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Preemptive Tuesday Music Post

Erato: another reason to be proud of being Swedish Gotta love the latest viral clip coming out of Sweden. A vocal group called Erato covered Swedish pop singer Robyn‘s song, “Call Your Girlfriend,” utilizing nothing more than their three voices and what is reported to be cottage cheese containers. This link has over 750k views through the weekend and it’s popping up more and more. Great example of a little creativity and lots of practice.

This Swedish music blog has Erato’s clip side by side with Robyn’s original. Enjoy.

Tuesday Music Thing: new Tom Waits sneak preview!

Tom Waits. Like No Other Tom Waits is, undoubtedly, one of the most singular artists of our time. Boldly experimental not only sonically, but lyrically and in projecting an image that keeps fans and followers on their toes – wondering just when he’ll veer from sweetness to harshness to deep spiritual introspection and onto bizarro-land, of ten in the course of a single song.

Waits’ new album, Bad As Me, releases Next Tuesday, the 24th, and with a special code you can preview it in its entirety until this Friday. If you’re interested, comment here and we’ll get in touch with a code. We have 5 to give away, and after that they’re gone.

Come on and check out some Tom Waits!

Tuesday Music Thing: Elbow, Peter Gabriel, Deas Vail

Ebow I meant to write about the trip to see the British band Elbow at Los Angeles’s Greek Theater last week, but with the site updates that got pushed back, so here we go. On October 1 we were able to trek to LA and take in a show at the famed Greek Theater, which is set in the middle of Griffith park, with it’s famous observatory looking down at the theater. The occasion: to (finally) get to see the band Elbow live and in person. Elbow is a national treasure in the UK, having received acclaim for each of their four full-length albums, including the prestigious Mercury Prize for their 2008 album The Seldom Seen Kid.

Elbow plays gorgeously arranged music that’s hard to categorize in any easy way. Singer Guy Garvey has a more than passing resemblance to Peter Gabriel’s raspy voice, and while the arrangements of their songs are unconventional it’s not coming from the prog roots that Gabriel has. That said, Garvey has interviewed Gabriel for a British podcast as preparation for Gabriel’s just-released orchestral record.

Elbow most easily sits alongside bands such as Coldplay or Radiohead, but without the overt pop/anthemic aspirations of the former or the freak-out experimentations of the latter. Elbow has the confidence in their songs to let them take the time they need without ever getting boring, and to write them from an unconventional viewpoint that rethinks the standard guitar, bass, drum, keys arrangement of a band. I have to think that the fact that they played together for 10 years before ever getting a record deal has something to do with that, as though they settled in on who they were and weren’t and were confident enough in that to own their own space. One can easily see them, having finally gotten a “break” after a decade, changing their identity to chase a hit single. Thankfully they didn’t and have charted their own course.

The band brought along two string players, a violin and a viola, who added beautiful textures that helped them recreate much of the studio recordings. The band’s stage presence was engaging and confident. It’s easy to see that they love what they do and are thankful to their audience for supporting them. And since they really only play the US every few years, and do a handful of cities at that, the excitement from the audience was palpable, as was the band’s appreciation back. They played a 90-minute set of materials, mostly from their past two albums, and at the end it was easy to imagine them rolling through another 90 minutes without boredom, exhaustion or complaint. Stars at home but obscure in the US, it was clear that this was a band at the top of their game. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take another 10 years to see them again. If you’re not familiar with this band, don’t wait – go get some Elbow music pronto.

Here’s a clip of their closing song, “One Day Like This”, with the BBC Orchestra.

Peter Gabriel - New Blood. Here's hoping...

New releases of note: the aforementioned Peter Gabriel project New Blood is out now. This is a record comprise d of orchestral versions of many of his classics such as “Red Rain”, “Solsbury Hill” and “In Your Eyes”. Gabriel said that it evolved from his mini-tour last year when he was backed only by an orchestra (we got to see that at the Hollywood Bowl), and he wanted to capture those arrangements on tape. His site has interviews with Gabriel on each of the songs and a media player to explore the fill record. It’s hard to say if this will be a success in reinterpretation or a prog-rock stereotype of indulgence, but the tour last year was fantastic, so here’s hoping.

Deas Vail - get on it now and you can say you knew them when...

And switching to newer artists, Deas Vail, a fantastic band from, of all places, Russellville, AR, has released their self-titled third record today. The band, led by husband and wife Wes and Laura Blalock, has drawn comparisons to Death Cab For Cutie, Mew and Copeland, both for their arrangements and for Wes’s falsetto voice which can be accurately described as soaring.

