Lately, I’ve been intrigued with the subject of time. It’s not very often that I consider time itself and the part it plays in the business of music, but when you really think about it, time is perhaps the single most important factor in the musical journey. Hard work is a given and talent is a necessity, but I feel like I’ve missed the mark by failing to realize the part that time plays in not only how we get to where we are going, but whether or not we ever reach our desired destination. Time isn’t one-dimensional, either, and when we recognize the facets of time, new worlds open to us.
Ten thousand hours. We’ve all heard the theory and I assume many of us have heard the song. Ten thousand hours is said to be how much time it takes to perfect a craft. Many have said, “Time is money”, but I remember a wise friend of my father once telling me, “Wrong…Time is your life”. Sacrificing large portions of your life is truly what it is going to take to survive and succeed in this dream of “making it” in the music biz. Seeing time as an investment of currency will quickly make you treat your time like a much more valuable commodity than most do. We only get to breathe once. We only get one shot. How often do we flippantly toss the loose change of our life into the garbage by not giving our all, not realizing how much those small moments add up to a great amount of our life? There’s a difference between investment and gambling, and gambling with your time is gambling with your gift. Don’t waste it.
One aspect of investment that the majority of people don’t take into account is the fact that not every investment pays out a positive return. Investment is a risk…granted, a calculated risk, but a risk nonetheless. Don’t believe me?..Look at the housing market. Bottom line: you can be as good as you want to be and talented as hell, but if society isn’t ready for you, you’re screwed. Timing can make or break you. We all know someone with unbelievable gifting. Some of us may know someone with amazing talent and a solid work ethic. A few lucky ones may know someone with talent, work ethic, AND a great product…but if the timing isn’t there, nothing is. Guitar rock isn’t in right now…get used to it. This industry operates in cycles, just like anything else. If you wanted to sell a typewriter to a teenager five years ago, you could have made it indestructible, beautiful, and marketed it with millions and would have gone broke. Make one today that can be plugged into an iPhone, and BOOM…every bearded hipster on the block wants one. Timing is EVERYTHING. Socioeconomic climate, political leanings, civil distress, etc all play a part, and if you sing the right song at the right time…….BAM….Allen Stone, Macklemore, Psy, etc…
The paradigm has shifted in our industry. No longer do you have to be 25, blonde, busty and beautiful to be successful. Oh, it’ll help, but you won’t last on it anymore. There are gonna be plenty of one-and-done artists to go around because certain songs and artists will rise due to the timing factor…but do you think you’ll ever see Psy again? Now, it’s all about longevity for long-term success. Think about it this way: Sooner or later, most every artist around you is going to quit. What if you just never quit writing, playing, recording, filming, and releasing good content, even if you’re not the biggest act on the block? If ten artists exist and nine of them hang it up, who’s the biggest act in town? THE ONE THAT LASTS. Be committed to the long road…the hard road…the path that sucks…the path that will teach you how to be tough, a good businessperson, frugal, patient, consistent, and passionate.
I see success in music as a countdown to an eclipse. The most beautiful part about these facets of time is they can be separated into different pieces, but the clock only counts down when all of the gears of the clock are fitting together. There are moments when time meets destiny, but the hands of time have to line up. When you stick with it, your taste improves, your flavor comes out, your investment into your gift grows, your catalogue of work increases, your name spreads, you outlast your peers, and all of a sudden, the world is ready for you and time stands still for just a moment…and if you’re ready, the time can be yours.
Invest wisely, perfect your craft, understand the times, never stop creating, be committed for the long haul, be ready.
When people hear the words, “personal brand”, the general public envisions nice logos, fancy photo shoots, and great PR work in tandem with marketed products. I prefer the word, “reputation”. It’s a far more accurate word, and it doesn’t let people without conviction get around the personal connotation.
Not all brands are good. Most brands and products are cheap and of poor quality and then unsurprisingly go away pretty quickly. People instinctively know a well-crafted and solid product that won’t fall apart on them…and humans are no different. We all have a personal brand. We all represent a product; we all sell one; we all are one. Every decision and every commitment you make are the testing grounds of your name and if you fail the test, no one will buy what you’re selling…and the word spreads…FAST.
