Hey everyone! Hope you all had a great Christmas Day (or whatever holiday you celebrate - Festivus anyone?) As 2017 winds down and we gear up for 2018, I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who have been reading my blogs, listening to my podcast and following me this past year. I truly hope my articles, podcasts and so forth serve as a powerful tool in your arsenal for navigating your way through the music business.
The last few years have been an interesting and challenging time in the music industry, in some ways things seem bleak. As someone who works on the front lines of industry, in contact with and interviewing some of the brightest minds in the industry, it can be discouraging to hear so many anecdotes of how the music industry has changed for the worse over the last few years.
For reasons I'm sure you're all aware of, it's challenging being a professional musician in 2017/2018. People don't really buy music anymore, it's hard to make money from streaming music, revenue for performing live has remained stagnant for most musicians for several decades, licensing is super competitive and unpredictable and so on. I know, you know, we all know, it's not easy being a musician.
Yet, at the same time, the challenges in the music business present incredible opportunity and possibility for those with the right mindset and perspective. What are you taking about Aaron? What kind of opportunities are you talking about?
There's a great quote, that I remind myself of frequently, when times seem to get tough. The quote is by Billionaire investor Warren Buffet and it goes like this: "Be afraid when everyone is greedy, and be greedy when everyone is afraid". What does it mean? It means that when people are panicking and freaking out about how bad a situation seems, there are hidden opportunities for those with a good eye and the right perspective.
All businesses have cycles of up and down. It's really inherent in life itself if you think about it. We all have good seasons and bad seasons in our lives. We have times when things seem to sailing along very smoothly and then BAMM, something unexpected happens that throw us off center. These difficult periods can be blessings in disguise, forcing us to dig deeper, to access parts of ourselves we didn't even know we had and to rise like the Phoenix from the ashes, soaring to greater heights.
My girlfriend of two and a half years broke up with me about two weeks ago. I wasn't expecting it. I can't say it came out of nowhere, but it definitely caught me by surprise. The first few days I was in shock. Then came the pain and grief. It's only been two weeks, so I can't really say I'm over her, but already I can feel a strength emerging from within that I didn't even know I had. I feel, strangely, at peace about the situation. I didn't really want to lose my girlfriend, but in just two weeks I can see how this crisis is really a blessing in disguise, if I choose to look at it that way.
There are always positive things that come out of seemingly negative situations, if we're open to seeing them. Now that I'm single again, I have more time for myself, more time to focus on my business, I can date other girls again, I can travel, I can spend more time on my music, I can workout more. I can ultimately find someone I'm more aligned with who won't break up with me!
There are TONS of positives, even though I'm sad about losing someone who was very special in my life for a time, I can already see that this situation can be a positive, life transforming period, if I choose to look at it that way. If I remain open to the unexpected opportunities that arise.
I see what's happening in the music business in a similar perspective, although granted the scale and scope of the problems are larger. The challenges we face as musicians in the music business are real, but they present the same opportunity for growth and transformation. We could choose to throw in the towel and do something else, and that decision itself could be an avenue of growth, depending on the path you choose and your reasons for doing so. Or, we can choose to learn from the challenges we face, adapt to the changing industry and ultimately overcome the obstacles we face.
Look, I don't have all the answers. Obviously. I'm just one guy with a passion and love for music, doing my best to figure out and adapt to the industry like everyone else. I do my best to find those who are figuring out how to make it work in the music business and share their stories with you. From things like Youtube to streaming music on Spotify, to licensing music in tv and films, there are lots of potential revenue streams to tap into going into 2018 and I remain committed to sharing what I and others have learned about the new music business paradigm with you all.
But, I also know that it's not easy. I've had my shares of ups and downs with my own music over the last 20 or so years working as a musician. I've had great years filled with growth and exciting achievements. And I've also had years where I frankly just feel live giving up and doing something more conventional and "easy".
For better or worse. I'm still here. Still fighting the good fight. Still writing my songs and hustling to be heard in a noisy, crowded and seemingly over saturated market. Why am I still doing this? Why don't I just give up and call it a day? For the same reason that I'm not going to throw in the towel on intimate relationships. Because, I believe in what I'm doing in the same way I still believe in love and human connection. It's easy to get cynical when things don't work out in life. It's easy when a relationship doesn't work out to simply conclude it's not worth the headaches and stress that it takes to maintain a relationship.
