Advice vs. Criticism

Quite often clients and potential clients, and those who are entering the field of music PR, ask for my advice. Without fail, 99% of the time there are reasons and excuses (mostly the latter) why the advice they’ve solicited won’t work.

I’ve been to this place so many times on varying topics that I just shrug my shoulders and consider the source. Mostly advice is seen as some sort of critique or criticism of what the person is doing or not doing, which brought them to the point of asking in the first place. If they already knew or felt comfortable in what they are doing, they’d have no reason to ask, right?

Many of you know I value the advice of Seth Godin and read his blogs daily. Sometimes it doesn’t pertain to what I do, but I always read it anyway. Quite often I run across something he has to say I’ve said myself at various points along the way.

Over the last couple weeks he posted something about being more arrogant in the manner one presents themselves. In other words, own what you’re doing — and own it mightily. Don’t hide behind ‘what if they don’t like it’ with a sense of modesty. Several years ago I told a client exactly that, “You need to be more arrogant,” which was the subject of much laughter over the years as he sat, smoking cigars and drinking wine, telling friends what his publicist said. Of course I laughed too when he told me about different instances when that subject came up. But I still think he needs to be more ‘strategically arrogant.’

Today I ran across one of Seth’s posts which resonates so loudly with me, I decided to share it. I’m sure Seth won’t mind as he is the brainiac behind content curating, and a variety of ways that impress us with permission marketing.

Advice or criticism?

From Seth’s Blog

It’s quite natural to be defensive in the face of criticism. After all, the critic is often someone with an agenda that’s different from yours.

But advice, solicited advice from a well-meaning and insightful expert? If you confuse that with criticism, you’ll leave a lot of wisdom on the table.

Here’s a simple way to process advice: Try it on.

Instead of explaining to yourself and to your advisor why an idea is wrong, impossible or merely difficult, consider acting out what it would mean. Act as if, talk it through, follow the trail. Turn the advice into a new business plan, or a presentation you might give to the board. Turn the advice into three scenarios, try to make the advice even bolder…

When a friend says, “you’d look good in a hat,” it’s counterproductive to imagine that she just told you that you look lousy without a hat, and that you then have to explain why you never wear hats and take offense at the fact that she thinks you always look terrible.

Nope. Try on the hat. Just try on the hat.

Put on a jacket that goes with the hat. Walk around with the hat on. Take a few pictures of yourself wearing a hat.

Then, if you want to, sure, stop wearing hats.

Advice is not criticism.

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Thirty Years After — Part 19: Flotsam and Jetsam

There are plenty of little things that happened over the first 30 years of my career in music. None of them are a huge deal, so as they float to the surface I’ll post them here and hope they are of use to the readers of this blog, to whom I am grateful for their time and interest.

Having come from a very serious and hard core existence in the entertainment industry, those folks I’d worked with early on were very well-steeped in all that is music. They were very aware music is a literary art form. Music, like literature, is about notation. Note by note, music is written, then recorded. When it is written, it can be edited to achieve the best possible results. That isn’t the case so much these days, rarely in fact, and perhaps at the expense of music in general.

Nonetheless, when music is written, all the words associated with tempo, volume, and especially the feeling with which music is to be played — these are all written in Italian, the universal language of trained musicians worldwide. Words associated with feeling, tempo, etc. are called musical directions, and all students of music become familiar with them early in their education.

To that end I named my public relations company Con Brio [cone BREE oh] — con in Italian sounds like cone in English and literally means “with.” Con Brio means with energy, vigor and vivacity. It fit the criteria I was looking for: Short and to the point, three syllables, alphabetically it came toward the beginning of the alphabet.

Much to my surprise, only well-educated musicians understand what con brio means. My graphic designer poo pood the name early on and finally convinced me to drop the word con for reasons that would eventually happen due to sheer and utter ignorance.

There is another firm somewhere in the country named Brio Public Relations, and I could never find an email address to my liking that was just Brio PR. Eventually con was added back into the company name so it would match several email accounts I’ve had over the years.

At this juncture, I’m tempted to change the whole enchilada over to Scout 66 which has a wonderful logo, and is a brand with visibility. Lo and behold, some product of Motorola has been named Scout 66. Scout itself is owned by Fox Entertainment Group for their sports division, so I rather doubt they want to give up their holdings on a name they’ve held for years.

So here we are in Twenty Fifteen with a brand name dilemma. Obviously, the Italian version went over horribly and should have been a big red flag: Musicians today don’t really know that much about the mechanics of music. Then another separate entity that  has been well-received, bodes very well in much larger circles outside the realm of music.

