Smarter in :60 IV: Time to Rally…or Quit? Mark Hermann Takes “The Dip”

January 31, 2011 by  

The latest in a series from SonicScoop columnist Mark Hermann, where he builds on the inspiration he draws from sage sources.

HARLEM, MANHATTAN: Do you remember the feeling you got when you decided to try something new for the very first time?

After the Big Idea has kicked in, Mark Hermann and Seth Godin ask: Can you get past "The Dip"?

Maybe it’s when you decided to pick up the guitar. Or when you tried to sit down and write your first story. Or wanted to learn HTML so you could design websites. Maybe you took lessons or read books and articles on the subject. At first you didn’t care if you sucked because hey, you’re just a beginner, right? Who cares? Then you started to get a little bit good and there was this growing sensation of accomplishment. “Hey, this is fun!”

On a graph with an X / Y axis where X=Effort and Y=Results, this might look like a rising curve starting from the left. You’re showing real results for your early efforts. You’re improving each day. The curve keeps rising. And so then you decide to turn this into a really big goal. “I’m gonna start a band. No, I’m going to be the next Jimi Hendrix! Yeah, that’s it”, or “I’m going to write the next Alice In Wonderland“, or “I’m going to start a software company and kick Bill Gates‘ ass!”

But somewhere around the time you blew through novice and amateur status and arrived at intermediate, or long after your brilliant idea got you funding and now you have to figure out how to actually build the right team and bring this thing to market, things started to slow down. You plateau. Suddenly, you aren’t seeing those big gains anymore. You’re finding out it’s a lot harder to get to Mecca.

The curve is starting to fall, resembling a kind of trough where not much happens and in front of you lies a very steep wall curving upward…REALITY. What it’s really going to take to get where you say you want to go. Doubt begins to set in. Do you really have what it takes?

This curve is what Seth Godin describes as “The Dip” in his best-selling 2008 book by the same name. It’s a book about quitting and all of 80 pages. But the message is clear and simple:

“Quit the wrong stuff. Stick with the right stuff. Have the guts to do one or the other.”

But hang on. You don’t quit! You never quit! That’s what we’ve all been taught. Quitting’s for losers, wimps! Why, it’s downright un-American, damn it!

Well guess what? Sometimes you should quit. And often, in fact, if you’re not doing what you should be.

Godin defines The Dip as “any rough patch you have to get through before achieving your big goal…if in fact you’re chasing the right goal.”

Seth Godin's "The Dip".

Yes, but how do I know if I’m even chasing the right goal? Well, first you have to decide you’re going to be the best in the world at something. Not the whole wide world, mind you but someone’s world; your particular niche. You have to know that at any given moment, someone somewhere is looking for something to fulfill a need.

It could be for a clown that speaks Punjabi and is available tonight within five miles of Hester Street. It could be for an app that rates chiropractors in your area. They have to make a choice and the only thing they’re interested in is, “What’s the best choice for me right now about this thing?”

You have to become that choice. And then you have to be able to back it up. Most people can’t back it up. They can’t make it through the Dip and quit before they should have. If you’re not going to be the best, don’t even bother. Quit and find something else to be the best at.

Because you could find yourself in a Cul Du Sac, the other curve described in the book, which is French for dead end, as in job. The one that goes nowhere, where every day, every year you stay you’re just average. And average won’t get you through the Dip. Average won’t get you anywhere. If you find yourself in one of those, you basically have two choices: turn it into a Dip or quit. But then if you truly believe your cause is just, you cannot quit.

When I moved back to the city from the West coast in the late Nineties, it seemed everyone was yapping about one of these three things: the New Economy (Remember that? The growth chart that only went up? 20% gains a year, baby! Tech stocks. Woohoo!). Then you had Y2K, the tech equivalent to the Black Plague. Locusts would surely ooze from your hard drive at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. And finally there was “The Sopranos”. You couldn’t walk three blocks without hearing someone talking about who was going to get whacked in the next episode.

Well, about this time I was working for audio guru, Mark Levinson, selling really expensive AV systems and in walks David Chase, well known TV writer, director and Godfather to the aforementioned Sopranos, TV’s most infamous Goomba family. We ended up building him a system and I got to know him after going over there several times to show him or his wife how to use it.

