Have you ever been fishing?
It has often been described as calming. Peaceful. Enjoyable. But rarely exciting.
Which doesn’t mean fishing can’t be exciting. It can be.
But unless the fish are in a generous mood the day you make your way to the pond, river, lake, or ocean, fishing is mostly a game of casting, waiting, moving, casting, waiting, moving… with the occasional nibble or bite.
The tug of war that ensues when a fish is finally on the line is usually the only exciting part. Hours of casting, waiting, moving, for the occasional two minutes of excitement.
And this is what musicians often end up doing in their marketing efforts. They spend all their time FISHing instead of jumping headlong into the heart of the storm.
Let me explain…
F is for Sales Funnels
Everybody and their dog are teaching sales funnels now. Even I talk about them, because I know that a lot of musicians have set themselves up with sales funnels and they need support promoting them, tweaking them, and generating sales from them.
I’m not saying that sales funnels don’t work. But the sales funnel itself isn’t the solution. This is where a lot of creatives get stuck. Because they don’t realize that for a sales funnel to work, they’ve got to be constantly filling their funnel with prospects using the following methods:
Everything talked about in Russell Brunson’s Traffic Secrets (affiliate link), basically…
But that’s just filling your funnel with prospects. Just because you have a funnel set up doesn’t meant it’s automatically going be effective. You’ve got to get your ad creative right, so people click on the ad.
Once they’re on your landing page, you’ve got to have an irresistible offer waiting for them. If you get them passed that point, you’ve still got to convince them that they have a big enough problem to open their wallet for it, and that’s going to be contingent on your copy and video sales letter.
Bottom line – you’ve got to become a full-time, professional digital marketer to do this right.
Again, I’m not saying don’t go in this direction. Just make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.
I is for Instagram
To cut to the jugular, likes and comments aren’t going to make one bit of difference in your music career.
Initiating direct messages could advance your music career, but only if you’re building quality connections.
So, the main difference makers with Instagram are:
- Gaining a better understanding of who your audience is, following them, and connecting with them
- Creating Instagram Stories and ads
- Getting people to click on the link in your profile
I don’t see much utility in Instagram beyond these three actions.
Staying in touch with your audience is certainly a good idea, though Instagram isn’t the only place you can do this.
Instagram Stories are more effective than I would have initially assumed, but effectiveness still depends on whether you can get users to take a profitable action from having watched your Stories.
I admit that advertising on Instagram can be quite powerful if you know what you’re doing, but that’s a big if.
And then we’re left with the final option of getting people to click on the link in your profile, which is kind of a crapshoot if I’m being honest.
S is for Spotify
I’m honestly perplexed by this one, because Spotify isn’t that awesome.
The only thing I can see is that musicians are paying undue attention to the big Spotify success stories, and selectively ignoring the masses who don’t even make $100 per month from streaming.
And algorithm exploits aren’t anything new. They exist until marketers ruin them, and then they are promptly dealt with and removed by the platforms.
So, you have delusions of grandeur if you think your current Spotify tactics are going to work forever (if they are even working for you right now).
The only real way to build your music career, and to play to thousands of people, and earn a steady income from music, and get approached by labels, is if you pour your blood, sweat, and tears into building a fan base that gives a damn about you and your music.
If you have a fan base, and you’re taking care of them, the streams should take care of themselves.
H is for Hope
Hope is not a bad thing. But people sometimes mistake it for faith.
Faith is future based. It’s the belief that something that has never happened before, can happen.
Hope is mostly just wishing. Wishing it could be better. Wishing it turns out well. Wishing good things are going to occur just because.
Oftentimes, there is nothing undergirding the hope. No legwork to assure what is hoped for is a possible future.
If you think that setting up a sales funnel, trying to become an Instagram influencer, and exploiting Spotify algorithms is somehow going to make you a star, all you’ve got is hope. If you’re reading Traffic Secrets and implementing the steps, then it’s built on faith. An exhausted, weary faith, but faith, nonetheless.
True, lasting success will be built on the back of – sing with me if you know the tune – pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into building a fan base that’s invested in you and your music.
At the end of the day, am I saying don’t engage in any of these activities? Don’t take advantage of the tools and platforms available? Don’t take a chance on yourself?
No, of course not. Tools are tools, and in large part, the results comes down to how you use them.
Many musicians have created success using the above. But you can’t conflate building sales funnels, becoming an Instagram influencer, getting streams on Spotify, or hoping that you’ll get somewhere employing these tactics, with getting everything you want in life.
Trust me when I say there are lame funnels, influencers who make no money, “long-tail” musicians who get lots of streams but can’t even pay their rent with royalties, and dreams that fell apart at the seams because of hope and no action.
But that’s just one man’s opinion.
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“It’s fine to break the rules, but first, you should learn what the rules are. Then you’ll be breaking the rules intentionally.”
This was the advice my songwriting friend had received from his guitar teacher. He knew how to sing, how to write a song, and how to play a bit of guitar. But his theory knowledge had yet to be developed.