I’ve said it before, but your big talk and strut are nothing but a commercial. You may sell to a few people from your advertisement, but in the end your product will stand alone, naked, and will be judged on its performance and durability. How does your reputation and work hold up when tested? Do you follow through, regardless of cost? Do you get back to people? Do you consider it “unacceptable” to drop the ball? DO YOU DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU WILL DO? Is your word worth the breath it’s spoken with?
My favorite talkshow personality always says, “I’ve never seen someone who is a hard worker and is good at what they do out of work”, and the statement rings true. If you put out quality content and a quality product consistently, you don’t need to sell to me. Your product will sell itself.
I want to work with quality people because they produce quality results. I know what I’ll be getting. I trust the brand name. I’m willing to pay top-dollar for something that will last and perform, and so are countless millions of other people.
You know these people that I’m talking about; whatever they touch is successful. They may take a big risk and crash occasionally, but they’ll be back because they’re winners, risk-takers, and craftsmen. The cream has always risen to the top and it always will. When I see these people at the bottom, I know I’ll see them at the top again because they have guts, skill, and the inability to quit, while refusing to compromise on their reputation. The vultures and crows of society will always mock and pick at them when they go through hard times, but they’ll be back.
When a guy like BJ Olin took a band to the top and got dropped, the crows started their mocking…but then a couple of years later, he hooked up with Allen Stone and made him an independent superstar, while the guys that dropped him slowed to a halt. The guy isn’t lucky. He’s great at what he does, and it shows. That’s his brand; his perfection of his craft is his business card. I don’t need him to tell me he’s good.
Cody Beebe & The Crooks just put on the most successful first-year music festival I’ve ever seen…smooth, organized…FLAWLESS. I’m not surprised at all. Those guys won’t touch something unless they know it will represent them well, and anything they do will be amazing, because that’s their brand and they won’t compromise on it.
At the end of the day you only have 2 things, your reputation and the relationships you have…screw up the first and you’ll lose both.
We all want investors. We all want someone to believe that whatever dream we have is worth pouring resource into. We reach higher and higher for those we perceive to be “the big connection” and often skip unknowingly over the greatest treasures that life can bring.
I just returned from a short trip to San Diego for a music and media conference as well as to support one of the acts that I manage at Setlist Music Solutions, and I have never been so overwhelmingly aware of the selfless support of friends in the pursuit of a dream.
You don’t really comprehend how many people it takes to help you along the way until you break down your accomplishments step-by-step, and then you suddenly realize that you aren’t as great as you think you are; your accomplishments aren’t just yours. Bear with me for a moment as I list a few before continuing:
Jules closed down his own business for 2 days and drove 12 hours in a packed car each way, hauling equipment, making contacts, managing, dancing hard, getting lit on fire, and fetching water for the band.
Joey flew down on his own dime and spent the weekend as a roadie carrying drums, getting friends to the shows, packing gear, bleeding and sweating along with the band…and then slept on the floor at the house he scored for the band to stay in, while giving up the beds and couch to the guys he slaved for.
Trish had 7 dudes she’d never met sleep in her house, watch her TV, use her bathroom and laundry, and eat her food…and then cleaned the place up when they were gone…and didn’t ask for anything in return. A true home away from home.
Monique and Heather flew down, brought friends to every show, packed in and out and sold merchandise…ON VACATION.
Chalese, Marcus, Chelsea, Marcus, Sherman, Ruben, Marco, and many more local friends spread the word, shared online events, and paid to come out to the shows to show their support.
Marjy stuck her neck out for us to even have a reason to take the trip.
Kathryn selflessly fought tooth-and-nail to make the trip a reality, and took huge risks for us while being amazingly patient…we owe the trip to her in many ways.