I was able to work with the band for an all-too-short time several years ago and they are as deserving of some success as anyone. They tour relentlessly, spend time with their fans on a regular basis and are among the kindest people I know. They also happen to write fantastic, smart and insightful songs and are in complete control of their live show. I was happy to see them gain spots at Bonnaroo and Warped tour, and hope that that will be just the beginning for the band. Catch them now while you can still get some indie cred points for knowing them, and you can also feel good about being part of helping the good guys win one.

Who Are You (Online)?

We know that social media allows people the ability to express themselves in real time (if desired), reflecting their tastes, their affinities and their passion for everything from entertainment choices to food, from kids’ stories to frustrations with acquaintances. It has also helped some brands achieve higher profiles than they might otherwise garner through traditional media. Check out “5 Brands That Are Surprisingly Successful On Facebook.” But what happens when we want to explore, search and test things out? Do we want our explorations to be broadcast? And if they are, does that change how and what we explore? A Finnish research institute says yes, at least when it comes to music.

Are you an online shape shifter?

Digital Music News today published a story about the findings of the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology that showed that peoples’ projected taste in music changes in a social environment. The study, “concluded that people – particularly younger people – don’t necessarily lie about their music tastes, they just suppress certain things and accentuate others.” Can’t you just see the not-so-edgy hipster suddenly altering their Spotify playlist to veer away from that Rhiana track that they secretly love to be sure that their friends don’t pick up on it, while switching to a stream of Feist’s new record?

When Facebook made its latest round of changes there was some quick press to outline how people may want to change their settings to avoid having their actual browsing habits reveal embarrassing information. To be sure, a pop music guilty pleasure is a far cry from socially damaging compared to habitual browsing of lad mags and having to explain that to a significant other, but the fact remains that social networks would love for our entire online lives to be documented – because it gives them amazing amounts of information that can be used to better sell advertising.

The implications for marketers, brands and organizations are potentially enormous, both positively and negatively. They also underscore the importance of knowing your audience and communicating in an authentic way. By seeking the right audience, you allow those people to carry your message to networks that are, presumably, filled with others that trust their peers and have similar, or at least adjacent, tastes and sensibilities. If you miss the mark, your message is carried in directions that can have nothing to do with your goals and vision for a project or product.

On the other hand, sometimes people want to try things by themselves. Allowing for your audience to have public and private opportunities to test your product (as well as a trigger to ask the private testers if they’d like to share), displays your trust and respect of your audience. It also shows your own confidence that you’ve designed the right thing for the right audience, and that you’re willing to let the product or content inspire people rather than forcing them to broadcast something before they’re ready.

Anyone have any experiences with things like this? Do you alter your habits when you know that people are (or could be) watching? Does it make you seek out things that make you look more, or less, adventurous? More eccentric or more “normal”? These are interesting times, as we learn, in real time, how our new technological resources are affecting our behavior.

Because you can't go wrong with Nutella

Tuesday Music Thing: Ten Out Of Tenn

Creative Communities Ten Out Of Tenn

Nobody is a genius alone. Regardless of our inherent talent, abilities and intellect, it takes others to sharpen, challenge, encourage and push us. For several years now a rotating group of up and coming musicians in Nashville have joined together to build a bigger platform for each other and for the greater music community in Nashville. Ten Out Of Tenn has just released its 4th compilation and begun a tour of the southeast, east coast and midwest. It’s a fantastic collection of songs from a diverse set of artists, including Butterfly Boucher (also seen as Sarah McLachlan’s bass player), pop troubadour KS Rhoads, moody southern gothic rock from Trent Dabbs, quirk-pop songwriter Katie Herzig and more.

It was started several years ago with help from performing rights organization BMI to help some of their affiliated songwriters gain some notoriety and awareness outside of Music City and showcase the talents of the myriad artists doing interesting pop, rock and indie music. The Ten Out Of Tenn brand has spawned 4 compilation records, several tours and a documentary film called Any Day Now.

The cast of artists changes somewhat each year, though many participants have been involved from the start. And as the brand gains fans and followers, so does each artist, allowing them to engage new listeners, alert them to tour dates and find new opportunities. When the official tour is complete, Herzig and Boucher are already set to hit the road together. Several artists take the time to pimp one another; we’ve already gotten messages or seen posts from Herzig & Boucher regarding their admiration for Rhoades and newcomer Andrew Belle. And no doubt that when Boucher’s other band, Elle Macho, is ready to roll, Ten Out Of Tenn fans will hear about it.

Take a look at the website to see how well these individual artists are working together and seeing growth come from their generosity, willingness and desire to work together. It’s not just musicians who can learn from this approach, but similarly minded brands, companies, non-profits and peers in similar markets. What this allows is for a mindset of abundance as opposed to scarcity. There’s more to written on that later this week, bit for now, check out Ten Out Of Tenn, listen to some great music, and see how a grass roots partnership can expand everyone’s vision and audience.