When he relayed these words to me, I had my own breakthrough. Because I started to see that music isn’t all about staying within comfortable theoretical limitations. That music has been done. And it’s often boring.
Preferably, you want to listen to your intuition, and find an expression that’s true to you. Listeners identify with your uniqueness, not your sameness.
Here are some thoughts on my songwriting process.
(For more context, refer to my companion piece on my songwriting journey.)
My early recordings were intentionally anti-typical.
In the early to mid-00s, my stance was that most mainstream music was uncreative and artistically lacking.
So, whether I was working with Lightly Toasted Touché or engaged in solo work, I sought to go against the grain, even if just in subtle ways.
A i – III – iv chord progression is relatively common in rock (think AC/DC’s “TNT”). But turn each chord into a dominant 7th, and you end up with a bluesy sounding progression that tweaks the ear. That’s exactly the style of progression I employed on “Six Sides” on my first solo album, Shipwrecked… My Sentiments.
While being folky, “Six Sides” ultimately turned into an Eric Clapton style blues-rock song.
I could offer an analysis of each song and talk about how they are just a little outside the box (most of the analysis is on the page I linked to). But you can hear many of these influences in my early music:
- The Beastie Boys
- Eric Clapton
- Collective Soul
- Remy Shand
- Jimi Hendrix
- Van Halen
- Harem Scarem
- The Mourning Widows
- Population 1
- And so on
I’m reiterating myself here, but the goal was always to craft music that deviated from the norm (even if just a little).
For example, “Human” from Shipwrecked… is almost like a fast-paced Police style song. But it features an “outside the box” chord in the chorus.
That gives you a bit of an idea of what my musical approach was like at the time.
Lyrically, though, Shipwrecked… was mostly feeling led. And the predominant feelings of the time were loss and grief.
The greatest loss I’d experienced at that time was my cousin taking his own life and the band breaking up.
Back on Solid Ground
In 2007, I went onto write 365 songs in a year. Most of them were terrible, though two songs written during that period became staples in my live set. Even so, I grew frustrated with songwriting, and I was suffering from a bit of a creative block.
“Wonderfully Dysfunctional” was one of the songs written in 2007 that became a fan favorite:
In 2008, I would have my heart broken. And just like that, the creative dam was broken.
I wrote a full album’s worth of material, and just kept writing until I felt I had exhausted all ideas.
My songwriting approach changed considerably at this point.
For starters, I started reaching for clichés, like “All or Nothing,” “Everything Reminds Me of You,” and “Every Time I Turn Around” and turned them into the titles of the songs.
People often ask musicians whether music or lyrics come first, and it largely depends on the song. But when it came to Back on Solid Ground, the titles came first.
Writing a song around a cliché became like child’s play to me, because I could so easily relate to the emotions people said they experienced in relationships – love, infatuation, frustration, confusion, anxiety, and more. These were mostly foreign to me until I had fallen in love in 2008.
The lyrics for Back on Solid Ground weren’t innovative by any means. They were just straight from the heart. They expressed longing, sadness, loss, as well as hope.
Musically, it was meant to be a stripped-down acoustic album, so I leaned more heavily on typical chord progressions and riffs.
But the defining sound of this collection of songs would be suspended and slash chords.
My friends would say, “all those chords sound alike,” not realizing it was all quite intentional. I wanted the harmony of certain chords to be heard against different bass notes. I’ve always found this to be a great way to evoke emotion, whether on rhythm or lead guitar.
I began working on Back on Solid Ground in 2008 and it was meant to be recorded the following year. I worked with a producer who ended up bailing on the project, so all I have are half-finished demos.
Angels Breaking Silence
The members of Lightly Toasted Touché would reunite in 2008, along with a new lead singer who was in high school at the time.
The band drew upon punk rock, emo, and post-hardcore influences, as was in vogue to do at the time. That said, our music wasn’t about the breakdowns. I think we only had one song that even had a breakdown. And unlike most other bands we performed with, our songs had guitar solos.
Although I wrote a couple of melodic rock style songs for the band, most songs were collaborative works, with me writing the music, and the drummer and singer writing the lyrics.
The band was so busy rehearsing and performing that we only ever had a few demos recorded (posted to MySpace), and one song contributed to a compilation. At shows, we sold merch – buttons, T-shirts, and posters.
Again, the band only lasted about a year and a half and that feels like a blip on the radar compared to the many years I’ve been active as a solo artist or session musician.
You would be hard pressed to find any trace of the band or its material on Google now, except on Wayback Machine and maybe on one of my blogs.
Demos 2010/Fire Your God
In 2010, I would go onto record a handful of demos that would become Demos 2010, and later, Fire Your God.
At the time, I was experimenting in the studio quite a bit, and it felt exhilarating.
I was introduced to the world of free VST plugins – effects, synths, virtual instruments, and more. I felt like a kid in a candy store.
2010 was a busy year, and I never had the opportunity to turn the demo recordings into fully fledged songs. Songs like “Fire Your God” and “Summer (I’ll Be Waiting)” are missing drums, and the songs that do have drums on them, like “Fear No Longer” and “Something to Say” were just prefab beats included in a guitar effects unit.
