“I give it my life, I give it my all. I think that a person should really make up his mind what he wants to do and when it is made up, he cannot fail at it. A basic rule to success, I think, is when the going gets tough, that is a positive signal to keep charging.”
“Keep Chargin” by Victor Wooten
I listened to this quote when I was around 14. I remember it to this day.
I just left Algebra class and I was laying in my bedroom. At the time, I was big into physics. I wanted to be the next Albert Einstein.
Everything in school left me bored to tears and I couldn’t wait to get home and work on “my” stuff.
My stuff usually consisted of me reading a book that I didn’t understand but made me look smart, letting my mind wonder about philosophy and the new Halo game that just came out. I didn’t become a famous scientist, as you can see.
The next day, I watched Back To The Future and I saw Marty McFly play the guitar and I said:
“That’s exactly what I want to do.”
I would tell people “You don’t get it, I will be big one day!” and they would all say the same thing:
“Of course you will, just don’t forget to have a backup plan.”
They meant well, but it felt weird. Their words rang true, but it just didn’t feel authentic.
It was as if they said that mediocrity was ok. Goals didn’t really come true. They basically said “I don’t really believe you.”
Sometimes, the people closest to you don’t want you to succeed because you remind them of what they could become.
The more I perfected my craft, the more people saw me differently.
I devoured the guitar, playing 8-hours a day. I was dedicated to the max.
Partying? Nope. Vices? Hell no, I got practicing to do.
I would take a stack of pennies and practice a measure repeatedly until it was perfect, placing one penny in a different pile. If I made a mistake, all the pennies would go back, and I’d start over.
I started separating from everyone else. I was this ball of animalistic will power. My mind was still new to all of this, but through brute persistence, I began to accomplish anything I focused on.
If you know how to learn and understand the process, you can master anything in life and become great. Greatness equals money, regardless of the industry.
When I began to dive deeper into music, I fell in love with my second true passion: Business.
While I was being a little masochist on my guitar, I decided to become the next Felix Dennis. I wanted to be a CEO at something. It just sounded badass.
I had ZERO business sense of course, so I thought:
“Hey, why not just call a business and see if they have any advice?” Maybe they can help me.
I stole a Nashville phonebook and I was pretty excited. (Wow William – seriously? Are you that desperate? Stealing a phone book? Yeah, real cool man.)
Obviously, I didn’t really have many friends if my idea of fun was calling strangers and making them feel uncomfortable.
I was 15 years old and I thought that I could become friends with everyone in the phonebook. Record labels, restaurants, nail salon Asian people – you name it, I called them. I felt that everyone could play a vital part in my vision when the time was right.
So, what did I do? I cold-called the headquarters of Sony Music in Nashville.
“Hi, my name is William Tait. How are you?”
“…I’m good. Do you have an appointment?”
“Nah, I just want some advice. What should I do if I want to be successful?”
Poor lady. I can still remember her response as she stumbled over confusion. It’s hilarious now but so humiliating at the time. Hell, my voice was just beginning to drop.
“Who is this again?”
“It’s me, William Tait (duh)… what should I do if I want to work here?”
“Yeah, I’m not really sure who you are. It sounds like you’re trying to get an internship? Which if you don’t have a college degree, it’s kind of illegal. I don’t really know what you want or how I can help you. I’m sorry. If you want a job, trying going online and filling out an application.”
“Good luck on everything.”
My face was so red. But, I said – Fuck it, who gives a damn, lets try again.
After 5 more calls, I had my first internship. I could feel my body pumping with adrenaline. I felt just as alive as I did when I played music.
The only obstacle we face is not what people tell us, but what we tell ourselves. When people try to set limitations on us, they’re really setting limitations on themselves. Alternatively, when we give others advice, we really give ourselves advice.
For years, I was told to focus. Why can’t I focus? – I told myself. I was all over the place and routinely scorned by my mentors because I wanted to try every idea under the sun and read everything about every subject.
I knew that I had to fail and fail fast. I had to dive in as deep as I could to fully immerse myself in every facet of education to become successful.
