Invoking The Power Of Asking

Questions can open doors.

Every gig I ever got was the result of someone asking a question.


These are either gigs I got because:

  • someone asked, “Is there a guitarist who can play this stuff?” and they were directed towards me (for example the video game soundtracks I played on, John French, Glenn Branca, The Bentmen and gigs I had to turn down (like the Grandemothers of Invention.))
  • OR gigs I created (asking people to play and creating gig opportunities with people like Don McLeod, Butch Morris or Sahba Motallebi)

This second category is one that bears more investigation.

In retrospect, one HUGE advantage to growing up pre-internet in a small town is that the responsibility of discovery was put squarely on you. There were no venues to play shows – so if you wanted to play shows you had to create your own opportunities. 

As I’ve mentioned in prior stories, we’d organize our own battle of the bands (which got other people to organize their own battle of the bands) and talent shows to have the opportunity to play.  This didn’t mean much at the time but proved invaluable years later when I’d have to hustle to make things happen.

When I tell people that when I was growing up that buying ANY kind of music beyond top-40 (which I could usually find at Ames department store) required a minimum 45 minute drive each way, they typically don’t believe me – but it was true.  There were a handful of specialty music shops and going there to get music became an event.  It also gave each music acquisition it’s own tale and solidified my attachment to it.

It’s easy to loose that ability to ask as a call to action as you continue to play.

You get comfortable.  You find players you like and use them on every project.

Another secret advantage I have, is that I moved – A LOT – as an adult.  This eliminated the ability to play with the same people consistently and forced me out of anything resembling a comfort zone.

I realized the other day that I had approximately 20 different residences in Boston.  Then I moved to LA and had 3 different residences there followed by a move to New York City (1 residence there) and then a move to upstate New York.

When I left Boston to go to CalArts – all the people I played with in Boston were either gone themselves or still there entrenched in their own projects there and not able to work on something via email.  This meant I had to find all new people to play with.

When no one knows who you are – that (typically) means you need to be the one asking to create playing situations for yourself (unless its a Craigslist ad for a cover band or something similar). 

When I got upstate, I was looking for people to play with.  I had advertised for a percussion player but didn’t get any responses.  I went to a Persian Film festival in The Electric City – Schenectady, NY (that I’m now an artistic director for) and saw Farzad Golpayegani playing and saw enough of a thread in what he was doing that I thought we could work together.  I asked him if he wanted to do something and I think initially he wasn’t that interested but then he saw some videos of me playing and got interested.

We played as a duo for a while and I found a business card for a tabla teacher in a local Persian Restaurant and the player turned out to be the same town as me (it turned out that he lived 4 blocks away from me! 2 years of looking and there was a guy in walking distance!).  I lost the card and then found it again and finally contacted Dino Mirabito and asked if he wanted to play with us.  He checked out a show and was playing a gig with us a month later.

Had I not asked those 2 questions – KoriSoron never would have happened.

80 – 90% of the gigs in my life came from opportunities that I created by asking a question.  I think that unless you’re a successful sideman that goes on the road with different acts all the time this will generally be the case (and even in those cases those players hustle A LOT to create opportunities for them to play).

For example, the gig Carmina Escobar and I did with Mia Mikela (Solu) at USC’s Vision and Voices lecture/concert series.  For those of you who are not familiar with her work, one of Mia’s many art endeavors  invokes film editing as ritual and edits short films in real time in front of an audience (See some of her amazing work here!).

Some live audio captured on a ZOOM H4 for posterity’s sake:

How did I get us on that bill? 

I asked her.

I saw she was playing a show and was familiar with her work.  I did some research and saw that she was doing student workshops at USC and that a performance was part of her her overall event there.  I sent her an email and asked if she needed any music to accompany of the student films.  I explained that Carmina and I did live improvised music and that that style of accompaniment might be engaging for the audience and for the films.  I sent her some links and she really liked the music and suggested that we do something together live.

So asking questions can help but there are a few “hidden” rules to asking the questions  that can help create you own opportunities.

  • You have to know that asking a question is an option.  This was my single biggest failure at Berklee.  I didn’t know I could ask for things and I didn’t know I could ask for help when I really needed it.  It turned out that there were resources for me that I could never utilize because I didn’t know they were there (or then how to ask for them – Shades of Kafka’s “Before The Law”!).
  • Asking is location based.  You have to be in a situation where you can ask.  This is a BIG lesson for me that I’m still learning with regards to booking.  Up here – people need to know who you are to book shows.  That means they need to put a name to a face and most of those deals are worked out in person.  I sent a lot of feelers out to people via email and never heard back from anyone.  To get a gig up here people have to know you.  That means going to shows and events.  The catalyst for KoriSoron thing only happened because I went to the Festival Cinema Invisible (FCI) event and saw Farzad playing.  If I just sat at home, that never would have happened.  This is a difficult one for me because I spend a fair amount of evenings teaching or practicing which makes getting to shows difficult – but that’s MY thing to continue working on.
  • Before you ask ANY question – you must ask the question from the stand point of, “What’s in it for them?”  That’s not a Robert Green / Machiavellian angle of deliberate sleight of hand (As in “appear to address their interests but serve yours”) you need to REALLY be looking for how what you’re asking can benefit other people.  (Check out this old post on altrustic action and selfish motivation!)  With Mia, I was fully willing to go to USC and accompany films for free.  I figured that if nothing else, I might find someone who liked what we did and was willing to work together in the future.  That was what was in it for me.  It turned out that there was something in it for her as well. (some past articles of mine (see this or this ) address this topic more specifically from the standpoint of networking).
  • Never ask something that you are reluctant or not willing to do.  See the previous point.  Don’t offer something if you aren’t willing to do it gladly with a smile on your face. If you feel like you’re being put-upon that will show in every interaction you have with other people and spoil whatever good will you are building.
  • You have to have a skill set to provide something valuable to other people and provide that thing without drama or inconvenience to others. 

This is a BIG deal. 

You can get the gig by asking but you will only keep the gig if you can follow through.   

  1. Do NOT oversell what you can do. 
  2. Eliminate any barriers that people may have to work with you. 
  3. The indispensable player who adds more to the show than is needed is the last one to get let go (and usually the first one on retainer).
  • Get to the point in a sincere way.  It’s good to build a little rapport (“I got your name from so and so”, “I’ve been following what you’ve been doing with x”) before your ask but don’t go into some ten minute “this is all the awesome sh*t I do” rant.  Make a polite and concise introduction, ask for what you want, explain how it can help both of you and what you can bring to the table.  Be clear on what you want, what you are asking for and what they can expect from you.
  • You have to let people know that you are looking.  I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day who said (about himself and paraphrased here),  “If you don’t let people know that you are looking to gig and available to gig you can’t complain about not having the gig.”

People will only refer gigs to you if:

  1. they know that you’re available
  2. if they know your playing will fit in what other people will work for
  3. if they know that you are easy to work with.
  • You have to be willing to have people say no to you and not be bitter.  I have seen people ask for things not get a response (or get a no response) and then fly off the handle.  (“F@ck that guy!  He’s dead to me!”)  If he wasn’t before – he certainly is now.   Bridges are easily burned.  Don’t make it easy for other people to do so.
  • You have to be willing to follow up.  People are busy.  If this opportunity doesn’t work out – keep moving forward and present them with other opportunities in the future.  Sometimes you just need to be in a better position for people to realize that they want to work with you on something.

So don’t be afraid to ask other people to create opportunities – just make sure to make it a win-win for both of you before doing so.

Okay!  That’s it for now.   I hope this helps and, as always, thanks for reading!



Asking The Right Questions And Being Clear On What We Do

Asking the Right Questions

I read a lot of different material.  I believe that reading is, at least, as important to what I play as what I listen to – just as I would also say that what films, and television I engage in is equally important.  This goes back to some of the statments echoed in Swami Childvilasanda’s The Yoga of Discipline (yes I had to go to my book shelf and pull down my copy to get the spelling of the name correct, which talks about how important it is to be vigilant about what we expose ourselves to because it all influences (and ultimately becomes) a pat of us in some way.  The book is a collection of essays on discipline (discipline in Seeing, Listening, Eating, Speaking, Silence and Thinking) as a path towards spiritual liberation. It’s a very interesting book and one that had me take several lessons to heart.