I spent the final days of 2010 mixing and mastering these demos myself, learning a lot along the way.
What’s interesting is that my fans ended up liking the raw, unfinished material, and to this day, I still get a lot of compliments on it.
The songwriting might seem all over the map, but I can put it into perspective by grouping the songs together.
“Fire Your God,” “Razor Man,” and “Risen from the Ashes” represent the instrumental tracks of this collection, though each of them is different.
“Fire Your God” was basically a series of guitar riffs. The song kind of wrote itself.
“Razor Man” was influenced by early Nintendo video game music. I’ve always been a fan of video game music.
And “Risen from the Ashes,” like a few other songs on the list, carry a little bit of the Angels Breaking Silence flavor.
“Summer (I’ll Be Waiting),” “Fear No Longer,” and “Something to Say” are all in a post-hardcore, emo vein. These were my answer to the band breaking up, though “Something to Say” was written for my cousin and his band.
“Not Forgotten” is a ballad, but I would say it’s very much in the same style as well.
Then there are some other fun songs on the list, like “Digital Audio Workstation” and “Spark Vinyl,” which are podcast themes, and “There’s Only One Boss,” which is reflective my early songwriting efforts (before I could even play an instrument), when I used to fill binders with rap lyrics.
The “In Between” Years
Mounting financial troubles would have me looking outside of music (besides teaching) for additional income sources in 2011.
Eventually, I would be introduced to the world of entrepreneurship. Once I saw the kind of lifestyles people were creating for themselves, I got hooked.
Drawing upon the training material, I was inspired to transform my music career and entrepreneurial efforts as well. In 2012, I would invest in a music industry tech startup. It tanked in 2015.
After selling my house in 2012, I began working on my book, The New Music Industry, which launched in June 2015.
During these years, I would still write songs, attend open mics, perform with bands, go on mini tours, and more. But I was largely inactive as a musician, as I felt torn between music and business (while looking for ways to merge the two, which I did).
In addition to the music tech startup, my network marketing efforts also led nowhere after three plus years of effort. Which is to say nothing of networking marketing itself but suffice it to say it was not unsustainable for me.
So, while I continued to take risks in 2014, ultimately, I made the choice to approach my life a little more pragmatically. After all, dreams had crumbled, and bills had to be paid.
Beginning fall 2014, I began engaging in a variety of work – ghostwriting and freelance writing, music instruction, theater tech work, community work, and more. And the community work would draw me back into the world of music in a meaningful way.
2016 – 2018
10 years after the release of Shipwrecked… My Sentiments, in 2016, I finally released a new solo instrumental single called “Fragments.”
In my early work, I drew upon R&B and jazz influences quite a bit, and “Fragments” was very much in keeping with that style.
Even while I was getting started in business, I used to engage in a project I called Sunday Compositions. The basic structure of “Fragments” would be written on one of those Sundays.
I followed up “Fragments” with “City Lights,” “Don’t Wait Too Long,” and “Hope” in 2016.
At the time, synthwave (80s soundtrack influenced music) was booming, and “City Lights” was my answer to that.
If I’m not mistaken, the framework for “Don’t Wait Too Long” also came together during a Sunday and was influenced by an over the top They Might Be Giants tune called “Man, It’s So Loud in Here.”
“Hope” is a straight up pop tune influenced by EDM. In the early 2010s, EDM was quite good, and I often found myself listening to EDM mixes while working.
2017 would see the release of “Waves” and “Your Eyes Give it Away.”
“Waves” came together after I watched the 2015 Amy Winehouse documentary simply titled Amy. I asked myself, “what would it sound like if I combined jazz with synthwave (i.e., jazzwave)?” The answer is “Waves,” which sounds like it belongs on the Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack more than anything.
My friends tell me “Your Eyes Give it Away” sounds like a Hall & Oates tune, which I honestly take as a compliment.
It was more influenced by circumstances and people in my life than it was by a specific artist or band, but again, I seem to recall that it was EDM-inspired.
In 2018, I re-released Demos 2010 as Fire Your God.
For every song released, there are probably half a dozen if not more that just didn’t work on some level and have sat on my hard drive until such day I see a way forward with them.
In 2019, I released two EPs – No Escape and Nowhere Even Near.
I’ve always been a big fan of funk, or what Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt called a certain “funk metal,” and the title track on No Escape reflects this. It’s still funk rock in my own style, though, and the song was driven by events in my life more than anything.
I released new versions of “Don’t Wait Too Long” and “Hope” on No Escape, and these probably don’t need much of an explanation.
I had written “Sleepless Blues” around the same time I was working on Back on Solid Ground, though, and it’s just a simple blues instrumental. But a big part of my early guitar education was with the blues.
Finally, we have “Grace is Bittersweet,” which might be my first real acoustic song. I don’t recall exactly when it was written, but likely in the mid-2010s.
No Escape features polished production, so it kind of shares a yin-yang relationship with Nowhere Even Near, which featured all-new material. But in the tradition of Fire Your God, it’s a collection of rough, unfinished demos.