Now, this is easier said than done. In reality, I jumped around like a hot air balloon, bouncing from idea to idea, company to company, band to band, and city to city. It looked like a Candy Land board game on LSD. It was a hot mess.
But looking back, it’s been my best feature. I wasn’t bouncing around aimlessly, I was TESTING out what I was good at and what I was bad at. I focused on what I was good at and ignored what I was bad at.
What’s wrong? Why am I giving it my all and I’m getting nowhere? What’s missing?
It’s easy to be like everyone else. You get to look forward to a day job and celebrate company birthdays where you stand around a $20 dollar cake and sing Happy Birthday to Sally-Edna Jane in accounting. That’s easy and takes zero skill.
Taking chances in life, failing your way to winning, and becoming great at something – that’s the hard part. And the best part. That’s who we are.
But William –
I’ve read the books and I’ve created a masterpiece. I’ve got the music videos and I have a small following. I want my music to be an actual business.
I’m attacking it like a wild pit bull, like you did. Also, I have a X job I hate, or I’m broke, or I’m just lost. I’m even contemplating giving up.
Why continue music? Every article is about the downfall of this or that, the shows I did play gave me free beers instead of money. My rent is late or the only person who comments on my Soundcloud is my grandmother Emma-Lou Margaret Blumenthal and all she does is ask if I’m dating so and so on my song comments page.
You’re so overwhelmed that when you get home, the sheer guilt of working on your stuff gnaws at you until you ignore it with television, Youtube, or alcohol. You just stare at the screen and sigh.
And then, that voice hits you: get up and get to work.
I. Self Reliance – Embrace Being The Boss
School of Hard Knocks – Find Yourself Through Hard Work, Not Thought
I want you to do me a favor. Have you ever gone somewhere and watched a landscaper mowing a lawn or throwing down some gravel?
He’s probably insanely tired, sun glasses on, the whole nine yards. Go up to him and ask him how he got started and it’ll go something like this:
I had this idea.
Somehow, I started it. Enough people liked it.
I asked people if I could do X. So I did it to one guy, then two guys. And it grew.
5 years later, here I am today.
What we notice today is that the very definition of being a success in music is much different. It’s not about the major label contract anymore, it’s the freedom we get to create the art and not worry about life, bills, or anything.
We don’t want comfort, we want to be rich. We want the fame also, because there’s unique power in that. And we want to use that fame to create a positive impact. There is no harm in that.
We want to take our spouse out to a nice dinner, travel to Egypt and race camels, and have a stocked portfolio that we can manage with little risk to increase our yielded percentage return for investment and long term savings.
When you talk to anyone about becoming a musician, what do they say? They probably go:
“That’s great, but don’t forget to put bread on the table” or “You just never know, the music business is all about luck.”
Now, think about anyone that’s ever tried to achieve something. They were told this same thing.
The music business is no different than any other business. There, I said it.
Sure, it’s more eccentric in many areas, but it’s all the same thing. This is no different than your normal bootstrapped business owner.
You are a 21st century audio marketing entrepreneur. And you have a much better chance at making money than the next app/startup.
The problem was the original business model itself with the music business. Piracy was just the tip of the iceberg.
Income was so diversified over a large staff, all monies and deals collected were hard to correctly manage. And since most musicians are notoriously known for “I just do it for the music, man”, all of their decision making powers were out of their hands as soon as they signed an agreement. They weren’t an owner, but just an employee.
Once a large revenue stream vanished, their percentage of the pie dropped immensely and they were fired. It’s the same thing with entrepreneurs who bootstrap and immediately go to investors only to have the investor’s fire them 6 months later.
You creating money with your music is no different than me creating money with a startup. Or a restaurant business. Or a trucking business. Or a non-profit energy solutions corporation. All businesses follow the same pattern when first starting out.
The difference is in the way the profits are split up in the music business.
In a startup, you have 1 founder (MAYBE 2 founders). Before getting a board of directors or a member percentage amount (if you’re an LLC Sole Prop, you would be 100% with no board), you can split any revenue willy-nilly if you decide to get a partner. Whatever works as long as you do it in the privacy of your own home.
