awesome already, while others might need more thought or expansion. Enjoy!

22 Ways to Work with Tribes

1. Lead some tribes. Maybe you have some buddies you play pool with, or serve on the board of a nonprofit. If you don’t, think over who you want your fans to be, and find out if you should lead tribes like this. You can then suggest things involving your band when the time is right.

2. Make songs for specific tribes. Like Melissa Etheridge did for “I Run For Life” for breast cancer awareness.

3. Make songs that appeal to many tribes. Why do you think songs about love sell so well?

4. Write songs about tribes that get little representation in popular culture. That is why the Village People did so well back then, as very few wrote commercially viable songs with gay references back then.

5. Borrow other tribes to gain traction. This is why smaller bands open for larger bands that play similar genres of music.

6. Write a song meant for a one-time event. Try something crazy like the 2010 Jessop County Barbecue festival. If it is just for that event, you may get a shot at gigging there, even though I just came up with that.

7. Focus on one type of occasion that happens everywhere. Wedding bands have done this for years, as there’s always a new tribe referred to you if you are good.

8. Write for fans or haters of a product. commercial jingles, comedic parodies, odes, and bashes.

9. Writing for controversial topics. Especially if your view is different from the norm, yet funny.

10. Create music for tribes that may not exist yet. Either the tribe will appear and you can use your song to help promote them, or it will never show up and it can be either useless or funny (like Flight of the Conchords when they sing about when robots destroy all humans in the future in an attempt to have early access to a future market.)

11. Take a song written for one tribe and alter it so it targets a different tribe. Think Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg. Just don’t do it under witness protection because you will not be invisible forever using this.

12. Try to contract work with one individual whose job it is to use media to reach multiple tribes with multiple concepts, and just make things for them on demand. Examples can be movie producers, website owners, political candidates, and personal development speakers.

13. Make music for just one person who is super rich. This one is very niche today, but it worked during the days of Bach and Handel. Once you build enough notoriety in your career for making great music, you can easily move into this. (Imagine if you are Enrique Iglesias and you are paid to make a song for the daughter of a Hedge Fund Manager for the daughter’s birthday…I’d do it).

14. Gain the respect of larger tribes by rejecting other tribes. Punk music and the Hippy Movement of the 60’s are well known examples of this concept. If your tribe is the working class, refusing to work for the super rich could endear your tribe to you even closer.

15. Make your band a tribe that non-band members want to support. If your band did things like play music for free to orphanages and childrens hospitals, you might secure the funding of outsiders to continue this.

16. Make your own tribe for music lovers and other musicians. Many artists, unable to find gigs, create their own by organizing open mics and other similar events. It might help to organize something like this even if you do have some paying gigs. You could run it temporarily before turning over to someone else, using the creation of this new venue something that music fans accept you for.

17. Start a consulting service between business owners and tribes. Establish relationship with artists that are passionate about different causes and tribes and connect them with groups/clients that want to join and market to those tribes. When the connection is made, find out what the clients want and work with each artist(s) to develop the music or message that they want.

18. Bring band-focused tribes together by having gigs with a genre focus. Do an 80’s hair metal covers gig one day, or pop diva covers on a different day. This can establish you as a versatile act, as well as allowing you to see which tribes are your best audiences.

19. Similar to #18: have a festival of cover bands, preferably mirroring another festival with the real acts elsewhere. Its a great way to involve other bands in your idea, plus you get to play for their tribes as well. Now you are getting your tribe, the tribes of the local bands, and the tribes of multi-platinum acts all at once…sneak attack!

20. Try not identifying with any tribe at all. This has often been what creates brand new styles. Many people simply do not like what is out there. If you are so different you have nothing to do with any tribe, many displaced people may join you. Or nothing will happen at all. It all comes down to whether or not your current actions are working.

21. Talk to people at the venue after your gigs. Socially connecting with people can do more for you than your actual playing, even if you are good. Playing good gets people to come. Since they are there with you, talk to them.

22. Use Alternate versions of your songs to reach multiple tribes. This has been done by Moby, Shania Twain, and many other artists. First, make your songs the way you want them. Then record extra tracks using different styles of playing/singing/different instruments to mix different styles of the songs you just completed. After that, release them each to fans of the different genres you used. You might even find a sound you like better than the one you are using.

After racking my brain to the point of a headache, that’s all I got for now.

You are welcome to post any ideas you feel I missed or did not explain enough in the comments on this blog post. Share them with the world, and the world will be better for it.

October 16, 2009 Posted by | Business, Music Business | , , , | 1 Comment