One day he was looking at the daily’s from the show and we got to talking about the phenomenon he created. I said it must be pretty cool to have a great story like this and be able to just get it made after all his other successes in television over some thirty years. He laughed and told me it didn’t quite happen that way. Far from it, actually.

It turns out he had this idea for the show kicking around for almost ten years before it ever saw the light of day. He took it everywhere; the big studios (“Nah, the gangster theme has been beaten to death and who’s going to watch this on a weekly basis? Fugettaboutit.”) Agents, network bosses. Nothing. Dead fish. He would eventually put it on the shelf and every now and again he’d dust it off and try again but to no avail.

It would have been totally excusable for anyone to come to the rational conclusion, after a year or two of shopping, let alone this man’s credentials and access to the industry, that maybe this just wasn’t meant to be and the idea really wasn’t as good as he thought. But nine years!? How do you stick with it? David Chase believed his cause was just and he never lost sight of that. He made it through The Dip. And we are the richer for it.

At the end of the book there’s this little quote:

If it scares you it might be a good thing to try.

Peace,

Mark Hermann

NYC-based producer/artist/engineer/more Mark Hermann spends his life in the professional service of music. He has toured the world with rock legends, produced hit artists, and licensed music for numerous TV/film placements. Hermann also owns a recording studio in a 100-year old Harlem Brownstone. Keep up with him at his homepage.

Smarter in :60 II: How Music Can Milk Seth Godin’s “Purple Cow”

November 21, 2010 by  

“INDIE BAND ROCKETS TO STARDOM OPENING FOR AEROSMITH AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN WHILE STANDING IN SILENCE FOR 3 MINUTES — 3.5M HITS ON YOUTUBE”

U must b da Purple Cow.

What, you didn’t hear about this!?

Don’t bother Googling the story. It didn’t really happen. But wouldn’t it be cool if it did? You’d certainly stand way out in the crowd for that stunt if you were that band. Why, it might be like driving down a winding country lane, through miles of cow pastures and suddenly coming across a Purple Cow.

The Purple Cow is a book by bestselling author, Seth Godin. It tells amazing stories of some very creative people from places you might not expect, who went way out on a limb to make their mark on the world. I was asked by Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, if I would be willing to read this book, which was part of a five-book box set by Seth about the “new marketing” concepts that are reshaping our world. I was to blog about them from the perspective of how a working musician, actively playing and promoting their music might apply these principles to their own career.

Whether you’re an artist, producer, online app startup, studio, engineer or anything else, The Purple Cow is all about standing out from your competition, seeking out what ‘just isn’t done’ in your field and then doing just that. It’s about knowing there is no guarantee whatsoever that your crazy idea will even succeed and doing it anyway. That’s risky for sure. You might even risk FAILURE. RIDICULE. BANISHMENT TO OBSCURITY.

Some now famous music industry Purple Cow Examples:

Radiohead’s “Pay what you wish” campaign for In Rainbows without a major label was a huge Purple Cow. Looking back, there was no guarantee how that was going to play out — it was a huge marketing risk but of course, we now know how that story ends (digital and physical sales in the millions).

Sheryl Crow crashes a Michael Jackson audition for background singers. She could have very easily been escorted out by security but in fact, she got the gig and the rest is history.

But here is one guarantee: Playing it safe and doing what everyone else in your field is doing in the present all access to everything-24/7-attention deficit culture we live in may be the riskiest thing you could ever do.

Look, nobody’s watching TV anymore (on TV), nobody’s listening to the radio (on the radio), nobody’s reading print newspaper or magazine ads and nobody cares about what you’re selling. They only care about what they want. The Purple Cow states that Very good = Obscurity. If you want to stand out in today’s market, you will need to be truly remarkable AND you will need a Purple Cow.

Here’s a great Purple Cow that is happening as we speak. Have you heard about this band, Hollerado? First of all if you haven’t seen the video, check this out:

Any artist who says that the reason they’re still unknown is because they don’t have a manager or a booking agent or a devout following that will lift them up and carry them on their shoulders to stardom needs to seriously get over themselves and check out this band’s story.

