In general, an important goal for many artists is to share their work with an audience. Seth Godin goes as far as to say that artists need people to see their work and react to it before it can even be considered art. The hope of the artist is that their art resonates. This causes people to talk about the art and spread it.
There is a strange dichotomy; artists need their work to spread to become successful but they must be careful about spending too much time it promoting themselves. The goal must be to promote it to the right people that will cause the art to spread to others.
The most powerful endorsement comes from those that have no vested interest in the artist’s success other than enjoying their creations. When they say something positive about an artist’s work they have no incentive to do so other than to share something they love with others who they think will love it too.
Crowdfunding campaigns that really take off are almost always a result of shifting the burden of promotion from the creator to the fanbase. It’s not about the artist removing themselves from responsibility, it’s about them realizing when they need assistance and activating their fans. It is not a good sign if the artist is talking more about their project than their fans are.
A few steps to move artists in the direction of creating an army of evangelists:
- Create something that people cannot help but share and talk about.
- Start a project that is only fun or exciting if many people are involved in it (example: Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir)
- Make something incredibly unique based around a currently popular song. Straight acoustic covers won’t cut it. (example: Stony - Macklemore and Ryan Lewis - Can’t Hold Us [Looping Cover])
- Start a crowdfunding project or subscription where there is an accurate value alignment with your fans that causes them to help you reach your goal so they can get your art.
I order a pizza around once or twice a week from the same place a few blocks from my apartment in Boston. Yesterday when I went to pick up my standard order I was a bit taken aback by the massive advertisement that was staring me in the face as I walked back to my apartment.
The advertisement was for the Yellow Pages, a resource I know exists but have no use for. I’ve known about the Yellow Pages since I was a young child. I faintly remember having to take the large book off my parent’s shelf whenever I needed to search for a business phone number before we got our first computer.
The Yellow Pages advertisement congratulates me for finding the perfect slice of pizza but they had nothing to do with this discovery. I had walked past the pizza restaurant a few times and then looked it up on Yelp and read good things. My personal exposure to the restaurant and the positive reviews from others caused me to find what has become my “go-to” pizza place.
The service offered by the Yellow Pages has been reduced to near irrelevance and instead of convincing me to use their service they actually managed to reinforce that belief.
I forgot to mention that the pizza box was not even made as well as the ones the restaurant used previously.
This question will always come up, it’s just a matter of time. You can either be prepared to answer it or be completely sideswiped.
What makes you the right person to lead the next game-changing startup or become the next big singer-songwriter? Why are you the person that can succeed where so many others fail?
It cannot be your drive or willingness to work every hour of every day. There are so many people that can and will do exactly that.
It is the result of those many hours that matters. It all comes down to execution.
If you do not have a proven track record it becomes all the more difficult to convince someone that you are the person who can make things happen. Experience in a related field or even a general history of tenacity can go a long way towards proving you are the person who will reach the milestones that so many fall short of.
You can find great success following a trend or leeching onto a fad. You could make millions of dollars and maybe even solve some problems that people are currently experiencing.
What you will not do is change something that is fundamentally broken or build something entirely new.
Never follow the leader. If you do this you will end up where they do but you will be too late. You will be left to build around their idea. There is nothing inherently wrong with that but I believe most entrepreneurs want to build something new.
There are options:
- Revisit ideas that have failed for others. There may have been a great demand but the execution was so poor that they did not solve the problem. Facebook was not the first social network.
- Look at patterns and history. Guess what direction the leaders may eventually head in and get there before they do.
- Find something that has only just become possible and be the first person to try it. Since technology evolves so rapidly, things that were impossible just a year or two ago may now be feasible.
There is nothing more desirable than fast growth. It takes less time which means less energy and resources are spent on a long, drawn-out campaign for the affection of your target audience.
Startups call this hockey stick growth:
Do you see the resemblance?
There are months of slow growth and then in the span of one month there is an enormous explosion.
The reasons for this explosion in the startup world can vary greatly:
- You were covered in TechCrunch or had a popular post on HN.
- A new hardware device was released that allowed many more people to benefit from your software.
- You released a new version of your application with a feature that many people were looking for.
Bands and other types of creators (filmmakers, comics, etc) would benefit from working towards ambitious inflections points for their endeavors. Hockey stick growth is a common occurrence for some of the most popular new bands. An example is the Alabama Shakes, whose NPR article in October 2011 set off a perfect storm of events that generated the exact type of hockey stick growth startups aspire to.
Some “triggers” for explosive growth in the music industry:
- Positive coverage on respected websites and blogs (NPR, Pitchfork)
- Placement on a well-viewed TV show
- A remarkable music video that people cannot help but share
The harder and smarter you work in the beginning the more likely you will be able to make it to hockey stick growth. The longer you exist, the less likely this will ever happen. Avoid becoming stagnant. Move fast and make big things happen.
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.
When you are offered an appealing value proposition it is incredibly difficult to resist.
When you are given an extremely limited window of opportunity to take advantage of it you will likely be driven to act.
Two days ago Amazon launched a Facebook Offer giving users $5 off a purchase of $25 dollars or more. All they need to do is sign up for the Amazon Facebook app and type in what is at the top of their
Christmas holiday gift list.
This is a brilliant play by Amazon because the most difficult task is getting people to login to your site. The second most difficult task is to get the sale. With a deadline of 11:59 PM PST December 9, the pressure is on for those that claimed the offer to take advantage. Now 812,381 (and counting) people will be very likely to login and make a purchase.
There will be those (like myself) that buy a $25 item they thought was typically overpriced by ~$5 (Criterion Collection Blurays, I’m looking at you). There will be many more people that end up buying half of the presents they need this season because this offer got them on Amazon and in the shopping mindset.
Quick number crunch:
Let’s say 50% of the ~800k make a $25 purchase (of which $5 is deducted).
That’s 80 million dollars in revenue over the the span of a few days.
If possible, demand immediate action from your users with a limited time offer that is too good to pass up.
Conventional marketing wisdom tells us to put our videos on YouTube, news feed on Twitter, audio on SoundCloud, and photos on Instagram. After all, that’s where the audience is.
There is one problem: that’s also where all of the clutter is.
Unless someone searches specifically for you or your content the chances of you being found are slim. Your one hope of expanding past the users that are looking specifically for you is that they share with the people in their network. That can work well if you currently have a large following. If you are a startup, band, or other business in your infancy you do not have the luxury of this strategy. If you are in this position, posting content online can be disappointing when you do not reach a desired amount of YouTube views or retweets.
Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, try something new.
I saw Dharmesh Shah, founder and CTO of HubSpot, speak yesterday at Intelligent.ly. One of the most powerful ideas he imparted to the audience was how important it was for your website to be on the front page of Google search results. 95% of the clicks for a search are on the first page.
Seek out the newest websites and online platforms that fit what you do. Become an early adopter and start posting content. While there will be fewer eyes there will be even less content to distract them from you. Getting on the front page of Google is hard but getting to the front page of a new site with little content should be fairly easy.
The first users on these sites are also early adopters; people that are excited about discovering the coolest new thing even if it may be rough around the edges. These are exactly the type of people you want to have viewing your content. They enjoy being the first to hear about the next big thing.
It would be silly to suggest abandoning places like YouTube or Twitter entirely. These new websites could become the next big thing or they could close up shop in a few months. Experiment with new sites that interest you and use Google analytics to see which of them drive the most visitors back to your own website and devote your time to them appropriately.