If you add investors, they take a percentage until that percentage is recouped to indemnification of insured interests and plus some.
Originally, the purpose of getting a label was to “make it”, right? But what exactly did you make “it” to?
Here’s something you probably already know: a record label deal is not your money. It’s an advance. That’s it.
Only difference between an advance and a loan is you don’t pay initial interest even during the recoupment period. An advance is taken out of future profits, while a loan is agreed to be paid back in the future.
So, while most entrepreneurs beg for investors at the angel funding level, most musicians beg for a record deal at the indie/corporate level.
A majority of labels invest in projects that make no money, which is how piracy damaged everything. By taking away the one artist who made money, inevitably they fell. The biggest flaw in this model is this – you can’t have a sustainable business when a majority of your test products make no money. Simple as that.
The successful artists ignore all of this noise until they NEED it because they’re growing too fast and need outside funding/resources. What’s most valuable is the education you learn while under a label, not the money.
Automated Job Market
According to an Oxford study conducted in 2013, within 20 years, over 50% of the entire workforce will become automated.
What does this mean for me now, William?
The current shift is happening and the music business is growing again. As technology increases, people will value creativity on a higher pay demand scale, i.e. creativity will be highly valued and thus more incentivized to make money.
This ties in with the increase of the entrepreneurial tech age, as most developers and teams are now being hired not just on qualifications, but creative ingenuity and contract labor.
This means that the music business will most likely experience massive growth over the next 15 years. According to a study with Forbes, ticket sales have increased over 3 billion dollars in ten years. As we can see, live tours and music are growing because the public perception of music is changing.
Most recently, Taylor Swift stood up against Apple and the reception was overwhelming. People are willing to pay more for value because the market is so oversaturated with LESS value, hence – you get what you pay for.
Since a majority of all media is ran by 6-10 major companies, the result will be commercialized general products. What’s missing is something different. Businesses have always thrived because of their inventiveness, not generalization.
The emergence of tech/music is a dream come true because it allows us to be unique in front of everyone. Now, you can determine your own hours, your own contracts, and automate everything from sales, bookings, to management.
As the management and booking of labels becomes automated, so will the advances. The need for private lending for labels will shrink as the need for physical distribution dwindles. Musicians can now run as a self-automated business.
Key Questions for HTBAMS Advanced Students
- What is something that you see other musicians doing, that you want to do?
- What is one habit that you struggle with that other business people seem to grasp?
- What new book can you read to improve your business?
II. Immersion – Be The Trend
Your Uniqueness Is What Everyone Wants To Buy – Look Beyond The Surface
Tech N9ne is probably one of the most rare beings to cross Earth.
How can a man overcome such adversity, build an empire from scratch, and sustain it WHILE meticulously brand his own unique identity AND scale it? And do it during a time of massive change pre-internet? What the hell?
Being raised in Kansas City, your resources are limited.
Tech N9ne worked day and night for decades to get where he’s at today, overcoming some of the greatest obstacles a human being can face. This sparked an endless search for Tech N9ne to discover not only his purpose, but his path. Once he found music, the game was changed.
When he was building his empire, the common theme was to go to the big three: LA, Nashville, or NY. Tech N9ne stayed in KC and created his foundation there and is now mimicked by tons of other artists.
Nowadays, because of the internet, no one really cares anymore and that gives you a massive advantage not only in company overhead but taxes. You have an abundance of gifts in your area that no one else is tapping, from small business connections to friends and family to push the word out as your test your music.
In the 50th Law, Robert Greene told the story of Andrew Selkirk.
In 1704, Andrew was stranded on a deserted island. He had nothing except for a knife, gun, carpenter tools and gunpowder.
He ran out of food, his clothes were rotting on his back, his knife would soon rust, and he would soon run out of ammo.
For months, he bordered on severe depression and lost all hope. He stayed in a cave, starving from hunger, and assumed all was lost. His environment was too unfamiliar for him and he was close to death.