The lesson here: Do everything you can possibly do to find a name that is meaningful to the work you’re doing. Try not to settle for less than everything you want. And though none of us have access to crystal balls, the likelihood someone wants a name you’ve selected is pretty darn high.

While we’re talking about Brio Public Relations, this is a classic story and one that happened early on. As mentioned in previous posts I was involved with the small city where I lived helping producing live shows every summer. One of the assistants in city hall believed she wielded some power with local media which was really small potatoes in the world of newspapers. But she sent them something to show what the city and their arts commission was doing in the realm of music. The reporter called and talked to me briefly, and the following week an article appeared about the summer concert series and my company.

The day the article came out was dreadfully hectic. I can’t remember why at this point, but I skimmed the article very quickly and as I did, counted 14 typos in the article. My husband said it wasn’t all that bad but did I happen to notice how they spelled my company name? Nope. I just skimmed right over it as it was so familiar to me.

Mind you this was an educated journalist, at a real newspaper with an editor. Imagine the horror of seeing the words Brio Public Relations printed with the L  omitted from the word Public.

Humiliating to say the least. Did someone get an earful? You damn right they did. I fumed over that for months until one day I finally sent it into The Tonight Show with Jay Leno for his weekly segment on headlines. It’s such a common thing to have horrible typos in newsprint, he had plenty of hilarious material to work with. I couldn’t care less whether he used it or not, he probably didn’t due to his utter distaste for publicists. But if somebody got a good chuckle out of it, then that’s the best that could be hoped for in a really unfortunate situation that can happen to anyone.

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Five Long Term Music Industry Predictions (And How Disney Will Rule The World)

Originally posted on Music Industry Blog:

The new year is typically a time for predictions for the year. But at the midway point of the decade, rather than do some short term predictions I think this is a good time to take a look at the longer term outlook for the music industry. Here are five long term music industry predictions:

1 – Disney will become the world’s biggest music company

Consumers are buying less music and there are more ways to easily get free music than ever before, both of which make selling music harder than ever. Major labels have addressed this by doubling down on pop acts (Rihanna, Katy Perry, Rita Ora, Ariana Grande etc.) which have a more predictable route to market. Video (YouTube) and very young audiences (also YouTube) underpin the success of these artists. While the majors have been pivoting around this very specific slice of mainstream, Disney has quietly been…

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Baby, I’m Amazed

Today, an article from The Atlantic changed the world. No, umm, yes,  it really changed the world as it appears to most people who live on this planet. Noah Berlatsky is saying Paul McCartney is irrelevant.

P A U L  Mc C A R T N E Y.

You know, one of the most prolific songwriters of the 20th century. The guy who wrote “Yesterday,” one of the most-recorded rock songs in history. Paul McCartney who is one of the Fab Four.

The Beatles.

The guys responsible for the British Invasion.

The guys who unwittingly made Elvis look dated, but never irrelevant.

In disbelief, Google was lit up with a search to determine what others had to say aside from The Atlantic’s irreverent rogue. The Rolling Stone looked like perhaps a more credible source. Holy @#^* it was even worse!

They are calling Kanye West legendary!

Most articles found on the highly touted and autotuned McCartney/West collaboration, “Only One,” are reporting West fans are thanking him for discovering the unknown artist, Paul McCartney. I suppose none of West’s fans noticed McCartney has 6,211,252 likes on Facebook, or a Google search turns up over 94 million results. They never bothered to check him out? Come on.

Honest to Pete, if somebody doesn’t grab the bull by the horns one day soon, music is goin’ out the freakin’ window. The real tragedy here is those who do believe that West is a legend have neither heard “music,” don’t really understand what it can sound like, and would be blown away to hear something classic, say for instance, “Hey Jude,” or “Let It Be.”

West is not a musician for cryin’ out loud. He’s a rapper and hip hop artist. He doesn’t sing, or play music. Most likely he doesn’t even know what notes on a staff mean. His Wiki page says verbatim, “West crafted much of his production for his debut album in less than fifteen minutes at a time.” Umhum, now there’s a musical genius. And that debut album came out just about 10 years ago. So no doubt he’s most definitely a legend.

As a publicist, I’m betting on the fact that all this press is being generated by the West camp. I mean, he’s married to a Kardashian and his poor infant daughter is named North. Kardashian is most famous for having a butt the size of a barn door, and not much more, but that name appears in ridiculous headlines every day. So, it’s a pretty fair bet, there’s a cartel of PR slaves working for West and his posse elevating his stature far above one of history’s most beloved musicians of all time.

Of course it’s cliché, but, baby I’m amazed.

