Earlier this year a friend introduced me to Groupmuse. It's "an online social network that connects young classical musicians to local audiences through concert house parties".
After you register for a free account, you can RSVP to attend a Groupmuse. If the host accepts your RSVP Groupmuse will charge you $3 (think of it as a reasonable convenience fee). Then once at the event, you will be encouraged to donate $10. 100% of your donation will go to the musician(s). The host does not make any money from hosting a Groupmuse.
The event format is straightforward. Arrive at the hosts home, socialize with the other attendees (typically 15-30), and then enjoy 60-80 minutes of music (broken up by an intermission). I've found the hosts to be hospitable, the musicians superb, and the other attendees friendly and diverse (it's not just a room full of musicians).
I've attended 3 in Brooklyn and each one was a memorable and moving experience. One Groupmuse I attended took place on a rooftop in Fort Greene. On a warm summer night it was quite a stage:
I have a vivid memory from this performance. A few seconds into their first song, the cellist's cello case tips over and falls on her. Only slightly fazed, she doesn't stop playing and the music continues. By the end of the piece it was as if nothing had happened. And by the end of the performance most of the audience had forgotten that it even happened.
Musicians have a high standard for live performances. No matter what the issue (equipment failure, stand with sheet music tips over, string breaks) you keep playing. In the face of adversity, keep playing. Because in the end no one remembers the challenge you faced, they remember the music. And if you don't make it seem like a big deal, then the audience may not even notice.
As a musician it's a standard I've held when I've performed live. And I've been trying to apply it in other facets of my life. For example at work, in those moments when things seem to be falling apart (the cello case is falling on me), I stay the course and keep playing. I don't stop the performance seeking acknowledgement for the predicament I'm in. My colleagues saw the case fall, they know it's hard. They don't need me to tell them that, they are their to hear the music.
Don't make excuses when things get hard. We know your situation is hard, because in some variant so is ours. Instead of reminding us, just keep playing.
I ended part 3 expressing my dread for recording the final guitar takes. Hard to believe I wrote that part 5 months ago. Life got in the way and I indulged every excuse to procrastinate recording.
But I'm happy to report that guitar recordings have wrapped!
Part of the reason for the delay was prioritizing a block of time to setup my recording environment, get my guitar and playing chops in shape, and then do the actual recording. The time to set and warm up would not warrant the 20-30 minutes I would then have available to record. So I finally set aside time during two weekends and was able to finish recording.
I took a different approach recording this song compared to the recording process on Legacy. With that project I recorded by section, until I had takes I was happy with. For this song, I played the full song multiple times and recorded each time as a separate take. I then edited together the best sounding sections from each take to make the final track. In other words I may have used Verse 1 from take 2, Chorus 1 from take 1, etc. This approach allowed me to spend more time focusing on playing, and less time on trying to get a perfect take on a certain section.
One of my biggest challenges while recording is playing the role of engineer. The simple task of starting and stopping the recording on the computer can throw off my momentum. Plus when I hear the same section over and over, it becomes difficult to discern the good takes from the bad. Playing the dual role of musician and engineer is also part of the reason it took me a while to get these recordings done.
The next step in this project is to find other musicians to collaborate with on this song. At a minimum the song needs drums, bass, and vocals. I may add some additional instruments later, but that is still to be determined. Once the missing parts are recorded, the song will need to get mixed, mastered, and then it will be ready for release!
Panda, panda, panda, panda, panda.
Walking the streets of Brooklyn I passed a group of kids playing a song through a portable speaker.
It was catchy and the beat sounded great. I caught some of the lyrics and googled "panda song". That's when I realized that I had come across a hit.
"Panda", by 19 year old Brooklyn native Desiigner was released as an iTunes single on December 15, 2015. As of this writing, the music video on YouTube has 80 million views (published May 17, 2016) and the audio only version has 242 million views (published December 20, 2015).