With that in mind, I tend to do a lot of reading on a lot of different topics because I find that I’m able to implement ideas or strategies from a business book in a different way than, say learning a melodic minor lick to play over a chord progression.  In this case I was reading a 99U book, Make Your Mark The Creative’s guide to building a business with impact and came across a Tim O’Reily quote that engaged me.  I’m going to hijack that quote, bracket one term that can be replaced with practically anything and add bolded emphasis for what I think are the two critical takeways:

“I was in a brainstorm about the future of the US economy recently , and it was all about the decline of the middle class.  It reminded me of so many  conversations that I have had with [*major labels].  They ask, ‘How are we going to preserve our place in the ecosystem?’ and I say, ‘Nobody cares about that.  That’s the wrong question.’  The right question is, ‘What does the world need?  What do my customers need?  What can I do?’….So you have to clarify: Who is your actual target?  What are you trying to accomplish in the world?  Everything else should flow from that.”

* This was originally [publishers], but could also be [live music venues], [musicians], [artists] etc. etc.

(For what it’s worth, here’s a related quote from the same interview that you may find interesting:

“Aaron Levie of Box tweeted something great about Uber recently.  He said, ‘Uber is a $3.5 Billion lesson in building for how the world should work instead of optimizing for how the world does work.'”)

This is something that so many artists, including myself, frequently get wrong.

We make it about us.

When asked the question, “why” we (as in we musicians and artists) often focus on what we do. We set up a scenario that works on the idea that because we are doing good work that the nature of that good work will attract other people – like bees to a flower.

That’s nonsense and I’m occasionally guilty of that thinking as well. “Nobody cares about that.”  That’s what people don’t realize about getting internet traction.  People don’t care about what you’re doing until you give them a reason to care. That means engaging them and making it something they care about.

If you’re a musician – it’s not all about you.

“The right question is, ‘What does the world need?  What do my customers need?  What can I do?”

I don’t engage people because I play guitar.  I engage people because I have something to say that they want to hear.  What we do as musicians is tell stories.  We move people.

People come to see us because of how we help make them feel before, during and after a show.  That’s what our customers need.  That’s how they become fans and come back to our shows.

What I work on technically is in service to that goal.  I work on those things so that I can express myself in the most honest and direct way possible and not have that engagement with the audience interrupted with mistakes or other issues.

I was reminded of this because I played a show with KoriSoron on Friday and it took me about four songs to get into the groove.  The volume levels were mismatched and I was distracted and it took a while to get into the zone (and even then it was hard to stay in the zone – realizing that I had counted off one tune too fast and was not going to be able to execute the ending figure cleanly at that tempo I had to re adjust the form to make it work).  Part of me was really disappointed with my performance that evening but the audience liked the show and will be bringing even more people with them next time.

Is it about me or my perception of the show?

“I can’t believe I wasn’t playing better!!  The audience will tear apart my performance (assumes Piper Laurie voice from Carrie, “THEY’RE ALL GONNA LAUGH AT YOU!”)!

Or is it about communicating something honest with the audience, being genuine in the moment and giving them an experience that they can take with them?  The audience liked the show, warts and all.  That doesn’t mean that I can stop and sit on my laurels and just slide – it means that I should keep working to the best of my ability but rather than getting hung up on one particular aspect that it would behoove me to remember why I’m practicing the things I’m working on (to make an optimum performance for the audience and not stroke my ego and say, “look what I can do!” to no one in particular.)

If you’re not getting the results you want from what you’re doing you may not be answering the right questions.  Once thing you can do is to harness the voice of your inner 2 year old niece or nephew (the one who always asks “why” after everything you say.)  When you state something, ask “why?”  and when you answer it, again ask “why?” and keep challenging your beliefs and assumptions until you get down to the core of what it is you’re doing.

A quick note and a quick plug:

For those of you who are in a rut and/or interested in developing your lead and rhythm playing I’m developing an exciting new group program that will help take you to the next level in the shortest amount of time.  I’m pulling the material together now and looking to launch later this year or the beginning of next year.

Please be aware that about the only thing in the world i hate is hype.  This is no hype or no miracle cure that “works” on osmossis or some other ridiculous claim.  This is a hyper-focused, results driven process that combines effort and efficiency to get players who are willing to put the work, time and dedication in to get where they want to go.

I’ve been doing a lot of research and I haven’t been able to find anyone that’s using even a remotely similar pedagogical system.

I’ll have more information about this in the months ahead, but if you’re interested in the meantime – send me at email at guitarblueprint at gmail [dot] com.

A quick plug (for those of you in the capital region of New York)

KoriSoron frequently collaborates with FCI (Festival Cinema Invisible) on their film series (Korisoron’s Farzad Golpayegani does the poster designs and I help with the press releases and event planning).

FCI is kicking off a cool new bi-monthly series “Pathways to Iran” that explores Persian culture through film and dialog with “Food Stories – Uncommon Recipes, Common Humanity” a film screening and recipe tasting at Proctors GE Theatre on Sunday, September 13th at 4pm.

This cultural event features a rare screening of two films from Iran; “Five Pieces on Iranian Dishes” (a documentary directed by Sepideh Abtahi, 54 mins.), which looks at Iranian society of the past century through food, and “A Perfect Meal” (a short directed by Pooria Jahanshad, 8 mins.) which uses a formal meal setting to examine food and culture.

After the screening there will be a panel discussion on the role of food in Iranian culture with audience Q&A and a recipe demonstration and tasting of various dishes from Iran.

1. Abgoosht: A meat based traditional, middle/working class food that now is turned into an adventurous favorite. There will be a demo of the food on one of the films, and the panel will talk about its cultural connection. There will be a tasting of Goshte Koobideh, a part of this food that tastes good even cold.

2. Borani (vegetarian): a mixture of yogurt and spinach with variety of nuts, was used as food, but today it is mostly served as dip.

3. Salad Shirazi (vegan): A uniquely Iranian salad which is also claimed by Israelis and Arabs. The organizer calls it the “Peace Salad” because of the stories he will share about his travels to Israel and Palestine.

Additionally, there will be handouts with the recipes for guests to take home: Persian style tea is also included in the $10 admission. Tickets are available at the Proctors box office or online at

(The next event will be on Sunday November 22 and will feature a performance by KoriSoron (!!), two very cool documentaries on music in Iran and a panel discussion with some special guests! Future events include the topics of Women in Iran and Outsiders in Iran.)

That’s it for now!  As always I hope this helps and thanks for reading!


KoriSoron (me), Feedback Analysis (and You)


Last year on this day, I wrote a post called Due Versus Do.  The post talked about the need to put the work in and pay dues in building your craft and building an audience and outlined a plan for building a regional audience (If you’re playing live music – you might find it to be an interesting read).  It’s also a good example of setting up a parameter for feedback analysis.

Feedback Analysis

I first read about this term in a book called Heart, Smarts, Goals And Luck which was a book that talked about self assessing those areas on a HSGL scale to determine where the reader’s strengths were as an entrepreneur.  The quote below is from notes I made from the book – so I believe that it’s paraphrased from Peter Drucker.

Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen.  9-12 months later compare expectations (with outcomes).  Otherwise it’s too easy to rationalize a decision Ex Post Facto.

This is something I happened to be doing in goal setting – but was remiss in going back to see how well those things actually worked!

What This Means for You

Feedback analysis is a great way to look at how your goal setting is actually working.  It’s not enough to just write down goals.  In reviewing them you can also see what’s working, what’s not working and how to best steer your ship from here.  It requires looking at what you did, warts and all, and coming up with an honest assessment.

As an example of this process using the web post from a year ago – how did KoriSoron do with feedback analysis? (again the initial post is linked here in case you’d like to compare Due Versus Do).

1 / 2.  Open Mics (play in front of people) / play traditional non traditional venues.  We didn’t explore this a lot.  Largely because we put our focus on working on new material and playing new venues.  It’s something I’ll probably explore solo to try to open some doors – but the yield of getting people from an open mic to a show was non-existant and the open mics didn’t yield gigs in and of themselves.  It IS a good way to network (in a legitimate way like making friends instead of a slimy way of using people), but it requires showing up every week to do so.  Typically it’s a 3 hour investment in an evening to play for 5-10 minutes but probably worth it if you’re trying to break into a new market / venue.

We played a number of different venues, and that coupled with the monthly gig at Arthur’s has been REALLY useful for us in terms of feedback for what works and what doesn’t work for the show.

For me, it’s interesting to see the yield of what I practice that I think will work versus what works in a live setting.  No matter what methods I use, it always tells me something different and I can only get that information playing live.