Steve made the trip worth taking. This guy made me believe that there are some people that haven’t been jaded by the industry, and that there are still some that believe in the process of the dream becoming reality. This guy not only booked my act, but he took the time to get to know us, showed us around town, connected our hands with the hands of those who could help us further down the road, paid us, followed through way beyond his promises, gave us insight, and treated us like we actually mattered. Then the guy let me sleep at his place on clean sheets, use his shower, play in his backyard waterslide while drinking his tequila, and then his lovely Chelsea cooked me breakfast while I watched football! YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!!! Bands, you’d better contact this guy at 710 Beach Club in San Diego before this guy leaves…trust me.
I’ve heard that the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts…and I get what’s being said…but without the seemingly insignificant little parts, the whole is never a reality. You need to value the people that support you…cherish them. Don’t forget to say a simple thank you. Don’t take them for granted. Lose your ego.
For those of you that support like this, please don’t stop. You may not think you’re doing much. You may not understand the role that you play. Most people like you don’t really consider what they are doing to be extraordinary, but to us dreamers, your support is the fuel to our fire, the lifeblood of our dream, and water to the seed of hope that we carry inside us. When we see your face in the crowd, we’re inspired. When we hear your encouraging words, we are given strength to push on against all odds. You are making our dreams a reality.
I recently had a friend put a project online for financing. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen him serve the dreams of others and selflessly give of his time and resource before finally asking for help with his own vision. There’s a reason Samuel’s project was 90% funded in less than 24 hours…and although he’s talented, it’s not just because he’s good at what he does. He gave.
Even though he’s already over his goal for funding, there are still 20 hours left on his funding deadline. I didn’t write this as a cheesy advertisement for a friend, but if you’d like to pitch in and be a part of a hard working supporter’s dream, the link is below.
I’ve seen it one too many times. Yet another venue in town is closing due to “the slow and declining economy”. I call B.S.
I see when one of these venues starts looking like it’s about to shut down, there’s INEVITABLY a “call to arms” of sorts where a “fundraiser show” is put together to “help revive and save the failing venue” and I’m sick and tired of it. Let me tell you something: Once a venue needs a fundraiser to stay open, that ship has sailed. It’s like realizing the current is far too strong above a waterfall to swim upstream. The party is over, baby.
Get over this idea that venues bless THE SCENE. Venues don’t open to “build the scene” or “give back to the community”. Venues exist for one purpose…TO MAKE MONEY.
I know this is going to piss off some people in the scene and I’ll probably get some hate-mail over this, but guess what: I DON’T CARE. I don’t care because I know what this is; it’s a scam that takes advantage of innocent and uneducated (or inexperienced) artists that are already losing money on their own artistry and my goal isn’t to make people happy; I’m here to be HONEST.
If you really think that putting on these “fundraisers” to “save the venue” are going to actually turn a venue around and change a history of poor management, YOU ARE DEAD WRONG AND FOOLISH. One show isn’t going to change the fiscal irresponsibility and lack of business sense that’s been in place for years.
Here’s the bottom line: Someone with a little capital decided to open a bar. Bars need bodies in the place to buy booze, because that’s the product with the highest profit margin. So instead of using proven business methods to effectively become self-sustaining, these people build a stage, throw in some lights and a sound system, put it at a crappy area of town because the real estate is cheaper there, and then demand that bands bring in their fans who not only spend their money there, but then become returning customers.
What these venues SHOULD have done was used a little sense and picked out a good location where a local customer base could sustain them, branded it well, developed a solid menu and drink list at a reasonable price, and kept their overhead down by limiting spending, adhering to a strict budget, put a GREAT sound system and stage up, and have the owners INVOLVED in the life of their business.
All these shows do is help venue owners pay those final few bills (if you’re lucky) and then line their pockets a little so they can then take their lack of talent and brains and invest it in yet another abusive and poorly-run business that will keep their over-the-top car in their driveway. SPEAKING OF WHICH: Do you think the owners are going unpaid? Do you ever see THEM working behind the counter or booking shows? Do you see THEM making personal sacrifices to keep their own business afloat? Not a chance. Go ahead: dig up their rent, internet, electric, and water bills and see how many times they’ve been late. Talk to employees and see how many of them haven’t been paid on time or at all. I DARE YOU.
