The CEO of Rock Blog

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

Update on my life – Belmont University and Travel

Because your time is valuable, I will only publicize music-industry related posts that provide high value. This particular blog post is not intended to provide in-depth music industry knowledge. It is simply news about me that documents my journey, hopefully in the right direction. For this reason, I will not advertise these updates on twitter,  facebook or anywhere else. Strictly personal posts will only be read by visitors to the blog and subscribers.

Travel

My life is crazy, and I mean it in a really cool way.

Machu Picchu

Last week I celebrated the end of my school session in Argentina with a trip to Peru. It was the second time I had visited the country – and the first time I had visited a country other than the U.S. more than once.

Lima’s Touristy Miraflores District seemed to be doing much better than before. I saw almost no beggars on the street and the streets seemed much cleaner than when I was last there in 2006. Last time I was there, the beggars were so prevalent and so zombie-like in their tones of voice and movement that it was reminiscent of South Park’s “Night of the Living Homeless”. I felt bad, but the reality was when I gave someone anything, many more crowded in to get more from me and the one(s) who received my money would keep asking as if I hadn’t given them anything at all. It was very sad, yet it made me laugh later because I didn’t know how to react.

Three things I recommend if you want to go to Peru:

1. Try Inca Cola. It is their most popular soda and it tastes like carbonated-bubble-gum. Yes, I know it sounds weird, but try it to see how you like it.

2. Coca Tea. It makes me drowsy but most people get a small kick out of it. The leaves are chewed by indigenous people who live in the mountainous southeast in the Andes because it numbs their senses to the volatile temperatures that accompany that part of the country. Fun fact: Coca leaves come from the same plant that is used to make cocaine. The thing is, the leaves are so absent of the drug-like chemicals contained in the plant that it would take hundreds of bags of the leaves to get the equivalent of one ounce of the white powder. For that reason, it is not only legal, but also safe to consume if you are worried about health issues. You can even buy one or two boxes of the tea (in tea bags) and take it back to the U.S. without trouble (it’s so harmless in that state that no one cares). ¡Hoja de Coca, no es droga!

3. Machu Picchu. This was my second time to Peru, but my first time to this famous Inca Ruin. It takes about 2.5-3 hours by train to get from Cusco to the town at the foot of the mountain ruins. After you pass through this skinny tunnel with a slanted rock on one side and the brick wall of a hut on the other, you turn to your right to see the most crazy combination of city and mountain you have ever seen. If you have seen it on television, forget what you have seen, because seeing it in person makes it feel at least three times larger.

Anyway, I had a great time, and out of the five South American countries I have visited, it is my favorite South-American country so far.

Belmont University

College is worth all the money for usually three reasons. One, to get education. Two, to get credibility so people that society deems “important” will listen to you. Then there is number three: to get connections in the industry. My current university in Texas was the best school I had gone to when you compare it to the community college in Alaska that I had to go to earlier in life. It had friendlier people, a more efficient system because it was a privatized, and was in the heartland of America, giving me access to major cities and more opportunities to try new things.

What it lacked, however, was that third key: industry connections. Seeing as music is something I am really committed to, business marketing, my current major, is very useful for that.

There was a problem though. I participated in the strongest entrepreneurial program (even as a volunteer and in leadership roles) that the school had and noticed that at the job conventions the only people looking to hire me after graduation were corporations like Wal Mart, Best Buy, Aflac, Dell, or Kraft. As someone who goes to school to avoid working at places like Wal Mart or Best Buy, I prefer to keep my relationships with such companies as far as buying a digital camera or making macaroni in 10 minutes. Clearly, I was not going to get the industry connections I needed there.

After searching schools I discovered Belmont, the second largest private school in Tennessee. Owned by Baptists, it is also a Christian school. Not only have grammy-winning artists come out of that place, but it also boasts one of the top music business major programs in the country. I was sold on going when I read on their website “students who have interests other than in the music industry also have a place at Belmont”. Clearly, by switching I would be receiving better education for my interests, getting a higher credibility rating because it is a well known institution in the American music market (both Secularly and in the Christian markets), and getting those connections for that work experience I will not go through life without.

In addition, I can make friends with like-minded individuals, gaining the ability to build onto a team of great people who want to lead and change the way people think through business and music.

Where do I go from here?

I did all the things I can do to get in, and I am sure I will get in. Now I just need to get my stuff together upon my return to the states before New Year’s, travel to Belmont, choose classes with help of a counselor, and get settled in by January 13th.

If God wanted to create a heaven on earth based upon my interests, it would be like Belmont but with year-long summers and beaches. Beaches aside, I feel like this is where he is sending me now.

Like all plans, I feel there is no other place I should be right now. Also, like other plans, I know that obstacles do come up and I need to keep moving forward regardless of what happens. I need to follow my own advice and keep improving, becoming so good that no one can ignore me.

December 13, 2009 Posted by | Personal | | Leave a comment

Songwriting Wall – Creating what you want (Part 1)

Let me fill you in on a situation I’m going through.

I can write okay songs, but I want to do better than that.

For as long as I have had this blog, being the best you can possibly be has been one of the core principles that I talk about, and it should not be any different for me. It is a fact that if an artist writes okay songs with the goal being to entertain, his/her chances of success are slim to nothing. An artist in this situation needs to do one of two things:

1. Be the best there is. If your goal is to entertain, be the best entertainer. There are just as many forms of entertainment as there are ways to present them. Mediocre songs will get you nowhere, so write the best songs, or take the best songs other people wrote and be the best at presenting them.