3 /5   Developing Marketing material / Social Media / Get Visible and Record material.  We made some strides here.  Farzad pulled together a strong website and we did a lot via Facebook.  We wrote a lot of new material and got Dean Mirabito to play percussion with us (which added a whole other dimension to what we do) and  started digging deep to get into the nuances of the tunes to improve our performances and live shows.  This also involved a lot of experiments with arrangements and live sound options and involved a lot of trial and error.

We also started recording every show (and using a standalone recorder for a live mixer as well) and that’s been great pre-production for going into the studio.  But recording is the next thing that we’re targeting in a big way.

4.  Network.  This is something that needs improvement.  Our tunes are very difficult to play and require a lot of practicing.  It’s only now (a year later) that I’m starting to get a sense of what the tunes are and what our sound is enough to start going back out to shows in a consistent way.  Everything is this business is based on what you can do and who knows what you can do.  Again – I’m not into spammy networking, you have to have legitimate relationships with people – but if you don’t network you’re going to play in your room forever.

6.  Build bigger.  Here’s a GREAT strategy from Heart, Smarts, Guts and Luck that encapsulates this –

Think Big – Start Small – (Scale Fast)

I put scale fast in parenthesis because in business you need to scale quickly.  In art, you need to scale at the rate you can scale.  You’re developing a foundation that you need to build on.  To modify the suggestion strategy:

Think Big – Start Small – Output Constantly – Review – Revise – Repeat

I hope this helps!

As always, thanks for reading!

(and hope to see you at a KoriSoron show soon!)


Guit-A-Grip Podcast #17 – Building An Audience Business Panel

Hello everyone!

Episode #17

Guit-A-Grip Podcast Episode #17  is out and available for download/streaming.

Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:
  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:
  • or you can right-click here to download it.
  • or you can stream this episode below.

Show Notes:

BuckMoon Arts Festival Panel Workshops

This podcast features an audio recording of a panel discussion from the BuckMoon Arts Festival which was held at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown, NY.  There’s more information about this on episode #16 but the “Promoting Your Art – Building An Audience and Building A Buzz” panel with panelists Bill CoffeyMike DiminYvonne Lieblein, Patrick Longo, Brian McElhiney and Mark Swain.

The event description was “Online access to consumers has given artists more possibilities than ever, but how do you get your voice heard above the din?” and the panel went into a number of related areas to how does one get one’s voice heard in the world.  Hopefully you’ll hear some interesting stories and find some things that help you!

Technical Note:

While we did have a feed off of the PA to record audio for the event, not all of the panelists were able to get near mikes and in some cases the audience members audio was inaudible.  Attempts have been made to smooth some of these large jumps out but despite those efforts the audio quality is spotty in places…..

Panelist Bios:

Bill Coffey  was raised in Douglaston, New York where he began, at age 12, working in a local woodworking shop as he went through school. After college graduation and armed with a degree in photography, Bill joined the corporate world. He worked for companies such as HBO, but always had his hands in woodworking as a budding creative interest. Not one for convention, for a two year stint Bill decided he wanted to learn the art of welding and even worked in that industry for two years.  It is here that independent artist Bill Coffey, orchestrates a graceful collision of the old and the new with stunning results. Bill has a passion for the mountains and a keen eye for using unique resources. Each piece he creates is one of a kind and Bill’s work can be seen in galleries nationwide including NYC, Jackson Hole, WY, Telluride,CO and Glens Falls, NY.

Since Bill’s ideas had outgrown his current gallery space, his new studio is under construction and with an anticipated opening Fall 2014 in Northville, NY. You’ll find it at the intersection of Rustic and Contemporary!!

Michael Dimin “wrote the book” on the art of solo bass, through his groundbreaking books, “The Art of Solo Bass” and “The Chordal Approach” and as columnist for Bass Sessions, Bass Guitar Magazine (UK), Bassics, Bass Frontiers Magazines and as a guest columnist for Bass Player Magazine. Mike has taught clinics and master classes at Gerald Veasley’s Bass Boot Camp, The Bass Collective, the National Summer Guitar Workshop, The Detroit Bass Fest and many more. Mike is a clinician for Zon Guitars, EA Amps, Boomerang Music and Thomastick Infeld Strings. “Mike’s taken his revolutionary approach, unparalleled technique and mastery of the instrument and combined it with a sense of musicianship and lyricism that transcends the site of a solo bassist on stage.”

Yvonne Lieblein uses pedal-to-the-metal curiosity, music (music and more music), and over two decades worth of high-octane experiences as a writer, producer, and marketing strategist to fuel her creative life and passion for helping artists and entrepreneurs flourish. Yvonne’s debut novel, The Wheelhouse Café, will be published later this year and features an 11-song soundtrack. She has produced several music festivals and poetry experiences on the North Fork of Long Island. Yvonne is also a co-founder of theBOOKPROJECT, a novel night out for readers.

As a marketing and communication strategist, Yvonne thrives on delivering innovative solutions and inspiration. She began with a Triple Word Score role at the National SCRABBLEAssociation and then launched her own company, liebleinassociates, in 2003. Yvonne continues to be a champion and compass through her ongoing Mind Your Own Business (MYOB) workshops for entrepreneurs, True-U personal development retreats for women, speaking engagements and consulting projects.


Patrick Longo is an author, keynote speaker, composer, musician, screenwriter, husband and father to two young boys.  He also is the founder of Upaya Productions (ooh-pie-yuh), Upaya Publishing, and Team Earth, an environmental awareness apparel company.  Patrick is a former full-time Creative Writing instructor at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and currently is a literature adjunct instructor at Schenectady County Community College and Director of Talent Acquisition at Transfinder, a global transportation logistics and location intelligence software company.

A graduate of the prestigious Graduate Creative Writing Program at Brockport College, Patrick majored in Creative Writing, with a concentration in poetry.  He moved from NY to San Francisco where he wrote, directed, produced, and composed music for his second play, The Curse of Funston Munley and played drums, sang, and composed music and lyrics for the band Moe Road.  In addition, Patrick was involved in the writing, production, music composition, and promotion for several short films. After “Funston,” Patrick was inspired to write a sung-through musical based on Cassandra, the cursed prophetess of ancient Troy and after raising $23,000 on Kickstarter, is set to debut a concert version of Cassandra, The Musical at Proctors Theater in Schenectady, NY on September 12thand 13th, 2014.

He is the co-author and editor of Great Salespeople Aren’t Born, They’re Hired, as well as Hire, Fire and The Walking DeadFind Your Spinach, The Just Disease, an illustrated children’s fantasy novel named The AcesJeb’s Wish, a traditional novel, and the play Toast and Coffee with Frank.  Patrick is currently writing and publishing pop music, working on a traditional musical, Oops! I Married a Nazi, continuing to pitch his steam punk screenplay, Chasing the Pigeon, finishing his next business books, Service is a Table Stake and I’m a Sales Doctor, Be Patient!, developing curricula for business culture, and making occasional appearances as a personal and business self-development speaker.


Brian McElhiney has written about music and art in the Capital Region and beyond for more than six years. He is also a musician and visual artist, and is currently the Sunday editor of the Leader-Herald in Gloversville.

Mark Swain is a business and faculty member at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.  Mark earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Brunel University (England), a New York State Teaching Certificate from Siena College, and Master in Business Administration (MBA) from University at Albany. Prior to joining FM’s full-time teaching faculty, Mark worked in business for the first ten years of his career in both in the U.K. and the U.S. After leaving the U.K. in 1995, he worked at General Electric as a corporate financial analyst for several years and moved on to become an Associate Director at MVP Healthcare, working in their model office. Mark began teaching in 2003 which included work at Schenectady County Community College as an adjunct professor and teaching business fulltime at Galway High School.

As always, I hope this helps you with your own goals – or at least keeps you amused until the next time!

See you soon and thanks again for listening/reading!



Guit-A-Grip Podcast #16 – “Developing Your Business Plan” Panel Discussion

Hello everyone!

Episode #16

Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #16  is out and available for download/streaming.

Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:
  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:
  • or you can right-click here to download it.
  • or you can stream this episode below.


Show Notes:

BuckMoon Arts Festival Panel Workshops

This summer I had the opportunity to get involved with the BuckMoon Arts Festival which was held at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown, NY.  One of the ideas I had was to create workshops for artists in the area who were looking for ways to monetize their income.  The workshop idea was replaced with a panel discussion with the purpose of utilizing some of the artists and professionals we had access to.  This made for some great discussions and interactions throughout the day.