 

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Thirty Years After — Part 18: Closed Mondays

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the mid 1970s the animated short “Closed Mondays” rocked art and film circles around the globe, winning the 1975 Oscar for Best Animated Short. The medium is clay animation, while its premise is about a drunk who wonders into an art gallery, then begins interacting with the paintings and sculpture there. More to the point, the drunk is a metaphor for the masses. His stupor illustrates the masses cannot grasp the meaning of contemporary art, and more specifically the masses are so stubborn they will not understand it unless they can be part of the scene.

In stark contrast, this illustrates vividly what’s become of music.

Masses of musicians wonder into countless bars, engaging with a population in no condition to decide whether there is art in the music. To a large degree music has become a self-indulgent obsession imposing itself on the public in a place where it cannot be judged fairly, engendering a false and desensitized  reality.

Professional music has been an integral part of our culture for eons. Juke boxes and the radio created a mood on one level of the scene, while live music in cotton clubs showcased jazz and blues for segregated audiences. Swing bands, big bands, and small orchestras created festive backdrops at large parties. Radio, television, and print media fashioned a celebrated culture around the most popular recording artists for many generations.

Amateur musicians sharpened their chops in coffeehouses,  juke joints, dive bars and the like until such time they were ready to perform in concert halls or on large stages like Carnegie Hall and the Grand Ole Opry.

Fast forward over decades of contemporary culture and we end up in the 21st century with a mashup of ideas that has become the indie music scene.

Six degrees of separation will put just about anyone in touch with somebody trying to make a living in music. The upside is there are thousands upon thousands of people seeking creative lifestyles, while the downside is a murky view of what we collectively consider art.

The open ended questions in all of this include:

  • Who makes the call dividing the amateurs from the pros?
  • Who has the right to define if you’re too young or too old to appreciate a song or musical style?
  • Who decides what art is and what it isn’t?
  • Who decides if age and experience, or age and inexperience, create the best thought leaders?

The answers used to be very clear.

At the edge of this frontier where every structural beam that supported the art of music is being transformed, definitive answers are hard to find. For the time being the scene itself is what art is about. Every now and then something of a masterpiece will emerge from our collective consciousness.

To each and every one of good conscience, intent on being part of this movement, be sure of what you want and clear in your motivation. All cultures are judged by their art and true artistic merit is revered for centuries.

We have an enormous responsibility in creating a favorable lasting impression. If you’ve pinned a title on yourself faking it till you make it, there are more noble pursuits. If you’ve actually got what it takes to engage in this vibrant ecosystem as part of the whole, you’ll recognize the true artist in you in everything you do.

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Thirty Years After — Part 17: Is Your Timing Right?

Not for a moment should you believe that any part of Scout66.com’s existence is a mistake or a failure. My posts about everything related to my career in music are totally honest. If I were to say that everything was seamless, cool and groovy – that would a horrible waste of time, not to mention a really boring read as far as blog posts go. Controversy and conflict are inherent to the human spirit.

And there is no reason whatsoever to spin 30 years as if everything went perfectly.

The point is, more things go wrong in the process of marketing music than those that are smooth as buttah! It’s a reality that most people would rather ignore, but do so at their peril.

In artistic pursuits of any kind there are no guarantees people will like what is created.  That’s not the point. Creating things to determine if they are useful, poignant, shocking, or any other reaction is the point of art.

Artists are problem solvers attempting to fill a void with a thoughtful response. Timing has a lot to do with how audiences of any sort receive the artist’s gesture. There are no mistakes. It’s just that the timing wasn’t right.

To that end, each and every person involved in the process of making music has to accept and understand there are no failures. We must continue to create things for audiences that have an impact at just the right moment.

When the collective consciousness is ready to receive a song, a book, an exhibit, a sculpture, or whatever is being offered artistically, that’s when things start to take off.

For the past 15 years, music has saturated the collective consciousness. It’s everywhere. And when people have too many decisions to make, most often they choose nothing. Conversely, when there is a brand new generation eager to step up with enough authority to purchase something at will – whether it costs 99 cents, $1.29, ten bucks, or it’s altogether free – the sheer number of people creates demand.

It really has nothing to do with the music, or the art. It has to do with how the art makes the audience feel.  If it empowers them, chances are good your timing was right.

Art has everything to do with the audience, and nothing to do with the artist. Audiences don’t applaud the musician at the end of a song. They applaud themselves for getting it.

For some unearthly reason, we’ve been led to believe for almost a century it’s all about the creator and nothing could be further from the truth.

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Thirty Years After — Part 16: They Call It Oz For a Reason

Yessiree, Bob. Everywhere I looked the Internet was the place where all the cool kids hung out. Figuratively and literally hanging out in thin air. Talking to people who weren’t really there.  Reading people’s thoughts that weren’t in the room.