After his cave was invaded by sea lions (mating season), he had no choice but to move inland and away from the coast. He soon began to realize that the dark forest he avoided and was there all along, contained everything he needed to survive.
He made shelter, found new sources of food, and even domesticated cats for protection and companionship. He was eventually rescued, but discovered something amazing.
In our environment, we assume we see it’s limitations, but we really see our own fears. Out of human nature, we stretch out and look for others to guide us, or locations to move towards. We should embrace the exact opposite. Work with what you have, both externally and internally.
Tech N9ne saw and recognized this immediate abundance that was untapped. Because of this change, he was able to see his environment that everyone else missed. He saw that this location could be his starting point and would be a logical business decision in 10-20 years. And he was right.
While other artists were being groomed for commercialism, Tech N9ne knew that this would lose in the long run.
He knew that by staying unique, this would create a lasting empire that would shadow any instant success that most artists aim for and be the basis of his own following i.e. an outlet for other eccentric minds.
Microsoft did this same thing. Microsoft had this urgency to express their gift to the world in a profitable business model and use as little outside help as possible.
When Bill Gates launched Microsoft, it was him and Paul Allen and they literally cold-called vendors and made promises on products that they didn’t even have at the time.
Tech N9ne knew the vision before the product was even perfected. Your first initial fan base will ignore your mistakes because they will only remember the good things as you grow.
Use your creative outlet as a marketing vehicle for your business. The music is the tool you use to get your audience to your product and give them double the value over every other artist.
Do fans email you and you respond back to them in a week? That’s ok, some artists respond in 24 hours. Who would you go back to for a relationship?
Since I have no life, I study tons of artists. What I noticed about pop artists is they seem to follow this path:
1. Hustle for fame at any cost.
2. Get fame, without knowing what worked or without any testing.
3. Enjoy the fame.
4. Disappear into oblivion, never to be seen again.
The ones who do maintain success have no idea how they do it, so they constantly put out the same material. Meanwhile, as consumers, our tastes change and we want something new. Companies do the same thing looking for the instant success bullet (record labels).
Tech N9ne didn’t do this. He meticulously tested his image and product over DECADES. And that’s why he’s so successful today.
He talks the way his audience talks, he listens the way his fans listen, and solves burning pains not just in his music, but the value his other products provide (shows, label, merchandise etc). His music is a mirror reflection of what his audience truly wants.
As trends become successful, we follow them out of basic instinct. Millions of years of evolution have evolved us into beings that hate to be alone.
You have the power to sidestep nature itself and access a higher level through hard work, patience, and persistence. You can be the person that people aspire to become as you set new trends
Audience Infiltration – Find Their Hidden Tastes
Going further into your audience’s psychology in order to give them what they want is vital.
If you release products based off of your own tastes, although it will be personally rewarding, your audience may not give a damn.
If you test out different forms of collaborations, you will find that your audience is just as diverse as you can imagine. Doing so gives you broader reach for new fans. By mixing your music with other genres, you give your fans an experience that’s unique. They became apart of the journey that you created. They get to decide how your music evolves.
One of my tests proved that a majority of hip-hop artists loved mixing classical music with their beats. And that classical artists loved mixing pop music.
When releasing a hip-hop track with orchestral music, the response was overwhelmingly positive. It filled a void and brought both parties together in this weird harmonious setting. It was different, but not too different.
Hip-hop artists get so burned out on the same beats and sounds.
They starve for innovation and new music that’s outside of the box. It lets them breathe poetically and bring their own fire to a crowd that’s not used to this kind of stuff, giving the rap artist incredible power to command and control, more so than his own environment.
Alternatively, it gives the classical artist a chance to finally use that pop riff he or she’s been humming, but has been too embarrassed to write it out, for fear of ridicule.
“That’s too simple, my colleagues would laugh, I need to rewrite the second melody to show alteration on the focal tonal point.” – they think outloud.
Or rap artists going – “Man I aint got time for flutes, gimme dat raw bass fam.”