The Advantages Of Being An Outsider

Not these outsiders ... well, maybe Pony Boy Outsiders can mean many things. Being outside completely. Being on the margins of something. Being inside but as a square peg at best. Being a gadfly, being that person who doesn’t stop asking “why?”, being the one who gets a lot of blank startes after explaining an idea that doesn’t fit the mold. Or a book by S.E. Hinton that Francis Ford Coppola turned into a film about a gang of Tulsa, OK street toughs in the 1960s (who says street toughs anymore?). It’s my contention that every organization, company, group of friends or even family that is involved in anything great, interesting, unique or passionate has a healthy contingent of outsiders.

I’ve learned from some fantastic outsiders, and had the privilege of being a few of these types myself. For a long stretch of time I was the one inside that didn’t fit the mold. The one who wondered why I was inside in the first place and who struggled to explain my place and purpose to friends who were wholly outside. You know, the ones that say things like, “what are you doing there?” “You don’t fit in there.” “Does anyone at that place really get what you’re talking about?”

I credit the people who brought me inside, knowing that I didn’t really fit. They were the ones who saw that even though I’d struggle and wrestle and become frustrated, that if they could engage, challenge and encourage me enough, that I’d be able to bring something different to the culture that had been missing. They have often been the ones who have reminded me of that when I was an insider. And frankly, aside from some initial feelings of validation, being an insider isn’t that great. You’re constantly defending the rightness of the rituals that have been created, and less able to see which ones have run their courses.

But being a great outsider isn’t all about self-righteousness and “if they’d only listen to me” navel-gazing. Being an outsider is about being able to see opportunities because of who and where you are. When I was part of smaller divisions of larger companies I saw so many things that could be done to make the most of things that the parent company insiders couldn’t. What was a nuisance or disturbance to their pattern of work was, for me, a means of giving life to an inanimate object and making all of the work that I was tasked with that much fuller, richer and more valuable to my team and the entire organization.

The challenges to outsider-dom are twofold:

  1. To stay the course and not quit. Unless what you’re doing is meaningless, don’t be deterred from speaking out, finding collaborators, and moving things forward. It’s frustrating. But frankly, it’s more frustrating to be an insider with no momentum or mojo, because then you have no idea how to move. Outsiders know how to move. And we all need movers.
  2. Howard Bloom on why outsiders rule

    Don’t give in and fit in. Most importantly, it’s not honest, and you won’t give your best to anything. It’s also likely that your outsider ideas will catch on and you’ll find others who can help you, support you and find strength in knowing that you are there.

  3. I have to give credit to Bob Lefsetz for pointing me to yet another great story and lesson, this time from famed music business publicist and author Howard Bloom, who has worked with legends such as Prince, Michael Jackson, Talking Heads, Simon & Garfunkel and dozens more. It’s an edited clip of an interview he gave at a conference, and there are gems throughout. The two things that stick out the most for me are:
    1. Outsiders Rule
    2. Nobody is a genius alone – we all need community or collaboration to achieve anything great.

    And it’s not so much that we haven’t heard this before, or feel like it’s another version of Outliers, it’s that we need to constantly be reminded that who we are, what we are passionate about, and what we are willing to pour ourselves into matters a great deal, and provides our greatest advantages.

    So stay outside. Stay passionate. Stay curious. Ask why things seem to be sacred, and if they’re cows, make burgers. Stay gold.

Tuesday Music Thing: Women Rule! St. Vincent & Brandi Carlile Let Loose

StVincent_StrangeMercy Today is the release date for the third album from Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, titled Strange Mercy. A former member of The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens touring band, St. Vincent has evolved into one of indie rock’s most consistent and inventive artists. Her voice has a wonderfully expressive range, and possesses the wonderful quality of being able to express rage in a sweet, lilting and haunting voice, as on the title track when she sings to a friend, “if I ever meet the dirty policeman who roughed you up…”

On the track “Cruel”, a swirling synth string effect evokes old Hollywood musicals as St. Vincent sing-songs her grappling to understand how people can be so “casually cruel”. The song is punctuated by her stabbing, angular guitar riffs that come from unexpected places that continue to surprise on repeated listening.

StVincent_Letterman

The entire record displays Clark’s lyrical wit and depth, singular guitar playing and ability to arrange complex, unconventional and highly memorable songs, cementing her as an artist who, like Stevens or Rufus Wainwright, could just as easily compose symphonies, sound tracks as she can a collection of some of the finest indie rock being made.

St. Vincent is undertaking a world tour this fall, so be sure to keep an eye out for dates. In the meantime, grab the vinyl at a great indie shop or St. Vincent’s website, or if you’re reading this on street date and can’t get on the road, download from Amazon for $3.99 – you shan’t be disappointed.

