Think about how many incredible hackers and guitarists there are in the world, let alone the United States.
You are not the best.
You will never be the best.
Why? Because neither of these talents are quantifiable like an Olympic sport.
What makes you great are the attributes that you take for granted; things you forget to even put on a resumé or even intentionally exclude because you do not believe they are relevant or noteworthy. They are the skills or experiences you have that may not be directly applicable to your work but shaped you into the person that you are.
Prominent Venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz told a story of an entrepreneur named Christian Gheorghe who was looking for funding. When he went into the meeting Gheorghe started by talking about his accomplishments that were relevant to the technology industry. Horowitz quickly interrupted him and asked for information about his background and where he grew up. Gheorghe went on to tell a story about growing up in Romania and how in 1989, in order to escape the communist regime, he swam across the Danube. Horowitz replied, “We’ll we’re going to invest in your company.”
Drew Brosseau, Founder & President, Mayflower Brewing Company
Bryan Greenhagen, Founder and Brewer, Mystic Brewery
Sam Hendler, Co-founder, Jack’s Abby Brewing
Ben Howe, Brewer and Founder, Enlightenment Ales
Chris Lohring, Founder, Notch Brewing
Martha Simpson-Holley, Manager and Assistant Brewer, Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project
Though I enjoy trying new beers and will always be adventurous when the opportunity presents itself, I have no desire to start my own brewery. I was attending this event with the hope of learning how, in such a saturated market, new breweries can get an edge on the competition and become the next big thing.
First, here’s what shocked me
Branding was very much an afterthought for almost every brewer. Logos and labels were sourced using the cheapest means available and this typically meant artistic friends paid in beer. It is obvious that what ultimately matters is the quality of the product but I naively assumed more thought would have gone into the packaging so that it would draw attention on the densely populated shelves.
Beer as a social object
Bryan Greenhagen of Mystic Brewery felt that brewers needed to make a label that customers would enjoy looking at while drinking. He described how vinyl records gave something substantial for the listener to gaze at while they heard the music and how brewers like Pretty Things were doing this perfectly with Jack D’Or (pictured above) and their other beers. The Pretty Things artwork is so charming that a demand for products such as t-shirts, hats and even skateboards has grown.
Paul Graham’s Well
Though branding was not a focus for the brewers, market positioning was the core of their business model. Each brewery on the panel offered remarkably different products that were competing for shelf space and taps rather than for the same beer drinker. For instance, Jack’s Abby brews only lager beers while Notch specializes in session (low alcohol) ales. Some beer drinkers like to dabble but many have a strong preference to one variety over another.
Recently, Paul Graham wrote an essay titled How To Get Startup Ideas. One of the key takeaways from the essay was how critical it is for companies with limited resources to focus on a group of people that really want their creation before expanding outwards:
“You don’t need the narrowness of the well per se. It’s depth you need; you get narrowness as a byproduct of optimizing for depth (and speed). But you almost always do get it. In practice the link between depth and narrowness is so strong that it’s a good sign when you know that an idea will appeal strongly to a specific group or type of user.”
Chris Lohring, founder of Notch Brewing, described his plans for expansion. Session ales are some of the most drinkable beers on the market and could technically compete for the tastebuds of even the least picky beer drinkers that are currently content with mass-produced suds. Chris has no plans to expand outside of his region quickly. Instead, he is, “digging deep,” and getting Notch into the hands and mouths of everyone in Massachusetts that wants to buy session ales. Only after he has dug his well deep will he expand. The strategy seems to be working for him.
One of the greatest challenges in any creative industry is being yourself.
“We’re like Pinterest but for audio.”
“I sound like Bob Dylan meets Jimi Hendrix.”
It has been engrained in us to use the like x but with y formula to describe ourselves when we meet someone new. This makes sense because it is an easy method that quickly conveys what we do to others.
While this formula is effective, we must be careful not define ourselves by it. We are much more than the sum of our parts. Thinking of ourselves like this is caustic. It is important to acknowledge our influences, but if we are creating something new we should think deeply about who we are.
A Boston band I work with called Charlie the Most has a very unique sound.
One could describe the band as Soulive meets James Brown and the Allman Brothers Band, but it would be doing everyone in that equation a great injustice. Most people know what those groups sound like but the combination of the three does not define Charlie the Most. The band’s sound is a combination of influences both intentional and subliminal on top of emotions that come out when the 10 musicians play together. They cannot reduce themselves to a simple amalgamation of well-known concepts.
When I describe Charlie the Most I say they play, “flash-fried funk and soul,” and I leave it at that.
Take care to define yourself intelligently, but in the end let your creations define you.
Images of the printed text speak to us for some reason. Perhaps the playful nature of reproducing the printed word into digital media with analog filters is what makes it such a pleasure to read inside these digitized capsules. The beauty of Instagram will do very little to quell the frustration an artist should feel after reading the photographed segment of text. This impudent paragraph was clipped from a press kit rubric distributed at a Professional Development Seminar.
It takes an audacious institution to hold a seminar devoted to professional development that encourages its students to dress “like hippies on pot,” or “look dark and dirty,” based on the kind of music they play. This sort of thinking creates clone artists and focuses too much on the incorrect link between visual and aural.
The way artists look and present themselves is important to success but that is not the trouble with what this paragraph suggests. The implication is that you need to dress a certain way so people can identify you and consequently lump you in with the other “trouble-making rock & rollers.” The danger of being lumped in is very real and potentially deadly. An artist and their work MUST be able to stand on their own and be identifiable if they wish to cut through the glut of music saturating the Internet and other distribution channels.
Not only do people judge others by how they dress, what a person is wearing can actually influence their performance and self-confidence. Artists should get dressed up for performances, wearing something that makes them comfortable while also taking into consideration how they want themselves to be perceived by the audience.
Perception is more important than reality on the concert stage. New artists should remember that many of the most popular performers such as Madonna and Lady Gaga dress completely differently in concert than they do on a Monday afternoon. A concert can be like a play in the sense that some musicians “act” out a character. It should be noted that none of these characters are other musicians and that is why these artists still stand on their own. You will never see Beyoncé dressing up like Lady Gaga or vice versa.
It is baffling that someone would suggest a young artist dress like an already established and successful one. Is this now considered normal and strategically intelligent marketing behavior? Mick Jagger did not co-opt his on-stage fashion and persona from other performers so why should a new artist take his? This sort of thinking creates derivative-looking artists and the music that follows seems to continue the trend.
What a person wears will never be as important as the music they make but it remains a critical element of their live performance. Everyone that attends the concert will judge an artist more on their music than the image they give off, but the next morning when the blog posts start going up there will be no sound, only text and images of what the artist looked like when performing. Outside of the possible YouTube videos, the collective archived memory of a performance will be more visual than aural and that is more than enough reason for an artist to dress in a way that represents who they are and what they do.
Artists, if you aren’t one of the “hippies on pot” or one of those “trouble-making rock & rollers,” it is not sensible to dress like one. You will risk being labeled as inauthentic and that is worse than anything else. Remember that there is only one of you and thousands of people trying to look like a young Bob Dylan. Embrace your musical style and look like you while doing it, not someone else.