music industry

There Is No Need To Call Anyone A Sell Out

Are you a sell out?

For my dollar, that’s one of the most annoying questions in the world. There seems to be this line of thinking that passion, money and doing the work that you love should never result in some big payday. If it does, the individual who pulls that lever is, in some way, selling out. My anger with that sentiment stems back to my days in the music industry. My specific genre of interest was hard rock and heavy metal and this resentment happened all of the time. If a band became popular, they were a sell out. It happened to Metallica, it happened to Slayer and it happened to everyone.

What do you make of that?

I’m not sure what to think of it, other than it’s stupid. I don’t think anyone can willfully create something with the knowledge of knowing that people will love it and that it will make them lots of money. There are too many factors involved that are out of anyone’s control. Speaking of Metallica, the drummer, Lars Ulrich, always had the best response to individuals who asked him whether or not he thought that the band had sold out. He would always say, “yes, we’re a sell out. We sell out each and every seat in every venue that we play on any given night.” And, if you have seen the band play live, they do not disappoint. I’m sure that when Marc Ecko sold his company, he either worried that people would think that he was a sell out and there were probably those who did say that. Ecko is such an interesting and charismatic business leader. He was the creative and fashion genius behind Eckō Unltd. (which has become a billion dollar fashion and lifestyle company). His marketing antics have been well documented (remember the tagging of Air Force One?). Ecko is still semi-actively involved in the multiple fashion brands that he created (Eckored, Marc Ecko Cut & Sew and Zoo York), but spends the bulk of his current time working on Complex Media. As if that’s not enough, he is one of the most generous philanthropists out there. I had the pleasure of interviewing him a few times (you can hear him on my podcast right here: SPOS #377 – Marc Ecko Builds Brands That Sell But Don’t Sell Out) and he recently released a stunning business book called, Unlabel – Selling You Without Selling Out. A couple of months ago, Ecko appeared on a great video podcast by Chase Jarvis to talk about his life and his book. I recently watched it, and it’s a compelling story about brands in the modern world that everybody working in the marketing industry should check out.

In fact, it turns out that you can sell yourself without selling out…

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It’s All Just Dumb Luck

Selling a lot of books is very hard. Making a video go viral is very hard. Creating a billion dollar company is very hard.

It’s a story that I will never forget. Back in 2008, I was prepping the release of my first business book (Six Pixels of Separation). I was very excited because the book was going to be the lead business title for Grand Central Publishing – which is a part of the largest book publishing company in the world (Hachette Book Group) – and the senior-most executive at the publishing house wanted to meet with me. I was excited. I was nervous. If you could close your eyes and imagine what the head editor of the largest book publisher in the world might look like, you would have the right visual of this powerful, smart and compelling individual. A beautiful corner office with a view, that is decorated with awards, celebrity author paraphernalia, photos of this individual with Presidents, royalty and more. As we sat down on the couch for a coffee, they leaned in and quietly said, “Mitch… I love your book. We all love your book. It’s a fascinating space and you have captured it perfectly. We are thrilled that we’re publishing it and look forward to its success…” and then there was a long pause. They finished the sentence with: “now, all we need is lightning in a bottle.”

Wait. What?  

Write a book that one of the world’s most esteemed editors loves, get signed to a global deal by one of the largest book publishers in the world, get to be the lead title for their back to school season, and it’s all going to be dependant on how lucky we get? It’s a situation that I have known and dealt with for decades. Back in my music industry days, I would face this story on a weekly basis. A band would release an amazing album on one of the major record labels, that was supported with a ton of marketing, featured a great producer, with an amazing tour to come, and it would be crickets and tumbleweeds in terms of record sales, seats sold and general media interest. I could rattle off hundreds of bands who should have been huge from the eighties and nineties while others (some might even argue less-qualified) got the accolades, attention, fame, sex, drugs and well, you know.

In the end, is it all about luck?

I am thinking about luck a lot lately. I’m not the only one. Just yesterday, I saw two really interesting articles on Mashable about Facebook (titled: ‘It Was Just the Dumbest Luck’ — Facebook’s First Employees Look Back) and the meteoric rise of the most frustrating game, Flappy Bird (titled: How ‘Flappy Bird’ Went From Obscurity to No. 1 App).

Check out these quotes…

  1. Ezra Callahan was Facebook’s sixth employee. Here’s what he says about it: “It’s humbling to know I was part of something that became such a phenomenon around the world. Every day, I recognize how it was just the dumbest luck in the world to have been in the right place at the right time.” 
  2. Doug Nguyen is the indie developer who created Flappy Bird. He never did any type of marketing or advertising for the game and simply said, “The Popularity could be my luck.”