But I know, that when I'm really connecting with another girl and in a loving relationship, it's worth the struggle. It's worth all the pain and heartache and loss that it took to get there. Even when it ends, it's worth it. I would never take back the great moments I've had with an ex-girlfriend just because it ended, even if I could. I'll never forget the moment my ex girlfriend, after a few cocktails, with tears welling in her eyes, told me I taught her how to love. Whoa. Deep. Beautiful. And worth the struggle and ultimately the relationship not working out.
I feel the same way about music. I know in my heart that anything great is worth fighting for. I know, it sounds cliche, but anything worth doing is most likely going to be difficult and challenging. The challenges and obstacles are what force us to grow. I know, without absolute certainty, that the difficulty of being a professional musician, has forced me to become a better musician. In the same way, the pain and difficulty of intimate relationships has molded me into a more well, rounded compassionate person.
I might never be a famous musician, and I might never find the great love of my life that lasts until death do us part, but I know that no matter what happens, I'll keep trying.
Happy New Year!
PS - I just finished a new song called "Down". This one is about how we have to be strong in the face of adversity and trials we face in life. (I wrote and recorded this about a week before my ex and I split, but it seems even more poignant now)
Four years ago, I started my podcast, Music, Money And Life as a means to promote my website, products and services. Since then, my podcast has grown into one of the more popular music business podcasts out there and it’s become the thing I enjoy the most about running my business and find the most rewarding.
Although I started my podcast with the idea of promoting my brand, products and services, I’ve discovered a lot of other unexpected positive side effects of hosting my own podcast. It’s been such a positive experience that I highly recommend other musicians look into starting their own podcasts as a way to spread the word about their music, services, and connect with other people in the business.
In this post, I’m going to break down why podcasting is such an amazing platform for moving forward in the music business. I’ve discovered essentially five main benefits of podcasting, that all musicians could benefit from.
Connecting With Other Industry Influencers – This is probably the single biggest upside of hosting your own music business or music industry related podcast. When you create a platform for others to promote themselves and get the word out about what they’re up to, they are much more likely to talk to you and connect with you than if you simply contact them, randomly, out of the blue, trying to get them to help you with your career.
Most people love to talk about themselves. I don’t say this in a cynical or jaded way, it’s just human nature. People want to express themselves and be heard, and podcasts are a great way to connect with a lot of people at one time. I’m amazed at some of the people I’ve been able to interview and connect with on my podcast, Music, Money And Life, and it’s getting easier and easier to attract high profile guests.
Next week, for example, I’m interviewing the drummer Kenny Aronoff, cited as one of the top 100 drummers of all time by Rolling Stone. Kenny has played with a who’s who list of musicians, including artists like John Cougar Mellencamp, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, The Rolling Stones, Lady Ga Ga, Bruno Mars, Sting, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Dave Grohl, Elton John, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Jon Bon Jovi, Steven Tyler, The Smashing Pumpkins, Meatloaf, B.B. King, Rod Stewart and John Fogerty, to name a few. I can’t wait to pick Kenny’s brain about the music business next week, I can imagine he has a little bit of knowledge to share!
I don’t have any particular agenda in connecting with the musicians and people I bring on my podcast. Some of my guests I’ve forged ongoing relationships with and some I may never talk to again. But either way, I’m getting access to people and knowledge I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.
Social Proof / Credibility – Another benefit to podcasting is that by interviewing and connecting with other people in the industry you’ll boost your own perceived credibility in the industry. When you connect with other people that are higher up the ladder than you are in the industry, people will take you more seriously as a result.
When deciding whether or not to work with you, or do business with you, people decide in part on social cues to determine whether or not they want to move forward. When people see you associating and collaborating with known names in the industry, it boosts your own credibility by default.
Again, I’m not really trying to do this with my podcast, it wasn’t something that I set out to do when I launched my podcast. This is a natural byproduct of connecting with and working with other industry insiders. People, in general, will start to take you more seriously when they see that other established people in the industry take you seriously.
Self Education – Another great, great benefit of hosting your own podcast is that you’ll learn so much more about the business, so much more quickly than you would if you weren’t connecting with and speaking with industry insiders on a regular basis. Now that I’ve done almost 100 episodes of my podcast, I often joke that I feel like I’ve received a master’s degree in the music business.
The music business is a people business, but it’s also an information business. Knowledge is power, and when you’re able to connect with and speak with people more established than you are, you’ll learn a wealth of information in the process. I’ve had tons of insights and aha moments as a result of connecting with people on my podcasts. I’m educating my audience, but I’m also educating myself at the same time.