These guys are from a little town in Ontario, Canada. They decide they want to tour the States but no one will book them because they’re unknown. So they decide to drive as far away from home into America as they could get. Then they would walk into a club where a band was playing and make up some story to the manager that they’re 2000 miles from home, had a gig down the street but it fell through. So they would ask if they could play a short set and miraculously, IT WORKED! They did this countless times but might have only gotten a few drinks or pizza out of the deal.

They still needed gas money. So they’d go to the mall, get a CD burner and a few spindles of blank CDs. They’d burn 100 CDs in the parking lot and stand outside the Hot Topic with a discman, asking anyone to listen to their demos. If they liked it, they got a CD in a ziplock bag with some goodies for $5. The band made $4.50 off the deal. They did this for two years and made it home!

Then they decide to release their new CD, Record In A Bag, in 2009 (packaged exactly as from the U.S. tour). To promote the CD, they took the concept of a residency gig, where you play the same club once a week and pumped steroids into it. They launched their RESIDENCY TOUR, playing a show in seven different cities for each night of the week for a month. So Sunday night it’s Boston, Monday it’s Pianos’ in NYC, Tuesday was Quebec, followed by Hamilton, Ontario, Toronto, Ottowa and Montreal. Then: Repeat 4 times. 12,000 brutal Canadian winter miles in 28 days!

They finally found a distributor who would take on their special “packaging” and to date, have sold more than 10,000 copies of their CD and have reached the Top 5 on Canadian Alternative radio.

Still waiting to hear back from that entertainment lawyer? So go ahead, Harold. Take that purple crayon, find a unique pasture and go paint your own Purple Cow. There are no road maps to certainty. But it sure beats living safely in obscurity.

Peace,

Mark Hermann

NYC-based producer/artist/engineer/more Mark Hermann spends his life in the professional service of music. He has toured the world with rock legends, produced hit artists, and licensed music for numerous TV/film placements. Hermann also owns a recording studio in a 100-year old Harlem Brownstone. Keep up with him at his homepage.

Smarter in :60 * Marketers, Liars, Music, Stories and Seth Godin

October 10, 2010 by  

HARLEM, MANHATTAN: I’ve just had a revelation! And it came from a book about liars (sorry, storytellers).

Mark Hermann: Voted Intergalactic Marketing Genius 3 Years Running!

I was given an assignment a little while ago by long-time New Yorker (now a man of no worldly address in particular), Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby. First, I was to read a five-book collection by renowned author/speaker/Squidoo founder, Seth Godin, who many also credit with the modern concept of permission-based marketing.

From there, the assignment was to see how one could apply his cutting-edge marketing concepts to the career of a working musician or artist actively promoting their music today. The book title referred to above – “All Marketers Are Liars” — stands out to me as the rock star, the ‘Aha!’ that made all the other ones make sense.

In a nutshell, my revelation was this: Whatever it is you make or do — let’s say in this case music — it’s not what you’re selling that people want to buy. They want to believe in a story. If you are doing something that really matters, tell a story that resonates with people to the point where they need to share it. Be authentic that your story can become true. What does that last part mean…become true? It means that people believe what they want to believe and often it’s not the facts that make the story believable.

The example I loved from this book was the story of the famous glass maker, George Riedel (maybe you’ve clinked one of his glasses at Terroir or Smoke?).  His philosophy is that there is a perfect shape- and-sized glass for every beverage that will absolutely deliver that beverage’s “message.” Everything simply tastes better in a Riedel glass.

Every employee at Riedel believes this implicitly. In fact, the number one wine critic in the world, Robert Parker, has so endorsed them, stating that “the effect from a Riedel glass on fine wine is profound.” And so Reidel prospers. They are the finest beverage glassmaker in the world. And they are liars.

Double blind scientific tests, where one could not know the shape of the glass proved absolutely that there was zero difference between glasses: none. And guess what? Nobody cares. They’ve bought the story. It makes them feel good to drink from Riedel glasses and they’re sticking with their story.