Is it just all dumb luck?

You can imagine how many articles, blog posts and book have been written on the subject of luck. I’ve often referred to this “secret sauce” that seems to have no known recipe in the success of things of other stuff. We would like to think that true success happens when someone can match passion, intellect, dedication and effort against a cause. We would like to think that if you just put your nose against the grindstone, something is going to give. We don’t want to believe in something “other” (and no, I’m not talking about any religious figures here). Still, when you speak to those we would consider the best of the best, they often default to some type of comment about just how lucky they got. Sure, go ahead and dump all of the catchy quotes below about how a lot of hard work makes people lucky, I still find it fascinating how there are always these random forces at play. The things that make one video go viral and another, equally compelling piece, be a dud. It feels like luck usually does have something to do with it, regardless of what the data jocks tell us and the puritan hard workers. 

So, do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?

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Thinking Of You

It’s getting late.

Most of you are settling in to the holidays. Family and friends. I’m doing the same. Because regardless of religion, race, gender, sexual orientation or what have you, we’re all human and ’tis the season. But, before I lay me down to sleep and the house goes quiet (yes, not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse), I wanted you to know something: I am thinking of you. Seriously.

Watching. Listening. Reading. Smiling. Enjoying.

As hard as I am on brands about how much of an opportunity and potential that technology and connected networks have brought to our world (and why, oh why, are brands simply using this as an advertising channel?… it is such a waste), I still marvel at this technology with each and every passing day. I’m often pointed to as the guy that doesn’t respond to comments on this blog. I’m often misquoted on this topic or misunderstood. It doesn’t seem to satisfy people when I say that I am simply not good at it (I try… and I’m going to try harder). People seem irked that I would rather spend my time writing the next blog post, magazine article, book, or build a new presentation. That because I don’t respond to everything, it must mean that I don’t care. That’s simply not the case. I care deeply. I read, review, ponder and think about every comment, tweet, post and more. I’m so grateful, that I often find myself not being able to find the words. It feels to me like a simple, “thank you” is somewhat inauthentic.

It’s true.

Tonight, as the house got quiet, I looked at my feeds: Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I didn’t look at the stuff about me. I was looking at you. Thinking about you. Watching your posts and pictures. The smiles, the families, the holiday cheer, the humor, the irony, the rants, the thoughts. It made me smile. It always makes me smile. No matter where you live, no matter how you celebrate, we do so together. Each and every one of us gives one another an intimate peek into this life (regardless of filter) and that’s nothing to take lightly. It’s so warming.

It’s about connections.

In a week where we also see the bad (online lynch mobs, political disrupt, warring factions, etc…), I reconnected with someone I was very close to many years ago. We met back in my early days of the music industry (late eighties). Through the years, we stumbled into one another, but because they never embraced technology, the distance and the changing lifestyles (for both of us) made it difficult to stay connected. We spoke for close to an hour this week, and it felt like family. The story goes that this individual was walking the streets after a gig and ran into an individual who not only recognized them, but was able to convince this individual to give Facebook a chance. We reconnected and through this connection, I feel like a big piece of my life is back. After nearly two decades – and because of technology – we are connected again. As I was trolling through their Facebook page, it was amazing to see the love that people (from all over the world) have for this musician, as well. Children have been named because of this person’s lyrics. Tours have taken place halfway around the world for people wanting to hear their songs. Magic. This stuff is magic. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

It’s a Facebook miracle.

People can make fun of social media all that they want. It’s no laughing matter to me. Each and every day on Facebook, I take a peek to see whose birthday it is. What a treat to send a little message to people that I don’t get enough time to connect with. What a treat to see so many people that I have met through these digital channels and – regardless of geography – be able to connect in a small digital way, until we can spend more time together in our protein forms. I’m thinking tonight of so many people who inspire me to keep on going. It’s an impressive bunch. Wow, this world is filled with passionate, smart and creative folks just waiting to connect to others who are likeminded. What a shame for those that don’t see it, can’t make the right connections, or simply fail to see how amazing this all truly is.

So yeah, before I go to sleep, I just wanted you to know that I’m thinking of you… and thankful for you.

Happy Holidays.

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5 Simple Ways To Get More Creative, Inspired And Smarter Every Day

Stop complaining about email.

We all get too much email. Most of the time it’s about things that should probably be discussed in person (or over the phone) or it’s spam. The truth is that the inbox continues to be a great way to get more creative, inspired and smarter every day. I’ve written about this before: I still love subscribing to a slew of great e-newsletters, but there is only a handful that I simply can’t wait to read, or I leave theme in my inbox until I get through them. It’s a high bar, but these five deliver with each and every email.