If I had spent any more time working on these demos, though, my perfectionist side would have taken over, and Nowhere Even Near would probably have never seen the light of day.
“We Could Only” is like a re-imagining of “Six Sides,” and meh… I don’t know if it totally holds up.
“From the Ashes” is a dose of worship fromage… I’m not putting myself down, but it follows the Lincoln Brewster/Hillsong formula almost to a tee.
I’m still quite proud of Nowhere Even Near. “Why Should I Believe” is a like a 90s rock tune. “Feeling” is a pop tune, not unlike the ones I used to write in my early days as a solo artist. “Letting Go” is totally unfinished, as the keyboard part is meant to be played on guitar, and there are lyrics that go with the song too. And “Dagger” reflected my growing interest in hard rock, especially in 2017.
Most recently, I wrote a song for my grandma who passed, which I plan to release alongside another song – a popular hymn reimagined.
Even though I’ve given songwriting workshops in the past, it’s harder to write about the songwriting process than I thought it would be.
In many ways, I feel like I’ve just recounted my songwriting journey all over again.
But it truly is the events of life that inspire you. Music is a skill, and you begin to find your way as you gain more experience and continue to stretch your boundaries (which is what I did).
When you focus on the emotion of it rather than the “rightness” of it, your music becomes an expression of life’s events, rather than a hollow imitation of some artist you were inspired by. And that’s where you find your voice, just like in writing.
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As I lay in bed, I started to hear a melody form in my mind.
Having just returned from Japan, I couldn’t express myself as eloquently in English as I could in Japanese.
So, I hurriedly jotted down lyrical ideas – in Japanese.
I didn’t understand music either. But at 13, I had written my first song – melody and lyrics.
Filling Binders with Song Ideas
I was never one to pay much attention in school. I wasn’t a bad student (not a horrible one, anyway). I was just more interested in my own creative ideas.
My grades always reflected it. I had my share of Bs, Cs, and Ds – rarely As.
So, my jr. high and high school years were spent filling binders with ideas – song ideas, lyrics, doodles, drawings, graphic novels, Sci-Fi novels, mazes, video game concepts, satirical newsletters, and so on.
At 15, I performed in front an audience of the first time. And then and there, learned the thrill of performance.
That’s about the time when most of my creative energies started being redirected to writing lyrical content – mostly rap songs, but some punk rock and hardcore songs too (The Beastie Boys were a big influence).
I still didn’t know how to play a musical instrument.
A Guitar from Across the Pond
One of my father’s coworkers had lost her son. And she promised to give her deceased son’s guitar to me.
She was not able to deliver the guitar while we were still living in Japan. So, she came all the way to Canada, and dropped off the guitar at my grandparent’s home in Drumheller, AB.
It seems someone wanted to ensure that guitar made it into my hands.
The classical guitar sat in my closet for a year or two.
But then one summer, I was at youth camp and my friend started playing the popular tunes of the time on his guitar – Green Day, Blink-182, Matchbox Twenty, stuff like that.
Prior to that moment, I had no idea you could even learn popular songs on your instrument!
Immediately after summer camp, I started messing around on my guitar, and that’s when my mom started seeking guitar lessons for me.
Connecting the Musical Dots
Apparently, I had a knack for the guitar. My guitar teacher told me I surpassed him within a few lessons!
I showed him one of my rap songs, and he helped me write some funky guitar parts to it. That was a lot of fun.
Once I started connecting the musical dots, I began writing my own songs too. But they were quite disappointing at first.
I was excited about the guitar, so I kept on. I became somewhat disillusioned with it within 18 months, when I started to see that most songs and riffs were easy, and if they weren’t, there was usually a way to simplify them to make them more playable.
An odd thing to be disillusioned about, I know. Fortunately, it didn’t last, and I would go onto jam with my drummer friend and play in bands.
All the band’s songs were either written by me, my drummer, or by the both of us.
I slowly started moving beyond power-chord pounding and open chord strumming. I started to play riffs, mimic the melody, and bust out solos, even if I didn’t know exactly what I was doing at the time.
By that time, though, my drummer friend and I were much tighter than anyone else we brought in to play in the band. So, we needed to go about finding band members differently.
I only went to college for a year, but it had some perks because I ended up building some connections. And it just so happened that one of my friend’s roommate was a bass player. So, we started jamming with him, and the chemistry was obvious from day one.
We formed a band, and as our first order of business, started working on a couple of songs for a Daniel Amos tribute compilation.
Lightly Toasted Touché
The trio would come to be known as Lightly Toasted Touché. We were a jam band. We wrote some original music, and learned some covers, but wherever we went, we also improvised instrumental music in a variety of genres (metal, reggae, blues, etc.).
How did the name come about? Well, one day, while taking a break from rehearsals for a bite (as we always did), we were making sandwiches. And the drummer asked the bassist how toasted he wanted his bread. “Lightly toasted,” he said.
Our bassist was also in the habit of saying “touché” all the time (as his roommates were also prone to doing). And so, Lightly Toasted Touché was born.