So why on Earth would you need to tell a story about your music? It speaks for itself, right? Stands on its own merit.  All the other stuff, you know, trying to promote it? Getting anyone to even take notice of it? The marketing??? Uggh! Why do we have to do it? We shouldn’t have to because we’re musicians, artists, producers, engineers, music supervisors. We make music. We’re artistes! We’re cool.

That marketing stuff is for those other folks; the suits on Madison Avenue (the Mad Men); the ones who would claw each others’ eyeballs out to say they came up with the ‘Can you hear me now?’ Verizon campaign.

Well, guess what? Whether you like it or not, if you have a product or a service to sell, you’re a marketer. And if you’re going to be a marketer, you better have a really compelling story to sell (tell).

Reading this book made me stop and think about how much time, over the course of my career, I’ve spent in the trenches trying to hone my craft and create great music and how little time I’ve spent actually telling my story. For example, people may not really care so much if I announce tonight that I’m putting up my cool new bottleneck slide blues, available on iTunes, that might remind them a bit of classic Allman Brothers number, though they’re not quite sure why. But what if I told them a great story first?

Maybe it’s a YouTube video where I sit down with a guitar and slide and recount the time when I was out on the road with Joe Walsh and we pulled into town to play The Beacon Theatre, staying at the once legendary rock ‘n roll hotel, The Mayflower (which has since been torn down and replaced by the new premiere New York address; 15 Central Park West). Joe heard me from the hallway jamming on my slide in my hotel room before the show and barged in. He pulled out his own slide to show me the secret to the ‘Joe Walsh’ sound.  He told me “Always come up just a bit short on the note, man.” (meaning flat)

Seth Sez: The story's the THING

And he proceeded to play me the classic opening lick from “Rocky Mountain Way”. He said he learned that trick from Duane Allman. Aha! Then, in that video, I might play an example of this technique on the guitar. Wouldn’t that be a much cooler way to explain why it reminds people of the Allman Brothers? (Hmm, I think I’ll do just that). But that’s just one part of the story.

A key element one learns from reading this book is that not only is it important to tell a great story but you have to tell it to a group that shares your world view.

Maybe, in this last example, that would be people who love the blues. Perhaps that’s too broad. Maybe it’s a narrower niche; people who love bottleneck blues. Or maybe even more refined; fans of blues legend, Elmore James and his descendents, a category that both Joe Walsh and Duane Allman would share. Find the right group and your story gets spread. Tell your story to the wrong group and it goes nowhere, no matter how good you think it is.

Did I ever tell you the story about how I knew David Koresh? Remember the guy back in the Nineties who was the Heavy Metal Messiah from Waco, Texas whose flock sadly died in flames after a botched rescue attempt from the ATF? Yeah, it’s true (but that’s a very long story and maybe you’ll read about it one day when I write my memoirs about my time out in L.A.)

Do I have your attention now? That’s the point. Maybe if you were looking for a producer and interviewing me I might tell you more of the story (it’s colorful). And somehow by osmosis, you might decide to give me the gig and throw away that stack of boring resumes because I captured your imagination and since I know all those big rock guys, I must know what I’m doing, right? It sounds good anyway.

I read recently that there were something like 23 million NEW music websites added to an already crowded and noisy Internet in the spring of last year alone. Do you still think it’s just your new CD of great music that’s going to get you noticed today once you put it up on iTunes or CD Baby, who recently listed some 240 thousand indie artists on their site alone?

C’mon. You can do better than that.

What’s your story?

Peace,

Mark Hermann

**

NYC-based producer/artist/engineer/more Mark Hermann spends his life in the professional service of music. He has toured the world with rock legends, produced hit artists, and licensed music for numerous TV/film placements. Hermann also owns a recording studio in a 100-year old Harlem Brownstone. Keep up with him at his homepage.

Beat 360: Much More than Just a Music Studio for Mark Saunders

August 10, 2010 by  

HELL’S KITCHEN: Dig Art Deco? Most definitely, and we could always do worse than to be in the majestic polychromed lobby of The Film Center Building on Ninth Avenue – especially if we’re visiting Beat360.

Beat360 mission control

Evolution is the solution at this extra-comfy facility founded by the busy English music producer Mark Saunders in 1997. He was in town then to produce Cyndi Lauper’s Sisters of Avalon, and never really left. With a production/mixing/programming discography that includes The Cure, Neneh Cherry, Shiny Toy Guns, David Byrne, Tricky, and A-Ha, Manhattan has been more than happy to take him.