In the classical world, there is an unwritten rule that complexity and rules are what make classical music the best. It is a reformed, stoic kind of music. Then Mozart came along and fucked up everything.
In the beginning, classical music was the forerunner of innovative sound, especially in Vienna during the 1700-1800’s.
As Mozart exploded on the scene, before him, was pompous Vivaldi courtyard music. After giving his dad the finger, Mozart came in, balls-to-the-walls and said “I’m here to wreck some people” and made every court officer freak out.
But the audience LOVED it, it grabbed them by the jugular, and Mozart became a household name.
This is what happens when you mix music just right, not just in genres but in decades.
This is called genre-time mixing. A good example is hearing a new artist today and going “Wow, they sound like X from back in the day, but it’s so much different.” To see a good example, listen to All About That Bass from Meghan Trainor
Key Questions for HTBAMS Advanced Students
- What uniqueness do you have that the music industry needs?
- What abundance does your environment provide underneath the surface that everyone is missing?
- What can you give to your audience that no one else is giving? Think small and simple.
III. Money and Fame – Provide World-Class Value
William’s Butterfly Technique – Selling The Right Way As An Artist
One of the methods I’ve tested over the years was converting small test portions of groups into fans as quickly as possible.
I wanted to know what it would take for a person to have never heard of me and then want to buy from me in 5 minutes.
What I would do is take my music, go door-to-door or out on the streets, and test out psychology and sales scripts (Again, my best friend was a phonebook at age 15).
In between houses and businesses, I would write out my results and notes. If my tests proved my hypothesis, I knew it would work at any level. What I found was this:
95% of the people who liked my music did so because of how I approached them. They were sold before I even showed them my stuff. The music was just the cherry on top.
I then tested it on the phone. At the time, I booked performance gigs for a successful CEO (hint: his clothing company got it’s start with an LL Cool J Music Video). My results were identical.
Think about it further. Have you ever seen an ad and immediately said “Hell no, I would never buy from them” within the first three seconds? Same principle.
They liked me, the product was just an afterthought. This is why a majority of businesses have commercials that have zero to do with their product. They just want you to relate to that commercial, so you can like them. Once you like them, selling is a natural process.
What if I actually did like you as a person but your music still sucks? What then Mr. Music Business Expert Nerd? How do you still build a fanbase huh? HUH?!? PLEASE HELP MEEEEEE.
If you lack confidence in your product, you can’t sell it. This seems obvious, but I want you to go deeper. Instead of thinking:
“My music is the greatest, everyone needs to hear it”
“I’ve worked very hard on my business. It would be a waste to keep it to myself. People need this.”
Do you see the small change in language? And how MASSIVE that change is? It’s not a pushy confidence, it’s a respected confidence. And people can smell it based on your humility.
Whenever we think of sales, we immediately assume that old, greasy car salesman guy.
In the real world, you sell by asking questions to reveal their burning pains, and then give them the solutions to these pains. It’s really that simple.
So what does everyone do when they see music and money in the same sentence? They freak out, put it back down, and run away. I can’t sell my music…it’s too weird.
Yes, you can.
GASP – how dare you ask ME, artistic musical genius to charge for my work? My work is priceless and timeless.
I hear you. Honestly, it does get overwhelming. We go:
What do I focus on? Where do I start?
I’ve got bills to pay. Why can’t I be famous yet?
I am successful, but I’m not where I want to be financially.
I don’t have the time to sell more – how can I delegate what I have?
First off, relax. Take a step back and clear your mind. If you approach anything with a scarcity mindset, you won’t do much. Think like a child.
For now, ignore:
Merchandise, Info Products, Event Hosting, Your Image, Your Website, Social Media, Life Hacks, Viral Techniques, Twitter Retweets, Top Ten Lists for XYZ, Youtube Subscribers, Public Speaking, Live Show Negotiation, Passive and Direct Income, Freelancing, Management, PR Stunts, Cold-Calling, Spamming Your Grandmother, My 3 Step No B.S. Guide To Marketing Your Music, Booking, Band Consulting, Facebook Paid Advertisements, Building a Buzz, Begging on the streets, Playing homeless people your new single, asking Alumni for Grant kickbacks and shoo-ins, Royalties, Publishing, Kickstarters, and Licensing.