BrandiCarlile_Live_Cover

Here in San Diego, another convention-defying (yet wholly different kind of) artist is coming to town: Brandi Carlile. On the surface Carlile can seem like any number of confessional singer-songwriters strumming away and sharing their college-poetry level feelings. But Carlile is no lightweight, Jack Handy, Deep Thoughts wannabe songwriter. Her voice is a powerful instrument that that creates Pixies-like dynamics in an acoustic setting, or the emotional bare-ness of emo before it was co-opted by tuneless sad sacks caring more about eyeliner, skinny jeans and howling than emotional impact. In fact, Carlile has the ability to mesh influences such as Patsy Cline, Jeff Buckley and Thom Yorke into one dynamic and singular voice.

She’s also just released a new record, this one live in her native Seattle at the Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony. There’s a free 4-song preview of that record to be found here. And as much as any symphony-aided record can seem to be an exercise in excess and pretention, Carlile pulls it off with aplomb, letting her voice and the songs stay front and center, and allowing the arrangements to buffet them rather than take center stage.

Tonight the Dunk Tank crew will take in her show at Copley Symphony Hall as she opens for Ray LaMontagne and The Pariah Dogs. With any luck we’ll be able to get some decent pics. In the meantime, check out some great music from two of the finest women making music today. Enjoy.

Tuesday Music Thing: Steve Jobs Tribute Video; The Hawk In Paris; Cast

PantslessKnightsImage Thanks to the fine people at Mashable I found this video from the group Pantless Knights. It’s a fun little Jay-Z rip that pays tribute to Steve Jobs through a variety of people in Jobs-esque garb – black mock turtle necks & wire rimmed glasses and a nice shot of his grey New Balance sneaks. Not only is it a fun clip but I like that they even apologize for the bragging toward the end. Keep it light, knights!

HawkInParisCover

Today also saw the release of a free 3-song EP by a new band called The Hawk In Paris. If you like alterna-synth type stuff that has some inspiration in the ’80s (New Order, Depeche Mode, etc.) but is firmly entrenched in new music like Friendly Fires and Boards of Canada, then you’re going to enjoy this stuff. And for a grand total of $0, just an email address and ZIP, the folks at NoiseTrade have done a fine job of letting us discover new music.

The NoiseTrade fellas also have a nice retrospective sampler from Nova Scotia’s finest exporters of classic power pop, the band Sloan. Don’t sleep on that one, either.

Today also saw the release of a free 3-song EP by a new band called The Hawk In Paris. If you like alterna-synth type stuff that has some inspiration in the ’80s (New Order, Depeche Mode, etc.) but is firmly entrenched in new music like Friendly Fires and Boards of Canada, then you’re going to enjoy this stuff. And for a grand total of $0, just an email address and ZIP, the folks at NoiseTrade have done a fine job of letting us discover new music.

The NoiseTrade fellas also have a nice retrospective sampler from Nova Scotia’s finest exporters of classic power pop, the band Sloan. Don’t sleep on that one, either.

Cast: Magic Hour

Finally, it seems that my iTunes has a thing for the British band Cast‘s 1999 album Magic Hour. The band is led by John Powers, formerly of The La’s, and is as fine an example of rollicking Brit-rock from the mid to late ’90s as anything I can think of. I was lucky enough to find Magic Hour on a trip to the UK in ’99 and not have to pay insane import prices. This record continues to stand up and sound as good today as it did when I first got it. Fire up the Spotify or Slacker or YouTube or whatever you use and check out a great record. Enjoy, and have a great week with music.

Want To Engage Young Adults? Don’t Forget To Serve

It's not all about you To those who engage with high school, college or young adult age communities, it’s no secret that the past 5-10 years have seen a dramatic shift in how they approach the world. And not just in terms of technology and communication, though that of course is a massive shift. One of the most marked characteristics of these communities is the desire, and in some cases, demand, that acts of service or social justice be integrated into all areas of life.

Within faith communities, this is expressed as a means of acting out the beliefs that young people are developing, refining and working to articulate. In other words, it’s walking the talk. Of course it’s not restricted just to faith communities, as young people across all strata are eager to find meaning in all aspects of life. The past two years I’ve had the honor of being a part of the BOOST Conference, a place of training and equipping professionals who work with kids in before and after school programs: Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, school district programs and many more. I’m floored by their energy, enthusiasm and intellect in helping to guide, challenge and develop kids of all ages in their character and drive to become passionate, engaged people.

No doubt many of these people could be earning more, doing more prominent things in their communities, speaking to big crowds and other more culturally prominent activities. But their common desire is to serve. They believe that their lives are best spent in the service of others, and it’s humbling to spend time with them.