5 e-newsletter that will help you be more creative, inspired and smarter:

  1. James Altucher Insider’s List. For my dollar, I think James Altucher is one of the best bloggers out there. He writes about inspiration, motivation, spirituality, finance, and entrepreneurship. He’s honest. So honest, that you will often find yourself wondering where he finds the courage to be so honest. The amazing thing about Altucher is that his email offers up much more content than he publishes on his blog, and every one is worth the read for a myriad of reasons.
  2. First Look Access. I have been on a Steven Pressfield kick for a long while. Recently, I signed up for his e-newsletter called, First Look Access, and it has been incredible. It is chock full of deep thinking about the habit of writing and the projects that he is working on. As the author of The War Of Art, Do The Work and more, I can promise you that even if you’re not a writer, the content is transferable to everything that you do in your daily work routine. 
  3. Seth Godin. Unless this is your first time here, you know that I am a massive fan of all things Seth Godin (did you think that I am bald because of Mother Nature’s cruelty alone?). Godin blogs daily, and having his posts pop up in my inbox every morning, provides a quick jolt of business, leadership, marketing and human motivation. Subscribe to his feed, so that you never miss a moment.
  4. Media REDEF. I have no idea how Jason Hirschhorn does it – each and every day. You could spend hours scouring blogs, Twitter and Facebook for amazing links about media, technology and pop culture only to discover that Hirschhorn has already done all of the heavy lifting (and more) for you. In short, you could be offline forever and simply subscribe to Media REDEF, and you would have missed absolutely nothing. Bonus: because he has a background in the music industry, he also combines links from that fascinating industry as well. It’s gold… or multiple times platinum (if you’re into music industry jargon).
  5. Quartz. They call themselves “a digitally native news outlet for the new global economy.” I love the news. When I’m in a hotel room (which is often), CNN is on all of the time. When I’m on a plane, I’ll tear through 2-4 newspapers. Yes, I’m an infovore. Still, I think that what Quartz pulls together in their Daily Brief will keep you totally informed about what’s in the news coupled with some interesting curated links from around the globe. So, if you don’t have time to watch, listen or read the news, this one keeps you in the zone where you will know enough about the world to be dangerous in a cocktail conversation at the local chamber of commerce.

Yes. it’s a diverse group. What are your must-reads from the Web?

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If You Have Ever Been Rejected… Be Like Bono

The letter read…

“Thank you for submitting your tape of ‘U2‘ to RSO, we have listened with careful consideration, but feel it is not suitable for us at present. We wish you luck with your future career.”

They were kind enough to end the letter by saying, “sincerely.” So, that’s something.

How many times have you been told “no”?

It’s not that The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Museum doesn’t have tons of eye candy, videos and collectibles that would get the most cynical of music enthusiast smiling. It’s full of that. But, after spending several hours there today, in Cleveland, it is that short letter for Bono and the boys that I took a picture of, and will constantly refer back to when someone tells me no or rejects one my ideas. Thankfully, U2 kept going. They believed in the work that they were creating, and they persevered to the tune of massive global stardom. U2 is the type of iconic band that can sell out any stadium that has electricity. They’re just that big. They’re adored by millions. There are thousands of stories about rejection like this one. What’s most interesting is just how much things have changed. The record industry (like the marketing industry) used to be based on a scarcity model. Without the right music, look, feel, management, resources, network and more, the odds of making it would shrink exponentially. Record labels could only release a handful of albums each and every year, and there was only so much shelf space in record stores for all of these artists. Gatekeepers had to do their best to reserve these coveted spots for “sure things.” 

From scarcity to abundance.

Technology has added some dynamic layers of abundance to this. Now, any artist (or marketer) can share their ideas – in text, images, audio and video – instantly and (mostly) for free with the world. You can post your music to SoundCloud, a video to YouTube, or you can pique someone’s interest via Facebook, Twitter and beyond. It has never been easier to share, because the cost of distribution has slipped to zero along with the barriers to entry. It gets even crazier when you think about the cost to record that music when compared to the days of recording studios and more. There’s nothing new in that. We’ve been banging this drum for well over a decade already. Still, not a day passes by that someone isn’t down in the dumps over being rejected or told that they can’t do something.

If it’s important to you.