Self Promotion – This was really the reason and main motivation for starting my podcast; the ability to promote myself. Podcasts are a great way to get the word out about your products and services. Like with all self promotion, you need to be careful in how you do this. If you make it too much about you and your products, music, etc, you run the risk of turning people off. But if you don’t overdo it, podcasts are a great tool for self promotion.
The theme of my podcast is directly tied to what I do both as a musician, and as a business, so it’s not really a stretch to occasionally mention a new product or program, or to play some of my own music. All things I do from time to time. But I try not to overdo promoting myself and keep the focus on educating and entertaining my audience to the best of my ability.
Self Improvement – And finally, the last benefit that I’ve discovered from hosting my podcast is self improvement. What do I mean? How does hosting a podcast improve yourself? Well, as we all know, the music business is a people business. Your ability to connect with other people in the business, will at least in part determine your success. That’s not to say you can’t be a little eccentric and still succeed in music, we all know that’s not the case. But, you need to connect with people in an authentic way.
There’s an art to having a good conversation. I’m not claiming to be an expert at this, but like with anything, the more you do something, the better you’ll get. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better at steering a conversation and conducting interviews as a result of hosting my podcast. That sort of self improvement and self development is extremely rewarding. The fact that I can connect with so many people I respect and admire in the business is pretty frigging cool. Will these connections somehow boost my own status in the music business? Maybe, it could. But honestly, the process itself is the reward.
“No man is an island”, as the expression coined by Poet John Dunne goes. This expression resonates with me more and more, the longer I live and the older I get.
When I first decided to go the route of working for myself, I fantasized about being able to work alone, free from the distractions and annoyances of other people. I imagined my days would be filled in peace, working when and how I chose, on projects that I chose, that inspired me.
In the beginning of my self-employment days, I did in fact spend a lot of time working this way. At first, it was incredibly refreshing and liberating. I could simply focus on the work I needed to accomplish, in peace, without a boss, or irritating co-workers to distract me. The first couple years that I worked for myself, I spent most of my time working this way.
Over time though, I started to miss the interaction and camaraderie I had with my coworkers previously, before I became self-employed. I decided to actively start building a team of people to work with, a tribe if you will.
It wasn’t just that I missed the social interaction, it was that I realized I was missing a critical component of life that would allow me to grow my business and move forward: synergy.
The term synergy comes from the Attic Greek word συνεργία synergia from synergos, συνεργός, meaning "working together". Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.
Any great business, relationship or band has elements of synergy at play. Apple wasn’t just Steve Jobs, Apple was and is a team of thousands of people working together, sharing ideas and collaborating. It’s the Synergy of all the people that work together that has truly made Apple a success. Jobs was a great spokesperson and he certainly played a critical role in Apple’s success, but Apple is much more than just the vision of Jobs.
The Beatles wasn’t just Paul or John, it was John, Paul, George and Ringo, writing and playing music together and creating something that together, they weren’t able to create on their own.
Guns N Roses isn’t just Axl Rose. Even though Axl never quit performing the music of GNR with a variety of different musicians, it wasn’t until most of the original members reunited recently that they became hugely successful again. It’s the synergy of the members involved that makes their music so special to so many.
Synergy works on different levels and is effective for several different reasons. The first one is very practical. Humans by nature, have a desire to reciprocate when someone does something to help them. I know, us humans have a lot of nasty and undesirable traits, but deep down most of us want to help those who help us. It’s in our nature, in the same way that many of us want vengeance when we are “wronged”. Reciprocity is like the flip side of vengeance. It’s the yin to vengeance’s yang. Think of reciprocity as positive payback.
In social psychology, reciprocity is a social norm of responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions. As a social construct, reciprocity means that in response to friendly actions, people are frequently much nicer and much more cooperative than predicted by the self-interest model; conversely, in response to hostile actions they are frequently much more nasty and even brutal. 
Reciprocity makes it possible to build continuing relationships and exchanges. Fukiyama  states that “If the institutions of democracy and capitalism are to work properly, they must coexist within certain premodern cultural habits that ensure their proper functioning” (p.11). He goes on to say “Law, contract, and economic rationality and prosperity…. must as well be leavened with reciprocity, moral obligation, duty toward community, and trust….
When you’re working with others, it sets up a natural cycle of reciprocity. I have several key people on my team at this point, and we all more or less help each other on a regular basis. Imagine a ball of giving being passed back and forth. I do something for someone on my team, and they feel inclined to do something for me, then I feel more inclined to do something for them and on and on.
