Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Publish or Parish: Artistic Branding

Publish or Perish! The ominous adage passed down around the analogous camp fires of academia from the silver streak, deep lined brow of the wise to the new and eager to earn their badges naïve. Publish or perish, like a ghost story is meant to warn those pursuing a career in academia that they had better be writing, had better be in the conversation or else… or else?…or else before too long they won’t even be invited to hear the conversations from afar. Like an Atari 2600, or Swatches, or DJ Jazzy Jeff, or Britney Fox they will be rendered obsolete.
In the turbulently transforming world of music, this is also the case. In reality music is no longer a product (I know I have said that before but I am going to keep saying it until you all start to listen) it is an advertising piece for the brand, and the brand is always the artist. Music is a cog in the wheel of the content industry. Therefore, a brand must have other cogs in the wheel to do two essentially important things.
1) Tell the story-
Who? - Who you are, past, present, future. Who inspires you?
What? - What is your unique way of seeing the world, experiences, etc?
Why? - Why do you do what you do? Why does the world need it?
2) Monetize- It is all about revenue streams! In the world long long ago in a galaxy far far away you could depend on the sale of music as your main source of income, but those days are gone. Recorded music is just one of many revenue streams you need to make a living and brand yourself.
The brand involves everything public about the company/artist. According to businessdictionary.com, branding is the process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers' mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers.
Branding involves merchandising, appearances, associations with other entities/charities, all the above. Increasing it is important to see any and all content as a part of the brand story.
A friend of mine from New Braunfels, TX, Drew Kennedy (http://www.drewkennedymusic.com/) gets the concept of branding and being a part of the “Content Industry”. Drew is a fantastic songwriter (we have co-written the song “Hardest Part” that will be on my forthcoming 2012 record – (http://www.facebook.com/#!/video/video.php?v=10150207363566355) and true artist who has now put pen to paper in a new way. Drew has authored a companion novel to his fifth album; both book and album are titled Fresh Water in the Salton Sea (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005OSYC1G/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb).
The novel is weaved with nods to the experiential landscape of Drew’s own life. The main character’s, troubadour Daniel Murphy, story is fictional in nature but with Drew’s real life experiences and background as the backdrop. The novel and album weave the narrative gaps for one another in a way where you are not sure which is primary and which is supportive and that is the beauty of it. It is the whole story. It is music, it is word. It is fiction yet Drew is still telling you his story. The novel is an engaging story in the vein of a Jack Kerouac tradition.
This is true artistic branding, Drew shows you can stay a true artist who is driven by art and not commerce while simultaneously exploring and creating new holistic ways to marry your art and your brand. I will leave you with a quote from Drew’s book where main character Daniel Murphy is commenting on the juxtaposed prescribed American dream with that of the individual wanderer who lives for something deeper.
“My own version of the (American) dream is different. It involves making it on ideas that are born in my head, that come into being through hands upon a guitar, and my thoughts jotted down on a sheet of paper, the two eventually merged together with a melody sung from somewhere deep within my soul” (Kennedy, 2011).
Please support this art and go and purchase both Drew’s book and album, Fresh Water in the Salton Sea. It will be well worth the money, you will be glad you did.