The name was probably reflective of the transient and improvised nature of the band more than anything. We certainly weren’t stoners, and I’m not sure any of us were fully convinced. But we also couldn’t come up with a better name.
One day, we recorded several improvised demos and posted them online. Keep in mind, this was in 2003. We broke the internet, and because we had so many downloads, we ended up having to move hosts.
In our relatively short history as a band, we gained a small cult following, and even got “scrobbled” quite a bit on Last.fm.
Our last order of business was to record and release an EP, A Tale of the Coming Together and Murder of My Heart in the Golden State.
This EP captures a little bit of what it was like to come to a Touché show, with an eclectic mix of originals and improvised instrumentals.
I co-wrote “Today’s Creed,” “End of the Day,” and “Foundation.” The title track was written by the bassist, and everything else was improvised.
The band imploded shortly after. We attempted to bring a talented singer into the fold, but him and the drummer did not get along, and that was that.
Any band I had been a part of to that point was short-lived, with Touché being modestly successful. So, I thought to myself, maybe it’s time to go about this music career thing a little differently. If I can’t depend on others, maybe I can depend on myself.
Around that time, I ended up renting an acoustic guitar and wrote a couple of songs. The songs were reflective of the raw emotions I felt after my band had broken up.
The acoustic guitar felt right somehow. So, I kept writing and came up with eight songs. My drummer, who was still collaborating with me at the time, encouraged me to make it an album rather than an EP. So, I wrote 11 songs altogether, though one of them never quite worked. It was dropped.
During this time, I would come to learn just how undependable I was. Because sometimes weeks would go by without making progress on the album, and my friend told me it was because I failed to take initiative. I took that rather personally, as I was prone to doing at the time.
The album, Shipwrecked… My Sentiments, ended up taking about a year to complete.
Being my first solo album, it was not perfect, though it certainly had its moments.
Looking back, it was written in response to the boring and formulaic music of the time. A reviewer called it “an experimental approach to conventional rock,” and he could not have been more spot on.
Back on Shaky Ground
Those early years playing in bands and going solo felt tumultuous to me (is it any wonder my first album was called Shipwrecked?). I was overcome with a sense of loss. One, because of the band and friendships that had been impacted as result, and two, because my cousin took his life while I was recording.
It was time to begin work on my next project. But I wasn’t ready. Material wasn’t forthcoming. Having spent 2006 working on my album and writing 365 songs in 2007 (one song per day), I was spent creatively.
It turns out I just needed to live.
In 2008, I ended up burning myself out and experienced a panic attack. I spent the next five months or so recovering. In some ways, though, I’m not sure I’ve ever fully recovered from that.
I also fell in love only two months later. And only three months later, I was given the silent treatment.
Heartbreak is unpleasant, but one thing you can count on is that it will give you something to write about. That summer, I wrote my next album, and so, the concept of Back on Solid Ground was born.
Back on Solid Ground was written as a stripped-down, simple, heartfelt acoustic album.
But I ended up getting caught in the tides of chaos before the project could ever be completed.
Breaking the Silence
I had begun work on Back on Solid Ground with a new producer. But after a few months of working on it, he pulled the plug and said he couldn’t spend any more time on it. We’d captured some amazing drum and cello performances from local musicians, so this could not have been more heartrending.
To be fair, nothing was in writing. And I learned a lesson there.
In due course, I did recover the tracks. Only, many weren’t properly labeled. So, I didn’t know which track belonged to which song, never mind the fact that I would have had to manually align all of them.
Amid all this, the members of Touché were reuniting. And this time, we had a young singer interested in fronting the band. Angels Breaking Silence was born.
Touché always had a bit of a punk vibe to it, and with Angels Breaking Silence, we started embracing the emo and post-hardcore flavors of the time.
Unlike most bands, though, we didn’t write songs around breakdowns. To be honest, we only had one song that had a breakdown.
The band got booked all over – skateparks, summer festivals, camps, churches, pubs, and more.
We were so busy performing and touring that the only merch we had were posters, buttons, and my first album. We only ever recorded a few demos for MySpace and a compilation.
You’d be hard pressed to find our music anywhere online.
As with the previous incarnation of Touché, this one didn’t last longer than 18 months. Personal tensions flared, and two members were in serious relationships that likely would have prevented them from serious, committed participation.
Taking Creativity in New Directions
For the rest of 2009, I started getting into new media in a big way – blogging, social media, podcasting, making YouTube videos, composing for video games, and more. So, I did quite a bit of composing for my own videos too.
There are multiple compositions like this one on my YouTube channel (“Power Propeller” is probably one of my favorites):
I didn’t have much of an income coming in, though, so I knew in the back of my mind that I would probably need to become more pragmatic at some point (I only started learning how to be more pragmatic in 2014, by the way).
Maybe tired from all that had transpired, 2010 sort of ended up being a ”nothing” year for me. The most memorable part was travelling down through Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and later California with my mom and stepdad. Although I seem to recall making some important connections that year too.
I also recorded a handful of demos through the year, which I first released in January 2011 as Demos 2010 and later as Fire Your God.