Last week I was in a conversation with a company that works to develop travel experiences in partnership with colleges and universities. It’s a way to engage alumni in great experiences that are connected to their schools. One of the challenges, of course, is finding younger alums to take these trips. Sure, there are cost considerations, questions about group travel and so forth. But one thing that this company expressed was that a common request from younger potential travelers is that the trips have a service component. These younger alumni want to integrate service into everything, including their vacations!

So if you’re designing an engagement strategy to reach out to college / young adult communities, ask what’s in it for them not just in a general value proposition, but in terms of their experiential value. Does it connect to someone’s deep need or passion to serve others? Is there a broader, even loftier goal to help others in a tangible way? Does the engagement give them an experience that they can’t buy, or that requires a certain knowledge and expertise to arrange?

We know that young adults desire a sense of purpose and meaning to be integrated into their lives. Service is no longer an afterthought, but a core value for an entire new generation. What’s more, today’s tech-savvy young adults are able to share their passions and experiences with their friends in ways that were unimaginable even a decade ago. So consider how serving others might fit into your strategy to engage. You may find that it alters your world as much as it does someone else’s.

Tuesday Music Thing: Daytrotter Sessions; Sade

If you like to experiment with music by artists new and established, but don’t want to graze single MP3s on a smattering of sites, why not check out the fine folks at Daytrotter? Their Daytrotter Sessions series is a treasure trove of indie, alternative and left-of-center singer-songwriters, all performing 4-5 songs live in their Rock Island, IL studio. The catalogue of artists is amazing, and they cover everything from newgrass banjo virtuoso Abigail Washburn to indie-rock epic-ness purveyors The Dears to our personal hero Bob Mould. What’s more, they have some fun illustrations and notes to accompany each session. I’m not sure how they do it all, but it’s bound to put Rock Island in a similar class as the vaunted Morning Becomes Eclectic from KCRW in Santa Monica.

Sade LiveIn other Tuesday music-ness, there’s buzzing about the Dunk Tank because Sade is in San Diego tonight, with special guest John Legend. Yep, this is a sexy, sassy, classy night of music if ever there was one. Reports from friends across the country say that this is a gorgeous night of music, and we’ve been waiting for this with bated breath. Sade is one of the few artists who delivers exactly what you anticipate, plus an extra twist that is both exhilarating as well as surprising.

We’re in the tank for experimenters like Radiohead and Flaming Lips as well, but there’s something about the consistency of sound and experimentation that Sade Adu and her band mates concoct with ease release that’s a delight to hear. Here’s hoping that in addition to all of the hits they’ll throw in a few Sweetback numbers; John Legend as an opener is a perfect vocal foil to come in and lend an extra voice to the proceedings, and we’re betting on an amazing band to accompany him.

It’s also our first trek in years to Cricket Amphitheater, and we’ll see if our innate disdain for sheds as venues can be abated. Why the hater attitude about sheds? Hmm, well, if Rip Van Winkle waiting times for parking (both in and out), $12 cups of tasteless beer and human herding by security are your picture of fun, then color us wrong. Here’s hoping the extra scratch on VIP parking will yield some results and shave an hour off of the baby sitter’s time.

Anyway – head over to Daytrotter and snag some live-in-studio indie goodness, and then launch some Sade on Spotify and enjoy the musical fuel for your day.

UPDATE: We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our sadness at the passing of songwriting legends Jerry Leiber and Nick Ashford. RIP to two amazing talents whose work is ingrained into our pop culture and history.

Marketing On A Budget: A-level Experiences On A C-level Budget

Screen-shot-2011-08-17-at-10.06.11-AMDoes this feel like your conventional marketing budget? Champagne taste on a beer budget is how a particular conundrum was described to me.

Everyone knows that budgets are tight and deals can be tough to find. But with some intentional thinking and willingness to buck convention, I’ve found some great ways to not just achieve some goals with limited resources, but deliver unique experiences that have lasting impact on business. Experiences are the things we remember, and creating them has far more intrinsic value than following the standard course of bombastic marketing.

I’ve been a part of doing this with limited edition promotional music products that paid for themselves, a riverboat cruise that cost less than a cookout, and establishing a venue for a convention that proved to be a social and business hub, all for less than an overpriced hotel suite where most other competitors were hosting media interviews. By questioning the conventional route, you can create amazing experiences as well as get far more from your money that your competitors. A couple of examples:

1) The Morton’s Dinner: several years ago, while at a record label, we were faced with the question of how to best engage influential radio programmers at an industry convention. Being a small, joint-venture with a major, we faced some basic challenges that our larger competitors (and partners) didn’t necessarily need to consider. The standard ploy was to produce a live performance showcase featuring our priority artists and wrestle with our competitors’ showcases to get the most programmers to attend. This was a long-standing tradition at this event, and one that was delivering less and less return each year. What’s more, the venues for showcases were often less than ideal (hotel ballrooms, local clubs with sub-standard PAs, etc.), and the margin for error was not insignificant.

steakBut over the years, the things that I’d heard from programmers, the things they remembered, were the times that they were able to connect individually or in small groups with the artists whose music they played. But scheduling individual meetings, particularly for newer artists, was a near impossibility. Schedules were too tight and the specter of awkward meet & greets loomed too large.