Ignore all of this – it’s just too much. If you don’t, you’ll end up pulling your hair out, getting nowhere, and giving up. This stuff comes later.
For now, focus on this simple process. We do this to build confidence, test out what does or doesn’t work, and finetune our music to our audience.
Once you master this, then we can slowly add and scale. It’s ok to be small.
Create Your Pollen
Create 1 song that you can say – this is my best.
Don’t focus on song titles, song length, whether it has long intros, long bridges, or its 5 seconds too short before a chorus. That’s all irrelevant.
Create your finished concept and be confident in it – that is what will sell in the end.
Find 100 Butterflies
Outside of your family, make a list of bloggers, youtubers, facebook friends, real friends (yes, the ones in real life), email contacts, former alumni, forums, who you think will like this song. 100 may seem like a lot, but trust me, if you really focused, you can find 100 people. Think about it and get creative – push your limits.
Follow The Butterflies
1. Give it away for free to each person and ask:
“Hey, hope you’ve been well. Quick question – would you listen to this in your car?”
3. If they say no – say: “Thanks, I appreciate your honesty.” Go to the next person.
*P.S. When you tell them you appreciate their honesty, they will most likely reconsider because you reciprocated the honesty.*
4. If they say yes – ask:
“Awesome, super insightful. By the way, can I keep you updated on my progress? I want you to be apart of my inside list. What’s your email address?”
5. They will say yes because:
They will feel like royalty because you gave them access to a VIP list, it’s non-intrusive, and it’s low commitment. People will go to great lengths to be associated with you, even if it’s something as simple as your fan list. It makes us feel socially validated. And, they’re thinking – sure, why not?
6. Get the email address and add it to your list of fans. Repeat this 1 fan at a time.
Just like that. You now have a sales lead, a new fan, and someone who subliminally just told you
“Yes, I would listen to this when I’m starting my day to get me in a good mood.” 95% of the battle is already done. Selling isn’t an issue at this point. They trust you.
Watch Your Garden Grow
Once you reach 100 emails, release more content to them.
When releasing new content, split each week between new material and customer engagement. Do 1 post a week. So…
1. Week 1 – New riff/track/idea/blog/thought/quote. Put in the subject line:
“New material I’m working on. I like it – probably one of my best tracks.”
This shows confidence and straight to the point. By telling them this, they will believe you first before themselves.
2. Week 2 – Ask your fans what they’re working on/something funny/something thought provoking. Get personal – use this as MORE research for you to generate new content.
“What are some new tracks you’re working on. Can I hear it?”
You want as little transparency as possible between you and your people. The musician who ignores his fans ends up with no fans.
That’s it. Simple huh?
We do this for one reason: it proves to us that what we’re doing is correct and working, we have people who like it, and we have people who want to buy. This is crucial in business.
Once you can build this foundation, THEN you can start growing.
I can see it now, here’s my inbox after this article:
YOU’RE WRONG WILLIAM – IT”S NOT THAT EASY! WHERE’S MY MONEY?!
William – I wouldn’t make any money anyways with music. I should be investing in Google.
But William – all of this is too much information. HOW do I create a song that’s my best? HOW do I know which site to find my butterflies?
Relax. That time will come. The money will come. Your job right now is to grow. For now, start small, test, and build. Selling comes later. You want to crawl before you can walk.
The hardest part isn’t following these steps. The hardest part is maintaining the discipline to follow through. It’s your mind that halts any progress out of fear because any momentum is new and the brain doesn’t like new.
The best part is that it’s something you can do right now and the possibilities are endless. Have fun.
Key Questions for HTBAMS Advanced Students
- Who could be my first person to test the butterfly method on?
- What are some things that I tell myself that are a hindrance to my selling abilities?
- What timeline do I want to accomplish my green light markers by?
Readers, for those who answered the advanced questions, what new insights did you learn? Post your results below.