To this day, fans still enjoy the rawness of this music. Go figure.
Once again, I found myself going at it alone, trying to learn the ins and outs of music production. That said, I’m glad I got into it, because I found I was better able to make my musical visions a reality. I struggled with previous producers, especially when it came to getting guitar tones I liked.
Economic Collapse, Roid Rage & New Frontiers
As 2011 rolled around, things became more desperate financially. And timing could not have been worse since the world was very much in “recovery mode” after the financial collapse of 2007 – 2008. I started pulling 50-hour weeks at multiple part-time jobs that paid peanuts.
The first six months of the year were terrible, not just because of the mounting financial pressure, but also because of an unruly, emotionally unstable roommate, who was prone to roid rage.
My friends didn’t exactly support my decision to get into network marketing. But honestly, it was something I needed to go through at the time. My life started changing rapidly for the better, as I started engaging in business training materials.
I still don’t know how I managed to pull all of this off, but that summer, I performed at the Calgary Fringe Festival daily. I also went on a mini tour with new collaborator Jonathan Ferguson and a vacation shortly after.
I don’t want to say that the next four years, from 2011 to 2015, were irrelevant to my musical journey. They weren’t. I kept writing and podcasting about the music business. I invested in a music industry startup. I kept writing songs. And I even wrote a book.
But my life was mostly swallowed up in the world of entrepreneurship. And I would go onto learn some crucial lessons there, too.
The startup I invested in tanked, and I could no longer financially sustain my network marketing business.
I was busy in 2016. But I made it my goal to record and release monthly singles.
I didn’t quite reach my goal, but I did write and release some great music. It felt great.
I released a couple of singles in 2017 (including this one)…
And a couple of EPs in 2019.
As result, I wound up contributing to another compilation project in 2020 (created by one of my mentors).
It seems strange to say, but I have many, many more songs I have yet to record and share with the world. God willing, they will see the light of the day.
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I’ve been going about things a little differently in 2021 compared to the years leading up to it. As I look back on the first three months of the year, I can see that learning and experimentation has been a strong focus so far.
One idea that got a spontaneous “green light” from me was The Renegade Musician digital magazine, which I developed at the end of February and launched on March 1.
Here’s the story of how the magazine came together and what happened as result.
At the end of February, I started developing the concept for The Renegade Musician.
Originally, I did not think of it as a digital magazine but rather a newsletter.
I don’t know if you know much about author Dan Kennedy’s newsletters, but they can easily span over 20 pages.
The way Kennedy explains it is that a newsletter is like a Trojan Horse. It’s a sales letter disguised as content, and when the reader feels like they’re reading useful content, they’re more likely to engage (i.e., they don’t feel like they’re being sold to).
Further, he has shown time and again that someone who reads his newsletters, and for that matter, his books, becomes a much better client.
So, experimentally, I was looking at the possibility of creating a series of newsletters.
Having completed my first draft, I sought out the feedback of Dr. Jonathan L. Smith.
Dr. Smith felt that what I had was too long to be a newsletter, and thus, The Renegade Musician became a digital magazine.
At first, it wasn’t even called The Renegade Musician though. It was called “The Executive Newsletter,” and I think that would have been a mistake.
Free or Paid?
There was just one more detail to sort out.
I needed to figure out whether I was going to give away the magazine (in exchange for an email or social share), or if I was going to charge for it.
The magazine was created in the Dan Kennedy tradition. Meaning, it was designed to educate the prospect or customer on the range of products available at Music Entrepreneur HQ and Content Marketing Musician, while entertaining and adding value to the reader through the content.
So, the more eyeballs I could get on it, the better.
Ultimately, I decided to make it a “pay what you want” deal on Gumroad. And, in the end, that felt like the only logical choice.
Sharing the Digital Magazine
As my first order of business, I shared the magazine with three of my friends, collaborators, and mentors.
Apparently, for one of my friends, it was the right thing at exactly the right time. He had been encouraged by the magazine and thanked me for it.
So, that seemed like an auspicious start.
I spent the remainder of March promoting it aggressively – on Twitter, Medium, YouTube, my blog, the Music Entrepreneur HQ blog, my email list, and my podcast. I even shared a video across 17 pages and social media profiles.
My eyes look droopy for a reason…
Being a “Trojan Horse” of sorts, I figured there would be some takers. And since it was designed to educate my prospect or customer on my range of products, it had the potential to lead to sales.
Ultimately, the digital magazine was only downloaded four times. And everyone that picked it up paid nothing for it.
I had one course sale at $39 though. I wouldn’t call that a runaway success, but it was a small victory.
The magazine educated customers on our product range.
Did it make all the effort worthwhile? Not quite, especially since I wasn’t reaching a new audience with my magazine – just tapping into the same people that are on my email list or visit my website daily.
I put three to four hours into compiling, designing, writing, and editing the magazine. I could have used the same three to four hours writing a few articles for News Break and made more money overall. That gave me some pause.
The Renegade Musician was not my first product aimed at musicians, and it won’t be my last either.