What we needed was a special environment that communicated the seriousness we had about our efforts for our artists, and that also allowed for an inviting setting where stories could be told, relationships established and experiences cemented in the minds of these important partners. So after much research, we decided that we would host two special dinners at Morton’s The Steakhouse, on consecutive nights, and invite our VIP programmers, our focus artists, and a special guest who was familiar to all of the attendees.

This strategy gave us two opportunities, during dinner hours, to attract the hardest-to-get people to a place where they knew they’d get a great meal, in an impressive environment, and get to spend relaxed time getting to know the artists whose music we were soliciting for airplay. It was a huge success. We were able to get far more people to this event than a showcase, as they knew that a dinner at Morton’s was a special meal, and a reservation means something; you don’t stiff a friend by not showing up for a reservation like that. Our artists got to spend focused time with the programmers, which established some very meaningful relationships and airplay. And the kicker: it cost a third of what we might have spent on an awkward showcase, at a time when at least two or three other labels were also producing showcases.

By choosing a place like Morton’s, our VIPs knew we were serious, and when they committed to be there, they knew that their commitment meant something. And we actually had a chance to talk with them about our decision to not compete on the same terms as everyone else, which they appreciated.

2) The Strategic Partner Cruise: While working with a publishing and events company, we were approached by a company that produced themed cruises for specific audiences. In this case it was for fans of a specific musical genre. They believed that our audience would be a core segment of their audience, and asked about partnering to reach them. Budgets were tight, but they offered us a block of cabins on the ship in exchange for an opportunity to exhibit at our conferences and communicate with our audience.

imgresAt the time that they were approaching us, we were struggling internally to determine how we could better connect with some strategic partners that were important to us, and with whom we’d been investing more and more time to establish relationships, gain insight into how we could help one another, and generally improve how we all worked together. Most of our time was spent either on the phone or in 1-2 hour meetings when we could figure out how to meet at other conferences. But this cruise presented an interesting opportunity.

We ended up inviting a number of our top strategic partners to join a few people from the company on the cruise. This was a chance to have uninterrupted time with some of our most important partners, not just with our company, but with one another, which was something that was often discussed but never achieved. Each day we gathered for working time in the morning and afternoon, and we were able to eat together and recap our days in the evening. The rest of the time people met in small groups or one-on-one, and got to enjoy a relaxed environment that we could never replicate at conferences.

At the end of the cruise, every person present said that they’d gather together again at any time, and laughed that no cruise was needed (though it was nice). This also set us on a course of quarterly group calls, an annual gathering and a program of collaboration that we all knew was going to sharpen what we did, individually and together. What’s more, the entire experience cost a fraction of previous attempts to assemble the same group, and we had a partner in the cruise company that was happy to have reached a desirable audience while creating evangelists for their exceptionally well-produced event.

How have you been able to create experiences for clients, partners or even your internal staff, not by merely throwing money after it, but by re-adjusting your view of what the goal of an event is, and making sure that those goals are reached, and not merely fulfilling what you believe is expected of you?

New Music: Little Dragon

Ritual Union, by Little Dragon Here’s the tip for this week. A record that’s just a few weeks old is Ritual Union, the latest from Swedish electro-whatever band Little Dragon. With fantastic female vocals from Yukimi Nagano, and a genre-bashing set of tunes that recall everything (in my ears) from James Blake to Deerhoof, this has been fueling the Dunk Tank offices for several weeks, in that it’s instantly listenable, and holds up to casual, mood-based spins as well as closer, focused listens.

Screen-shot-2011-08-15-at-9.28.23-PMThe album is on sale right now for $5.99 at AmazonMP3, and if you want to check out the live thing, there’s a cool concert & interview they did with KCRW last month.

You Can’t Fake Being Excited

Yeah, I'm sooooo passionate about that. Whee. I was talking with a friend about the things that determine whether or not things are done and done well. Duty. Requirement. Obligation. Threat of dismemberment. The list goes on. But the real thing about all of this is whether or not there’s any passion, ownership or buy in to the task at hand. Do I care? Why do I care? Can I (or we, as a team), fundamentally make things better, easier, more enjoyable or helpful for someone or for a bunch of people? Is there an authentic motivation for what I’m doing?