Do you think if your band was in dire need of some extra finance that you could get a venue to donate their entire business for one night to save your career? HELL TO THE NO! Sorry…AIN’T HAPPENING. But you’ll take all your gear, practice time, instruments, fans, and merchandise to go save a venue that never gave you a chance until now. You’re being abused.
Now, look at venues that actually do make a difference in the scene. Look at the venues people LOVE not just for the lights and sound, but for who runs them. You’ll find owners on-site. You’ll find decent food and drink pricing. You’ll find a venue that takes some pride in the stage they provide. AND YOU’LL FIND A CUSTOMER BASE THAT WILL DRIVE THE DISTANCE TO SPEND THEIR MONEY THERE. I drove 20 minutes out of my way 2 days in a row to go eat at a venue that I support because of how they operate.
Let’s stop pretending. It isn’t pretty, but it’s real.
BEN UNION DAILY: Brothers In Arms -
This blog is from my heart:
My musical journey has taken many twists and turns and offered untold surprises along the way (and it’s only been 3 years up to now!). But my personal, behind-the-scenes, LIFE journey has been crazier than I could ever communicate on a page or by speaking in front…
It’s been a while since I wrote, and I know there’s no excuse…but for me, writing requires inspiration. I don’t particularly know why I’m inspired to write on this, but I think it needs saying. It could be the whiskey and coke talking, or perhaps it’s the frustration that I feel at the moment in not being able to fully grasp onto what I know I’m meant to do, and to be able to do it while earning a paycheck. This isn’t a music-specific note, but I think it definitely applies. I’m feeling particularly vulnerable at the moment, so please bear with me.
I know I’m a gifted individual. I have talents, I have passion, and I’m perhaps the hardest worker I know. I don’t mean that to sound arrogant in any way, but I’ve only found 3 people in my life that challenge me to work harder because I MUST keep up with them—My wife, my mother, and my current business partner at Setlist Music Solutions.
I’ve owned a construction business for 9 years. I’m tired. I HATE my day job. I hate heights, I hate painting and cleaning gutters, and I HATE the way people look at me when I show up at their homes to do the dirty work. I feel that they perceive me as a loser, and as a screw-up that has nothing to offer society but some hard labor because I didn’t finish high-school and chose to party instead. My extended family doesn’t get why I pursue music. I think they have the idea that I go out, get drunk, promote shows with pole-dancers, and hang out on weekends while neglecting my wife and daughter.
But I KNOW what I really am. My parents raised me to think and to live BIG with no excuses and to not settle for anything less than greatness. I’ve never chosen the easy road, the easy way out, or the soft landings. I’m honest. I finish the job, even if that means losing money. I don’t care what the cost is to do the job right, because that’s who I am and that’s what I want to be known for. I won’t quit, dodge phone calls, or hand out a bill until the job is done, and done RIGHT. I DO NOT lie. I am trustworthy. I’ve never flaked, I’ve paid employees when I didn’t have the money, and I’ve always followed through, regardless of my personal cost or loss. When others have chosen to drop the ball, I’ve picked it up and run with it. I love my wife dearly. I am committed to her. I provide for her. I will do anything for my little girl, and she is the love and joy of my life.
WHEN WILL IT PAY OFF???!!!!! I’m broke, exhausted, broken down, and stressed…but I press on. I have a 4-year degree from the University of Washington. I’ve never worked for another man. I had a job at the age of 13 shoveling rocks on Saturdays when the other kids in town drove around the BMW their parents bought them. I’ve created my own income, never leeching off of an employer, the government, or my parents. I pay my own insurance, my own hospital bills, and I do my own freaking laundry and dishes. Everything I have, I HAVE EARNED in blood, sweat, and tears by the grace of God. I went to high school, ran a business, dated my wife-to-be, played sports, and went to college simultaneously at the age of 17. I won the regional writers competition for the VFW in 8th grade. I won 2 scholarships for writing at UW. I won a singing contest and sang the national anthem at the Tacoma Dome. I finished my degree while running 2 businesses, going to night school full-time, and managed a band from scratch to playing the Tacoma Dome while my wife was pregnant and took a final on the day my child was born…all on a shoestring budget. I get up early, I go to work, I come home and spend time with my family, and then I work on a job that doesn’t pay me until 2am because I need something to live for that I am passionate about. I am resourceful. I strive to be the best at what I do. I am talented. I have a gift.