But towards the end of March, I had a sudden, rather critical realization.
“If I pull the plug on The Renegade Musician now, I will have to fix all the broken links.”
I was fond of the The Renegade Musician concept. It’s like a synonym for “musician entrepreneur,” so far as I’m concerned. Just much cooler.
So, I hurriedly wrote 8,000+ words in three days to end up with The Renegade Musician: Stepping Out of the Shadow of the Old Music Career Model eBook.
And, on April 1, I replaced The Renegade Musician digital magazine with The Renegade Musician eBook (not an April Fool’s joke).
Now, when people go to Gum.co/RenegadeMusician, they don’t just get the eBook – they also get the digital magazine. It’s a two in one deal.
This is not a free or “pay what you want” offer anymore though. I had to put a price tag on it.
That said, I think it’s perfect as a “Twitter money” offer, and it can benefit from the work I’ve already put into promotion.
So, Was it Worth Doing?
As creatives and creators, we should all be mindful of how we spend our time.
I run a business, so obviously money is an important part of the equation. No money, no mission.
Even so, there are plenty of other rewards that can come from experimentation – happiness, joy, fulfillment… And I experienced some of that while putting together the digital magazine, even though it also felt like work (especially since I was trying to put it all together on a Sunday night).
Developing the digital magazine also forced an eBook out of me. And I can easily repurpose and leverage the eBook into other projects and products. I can still make a return on The Renegade Musician.
A look inside the eBook.
But to make the digital magazine or newsletter concept work, I would need to:
- Collaborate with influencers. Perhaps I could get them to write a piece or do a quick interview write-up with them. The elder statesmen of your industry always have greater pull and reach, so leveraging their influence would be key.
- Ask for mailing addresses. I know that I could get a few people to download The Renegade Musician if I sent a download link directly to my email list. But the real value of putting together a nicely organized PDF like this is to print it up and get it into mailboxes.
- Spend more time promoting it. Not impossible with my schedule, but I was already waking up feeling exhausted some days, so adding more to my calendar was unlikely to make that situation better. Realistically, I would need to look at collaborating, hiring, advertising, or a combination thereof to improve reach.
What I’ve realized is this…
Inspiration can be a good thing and so can spontaneity.
As applied to business, however, a little bit of strategic thinking can be helpful when new ideas come to you. Especially if you want them to work.
Starting a new product (especially when you already have a dozen or so), can be like starting from scratch. When you already have other products that are selling, creating a new one that doesn’t perform can be a bit of a distraction.
It would be better to spend a little more time in research. Develop a sense of what the market wants and how to package it to appeal to your audience.
The shotgun approach works for some. Slow and strategic works better for others.
I have always straddled that line. But I’m ready to try something new. So, I plan to be slower and more strategic.
There is no preset formula, but it’s worth testing out both approaches. And whatever your instincts say, you should follow it. Because your journey will be unique. You will figure out your own way.
The story of The Renegade Musician has not been told in full. But this has been my experience of it so far.
Now, it’s time to spread the message of artist empowerment, which is what The Renegade Musician is all about.
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Work has been, and always will be, done wherever you are. And you are not remote. Your team members may be, but wherever you are is local to you. You may be video conferencing instead of working together in the same office now, but for everyone on your team, wherever they are working is local to them. They are only “remote” to you. And you are only “remote” to them.
I get that you may not be commuting to the same office or workplace anymore. But it’s funny how we never called that “remote” work, because everyone had to gather in the same place to do their work.
Currently, I live in Abbotsford. But if I took off to New Zealand and did my work from New Zealand, I would not say that I was working remotely. I would be working locally in New Zealand. And because I live nomadically, I would continue to journey on, exploring different countries (like that’s ever going to be a possibility again). Regardless of where I journeyed, I would say that I was working locally.
I find it fascinating how we attempt to adopt different paradigms for the changing dynamics of work. I completely understand that phone calls and video conferencing are no substitute for in-person meetings. I have also felt the disconnect.
I attended an online conference a while back (while working, I might add), and no matter the sound effects, or digital “claps,” it just didn’t do it for me. It will never replace the connection, excitement, and directness of an in-person conference.
And we call these “virtual conferences.” I don’t get that terminology either. If it’s virtual, isn’t some part of it fake? It’s not virtual, it’s just not happening at a hotel, theater, or conference center. It’s happening online. It’s just a glorified video conference.
Getting back to the point, how effective were your meetings in the first place? If your office was like most, the answer is not very.
And, again, even though I understand well the challenges of communication that come with the heavy reliance on devices rather than direct communication, the fact of the matter is, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between where you used to work, and where you work now.
You’re still staring at a screen (or multiple screens). You’re still using email to communicate (which is funny, because it’s more useful now than it used to be – it probably shouldn’t have been abused in the office). And you’re still pulling the same hours if not more.
This is just the perspective of a digital nomad, so take what you will. But to me, there is no such thing as “remote work.” Work happens where you are. And for your team, work happens where they are. It’s helpful to adopt that paradigm, because otherwise you might tend to think work is happening elsewhere. That’s not quite true. For everyone in your circle, work is happening where they are. And part of the separation you feel is because of that unnecessary distinction.