When I think about rejection. When I think about quitting. When I think about all of the people who have ever tried to hold me back (including my own beliefs), I think about two books:

  1. The Dip by Seth Godin.
  2. Do The Work by Steven Pressfield.

They are small books with massive ideas that will help you figure out how to start something and/or when to end it. Both are important. Now, I have a picture of this letter that some record company wrote to U2. I can slide to unlock my iPhone, select my photos and just read it. In two seconds, I can then decide if whatever rejection I’m facing has merit beyond someone – with their own ego issues – getting in the way. This doesn’t mean that other people’s opinions and insights don’t deserve any attention. Constructive criticism and feedback is often good and may very well send you on a different and more successful course. Still, people will reject you and your ideas for a myriad of reasons… and a lot of the time it has very little to do with your skills, talent, artistry and hunger. Always remember that.

If you’re feeling rejected, just read that note to U2 over again, and be like Bono. Keep at it.

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Are We At The Beginning Or The End Of Publishing?

What would you make out of a question like that?

Regardless, that was the exact question that Alistair Croll (co-author of Lean Analytics, BitCurrent, Year One Labs and one of my weekly link buddies) asked of Hugh McGuire (PressBooks, LibriVox, co-author of Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto and my other weekly link buddy), Julien Smith (Breather, co-author of Trust Agents and The Impact Equation and author of The Flinch) and me at today’s International Startup Festival. Under normal circumstances, this is a tough question to dissect and answer in a cogent way. We were asked to answer this during a concurrent session being held outdoors in a tent set-up with people mingling and networking outside. Trying to create some energy and excitement in the room (err…. tent) made my attempt frazzled. I’m hopeful that this blog post can clear it all up.

Traditional publishing still matters.

This isn’t about big book and magazine publishers killing trees and maintaining the transport industry while feeding a distribution channel to retail. It means that these big publishing houses still have professionals who love and care about content in a way that allows customers to get true value from the products that they are buying. These products may be physical, digital, audio, digital audio or whatever. When I look at the people who work at Grand Central PublishingHachette Book Group (the publishers of my two business books, Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete), I do not see the same type of professionals that I was subjected to for over a decade while I was in the music industry. These book publishers know and understand that the landscape has changed, they know and understand that their consumers are buying their products and using them in new and different ways and, they’re trying their best to not make the same bad decisions as those in the music industry. It’s not perfect. They are some ugly things happening. There is going to be more messy stuff as we wander this road through business purgatory. Still, traditional publishing matters. It brings long form content to a bigger and more diverse audience. Not every author is going to have a shared experience, some will get book deals because they have a lot of followers on Twitter, and others will get a book deal because some editor believes that their content could set the book world on fire. As Seth Godin likes to say, your mileage may vary.

Self-publishing matters more than it ever did.

Take a look at the bestselling business books on Amazon‘s Kindle ebook page. Along with the expected slew of new and notable business books, you will find self-published and independent authors rocking this list with books as cheap as one dollar. With minimal technology and investment, anyone who wants to write a book can do so. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to work, and it doesn’t mean that it’s going to sell, but it does mean that they can not only write a book, but have access to a viable marketplace to sell and promote it. This doesn’t mean that big book publishers go away, it simply means more competition and more choices for the consumer.

Digital publishing opens up a world of opportunities.

It is very alluring. Anyone can have a thought and publish it in text, images, audio and video instantly (and for free) to the Web (and to the world). Whether it’s a simple tweet or all the way up to building a robust online publishing platform like Tumblr or Medium. The opportunities and the ideas are endless when it comes to digital publishing. With each and every passing day, we are seeing new and creative ways for people to publish – look no further than what is happening on Vine or what people are creating with Instagram‘s 15 second video.

It’s just the beginning…

People crave content. It has never been easier to get content published or to make the decision to become a publisher. With that, more and more startups will launch new and inventive ways for content to find an audience. Will other kinds of publishing disappear? Possibly. Is it the end of the book as we have known them to date? Doubtful. People will still want and enjoy this type of content and media. I can’t imagine an end to books or magazines. With that, this moment in time is a new beginning for the publishing industry with no end in sight.

What do you think? Are we at the beginning or the end of publishing?   

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4 Tips to Break Into the Music Industry

Break-into-music-scene

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It’s not always easy to follow your dreams, and there are certain industries that pose a greater barrier to entry than others. The music industry is definitely one of those. Whether you have dreams of volunteering your summer at Warped Tour, or you want to represent emerging talent — there are smart steps you can take to enhance your chances of breaking into the competitive music industry.

1. Join a Street Team

Street teaming is a great way to get your foot in the door and make some important connections, especially if you don’t have a resume bursting with music-industry experience. As a street team member, you would typically hand out promotional materials such as stickers, posters and CDs to businesses in your market area — including record stores and coffee shops. When you’re promoting different artists or shows in your local community, you’re forming relationships with others who are interested in music — you’re networking without realizing it. There is a low barrier to entry with street teaming — most labels or companies just want to find people who are enthusiastic about the work Read more…

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