Monday, October 17, 2011


I have recently been reading a book by Daniel Pink entitled DRiVE. The book deals with levels of human motivation. One of Pink’s assertions is that intrinsic motivation is longer lasting and produces higher quality than extrinsic. He even quotes one Harvard study of painters. The researchers had the painters paint two paintings, one commissioned and one that was just whatever they wanted. The study found that experts rated the non-commissioned paintings higher in every case.
In one portion of the book Pink focuses on the PhD study of play that was conducted by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Csikzentmihalyi observed painters and found that when the painters were truly in what he called “flow” (a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990)) they seemed to be so gripped in the moment of their work as to almost be in a trance. For them, “time passed quickly and self-consciousness dissolved” (Pink, 2009, p.111). The connection between the painters experience and that of musicians who get lost in their work is virtually identical. So when a spouse complains that speaking to their musician in these moments of “flow” , makes it seems as if they are not even there, like the musician is completely oblivious and they are talking to the wall. The answer is bluntly that it seems like they are not there because to the musician in a moment of flow well... they aren’t.
In flow, the creative is 100% in the moment. It is when you get lost in the creating and become one with it in a sense. You don’t have to think, or process, it just well…flows. These are the musician’s mountain top, the reason why we do what we do. The musician loses all sense of self and time in the creating and most importantly the reward is immediate. It is when you know you nailed the part, wrote the greatest line, or sang the perfect note. This however is not the norm for musicians, it is the exception.
The other side of flow is the chase for mastery. Musicians and other creatives have always had to deal with having a bi-polar reputation. The greatest song one day gives way to the realization of how far you have still to go the next. How much you need to improve and the reality of this being a forever journey hits. For the person in relationship with the musician this seems imbalanced, neurotic, and just plain hard to deal with. However this is the natural way of chasing mastery. As Pink says, “You and I each might reach flow tomorrow morning- but neither of us will achieve mastery overnight.” This is not a negative; ultimately the pursuit of mastery is the best positive. It is akin to the cliché, it is the journey not the destination.
Mastery is a state of mind. Flow is pure joy in the moment, Mastery is pain over time, it hurts, but both are vital to the process and the very essence of being creative. So for the spouse, girlfriend, kids, parents or friends of the musician, the swings in mood and ever-changing self opinion that your musician experiences, does not indicate a mental illness. For the musician this is normal. The swing from mountain top to valley in the musician’s journey is the process. I believe it was James Taylor who said of songwriting, “it is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration” but it is the 10% that makes the rest of it worth it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rising above the noise

I attended an interesting event near Nashville last night put on by Carpe Artista (http://www.carpeartista.com/). It was an authors in the round much like the traditional songwriters in the round only in this case it was writers of the written word. This event featured two dear friends of mine, Jay Lowder reading excerpts of his book Tears of Minbrock from his War of Whispers series (http://www.warofwhispers.com/) and Steve Grossman reading excerpts of his book Why I Failed in the Music Business (http://www.whyifailed.com/) I highly recommend you check both books out.

After the authors read excerts, they fielded questions about the publishing industry and the topic of self publishing came up. This is surely a kissing cousin of being an independent artist in the music industry and shares many of the advantages and disadvantages. Also common is the changes brought on by technology.

In both industries the true advantage is that everyone now has the ability to get published/ release recordings and technology has "leveled the playing field" and in both industries the true disadvantage is that everyone now has the ability to get published/release recordings and technology has "leveled the playing field."

So while it is much much easier to get "published" and technology has greatly reduced the barriers to entry by reducing creation and distribution costs, the ultimate result is a glut of material out there. This creates an overwhelmed confusion in consumers who have limited time and limited desire to search for new material (remember while the arts are infinetely important to those of us who are creatives, it is typically just entertainment to the average consumer). It also creates the vital necessity for the creative to do three principles in this new world in an infinitely more acute way.

1) know your audience (target the people you KNOW would love your work. Not those you HOPE or think might enjoy). The irony in all this is that technology has put the wide world at our finger tips but you must ask your self why would someone in Brazil or China want to buy your creative work??? The honest answer is that at first they wouldn't. So while the world is a much smaller place because of technology, marketing wise your best bet is to start with those closest to you- your family, friends, community (online and real world), state, etc. The second principle is
2) work your network this boils down to finding a way to motivate the people in your sphere to spread the word about your work to the people in their sphere in a way that motivates either a purchase or further spreading of the word about your work.
3) tell your story the best way to motivate your network is to tell your story, be honest, real but not depricating. Make them care about you and your work.

In the world of being independent whether as an author or an artist the two main obstacles have not changed since the dawn of time, inspite of the ease of which you can get a work into the market. The main obstacles to success remain 1) capital and 2) an energized network. This is what the major companies in either market still bring to the table. Of course to get this muscle you will give up creative control and monetary percentages but the trade is you have to find a way to rise aove the noise.