This back and forth reciprocity plays out in different ways. Sometimes it’s as straightforward as I hire someone to work for me, they do a good job and I reciprocate by paying them. This might not seem like a great example, but it is actually. Money is simply a unit of value, and it’s a clear cut and straightforward way of reciprocating for someone’s time and effort.
Other times it plays out in more subtle ways. For example, I have a new intern for How To License Your Music.com. It’s technically an unpaid internship, but my intern is doing such a great job at the moment that I feel inclined to compensate him for his efforts in a variety of ways. I end up paying my intern back for his efforts by taking him out for lunch every day, giving him tons of advice and knowledge about ways he can promote his own music, teaching him everything I know about the music business, offering to connect him with different people and so on. The better I express my gratitude and appreciation for his efforts, the more inclined my intern is to keep working with me and I’ll most likely be bringing him on in a more formal, paid position in the near future.
With other people in my tribe, this sense of reciprocity plays out in different ways. I’ll give you another example. A couple months ago I was in LA co-hosting a retreat about music licensing. One of the guest speakers at the retreat was one of my former clients, Eddie Grey, who has gone on to become a very successful TV composer. I was so impressed by Eddie’s presentation at the retreat and by his willingness to share what he’s learned, that before I left LA, I suggested the idea of creating a course together for my website about composing music for television. I figured I could help Eddie get the word about what he’s doing to more people and help him make extra money at the same time. Eddie agreed, and we released our first course together recently called “How To Be A Full Time TV Composer”.
The course that I created with Eddie has been a huge success. We’ve sold a lot of courses and have received really great feedback from the people who have purchased it so far. Eddie was so pleased and excited by our initial results that he sent me this really kind email:
“Thank you again, I am really grateful. Yet again, you have contributed greatly to me.
This will all come back to you my friend....tenfold.
I hope you see this as a success in a long line of successful deals we will engage in.
I will continue to produce at a high level to ensure customer satisfaction and retention.”
This was such a nice email to receive, because now I feel even more inclined to continue working with Eddie and trying to figure out ways to help him with his endeavors. Reciprocity in action.
Expanding Pool Of Resources
Another great benefit to building a team and working with other people, is the benefit of having access to other people with other areas of expertise than your own. This is beneficial in a variety of ways. For one, if you have access to people with other skill sets than your own, you can accomplish a lot more than if you were trying to do everything yourself.
For example, I’m not a great producer. It’s not really one of my skillsets. So I tend to outsource production work to my producer, Gary Gray, which allows me to spend more time writing and marketing my songs. There are only so many hours in a day after all, and I don’t really have the time or desire to try to do everything myself.
When you bring other people, with unique skillsets, into your tribe, you are literally expanding your resources. None of us can do it all, and let’s face it, when it comes to something like the music business, there’s a lot to do. You need to be able to wear a lot of different hats if you’re going to do everything alone. You need to make music, produce it, market it and so on. It’s hard to do this in isolation. When you have a tribe, you’ll be able to share the workload with others and reduce your own stress.
Insights And Aha Moments
Another great benefit to working with others and building a tribe, is that you’ll increase the likelihood of having insights and “aha” moments during conversations you have with others. There’s something powerful about working and interacting with others who have different, unique perspectives, based on their unique backgrounds. I often get ideas and insights from others that I wouldn’t have arrived at on my own.
Just this morning in fact, I had a conversation with another co-worker who works at the same co-working space as I do that generated an idea for a way I could easily make 10 to 20k more per year, with minimal effort. These sorts of insights happen frequently when working with others, but I rarely seem to have them when working alone. Sure, I may occasionally get a great idea from a Youtube video or a blog post, but there’s something about real time, in person interactions that lead to these sorts of insights much more frequently.
And finally, when you’re part of a team or a tribe, you’ll have others to help boost your spirits when you’re down. This is really the essence I think, of the expression “no man is an island”. We need each other to function optimally. Sure, some people are more introverted than others and don’t need or desire as much social interaction, but we’re all essentially dependent on each other to function in modern society.
I consider myself a fairly introverted person. I love interacting with others, but I also enjoy spending time alone and doing things like writing songs, reading and so on. But, if I spend too much time alone I start to crave connection and interaction with others. There’s a reason prisons use solitary confinement as the most extreme form of punishment. It’s not a state most of us prefer to be in long term.
Embrace the role we play in each other’s lives. Whatever you’re doing in life and wherever you’re going, realize that building a team or tribe of people to work with and interact with, will most likely help you reach your goals more quickly. You’ll also be able to help others reach their goals. Successful human interaction is truly a win-win.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.