There’s work that needs to be completely urgently.
And then there’s work that we can put off, seemingly indefinitely.
The life of the creative is paved with scenarios like that.
But what we don’t acknowledge is that the work we put off might hold the key to our next breakthrough.
The “boring” is worth giving some attention to. It’s where you have the potential to see the greatest growth.
Where I Feel Like I’ve Fallen Short
What strikes me as sexy, at least in my world, is content, traffic, and product development.
Content tends to come first in my day, if only because I’ve made a commitment to publishing daily and because I have staff writing duties to carry out.
I’ve been trying to put product development first in my day because I know that’s where the greatest return is going to come from. Some days I’m successful, some days I’m not.
To be honest, there are times when product development can seem boring to me. But that’s because it’s time-consuming and intensive work.
But what I’ve recently come to realize is that I find the following business tasks the most boring. Things like:
- Understanding my target audience better
- Keyword research
- Competitive research
- Content audit
I’m knowledgeable and well-versed in every one of these areas but have had trouble bringing myself to work on them consistently.
Which isn’t to say I should be doing it all myself. But since I haven’t experienced any breakthroughs by focusing on content, traffic, and products, maybe the step forward I’m looking for is in engaging the boring.
I’ve Already Started the Grind
This realization about the “boring” occurred to me last week.
I was watching my business coach in action from a 2009 presentation, and what I saw was just how diligent and thorough he was in research and gathering information to determine whether a business had the potential to be profitable.
Let me restate. This was in 2009! Holy.
We’re in 2021 now, and no matter the niche, no matter the audience, things are more competitive than they’ve ever been! You’ve got to bring your A-game, bro.
I’ve never claimed to win a high school popularity contest (which is pretty much how social media, online business, and even music has occurred to me at times), and I don’t think I’m about to. So, that means I’ve got to build a tribe that resonates with me specifically, even if it’s a small one.
(By the way, I do feel I could change my context around this “high school popularity contest” business and would even benefit from doing so.)
Anyway, waffle as I do, the grind has already begun for me. As we speak, I’ve started dedicating some time to pruning and optimizing my content at Music Entrepreneur HQ, my lovechild (over 800 pages…).
And this means combing through Google Analytics for pages that haven’t gotten much traffic in the past year and figuring out why that’s the case (oftentimes it’s just because of a missing or broken image, though there are some low-quality posts that I’m upgrading or pruning).
I already know that this is nowhere near as important as creating an offer that converts and developing a sales process for it. That said, I have multiple products just waiting to be launched, and that makes no difference if there isn’t an audience there to buy them.
I’ve spent 12 years building an audience. What’s funny is that I’ve changed a lot in those 12 years, and whoever is still with me has had to endure that roller-coaster ride.
Maybe it’s too much to expect that they’d still be with me. Only a small number still are…
Like I said, I’m not winning any popularity contests.
What Have You Been Avoiding?
Again, I drone on.
But this post is about you and what you’ve been avoiding.
What is something that has been showing up as boring in your world?
What is something that deep down you know you haven’t been giving the attention it deserves?
It might even be something that occurs to you as a total mess (just as Music Entrepreneur HQ does to me).
We are all in a dance with how things occur to us…
But maybe there’s a breakthrough waiting for you in that very area.
Like a to-do list with tasks, you never seem to get around to or even want to touch…
It’s human to move towards the comfortable. Move away from the uncomfortable.
But there’s something magical about the uncomfortable.
When you finally tend to it, you may find that it isn’t a big deal after all. You may find that it only takes a few seconds to do. Even if it takes longer, you may find that it’s not as hard as you thought it would be.
Some suspense may follow your actions (e.g., like if you were cold calling an influencer), but the task itself might not be the mountain you’ve made of it.
In my coaching efforts, I like to poke and prod in this area, just as I did on The Unstarving Musician podcast a couple years back.
Because maybe the next breakthrough you’re looking for isn’t going to come from doing more of the same.
Like if you were a writer and thought that one more article was going to make all the difference (in my experience, it’s not…).
Your next breakthrough may come from seemingly unrelated areas in your life that you haven’t addressed. Things like:
- Having that difficult conversation with your significant other you’ve been putting off
- Owning up to that money you didn’t mean to keep but did anyway
- Clearing up a white lie you told to a friend because you just didn’t want to be around them
- Following through on a commitment you’ve made (to yourself, your child, friend, boss, or otherwise)
Whatever you’ve been avoiding, chances are, there’s something there.
You’ve been avoiding the “boring” work for a reason.
Some part of it strikes you as tedious, cumbersome, repetitive…
But it might just be where your next breakthrough comes from.
After all, insanity is doing the same things expecting different results, right?
So, maybe if you went and did something that’s outside of your ordinary routine, you’d begin to produce different results. Maybe it’s exactly where you should be putting some of your attention.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes.
Pay what you want for the first issue of my digital magazine, The Renegade Musician.