This podcast is from the “Developing Your Business Plan” panel with panelists Mike Dimin, Yvonne Lieblein and Mark Swain.  The event description was “The business of art – Setting up your business, creating a business plan and building your team.” but it went into a lot of different areas.  If you’re interested in developing your art as a business, you might be interested to listen to hear how these people are already doing it!

Panelist Bios:

Michael Dimin “wrote the book” on the art of solo bass, through his groundbreaking books, “The Art of Solo Bass” and “The Chordal Approach” and as columnist for Bass Sessions, Bass Guitar Magazine (UK), Bassics, Bass Frontiers Magazines and as a guest columnist for Bass Player Magazine. Mike has taught clinics and master classes at Gerald Veasley’s Bass Boot Camp, The Bass Collective, the National Summer Guitar Workshop, The Detroit Bass Fest and many more. Mike is a clinician for Zon Guitars, EA Amps, Boomerang Music and Thomastick Infeld Strings. “Mike’s taken his revolutionary approach, unparalleled technique and mastery of the instrument and combined it with a sense of musicianship and lyricism that transcends the site of a solo bassist on stage.”

Yvonne Lieblein uses pedal-to-the-metal curiosity, music (music and more music), and over two decades worth of high-octane experiences as a writer, producer, and marketing strategist to fuel her creative life and passion for helping artists and entrepreneurs flourish. Yvonne’s debut novel, The Wheelhouse Café, will be published later this year and features an 11-song soundtrack. She has produced several music festivals and poetry experiences on the North Fork of Long Island. Yvonne is also a co-founder of theBOOKPROJECT, a novel night out for readers.

As a marketing and communication strategist, Yvonne thrives on delivering innovative solutions and inspiration. She began with a Triple Word Score role at the National SCRABBLEAssociation and then launched her own company, liebleinassociates, in 2003. Yvonne continues to be a champion and compass through her ongoing Mind Your Own Business (MYOB) workshops for entrepreneurs, True-U personal development retreats for women, speaking engagements and consulting projects. Website:

Mark Swain is a business and faculty member at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.  Mark earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Brunel University (England), a New York State Teaching Certificate from Siena College, and Master in Business Administration (MBA) from University at Albany. Prior to joining FM’s full-time teaching faculty, Mark worked in business for the first ten years of his career in both in the U.K. and the U.S. After leaving the U.K. in 1995, he worked at General Electric as a corporate financial analyst for several years and moved on to become an Associate Director at MVP Healthcare, working in their model office. Mark began teaching in 2003 which included work at Schenectady County Community College as an adjunct professor and teaching business fulltime at Galway High School.

 That’s it for now!  The next podcast will feature the panel discussion from the “Promoting Your Art: Building An Audience and Building A Buzz” with panelists: Bill Coffey, Mike Dimin, Yvonne Lieblein, Patrick Longo, Brian McElhiney and Mark Swain!

As always, I hope this helps you with your own goals – or at least keeps you amused until the next time!

See you soon and thanks again for listening/reading!



Another Lesson From BuckMoon Part II – Opportunities Are Generally Made Not Found

Another Lesson Learned From The BuckMoon Arts Festival

For those of you who tuned in last time, this is the next in a series of lessons I learned from my involvement as a moderator of a series of Artists Panels at the BuckMoon Arts Festival.  (For those of you who missed the previous post, you may want to read part 1 of this series if you haven’t already.)  You can read about the panel discussions and the festival here.

Opportunities Are Generally Made Not Found

The BuckMoon Arts Festival had a series of panel discussions that were intended to bring up issues related to monetizing one’s art.  The second panel in the series was this one:

Promoting Your Art: Building An Audience and Building A Buzz”

Panelists: Bill Coffey, Mike Dimin, Yvonne Lieblein, Patrick Longo, Brian McElhiney and Mark Swain


Description: Online access to consumers has given artists more possibilities than ever, but how do you get your voice heard above the din?


In the panels, I’d ask a series of questions which would then be answered and discussed by the panel members and then I’d try to keep the ball rolling with follow up questions, related anecdotes and other miscellany and then open it up for audience discussion.


As part of this particular panel, we got into an extended discussion on the necessity of networking and making connections with other people working in your field and related fields.

I’m going to stress that again.  A key focus of this discussion was NETWORKING.


At the end of our time, the panel had an audience question.  The audience member was a costume designer who couldn’t figure out why she couldn’t get any work as a designer locally.  In response, every member of the panel spent about 2-5 minutes talking about strategies and options and trying to help this person.


While this was happening, everyone on the panel was excited because one of the panelists, Patrick Longo, was there to talk about how he had successfully kickstarted a project for a stage production of his original material at Proctor’s Theatre that was premiering this September.   Before the panel started, Patrick had introduced himself to EVERYONE in the room and gave them a card promoting his event.  So, even after the panelists introduced themselves at the start of the panel everyone there was familliar with what he was doing.


As panelists, we were all thinking some variation of, “This is great!  We’re actually going to be able to help somebody directly today!”  At the end of the panel I asked everyone to stick around for the last presentation and as we took a break between sessions the person who asked the question stood up, walked out the door and never came back.


We were stunned.  Patrick came up to me and said, “I’m so confused.  What happened there?  I NEED a costume designer.  Why didn’t she come talk to me?”


Unfortunately that response to that opportunity was the answer to that question .

In a profoundly over simplified math equation, opportunities are approximately 60% positioning yourself to be in the right place at the right time and about 40% having the skill set (and the wherewithal) to be able to capitalize on that.

You can practice in your bedroom forever, but you’re never going to meet other players / artists / likeminded people and/or people in a position to be able to help you advance until you go out into the world and meet them.

Related Story #2:

I was looking for a drummer.

Unless you already know talented players in your area or are in a position where you’re well known and making real touring money and can attract upper level professionals – this is always a nightmare proposition.

I reached out to a drummer’s group on Facebook, posted some video and audio and asked if anyone in the area was interested.  One person contacted me to say that he was interested but really busy and probably didn’t have time to play before he went back to the school for the summer. (I’m still baffled at the point of that correspondence).

Another second person messaged me with a contact information and I contacted him.  We played phone tag and finally talked about what I wanted to do and about getting together to play.  He wanted to hear more of my material (he didn’t have any recording of himself – which is always a bad sign) so I sent him some and then I never heard back from him.  So I sent a few followup emails that weren’t returned and about a week later, I called to see if he got the material.

Drummer (Sheepishly): “Oh yeah – I got the material….Uh you’re really good.  I didn’t know if I could play with those odd time signatures.”


Me: “Oh…that’s too bad.  If we had gotten together we could have tried it out and if it didn’t work I would have just played easier material to see if there was a decent chemistry and see if there was something else we could do.”


Drummer: “Oh!  Well I guess we could get together next week.”


Me:  “Sorry.  If you can’t follow up now at this stage, it just tells me that you’re probably going to flake later, and I can’t spend my time hunting people down to find out where they are.  Good luck though.”


That wasn’t said with any snark whatsoever.  I truly did wish him well, but I wasn’t willing to let him take up any more of my time.

A few takeaways

One thing that EVERY artist is guilty of at one (or many) points in his or her career is getting in their own way.  They’re often prone to second guessing themselves and being afraid to open the doors in front of them.

Here are two observations that I try to be mindful of myself

  • Opportunities are made not found. They are made by putting work into developing skill sets and positioning yourself (i.e. being conspicuous) so people can experience what you do.
  • Networking is based on sincere and legitimate connections to people.  I think of it as developing friendships instead trying to capitalize on something from the get go.  If you do have a internal question question when you meet people, make sure it’s  “What can I do for this person?” instead of “What can this person do for me?” and that’s because….
  • It’s more about who knows you than who you know.  My knowing other players won’t get me a gig.  Other players knowing me and knowing what I do (and more importantly what problems I can solve for them) is what will prompt any discussion between people that includes “oh hey let’s get that Scott Collins guy for this”

As always, I hope this helps!

Next time – I’ll talk about lessons I learned from mistakes that I made in setting up the panels!

Thanks for reading!


Lessons From BuckMoon Part I – You Can’t Cross A Burned Bridge

The Dread Return Of The Podcast

First a bit of housekeeping.  I’ve been cleaning up the audio from the panel discussions that I organized from the Buckmoon Arts Festival and I expect to kick off the podcast with a few of those over the rest of the summer.