The addition of Ollie Hammett as Director came in 2007, and Beat360 has grown out beyond just being a great place to track and mix. Today, this flexible sound concern takes on everything that touches artists and producers – management, synch, publishing, distribution and more. Corporate clients have been attracted too, including Nike, Reebok, L’Oreal, Chevy, Motorola and Microsoft.

With all that going on, they seem as eager as any of us to see what’s next, as Hammett made abundantly clear in a recent convo.

What kind of group are you and Mark working with at Beat360?
It’s essentially just the two of us, and we have a pool of assistants who help with the day-to-day running of projects. As a small team we cover as much as we can in-house and for larger projects we outsource to additional engineers as and when needed.

Mark came up in the industry as an engineer, producer and mixer. Recently he has been establishing a name for himself as an exceptional co-writer working with artists/writers such as Teddy Geiger, Cathy Dennis and PNAU (production duo behind Empire Of The Sun).

My time is equally split between studio work as an engineer/mixer and project management/business development. Projects I’ve worked on include Idris Elba’s High Class problems v1 (engineer/mixed), The SoundsCrossing the Rubicon (engineer), A-Ha’s upcoming Farewell single (engineer & additional production), and So So Glos‘ self-titled debut album (mix engineer).

That’s a small but diversified and accomplished core team. From there, how would you explain Beat360 as a business today? Is it a recording facility? Mix facility? Producer/songwriter haven? All of the above, or is it something else entirely?
I would say we’re all of the above. We market ourselves as a “full service music and audio solutions company.” It was originally established as a private recording, production and mixing facility for Mark’s projects. We now work with a whole array of different clients – bands, brands, digital interactive agencies, management companies, record labels — less and less — and independent artists more and more.

Mark Saunders

While diversifying, it’s really important for us to continue to try and bridge the artist development gap we now see in the music industry, so I think this is something that’s integral to everything we do. We’re always looking for opportunities for the artists we work with through our network of contacts and relationships.

I’ve had a couple visits to your studio HQ in the landmark Film Center Building, and it seems like a very productive place to work. Can you fill us in on the design philosophy, plus the hardware and software goodies?

Beat360 is a 2000 sq. ft. facility with two mix/production suites, one live room, a kitchen, lounge and chill out area. Our philosophy is for artists/clients to feel as comfortable and creative as possible.

Our main production/suite is a hybrid system – no mixing board in sight. The main DAW is an Apple Quad Core/Logic/Apogee symphony system with X series converters, and a Mackie Control. We have a Dangerous 2-Bus summer and a selection of outboard gear that can be integrated into Logic sessions as insert plugins. We both use Pro Tools but prefer Logic so we have a Pro Tools LE system for converting projects that come to us in that format.

We have software, hardware and musical instrument toys in serious supply. See the full list here. But here’s a taste: Logic 9, Waves Platinum v7 bundles, Sonnox plugins, Arturia Collection, a Ludwig 1968 Drumkit, Soundelux U95S, Neumann U67 (1960’s), Telefunken SM2 stereo (1960’s), Urei 1176, Manley ELOP leveling amp/compressor, Night Nt3 mastering EQ, Telefunken V72 (2 channels) racked by Dave Marquette, John Hardy M-1 (4 channels), Neve 33122 (2 channels), Neve 33115 (2 channels) and API 312 (5 channels) racked by Brent Averill.

Ooooo, tasty. So what niche does Beat360 fill in the NYC spectrum of facilities? And globally for that matter, since you’re doing international services like FTP mixing.
I would characterize our studio as a full-service professional recording, production and mixing facility. In addition to the hiring the studio and services out to NYC clients, we also offer remote mixing and mastering solutions for independent artists all over the world through www.beat360-master-mixing.com.

Clients upload sessions to our server and we mix/master the tracks working closely with them on revisions to make sure they’re 100% happy with the end results. More than just an online service, it’s an artist development vehicle. A number of these artists we have gone on to help find management, legal representation, sync placements, TV show appearances, etc…

Our niche is that we are centrally-NYC-located with a great-sized space by today’s standards, have a diverse client base and work with both high-profile established clients, as well as helping to build the careers of indie artists.