As we were talking through this I got the latest edition of the Lefsetz Letter, where Bob talks about authenticity and why people respond to it. He uses Five Guys Burgers as a launching pad for why people connect to artists, ideas, brands, and companies, and most of it, Lefsetz posits, is about authenticity and passion.

I couldn’t agree more. When I talk with people about projects, my level of engagement is immediately apparent to my potential clients. And I’ve learned to be honest about my level of passion for projects, because I know that if I’m not into it, then I’ll hold back. It might be holding back 5% or 10%, but that percentage can be the difference between tipping the scales in one direction or another. And it’s what I look for in working partners or people I hire. I spoke with someone a few months ago and was trying to asses their interests and passions, and all I got was a standard, “I like a lot of stuff. I can go wither way,” as though having no opinion or passion was a way to win my approval.

I think we should be able to share the things we’re passionate about, and see how those passions help us in what we do. Our passions speak to what moves someone, what connects, and how we relate to one another. It’s why my skater friend and I make a connection between skating and music – things that are lifestyle-oriented, things that require authenticity and credibility. We may have different tastes in those things, but the passion is similar. Likewise the passion for finding the heart of the matter with a client, identifying the real need, the real promise and the real search to serve someone. Those things can’t be faked. Well, they can, but they lead only to cleverness for cleverness’s sake, and not to helping people find something meaningful and lasting.

So be passionate about things. Ask why you’re touched, moved, inspired or annoyed and what those things lead you to explore. Enjoy!

Timeline Of Musical Formats

Timeline-smallI read a great article this week from Digital Music News. They gave a quick overview of the key times that the music business experienced disruption in its business model. This went from printed sheet music (itself a product of Gutenberg’s great publishing disruption) to metal cylinders that were sold (expensively) to radio broadcast being dominant and accessible (resulting in reduced sales of cylinders) to vinyl records and cassettes to the modern day digital formats. Each advancement brought forth a disruption in the status quo. I also talked with a colleague who has a long history in the advertising business, and he detailed the changes in that business, and if you watch Mad Men this will be familiar in the characters of that show. In the 50s and 60s the print advertising people ruled the school, and looked down on the geeky, dweeby people in the upstart television part of the company. Later the TV studs sneered at the direct mail geeks, who later ascended and scoffed at the Internet / digital nerds.

So progress happens, big whoop, right? Right. Except that each disruption causes significant changes and challenges. How long do you stay with the established channels as a primary means of telling your story while nurturing new ideas? When do you kill a channel? Do you understand the challenges of the new?

I reflected on this last point again this week as I observed the shut down of one of the last online destinations that was bought by a media company I have worked with in the past. They had a pattern of gobbling up and making wealthy a number of digital pioneers in the early and mid ‘00s. It seemed incongruent with the company’s personality. It was as though they realized that they would need to adjust to a digital future but refused to learn that that would mean they would have to adjust their tone, their ways of measuring success, and their posture.

They are / were a large company, and thought that they could buy and bully their way through the digital emergence. What they missed almost entirely, despite many sensible voices inside their culture that they ignored, was that the new digital reality cared little for power or bullying or perceived influence. They were dealing with people who measured success and value in different ways. And so every time they made a power play, their rivals merely side stepped them and slapped them on the behind, like a Bugs Bunny toreador episode. Their backsides could apparently handle only so many slappings before they decided that they didn’t understand this new, disruptive paradigm.

Of course, by the time they made their realization they had destroyed the brand equity they’d purchased. And to add insult to injury, because they had lost so thoroughly at the digital game, they pridefully declared it all a sham and went back to their core, traditional media business, which was a shell of its former self.

My guess is that in a year they will, if they are able to, start the process again. If they are able to make a shift they might have a shot. If they are merely trying to maintain what was while hedging their bets on what they will be, I’d start the obit and dump the stock immediately (though I have no stock in the company).

What Can You Do With $150 Million

images-1My friend Tia is an amazing person. She works with people who love kids and who work tirelessly to make kids’ lives better, and to train, equip, encourage and champion those people. Her BOOST Conference has fast become a favorite destination for me to feel good about the massively talented people who could make far more money elsewhere, but who feel committed to pour their lives into kids. Tia commented on her Facebook page tonight that she wishes that our schools had the $150 million that former eBay CEO Meg Whitman spent on her bid for the governorship of California. And the amount of her own money that Meg Whitman spent was a huge part of the story here in California.