First a huge thanks to all of the people who participated in the panels:

Bill Coffey
Mike Dimin
Jean Karutis
Yvonne Lieblein
Patrick Longo
Brian McElhiney
Mark Swain

As well as Mahmood Karimi-Hakak for the screening, Elahe Golpare and Afshin Katanchi for stills video and all the staff that pulled the event together.

You can read about the panel discussions and the festival here.

The following illustrative stories comes from those workshops.  Story #2 will be in a followup post.

Story #1:

There was a lot of back and forth with multiple people to try to get them on the panel discussions.  It was a big ask for everyone involved and I hope it set the groundwork for future collaborations, projects etc.

Trying to organize and run something like this with – what seems like an infinite number of variables (an unfamiliar room, an unfamiliar PA, no idea how many people are actually attending, coordinating with all the different people that need to be in place to make sure that panelists are relatively happy)  – is particularly stressful the day of the event.

The only way to manage that stress in any way, shape or form is to try to eliminate as many loose ends before the day of the show as possible and put extra work in well in advance of the event and communicate clearly to everyone involved.

In this case, managing one loose end involved contacting everyone on the panel and making sure that they would still be there and giving them a “one page” of day of event information – directions, food, etc.  Everyone confirmed they would be there but there were two panelists that indicated that they had prior commitments and would have to leave by 3 pm.  That was no problem.

The day of the event, after the opening presentation, I was helping set up the tables for the panel discussion and checked my phone and saw that an unfamiliar number had left me a voice mail a minute or two earlier.  It was one of the panelists who had confirmed attending earlier in the week but had a prior commitment later that day.  He was now calling to cancel his appearance 15 minutes before the start of the panel.  He said he’d gotten sick the night before and that he wanted to try to ride it out to see if he could make it in and now decided he couldn’t and that he didn’t want to get the other panelists sick.   He was sorry but ended the call with, “I hope you’ll keep me in mind for other events in the future and if you know anyone who needs PR services that you’ll send them my way.”

I remember looking at my phone and thinking, “What is this – high school?  I can’t go to class?  My dog ate my homework?”

Particularly for a person who works in Public Relations – I can’t imagine a way to handle that more poorly.

You can’t invite someone over a bridge you just burned.

For those of you starting your music business endeavors, here are some takeaway points:

1.  Communicate early and frequently.  People get sick.  Things happen.  People generally will work with you for whatever problem you have, but you have to communicate early and not leave people in a lurch.  As an organizer, calling me 15 minutes before you’re supposed to be there is only marginally better than not showing.  Also when you’ve already told me that you have a family function later that day that you have to go to, the sick excuse seems spurious at best and doesn’t really cut it.

2.  If you do ever find yourself in that situation, follow up with people.  Had he contacted me the following week and said, “Hey I feel really bad that I couldn’t make it.  I’m sorry I wasn’t there.  How did the panel discussion go?” it would have been a completely different discussion and at the least it would have added more legitimacy to his story.

The fact that he couldn’t be bothered to make a simple followup call or email just told me that he didn’t want to be there.  But as the person runs a PR company, they should be acutely aware of how badly they just burned that bridge.  I don’t always want to do my own PR.  I need help sometimes with things.  But as a potential client, how can I contact you for my project if my experience with you is that you bailed out on a commitment at the last minute and then didn’t follow up?

When you’re a professional, your professionalism will be measured by your actions.  If you don’t conduct yourself in a professional way, you won’t be viewed as professional by others.    It doesn’t always mean that it’s fair.  But it’s how it is.

(The odd exception to this is that if you’re independently wealthy, you don’t necessarily have to be professional as you can pay people to take on those services for you.  But in those cases, people only work with you because they have money and when the money’s gone, typically so are they.)

If you operate in the public eye you need to act like someone is always watching you.  That doesn’t mean being paranoid but, for example, you need to assume that if you’re inebriated in a public place and making a loud fool out of yourself, that video footage will show up online somewhere.

Conduct your matters with honesty and integrity. If you act unprofessional, you can’t expect a professional reference.

In the next post, I’ll tell another story from the Festival that highlights almost everything that’s wrong about how musicians navigate the music business (and it has nothing to do with file sharing or spotify).

As always thanks for reading!


The Power Of Negative Example or How NOT To Network Part 1

The Power Of Negative Example

Years ago, I had helped some friends of mine organize a music festival at CalArts.  I was originally brought in because they “thought I’d be good with money”, but pretty quickly I ended up taking on a co-leadership role and helping to organize an event that had 40+ acts in three performance spaces for a full day.  It was exhilarating and exhausting and in many ways worth all of the work that went into it.

After the festival, one of the co-organizers way kind enough to say the following to me.

“You know I learned an incredible lesson from you.  I kept thinking about how we were going to do something and your approach was, ‘It’s fine that we want to do that but this is what I don’t want to have happen…’ and just making sure a few things didn’t go wrong made it much easier to get the things we wanted to go right done.”

Success can be due to a myriad number of factors but when things fail, they typically only do so for one or two reasons.

Therefore, if you set up the basic conditions for your desired outcome to occur and then actively work against things that could go wrong, it’s much easier to troubleshoot than trying to create all of the conditions for success.

In other words, the “don’t do this” list is usually much shorter and more actionable  than the “do this” list.

With that in mind, I’m going to detail some serious pitfalls that I’ve seen and experienced in networking.  Networking is a vital component to artistic survival in the 21st century.  If you don’t build communities with people you’re going to be relegated to creating things in isolation and for most people that’s unsustainable.

Look for the deeper lesson

My recommendation with this approach is in looking at what goes wrong with networking look for the deeper lesson and see what you can do right.

How NOT to network


1.  View networking as an end goal.

I could have also said, use networking as an intransitive verb.  “We are going to network with that person…” is something that I heard come out of more than one music business major’s mouth while I was at Berklee.

Networking is a process of building a mutually advantageous relationship with other people, not a way to manipulate people into getting what you want from them.

Go to a music business conference and you will see the people who are there solely to network a thousand miles away.  Everyone else will as well.  There’s a stench of desperation that will clear a room out faster than a pungent fart.

2.  Be insincere.

Some of the more Machiavelli-insprired readers may take a page from The Prince and try to “network” and hide their self-serving intentions.  I would advise you to just be honest and transparent when dealing with people, but even if you were approaching this from the most Machiavellian perspective, I would say that there is no advantage to being insincere. Most people are not good enough actors to pull this off, and there’s no reason to.  Even if you were to fool people at the offset, they’re going to figure it out eventually.

3.  Try to capitalize on a non-existant relationship at the get-go.

I had someone contact me out of the blue from CalArts who wanted me to help him promote his release.  He wrote the e-mail like we hung out all the time or had a personal connection and in truth, I only vaguely knew who he was from his dealings with another person.  If this was a really good friend of mine, or someone that I knew it would be fine but it just came across as shallow manipulation.

I never think of networking as such.  I think of it as making friends and acquaintances.  I ask people I know for favors, and give favors to friends who ask me for them.  THAT’S networking.  If you approach networking with the same approach as you’d have in making new friends it will take you much further in getting you to the end result.

4.  Make it all about you.

No one likes a parasite.  If you don’t have a symbiotic relationship with people they won’t help sustain you in the long run.  Also, being really needy and constantly asking people for things is another way to get people off your radar.

5.  Don’t pay it back.

Ask for a favor and then be too busy to help people with something when they need it.  See how long that sustains you in the industry.

6.  Do poor work.

This one isn’t so obvious but you have to have something to offer to a relationship.   If you don’t play particularly well and you’re billing yourself as a performer that’s going to be a problem.  If you’re a singer songwriter and you neither sing or play well there’s not going to be a whole lot of reason to recommend you.  Building relationships is easier when you are that person people go to for things.

7.  Be irresponsible and/or don’t follow up.

This one boggles my mind.   The number of times that people don’t show for things or don’t do what they say they’re going to do is astounding to me.  Those people tend to move to the periphery of the scene or become absent entirely.

Related to #6, if you’re the best at what you do people may cut you a little slack, but if you flake out on things, people just won’t deal with you.


An Illustrative Story

There’s a lot more about networking that  I’ll cover in part 2, but in the meantime here’s an illustrative story that will cover much of what I’ve talked about.