When will the day come that my gift is recognized? When will I be financially stable? When will I not have to worry about buying groceries? When will my work pay off? Why do others, who are lazy and unreliable, get such great jobs with great pay and live in beautiful homes while I rent and drive old cars? When will people see what I have to offer? When will my gift make room for me?
Tonight I saw a show on SportsCenter about Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin…athletes that had been turned down and overlooked. It was amazing to see that even with such great physical and athletic talent, they couldn’t flourish because they couldn’t perform. They had potential, but analysts and coaches couldn’t see what was beneath the surface. Now, those 2 athletes are perhaps the most notable people in their respective sports in the last year. They were given an opportunity and they CRUSHED IT! They didn’t take some special serum. They didn’t get a super-vitamin. The potential and talent was always there, and THEY NURTURED IT. They didn’t quit when all others said they should. When they were overlooked, they didn’t sulk in self-pity. Finally, when the opportunity arose, they were conditioned and ready.
Everyone has a gift and a God-given talent that is meant for greatness. Half of the time, the system that people are in prevents them from being effective. When those talents are used in the right way at the right time, the results are POWERFUL!…but it all comes down to being ready. If those 2 guys had not been ready, the opportunity of a lifetime would have passed them by and they wouldn’t have even known it.
I will not quit. I have dreams. I have passion. I will be ready when opportunity knocks. I won’t give in to mediocrity or the attitude of entitlement that is beginning to define our society. I REFUSE to be what everyone else settles to be…And regardless of the outcome, I will have chosen my fate, rather than it being chosen for me. I will have made a dent. I will have impacted lives. I will leave a hole when I am gone.
Leave a hole. Use your gift. Never quit.
After talking about trusting people I realized that it would probably be good to at least give you a couple of tools for protecting yourself…starting with keeping records.
Yep, I’m one of those anal-retentive and paranoid people that keeps every scrap of evidence to back up my case in most situations. I’d prefer I didn’t have to be that way, but a long history of going through “he said, she said” BS has made it impossible for me to simply go off of conversations and verbal agreements any more.
I don’t necessarily think that everyone is out to get me, but I do think people are out to benefit themselves, even if that means me getting the short end of the stick. People can mean well and they can also say great things…but EVERYONE (yes, even you) at some point remembers saying something or hearing something that the other person doesn’t remember saying or hearing. So make it easy for everyone by writing and keeping everything on permanent file.
If you can’t afford a lawyer, write contracts on email. It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s that I want to hold everyone accountable for what was promised, arranged, or agreed upon. I do this with my friends, my business contacts, and yes, even my family.
Keeping emails and texts that are important removes any personal attachment or personal offense because what was said is signed in ink with no room for argument or negotiation. It keeps you from looking like a jerk and keeps everyone honest.
Keep the texts!…and know that if you contact me, I’m most likely keeping track. ;)
I’ve alluded to the issue of not being too trusting, but let me address it directly. Don’t trust ANYONE in the music industry outright. I’m not saying this because I’ve been recently burned or anything, but I do know what being burned by people you trust is like and it’s taught me to be a little slower to believe whatever is being said to me and a lot slower at agreeing to “great opportunities”.
People are full of crap in general. When you learn this, you will have learned one of the greatest lessons that life can teach. I NEVER do ANYTHING for ANYONE until I know I’m protected. Guard your trust, guard your assets, and protect them fiercely. You’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into your business and no fast-talking, money grubbing opportunist should be able to weasel their way into it with a few name-drops and promises.
Fight for what’s yours.