Let's put these numbers in perspective. Taylor Swift's Bad blood has 919 million views (published May 17, 2015) and Drake's Hotline Bling has 843 million views (published October 26, 2015). Taylor is getting about 65 million views a month and Drake 93 million. These are megastar numbers for two megastar artists. Desiigner getting about 40 million views a month on his video. This almost puts him into the same league of attention (for a single) as two of the biggest stars in the music business.
With such rapid ascension I became curious on the backstory to Panda. How did the song come about?
The story is a modern day example that shows how anyone with talent, drive, persistence, a bit of luck, and a computer with an internet connection can make it in the music business.
Panda's story begins with a 22-year old aspiring record producer from Manchester England. Adnan Khan, aka Menace, was working at a mobile repair center by day and producing beats by night.
Perusing the 3 year history of clips I was impressed by his talent and professional quality of all his beats. But I was even more impressed by his persistence. He consistently put out new beats (just browse his Instagram posts). And he built a business out of it:
About a year ago he posts this beat. Sound familiar? It should, it's the Panda beat.
Shortly after Menace released the beat, a 19 year old from Brooklyn New York purchased it for $200. Sidney Royel Selby III, aka Desiigner, had a vision for the beat, and he turned it into Panda.
In a period of a year, two kids from humble beginnings jumped to the top of the music charts. Panda hit Platinum and number 1 on US Billboard:
And to top it off, the beat was sampled by Kanye West on his latest album, "The Life of Pablo".
Desiigner has since signed a record deal with G.O.O.D music and a publishing deal with SONGS Music Publishing.
You can say these guys got lucky but it's not that simple. Menace set himself up for success by showing up for 3+ years. He consistently put out new beats and promoted his tracks. He worked on his craft and persisted. Desiigner on an interview with Genius talks about his past musical endeavors and being the guy in the neighborhood that people came to for music. He put out original tracks and collaborated with other artists. Both guys built a portfolio of work and Panda became the break out track.
The music industry has changed. Like starting a tech startup anyone with drive, talent, and resilience can achieve great levels of success. The secret is to create something people want. A hit song is elusive. There is no secret formula. But Panda has proven that you don't need to be famous. You don't need a label. And you don't need expensive studio equipment to make something big.
Today's music business is driven by streaming culture. And streaming culture doesn't care about albums. It cares about tracks. Bite size and shareable tracks. As a listener, why listen to a 10 track album when I want to stream a playlist of singles? As an artist, why record 10 tracks if my listeners only want to listen to a few?
The new music business is about collaboration. A kid from Manchester can unite with a kid from Brooklyn to create a Platinum track. If there is a startup opportunity, it's here. What will be the platform to foster more collaborations like the one between Desiigner and Menace? Was their collaboration a byproduct of chance? Or are there elements that can be pulled out, automated, and put into a product that strategically unites people to collaborate and create.
A low barrier to entry has resulted in a proliferation of new music. Anyone can setup a home studio and record a track. But it takes a certain combination (timing, production, hitting a cultural zeitgeist) to make something special like Panda. The success of Panda has provided Desiigner and Menace with something even more coveted than financial success, attention. In today's world attention is the gold standard, it's invaluable.
These guys have an audience now, and we eagerly await to hear what they put out next.
In college I spent two years with my friend and keyboardist Brian co-writing 60+ minutes of Progressive Rock music. The writing process was straightforward. Brian would play a chord progression and I'd come up with a guitar part to accompany it, or vice-versa. In a perfect world each of our first ideas (riffs, chords, arrangements) would fit perfectly together and eventually that would happen enough times to fill a song. I'd call that a frictionless creative experience.
Our creative process was more turbulent. Brian would play something and I may comment that it doesn't sound right. Or I may play something and he'd comment that it doesn't fit. And we'd go back and fourth until we had ideas we were both happy with. But we didn't always reach a place of harmony. Then whoever has the greatest conviction for their idea triumphs. The "surrendering" individual would trust the others conviction and accept their idea. Fight for a different idea another day. If this process sounds painless and structured, it was far from it.