Several times during the campaign I wondered how this ugly, contentious campaign (on both sides) would have been altered had Whitman taken even half of that money and conducted a social good campaign to bring tangible change and improvement to areas of California. In looking at how corporate social good campaigns like Pepsi Refresh or Chase Community Giving have been working, why shouldn’t a candidate try to employ a similar approach? Imagine the level of awareness and connection to great causes and incredible work that could be had by a candidate that was truly willing to invest / risk their campaign on seeing something positive done? By empowering some of the thousands of inspiring, connected and passionate people around any given state?

And especially for a candidate spending their own money. If you’re going to claim that that makes you less beholden to entrenched interests, then why not go all the way? Forget spreading the money around to crony type groups that claim to deliver voters and start getting your name associated with things like school arts programs, or community development projects, or jobs to train employees in new skills for a new economy?

This is not about Meg Whitman, or Michael Bloomberg, or Jerry Brown or Harry Reid. It’s about asking if our campaigns could be as effective as corporate good campaigns seem to be (based on the expansion of the Refresh Project and other, similar efforts), and actually accomplish something in the process?

Is this really all that unrealistic? What would happen if television and radio stations, direct mail companies and web sites went without some of their every 2 or 4 year advertising blitz funding, and instead we heard about how Joe Blow for Senate was responsible for the funding of a scholarship endowment for at-risk students? Or go ahead and pay for a few million anti-bullying bracelets to be distributed throughout the state as a way to signal your support for those efforts? Heck, even invest some money in things or with organizations that might not vote for you but that do great work, just because they do great work.

Sure, there’s bound to be a level of cynical exercising of that kind of approach, but at least you could come out on the other side of the campaign and have something of lasting impact to show for it, right? Instead of using the vast sums of money that go to the same old places, why not use that money to show voters where you think investments should be made and show us how those programs reflect an approach to governance?

It’s just a thought, but I have to think that the priorities of campaigns can be reflected in actions in addition to rhetoric. I’d love to know your thoughts on this idea.

Afternoon Listening: Free Music From The Pixies!

PIXIESYes, indeed, The Pixies have launched a new web site, and as a thank you to email list members old and new alike there’s free music to be found. I’m listening to the band’s 2004 set at the Coachella Festival, which is a 20-song jaunt, including Bone Machine, Wave Of Mutilation, Gigantic and Here Comes Your Man, among others. Thanks to The Pixies for sharing and fueling the home stretch into the weekend.

Most “Liked” Brands

Like1The folks over at The Next Web have compiled a listing of the 25 brands that Facebook users have clicked to “like.” It’s worth noting that this list is all brands, not apps, celebrities or bands. The article has short descriptors of each. Of particular note is that whether these brands were helped along by massive ad campaigns, their Facebook eco-systems are always changing, offering new content and staying engaged with their audiences.

It’s also interesting to see a few brands that are benefiting from huge audiences without massive spending. It goes to show what passionate fans can do, not to mention the ongoing allure of great chocolate.

Enjoy the list!

TOP 25 “Liked” BRANDS ON FACEBOOK

  1. Starbucks (16,032,409)
  2. Coca Cola (15,095,389)
  3. Oreo (12,085,126)
  4. Skittles (11,508,441)
  5. Red Bull (10,198,875)
  6. Victoria’s Secret (8,429,334)
  7. Disney (8,394,141)
  8. Converse All Star (7,366,892)
  9. iTunes (7,071,721)
  10. MTV (7,043,056)
  11. Zara (6,063,583)
  12. Pringles (5,762,518)
  13. NBA (5,616,388)
  14. Starburst (5,380,056)
  15. Nutella (5,208,281)
  16. Dr Pepper (5,164,646)
  17. Monster Energy (4,916,536)
  18. Adidas Originals (4,804,224)
  19. H&M (4,520,070)
  20. Ferrero Rocher (4,424,751)
  21. McDonalds (3,795,486)
  22. Playstation (3,683,751)
  23. Xbox (3,447,690)
  24. Taco Bell (3,399,860)
  25. Puma (2,712,075)

Content Is King

content-is-king1Time and again we are reminded that the nature of what something is is the most important aspect of telling its story (and marketing, for me, is all about story telling). Tell me what it is you have, how it was designed, what it actually does, not just what it intends to do, and I can start crafting that story. But marketing absent great content is little more than a set of clever, maybe even downright brilliant ideas masking the fact that there is no there there. Take a look at this clip telling musicians / bands how to effectively utilize social media and technology to garner a following. It’s mind-boggling the array of choices that we have for all of this. But of course the really important thing is whether or not the music is any good. Whether it touches people, compels them to listen again and again and tell all of their friends. Absent great songs the rest of it is merely clever marketing at best.

This goes for whatever you’re hoping people engage with. An event, a book, a product, a resource or an idea. Focus on the content, the soul, the distinguishing characteristic of something before anything else. Because the marketing channels will undoubtedly change, but great content can go anywhere.