I got an email from a student at Berklee who read my bio and wanted to talk with me about being a guitarist in New York City and wanted to know if we could meet up.  Even though I never got any assistance from anyone (much less alumni) when I went to school, I thought I’d help this guy anyways by paying it forward even though I knew that this meeting would fall into a professional guitarist/life-coaching area that I am generally compensated for.

We met at a Pret A Manger.  He asked a lot of random questions about what I did and about the scene and wrote down all of my answers.  I was shocked at how little research he had done.  He had been in the city for 3 days and hadn’t even picked up a copy of the Voice to see what was going on.    I gave him the best answers I could and helped him identify a specific niche that he could serve for his teaching and gave him a number of contacts.  He had a small journal and took about 5 pages of notes.  I gave him a card (which he left on the table) and wished him well.  I never heard from him again.

The sad thing is that I’m sure someone in a music business class told him to try to network with people already in the scene and while it really couldn’t have gone much worse for him from a networking angle, I’m also sure he thought the meeting went really really well.

There’s so much to learn from the mistakes above!  But let me put the scenario in a different light that may affect how you approach networking in the future.

Other than a story, what do I get out of this interaction?

You have to give people something if you’re going to continue a relationship with them.  Even if it’s nothing more than a thank you or offering to get them a cup of coffee.

If he had bought a book, or directed people to my website, or even sent a follow up e-mail that simply said, “thank you for your time” it might have given me something.

Do I regret helping him?  Absolutely not, but that door is closed for him in the future.

I’ll never hear from that guy again and it’s too bad for him because if he had handled that interchange better, I could have really helped him get the pieces in place that he needed to relocate and do what he wanted to do.

The golden question of networking then isn’t, “What’s in it for me?” but instead is, “What’s in it for us?”

In part 2 of this post, I’ll talk about how not to network with regards to getting reviewed.

Hope to see you there.  As always thanks for reading, I hope it helps!


The Greener Grass Or Some MisAdventures In Self-Publishing

Welcome to the Book Bizness


As an author, I had two bizarre Amazon related experiences last week.

First, I saw this:

Guitar Book Used Price

Click to see at full size

Which was odd, because 1.  The cover art still isn’t updated on Amazon and 2.  The new book is $31.50 on Amazon – so I have no idea why it’s someone would list it at that price. (It’s not going to sell at that price but even if it did I, unfortunately, wouldn’t see any money from that sale.)

Second, I got a list of book sales from Lulu.

Lulu is a POD (Print-on Demand Service) that prints physical books and distributes physical and digital versions of the books.  The main reason to use Lulu is that they have a distribution deal with Amazon – which is the largest book distributor on the planet.

One line on the spreadsheet caught my eye in particular:

Format Channel Quantity Earnings Author Name
Paperback Amazon 1 $0.3 Scott Collins

Yep.  My “profit” on one of my books turned out to be $.30.

How does this happen?

Well…in short –  it happens when you make a deal and parameters change that you couldn’t anticipate or

Sometimes you can make the best laid plans and not have things turn out the way you expected them to be. 

Guit-A-Grip is going to be undergoing a major transformation, refocus and relaunch as we go into 2014.  This article will hopefully be a part of that process but in the meantime – how I got to the point of only getting a $.30 return on a book from Amazon is a longer examination in motivation and execution and whether examined from a business perspective, an entrepreneurial lesson or a how-to/how not to instructional – I hope that you’ll find it very much grounded in The Why.

The most bizarre path to writing a book I can imagine.

Okay.  Here’s how this starts.

It’s 2005.  I’m in Boston.  I’m playing in several bands.  I’m not making any money.  In fact, I’m outlaying money for rehearsal spaces and rehearsing and recording for several projects that are not going to see the light of day.  My previous assessment around 2000-2001 of the live scene imploding is proving to be accurate.  The traditional model of revenue from clubs, bars etc. is dead – and I realize that it’s going to be another few years before everyone understands what the odor is, and that I need to be ahead of the curve.

So, I come up with a plan.  The only lucrative area of my musical endeavors at that time was coming from teaching.  It was something that I was fairly good at and something that I enjoyed doing.  I quickly came to the conclusion that if I was teaching in an academic environment

  • I could make a reasonable living
  • I would have access to things that would help me make music
  • I would theoretically have a supportive environment to create that music in

So I had to go to grad school. This plan, however, had a huge problem.  From an academic standpoint, my undergraduate education had been a dismal failure.  I’ve detailed this in substantive depth in podcast #2 and podcast #7 so I’m not going to go into it here.  But needless to say, I grew a lot as a player after my undergrad experience and the concept of going to grad school (and not making the same mistakes I made in my undergrad) was appealing to me.

So I did three things.

1.  I researched grad school programs that I was interested in.  I found two – The Third Stream studies at New England Conservatory and The Multi-Focus Guitar program at California Institute of The Arts.  CalArts was appealing to me because I was familiar with the Krushevo cd and really dug Miroslav Tadic’s playing.  Also, I had read a number of quotes from him in Guitar Player and I sensed a kindred spirit in some ways.  After meeting him at the CalArts campus, I knew that that was where I needed to go.

2.  I pulled together a 2-song demo with the strongest playing I could pull off.  I also sent a copy of the Tubtime CD (which in all honesty probably sealed the deal more than the 2-song recording because when I met Miroslav again it seemed like he really dug Tubtime).

3.  I pulled out an ace in the hole.  I had been working on researching 12-tone patterns to add some additional dimension to my playing and I had done about two years of research mapping out every possible 12-tone pattern based on symmetrical divisions of the octave.

Previously, I had written a 300 page book (The title:

The Guitar Pattern Technique Reference Book

A systematic positional mapping out of the guitar fretboard for technical and compositional resources

Volume I: One Note Per String Patterns

rolled right off the tongue)

that was literally a series of photocopies that I took a sharpie marker to marking out all possible positional fingering patterns with 1 note-per-string on the low E string.

It  took about a year and a half to do (in the middle of the worst living situation I was ever involved in) and had 1 breakdown and 2 major revisions.  I had it bound at KinKos with a vellum cover and sent it out with a cover letter to some publishers (and Brian Buckethead Carroll if I recall) to see if there was any interest and (not surprisingly) there were no bites.

As a commercial release – it was a huge failure and the loss of 18 months or so.

As a book – it was my first success.

I don’t view it as a success because it was well written (it wasn’t) or because it was well executed (it wasn’t in particular) it was a success because it was a book that I conceptualized and executed.  I had to learn how to lay out pages, how to write (in the sense of explaining my ideas), how to edit and how to budget.

This was 1994.  I think each book cost me $25 or $30 to print.  I remember spending close to $300 getting them out into the world.  I still have 2 copies.   I’m leafing through one of them right now and it makes me wince and smile at the same time.

Basically, I spent $300 to put myself on an internship for how to produce a book.  And I learned a good lesson on how not to release a book.

It was a damn cheap education and it became the foundation for the aforementioned ace in the hole.  While I knew that my undergrad education wasn’t going to win me any points with an admissions committee, I also knew I could take the research I did and pull it into a book.  I knew I could avoid some of the mistakes I made with my previous book and make it a much tighter thesis.

I realized that if I could throw down, essentially a graduate level thesis paper (a typical graduation requirement of a grad level program) as part of my ADMISSIONS APPLICATION – it would be difficult to ignore my application and no one would have any question of my ability to handle the intellectual rigor of graduate school.

So I went to work.

Mind you, I was working a day gig, playing in two bands, teaching and trying to move from Boston to California at the same time.  It was nuts.  But I got it done and a key factor in that was Lulu and the POD model.

Print On Demand

It turns out that technologically, a lot had happened between 1994 and 2004.  Doing what I wanted to do in 1994 would have required going to something called a vanity press.  A vanity press is (soon to be was) a place where authors would pay a publishing company to press a run of books (usually 500 or a thousand) and then would have to sell the books to try to make back money.

For the musicians out there reading this, it was essentially pay-to-play for book releases.  Authors would end up giving most of the copies away in the hopes of getting reviewed or selling them to friends or family.  A slim majority would break even and an even slimmer margin made any money on it.

The print on demand model changed that model.  Once printing became something that could be automated and scaled on a small level, authors could have people order books  and have them printed and shipped as the orders came in.  There was no need to maintain an inventory.  The cost of becoming an independent author with a self published book went from thousands of dollars to nearly nothing.