Writing music (and really any creative endeavor) is emotional. You come up with an idea that you're excited about, proud of, and you're instantly invested in it. It's the best you can do at the moment, and to have someone reject your idea can be demoralizing. What's wrong with it? Why won't it work? Why did they use thattone? It's even trickier when the person giving feedback isn't capable of doing the work on the medium they are giving feedback on. Think developer giving feedback to a designer. Or in my case, giving Brian feedback on how he could modify his idea on the piano. I can't play the piano, so I can't play for him what I'm imagining. The best I could do was describe and guide him to play what I was imagining.
So how do you navigate the emotions? Welcome them but not allow them to derail the project and relationship. Reflecting on this experience I've identified several traits that made our writing partnership a success.
The first was respect for each other as musicians. Both of us were classically trained and had music theory knowledge. We were also dedicated to our instruments and put in many hours of practice. This fueled respect for each others opinions because we both knew what we were talking about. Plus dedication to our crafts elevated the level of respect. Contrast this with a "business/idea" person telling a developer how they should build something. The developer will have less respect if the business person has no clue about development process (this example can also be flipped).
As the producer for this record, I would have final say as to the musical direction of a song. It's important to have a person who is responsible for making those decisions. And to trust that they are making decisions for the good of the project, not for their own agenda. I was given this responsibility because I wanted it, I had a particular vision for the music, and I had expertise in the genre of music we were playing (progressive rock). I'd listened to many songs in the style, so I had a lot of knowledge about the genre. This allowed Brian to trust my vision and direction, because he trusted my expertise.
We also established a culture that was about the music, the product we were creating. If you come up with an idea and it get's discarded, it's not personal, it's for the good of the music. We weren't competing on who had more ideas that would be used. We had mutual interest for the best ideas to surface. And so it's critical to not take criticism personally. It saves time, and it allows you to focus on creating, instead of fighting drama.
And finally we were 50/50 partners in this. Establish the "business" breakdown prior to starting and make it a fair split. You want each person happy with their share so that it becomes a non-factor. You want to create an environment that fosters creativity and minimizes the things that generate friction. And when you run into friction, you have a mediator who is trusted with making the hard decision for resolution.
Although a frictionless creative experience does not exist, you can establish a culture that is conducive to an effective and pleasant creative experience.
Devin Townsend is difficult to categorize. He is an artist, musician, guitar player, vocalist, song-writer, producer, and business man. He has recorded over twenty albums that fall into the heavy metal genre. I suggest starting with my favorite, Ocean Machine. For his most unique album (that is non-metal and Enya-esque) check out Ghost. And if you're looking for some good ol' heavy metal, check out addicted (warning, it may just blow up your speakers).
I introduce you to Devin because I recently listened listened to episode 43 of the Music Business Facts podcast, which featured (you guessed it), Devin Townsend. It's a great interview that covers Devin's background, ascendance as an artist, and some humbling revelations about the music business. My favorite part of the interview was when Devin answered the question about why do it? What's the goal? I'll paraphrase:
...if your goal is to be better than someone, to beat someone, stop. You're going to fail. There will always be someone who is better. You do it to help someone, to make a statement...
It's an insight with broad implications.
When you decide to commit time to something, ask yourself what your intentions are. Is it to make a lot of money? Is it to beat the person you are competing against? Do your reasons stem from personal insecurities? Are they selfish? If they are, you are likely to fail in your pursuit.
Are you instead doing it for a reason beyond your ego? As Devin stated do you want to help someone? Build something because no one else will, or because you have a insatiable desire to do it? Are you well-intentioned in your goals?
A trivial example is my experience with pickup basketball. In the past I'd play with the intent of being better than who was guarding me. To strive to score the most points on the team. As a result I'd be in a foul mood when things didn't go my way. Today I strive for a mindset that allows me to enjoy the game. To seek out plays that help my teammates. To find beauty in competition.
Whether building a company, pursuing a random sporting activity or hobby, reflect on the reasons you are doing it. You'll find that your likelihood of success is proportionate to the purity of your intentions. If the reasons you pursue something are selfish, reassess. Selfish reasons will not give you the resilience you'll need to persevere when things get hard.
And if you don't have resilience, why do it?