The Beat360 live space...where stuff sounds good.

I think that sounds like a real indication of where “music companies” are going. The model is comprehensive but light on its feet. But would you say you’ve been high-profile or under the radar? Is this by accident, by design, or a little bit of both?

I would say we’re in the process of establishing ourselves. As of September, I will be managing a small producer/writer management division of a new international music group, rocketmusic.com. The starting roster in the US is Mark Saunders, Dan Romer and a couple of others to be determined — if you’re the next Quincy Jones feel free to get in touch! This exciting new venture will be integrally linked to BEAT360 and will no doubt help to put us more on the radar. I think the next few years should see our business become a more visible part of the New York studio facility and music production landscape.

Ambitious – we LIKE. Can you tell us a few projects you’ve got in the hopper right now?

We have been working with phenomenal talent Teddy Geiger for the last few months, Mark is producing his new album. I can’t tell you how excited I get when I hear his work. It reminds me why I followed a career in music. He really is a prodigious talent.

Mark is in the process of mixing music in surround sound for a forthcoming Luc Besson film. We’re beginning production of French singer/songwriter Emilie Gassin’s debut E.P this month. We’ve been recording Idris Elba’s features for several UK artists including Ty and recent XL signing Giggs. Also, we’ve been producing/recording audio assets for a multinational brand website.

That sounds like a solid spread. Would you agree you have to be a constant innovator in this business today?
Yes, I think you have to be creative with how you approach business and you have to pay attention to the market forces/technological advances that affect us all and try to stay one step ahead. Technology aside I think there’s something to be said for consistency: If you do something consistently really well, people will hopefully pay attention.

I’m a big believer in good old-fashioned customer service, the value of genuine win-win relationships and being proactive.

Aye! On the growth tip, how do you strive to publicize/promote Beat360, and successfully diversify your revenue streams?
A lot of our business is word of mouth and referrals. Luckily we get to work with some very cool talent that automatically creates visibility and awareness for what we’re doing in the right circles.

We promote our facility and services through various mediums, the obvious ones being Google/Facebook and relevant local business and directory listings. We normally attend events such as SXSW, NMS, Billboard and CMJ helping us keep up-to-date, hearing great new music and building relationships with potential partners and clients.

What or who is keeping you motivated right now?

I’m inspired that the music industry — as unstable and tough as it is seems to be – is moving towards a more transparent place where there is less room for monopolies. It’s more about passionate people doing stuff really well and building authentic relationships around it.

Beat 360's Ollie Hammett

I’m inspired by independent artists doing it for themselves without record label backing. April Smith just made an awesome album independently and has had several significant TV placements after raising $13,000 through Kickstarter.com, and Jenny Owen Youngs has raised over $30,000 through the same platform to record her next album. Wow!!

I’m inspired by tech companies such as Pandora, Echospin and SoundExchange who create great digital services and platforms for artists and fans alike.

Some key influences for me are entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson, and Chris Blackwell who have managed to enrich lives through brilliant music and art-based ventures. Thought-provoking writers/bloggers such as Chris Anderson, Seth Godin and Bob Lefsetz help me get perspective and try to stay on top of what’s relevant to the ever-changing business we’re in.

How would you characterize the overall studio scene in NYC today? What’s making you determined to be a part of it?
It’s difficult for me to characterize the scene in NYC today, actually, but it’s certainly great to see a website like SonicScoop helping to build a community around the facilities and professionals who work in them. I just try to stay in the loop with people, companies, technologies and music that excites me.

Thanks for those props, Ollie! Last off, what makes Beat360 an only-in NYC story?
I think we’re probably one of the only 100%-British-run music studios in NYC – I could be wrong! — and as you would expect we make a killer cuppa tea!

The advantages of being in NYC surrounded by so much talent, ambition and competition is that it drives us to constantly better ourselves. The main disadvantage is that there are not enough hours in the day to stay on top of any reasonably sized to-do list.

We know how you feel, OLD CHAP.

David Weiss