2. Redefine what it is you are trying to do with your material. Not everybody’s goal in music is to entertain. For example, religious musicians often don’t even focus on the entertainment value of their music. My goal is to be involved in creating things that entertain, inform, and liberate people (as opposed to being merely a distraction). After I define how much of each I want to do, a more unique style is created that allows me to practice being the best in an area that has less competition.

As you can see, working towards being the best remains a key component of success, regardless of which route you choose.

Here’s where it breaks down for me right now. My history of songwriting contains a lot of negativity from my past. While much of it has been dealt with to the point where I am a positive, productive person, I have not lived long enough in this state to write songs that entertain, inform, and liberate. For me, songwriting draws me back into a cold dark place, making it frustrating, and nearly impossible to create the art I want to express. It bothers me so much sometimes that I do not practice long enough to really build the skills I need.

This is a wall. And while many creative people claim they can only create what they feel at the time, that’s not me. I am a mixture of artist and businessman, and therefore I am thinking about how to make the changes necessary to get really great.

Here is what I propose: Set a time aside that is a whole 1-2 days. For the most part spend that time alone, yet call someone if it feels helpful to do so. Make sure it is someplace you won’t be disturbed (if you have to get a hotel room and make a weekend retreat out of it, do so.). Bring your laptop, whatever instrument(s) you use, paper, something to write with, and whatever else you feel you need. Take that time out to ask yourself why you are at a wall, how it made you feel, where did it come from, and how to change it? Explore different strategies for changing how you create or what you use for creation. After that, try creating some things without worrying what emotions are coming out, and changing the song/lyric (or part of a song) until it starts to have what you want it to have.

That is what I want to do, and it looks like I will spend Thursday, and Friday doing that. If not, I will definitely get it done by month’s end. Hey, it is the holidays!

Why am I sharing this online? Well, I don’t want anyone to make illusions that I am some sort of guru. I am 22 years old, and I have some answers, and want more still, on this life-long journey. If something I have an issue with is shared by other people, seeing my journey may help…and seeing your journey may help me.

December 2, 2009 Posted by | Personal, Productivity/Goal Setting | , , | 1 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

Getting Stuff Done Without Dying

A friend of mine is a lifecoach who spent thousands of hours both paid and volunteering to help others find emotional healing and reach their life goals. Right now he is in the process of transforming his coaching model from a ministry model to a business model so that he can better provide for his family, who has recently been on the receiving end of some unfortunate medical emergencies.

Yes, it seems that “life”, that thing my pessimistic parents talked about all the time, happens even to coaches/gurus.

I mentioned that the fact he has kids and a wife probably affects how he works with his “new” business. While I am not a fan of kids (11 and under), a part of me was still focused on the positive with his situation.

I didn’t know how to explain what I was thinking, yet an article I read today said it perfectly:

“The baby turns ’shoulds’ into ‘musts’…In the past I used to put off key decisions, or saying ‘no’, because I didn’t want to deal with the discomfort. Now I have no choice. I have to make the decisions because my time has been slashed in half.”

What I was trying to say: having kids forces your subconscious brain to focus so much that you can get more done even though you have less time.

The big question: how can young, ambitious, youtube-generation twenty-somethings replicate this form of productivity without impregnating all the women and marrying all the men of the world beforehand?

Enter the world of Cal Newport, Parkinson’s Law, and overall badassery.

Cal Newport, author of Study Hacks, gets tens of thousands of visits to his site every month, and for good reason. In one summer, he managed to write six peer-reviewed academic papers (the long tedious types), Completed his Ph D. at MIT, with his dissertation, and turned in the manuscript for his third book. We read about people like him, accomplishing a lot, and we may have even seen a few in person, and it is tempting to think they pull all-nighters and never stop working.

Cal stops. In fact, he doesn’t work after 5:30 on weekdays. He takes Saturday and most of Sunday off. He also includes daily exercise and walking his dog (an additional hour) in his 8:30-5:30 weekdays, even further demonstrating his freedom from overwork.

This link to Ramit Sethi’s blog takes you to the full article about Cal, which takes about 25-30 minutes to read. I will summarize what I got out of the article, as usual, and you are always welcome to check it out.

1. To-Do list= bad – If you simply use a to-do list, it is possible to add so much to that list that the list’s length starts to rival that of ancient religious texts. Don’t do it.
2. Parkinson’s law – All activities will expand to take up the time you have allotted to do them. This can cause you to procrastinate for weeks on an assignment, or do a week’s worth of work in a few hours. Play with tasks based on their size by changing the amount of time you give yourself to do them and see if any different results are reached.
3. Fixed Schedule Productivity – This is similar to how the U.S. army plans their own missions. Fix your own schedule, find out what you need to get done, and then work backwards to figure out the steps needed to get there. “Ruthlessly cull obligations, turn people down, become hard to reach, and shed marginally useful tasks”.
4. Have a time where you stop working – the amount of stuff you can do will always exceed the time you have. Set a time that you stop working, giving you time to socialize, read, pursue interests, or rest.

Good stuff. Getting an efficient plan for getting a lot done and still having time for living is necessary, especially in a business as demanding as music.

As I am finishing a week of finals, I am humbled by how much I need to organize.

November 24, 2009 Posted by | Personal, 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