So I went with Lulu for the book.  I used other books as a model for layout and the initial 12-tone release looked a thousand times better than my first effort.  Lulu sent a copy, and I put the copy in with the application materials.  Eyebrows were raised and I got a scholarship and went to CalArts.

A funny thing happened in the meantime.  It turns out that there was a Quartz error in the PDF conversion for the document and that meant the physical book I held in my hand (for reasons no one has ever been able to explain to me), interchanged every sharp and every flat.

In other words. 200 + pages of the book were wrong.

So I re-did the book. (This was the first time but I’ll talk about the 2nd time later and put it up on Lulu for sale.  I was making about $10 a book.  Mind you that initial book, Symmetrical  12-Tone Patterns For Improvisation, was the answer to a question that no one was asking.  I think it sold 10 copies or so.

As a revenue source, a complete utter failure.

As a device to get into grad school – it was a wild success.

Also, it brought my game up to another level.  I got deeper into book design and my writing was stronger than my previous book.

School Daze

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum.

  1. It turns out that while I didn’t make the same mistakes I made in undergrad (I had really good grades for a change in grad school), I did make all new mistakes.  My biggest mistake was that I was so focused on getting the skill set I thought I needed for teaching, that I focused on all the things I couldn’t do rather than improve the things I could do.  So instead of putting a good foot forward and then making that an awesome foot, I put a bad foot forward and had a mediocre foot to show for it when I was done.  I might be unnecessarily harsh on myself here.  I had some great experiences while I was there – but I was so focused on my post college plans that I didn’t get the things I needed out of that experience until I was out the door.  What kind of a moron has access to a Vinny Golia and doesn’t study with him because he’s working on his fingerpicking?  Right here (Thank GOD that I had the opportunity to play with Vinny on multiple occasions afterwards and get my ass handed to me in the best lessons imaginable later).
  2. Another funny thing happened – this time in 2006 when I got out of school.  The market crashed and it seemed like every teaching job in the world went underground for a while.
  3. Still holding onto the teaching idea, it became REALLY obvious that no one was going to take me seriously unless I had a PhD (or to a much lesser degree a DMA).  I just got done with a 2-year grad school stint, I wasn’t ready for a 10 years of a doctoral program to get an ethnomusicology doctorate.
  4. However, while at CalArts, I started teaching a lot of lessons and it turned out that I DID have a unique way of presenting things and looking at the guitar.  I started writing my guitar opus and created the 2,000 page monstrosity that got re-edited and written into 5 books and counting.

The trouble with tribbles

So, with one book under my arm – I started releasing other books.

Here’s what I did right:

(note: some of this was by design but a lot of it was by dumb luck)

  • I cultivated an audience.

I was developing a lot of content on the website and writing for and other blogs.  I had some good web traffic and people who were digging my approach.  On the minus side, this was incredibly time consuming and didn’t generate any income.  When I say incredibly time consuming, a sample blog lesson entry might have taken 20-30 hours, for a free blog post.

  • I strengthened my writing.

Again, I wasn’t making money from the posts I was doing, but my writing was getting much more focused and I got really good at generating ideas quickly and editing graphics quickly.  Both really useful skills later.

  • I had a unique promotional angle

So, one idea I came up with, that turned out to be a really good one was that I did pre-release sales of the book.  Basically the pitch was, I’m releasing this book.  If you buy it now, you’re getting a rough version at a much cheaper rate than the final book, but I’ll send you a free update (or updates as the case would be).

A couple of interesting things happened from this approach.

1.  People felt like they were getting a good deal.

2.  People felt like they were helping support me.

3.  I got to edit the book over a longer period of time that wouldn’t have ben afforded by a one time deadline – thus making the final product that much stronger. (this philosophy was employed later.  I had stopped printing the 12-tone book because I felt that my writing and relationship had completely evolved since the first edition – so I re-wrote it and released it as a new book in 2013.  I’d still argue that it might be the best thing I’ve written thus far).

4.  I was getting a mailing list that I could contact with every subsequent release.

Point #4 turned out to be invaluable as the other books were released. The percentage of people that I contacted on the mailing list that bought multiple books was about 95%.

  • Give people value.

That was something I was really adamant about in making the books.  I didn’t want anyone to feel like they were ripped off.  When I saw print editions that were 30-40 pages and sold for $30 and it got under my skin a bit.  So I decided to release 300 page books for that price and still do better financially than I would do in a traditional publishing deal.  (Here’s a telling story – I had a guy complain that $10 for a PDF was too high.  I recommended that he buy the $5 light edition I had on fiverr at the time and see if that was a good deal.  He liked it.  He then bought one book at the $10 rate and subsequently bought ALL of the books I had as pdfs 2 days later.  He never complained about the price after that because the content was there.)

In a related note, once I had final versions of the books, I offered bundle deals for the books.  Which turned out to be smart because people were hesitant to spend $15 a pdf but were psyched to spend $20 for 2, $30 for 3 or $40 for 4.  Regarding this issue of providing value with pricing here’s

A brief diversion with a music business book publishing lesson

The first thought I had when I did my books was to get them published.  I had a friend who was published on Mel Bay and he told me something that was confirmed by Mel Bay – namely, that if I sold my books on Mel Bay that my return would be about $1 per book.

Many musicians reading this post will likely look at those margins and think about CD (remember those?) profit margins many artists on major labels tried to FIGHT for.  And this is highlighted by this quote, “Well that might seem low – but they are ethical and they do pay.  I have several other books with other publishers that I’ve never seen a dime from.”

So this isn’t the Steven King model where someone throw a ridiculous amount of money out at you, it’s – you put a lot of work into a book and then get to call yourself a “published author”.

I figured I’d call myself a published author and make a better profit margin.

Full disclosure here:

On a $30 book.  My profit margin is probably $6-$8.  To get $10 or $20 a book, I’d have to sell it for closer to the $50 range, and while I might have been able to sell a few at that price point, I really wanted to make sure that the reader had value.

That’s the plus side of self publishing.  You get to make those calls.

On the minus side, it’s all on you.  That sounds like a plus, but it’s a double edged sword.  The writing is on you.  The editing is on you.  The layout is on you.  And you can ask for help, but you’re going to burn out friendships quickly.  Believe me on that one.

True independent self-publishing is not for everyone.  Now I’m not talking about going to bookbaby with 2-5k and having them release a book for you, I’m talking about taking it all on yourself and having to do everything on your own.  It gets easier and harder simultaneously and it’s not for the thin skinned.

Okay I talked about some things I did right – here’s a host of things I did wrong.

  • I took all opinions as equal.

I had some people complain about the 2-12 hours it sometimes took to process their paypal order.  By some I mean 3.  Typically I did it in the same hour, but in one case the order came in at 1 am and I was sick and passed on on cold medication and didn’t get to it until the following day.  In my memory there were 10-12 increasingly angry e-mails in my box when I woke up, but in reality it was probably 5.  Even with the note I put on the site about a 1 day turn around, some people wanted instantaneous turn around and that was when I went fully to Lulu.

  • I put all the orders on Lulu and Amazon.

Again, this had positives and negatives.  My reason for doing it was to give customers instant access to digital content, and I still think that was a good move.

The problem is, I don’t get a list from Lulu of WHO orders anything from them or from any of the distributors just when it was ordered and what the revenue was.  So the entire previous model I used of being able to contact a mailing list went out the window.

  • I spread out my message platforms.

I thought that being on Guitar-Muse and all of these other sites would drive traffic to my site.  Turns out that I was driving traffic to other sites.  Furthermore, by focusing content on Guitarchitecture, Guitagrip and Guitar-Muse, I was dividing my readership between multiple places, also bringing down my rankings for GuitArchitecture in Google.

  • I relied on forums for traffic

I was spending a lot of time at one point contributing content to various lists.  I never hawked my products but if I had a free lesson up on a site – I’d post it on a lesson page of a forum as an FYI. “Hey if anyone’s looking for help with sweep picking there’s a new post here type of thing.  That got me kicked off of the Guitar Player Forum (they still don’t understand what a forum is and that’s why there’s was still merde last time I went) and ultimately got my wrist slapped on several others.  I was also submitting to Guitar-Squid for a while and the weekly e-mail they sent was generating a lot of traffic.

The problem with that model is that people would go to the page, read one item and then immediately go back to whatever they were doing.  It wasn’t building any kind of loyal readership, it was just intaking people and sending them out just as quickly.

  • I assumed that content was what mattered academically.