Sounds a little crazy, no?

Hours, days, and weeks passed as I became, like so many, addicted to the time continuum of social media, Internet marketing, and learning what I should be doing to be ahead of the curve. There were instruction books all over the place. Yet no one was saying the same thing. More aptly these were opinion-based “versions” of what could happen as individual “experts” attempted to become the first brand leader.

Even if any given person were to follow the advice of the marketing gurus, where would it lead?

What was learned quickly is you had to be careful. I was very accustomed to guarding everything in my career against shadowy types music subversively attracts. To be perfectly honest, in hindsight, had I met most of these people face-to-face that I was talking with on the phone or in social media, that meeting would have been the last.

Yet determination had the best of me.

I would figure this thing out come hell or high water.

So I came to the conclusion I needed to take the plunge and have a reason for being involved not just as a publicist, but have a presence on the net. Over this period new platforms were springing up all over and to fill a need media could no longer afford, I decided a website dedicated to live music reviews was something I could contribute. The live music review had always been one of the most coveted pieces of information any performing artist could obtain – given of course, the review was a good one.

Setting out to get bids on a unique model I had in mind, the first one came in at $200,000.00 Two hundred thousand dollars! Sure, why not? Next was a bid for about a tenth that number. Finally, I set my number and had a website built for $15,000.

It took forever — literally months to construct what we can now achieve in one afternoon with no investment. This Internet platform thing was a scam. A huge living lie everyone bought into because we were pioneers with no measuring stick to tell us differently.

Scout66.com went live sometime in 2010, in a soft launch that frustrated the livin’ daylights out of me. I won’t go into details due to naming names which serves no purpose.  Anyone involved in this explorative era was supposed to become a part of a larger community working with others, according to every bit of research I found. These folks didn’t want to play well with others. It was their way or no way.

The number of free things I suddenly had requests for was astounding.  Because indie music was free, somehow being involved in music meant everything was free. I would love to find the guy who made up that rule.

I worked harder than ever, sure this entrepreneurial thing had legs. In ten months’ time, 12 people contributed reviews of live shows. And I thank them, but this was nowhere near the anticipated volume of live music reviews.

Then, another whippersnapper of a young pistol decided he’d offer me a deal. Take Scout in a different direction, flip the model, destroy the premise, and move the site. At the time, Scout had a decent Alexa rating, and contacts were in the making all the time. Traction, however, wasn’t part of the equation, so the whippersnapper took over as webmaster as a noble gesture, as I wasn’t about to spend any more money. The site was moved and renovated within 10 months of being launched. Reviews began to trickle in a little faster, but not near the rate one would anticipate.

YELP was in full swing and there was an offer to purchase it around this time for some astronomical amount of money but refused by its owners. Thinking I’d gone down the right path, Scout was nurtured, praised, but patronized at an alarmingly slow rate. I’d overestimated the idea of fans giving their time to help artists’ careers. Fans are the lifeblood of the live music scene, yet I’m told writing a review was too grand a gesture. Asking to phone (text) in a review was more like a homework assignment, and not at all as cool as just being there.

So much for the idea fans actually wanted to help build an empire around the indie movement.

Then what I believed was a tragedy in gift wrapping came into being. My husband had been ill for a very long time suffering from addiction he refused to take responsibility for; one that eventually took his life. On Christmas Eve 2010 he told me he wanted to part ways. Once it hit me this was an opportunity – a slim one – but an opportunity nonetheless to continue my music career in a bigger way, I packed my bags and moved to Nashville within a month.

Here, in Music City, live music is played 24/7. Scout would live, and so would I, albeit far from my children who were in the throes of their early college years.  Having been successful in Seattle, it seemed Nashville was a no brainer. Certain things would work themselves out, others not so much.

My office and living space on Music Row was an adventure like no other. Tons of people made appointments to stop by, meet for lunch, dinner, or shows. Nashville’s a living, breathing network.  But, to be honest about the whole thing, nothing ever comes of it. There’s an awful lot of talk, and very little action.

As the saying goes, Nashville’s a drinking town with a music problem.

Southern charm, is just that in many cases.  People I’d spoken with many times turned out to misrepresent their authoritative positions here. In fact, the music business is a closed society with only a handful of people actually calling the shots.

Having never worked with a major label – ever – now was not the time to start. They were falling down badly, but it was interesting observing how things in the most powerful town in the music business worked. Thousands of people scurry around appearing to be involved at a level they believe they’re getting something accomplished. All the while a few people are pulling strings behind some magic curtain. It doesn’t matter what you know or who you know. There are power players who call the shots and that’s all there is to it.

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