My thinking in getting books done was that if I didn’t have a doctorate degree that being an author with a number of substantial reference books under my belt would provide some clout.  It turns out that many academic circles are firmly entrenched in peer review.  While there are a number of positives that occur (and the necessity for peer review particularly in science publications) the process can hold up publication for years – if not decades in some circumstances and many of those books are published by the academic equivalent of vanity presses.  Small runs of a 1,000 books or so written by academics for academics being sold at inflated prices to make back their investment.

That IS changing and the stigma around self publishing is changing, but there are still a lot of places that look down their nose at people who work outside the traditional system.  So, whether that is a mistaken perception in the long run remains to be seen.

  • I didn’t understand the downside to being sold on Amazon.

I say this as someone who is a faithful Amazon purchaser, there is a dark side of publishing on working with Amazon.

First, here’s what happens with a book on Lulu.

Let’s say I decide to sell a paperback book.  Lulu says, “Here’s what we charge to make a book, how much money do you want to make?” then the calculate a price based on that.

Here’s a Price Breakdown when you go offsite

An accounting miracle happens when you want to sell on platforms OTHER than LULU.  When you get to the review process, you see two profit margins.  It looks like this:

Revenue Model

So that $6.75 you were making per book – just went to $2.30 a book if it’s sold elsewhere because some money has go to whoever is selling it.  My initial thought was, “geesh – that percentage seems really high – but it’s still $1.30 more than I’m making on Mel Bay and the important thing is that people are reading the book.  If they like it, perhaps they’ll get more or tell other people.”

Then the squeeze comes in.

You see, Amazon decided that they wanted to be able to sell the books at the lowest possible price.  So they set a 10% discount on the books from Lulu on their site.  They can impose that on Lulu because they’re so huge.  That’s why my $35 book sells for $31.50 on Amazon.

Guess who eats part of that 10% discount?

You got it.

And that’s how $6.75 goes to $2.30 -> $.30 in one fell swoop.

So why sell on Amazon then?

Because they’re the largest seller on the planet.  They can sell my books in Canada, The UK, Italy, France, Japan or anywhere else in the world that they have a portal.

When Hootie and the Blowfish signed with a major label, they had a dilemma,  which was that as an independent act – they were making something like $5 a CD profit selling them at shows and would only make $1 a cd on a major label.  They took a shot and realized that if they were selling MILLIONS of cds that they’s ultimately make a lot more money even at only $1 a cd.

So, that $.30 was extreme.  In general my books on Amazon make between $1-$2.  So it’s not great money, but it’s something and it’s convenient for people who don’t want to buy pdfs.

Why not sell Kindle versions?

Largely, because the books are heavily graphics driven and would have to be completely reformatted for Kindle.  I don’t know that I’d ever make the money back on them.   Also, I’m happy I have those books out, but I don’t want to keep working on the same material endlessly.  It’s time to move on.

If you make more money from PDFS- why sell physical books then?

I like books.

My mom taught me to read and a read my first book at 2.   I like physical books, and there’s an entire generation of people who like physical books.

Having said that, I like ebooks and REALLY like the kindle app on my phone, but, especially when playing guitar, there’s something about having something tactile…about having a physical object on a music stand or a desk that allows people to interact with the material in a different way.  (Some people will doubt this but did you know that it’s been proven that it takes longer to read an e-book than a physical version of the same material?    Researchers have no idea as of this writing why that occurs, only that it does.)

It’s about depth of experience.  It’s why I don’t tweet, even though from a business standpoint, it’s idiotic for me not to tweet.  I don’t use Twitter because it’s part of the ADD mindset that that our technology encourages and that our society cultivates.

It’s why I write 4,000 word articles instead of just posting a video.  It’s not about the 10,000 that will read a sentence and click to the next thing.  It’s about the 100 people who read through the material and really get something from it.

I write books because I think the material is important and I think it will help people either because the material itself (or the process behind that material) helped me.

I release the material in forms I think people will respond to.

I do it in a way to make money –  to keep going  – to help people and thus – help myself.

So you have a reason why (a higher why? a higher calling?) and you adapt.  You learn from your mistakes, try to anticipate things that won’t work out the way you like they will (like getting a $.30 royalty) and try not to make them the next time.

(In a related note – this website is adapting…but that’s a whole ‘nother story for another day. But I’ll talk about that more as we get closer).

In the meantime, as always I hope this helps and as always, thanks for reading.


Do You View Your (Music) Career Like An Actor?

I just saw a documentary on Netflix called “That Guy Who Was In That Thing” which is about a number of instantly recognizable character actors and their paths to get to claw their way to the middle.  ; )

The documentary is thoroughly engaging by being both entertaining and thought-provoking.  There also happen to be a number of parallels between performing in the film/television industry and performing in the music industry.  The subjects spoke at length about the difficulties that come with the ebb and flow of work that their careers take.  They talked about how they were (and are) out of work for years before they get a few gigs or hit a streak of work and all of them had stories of other parallel jobs that they worked while trying to make a living acting and tales of losing gigs for any one of a dozen reasons.

Two things grabbed me right away.

1.  The subjects spoke at length about how the number of actors out there willing to work for less has caused many of them to make less money than they did before. The thinking being, we don’t have to pay you that anymore because there are 10,000 other people who will kill to sit in that chair for less money.  The number of parallels with this and recording musicians (and performing artists) was striking. I’m paraphrasing here, “You realize that they don’t need you to fill the role, they just need to fill the role.”  Does this sound familiar to anyone performing and/or recording music out there?

2.  Musicians might actually have it easier than actors.

Here’s my thinking behind this.  Actors need vehicles to act in.  So the model they use is basically variations for  Advertising / Televison / Film.  For a TV show, this might mean

  • auditioning for a pilot with hundreds of people
  • getting a callback with maybe 50 people
  • getting a second callback with 20 people
  • doing a test with 5-6 people
  • having a series of negotiating calls made to see what you will cost them
  • testing in front of the studio executives this will limit you to a group of maybe 3 people
  • if chosen, you then shoot a pilot
  • the pilot then has to get picked up and
  • then you hope that the series doesn’t get cancelled after the first few episodes

The interesting thing to me was that this paralleled musicians and major labels.  The thinking was for years that you had to be in a band and signed to a label to have a career. Online distribution changed that model forever.

Having said that, artists on labels are/were the only people getting tour support. (They’re  generally the only people to also get tour support via sponsorship. )

For actors, working with studios means you get to keep your SAG card.  You get to keep your benefits and the SAG card is key to the audition process (and the securing of roles).

It doesn’t say it directly in the documentary – but some of these actors slogging it out in endless auditions seem to be afraid that the new (up and coming) actors are just getting pulled from YouTube.

I don’t think it’s the case for major films – and won’t be for a while.

Studio legend Tommy Tedesco once related a story where some MI students went with him on a session and one of them said, “I don’t understand.  Someone who’s been playing a year could play that part.”  And Tommy said, “yes. that’s probably true.”

The student pushed it more and said, “But you make triple scale, why do they pay all of that money to bring you in when they could get someone to do it much cheaper?”

Tedesco replied, “Because when you spend 50 or 75,000 on a recording session with an orchestra, you don’t want to lose money because some guy might screw up his part.  You’re going to get the best players on the session to make sure that absolutely nothing goes wrong.”

Again, I’m not knocking YouTube – but a YouTube performance doesn’t mean you can handle the rigors of any gig that comes your way.  While it might get you an audition, in and of itself, it’s never going to give you traction if you don’t have the skills to back it up.

Here’s what bugged me about the documentary.

No one talked about going DIY.

No one talked about making their own films.  Writing and staging their own plays.  Starting their own companies. All they talked about was a variation of the formula:

Get call from agent + audition + a dozen factors MAY = a gig.

It’s easy to view a music career like this.  Waiting for a shot – the right moment, the right contact – to make a big pay out.  It’s the lottery mentality to which I say, “sure, put a couple of bucks in and see if you get lucky, but putting your life savings in it probably won’t pay off.”

Those development contracts like Joan Crawford were on back in the day are never coming back to the movie houses.  Those days of getting signed to a label and having a carer carefully cultivated over multiple releases are never coming back.

Elvis already left the building.

While I’m fully in favor of seeking out opportunity – by and large you make your own opportunities and the formula for that is:

Do really good work + Do it frequently + Affect, motivate and/or move other people = being the go to person for “that thing”.

If what you do services a niche audience, you might not get rich but it’s probably the best way to build a long-term career.

Thanks for reading!