Farewell, my friend

Posted in Uncategorized on July 1, 2009 by secretsocietyofstarfish

We lost Paul Kopecky last week.

Paul was someone I didn’t know as well as I would have liked.  When I sang with Dimension X, Paul and his brothers Joe and Bill were familiar faces in town–we often opened for them, and sometimes they’d open for us.  A “good time to be had by all” was basically a guarantee.

As the band Kopecky, the brothers wrote a goodly number of albums between 1996 and 2007, when Paul’s health prevented them from playing.

Until that time, however, Kopecky could be found anywhere from BajaProg to Macaulliffes Pub.  The show was fun–Bill Kopecky was the man chatting up the audience between numbers (Kopecky was a mystic/groovy/proggy 3 piece–guitar, bass, drums) and Joe would give them their dose of shred.

Paul was the quiet one.

Smiling, watching, and listening–Paul wouldn’t say much, but what he did say was worth listening to.  Most of the time though, the drums spoke for him.

please visit the Kopecky site, to hear some of his life’s work.

Joe and Bill wrote a moving tribute…here is an excerpt:

“Paul was an exceptional drummer whose unique style shaped and helped define the KOPECKY sound.  His drumming was powerful but precise, innovative but instinctive, and always, always tasteful.  He played selflessly, crafting his parts to suit the song, not his ego.  We were always suprised by his phenomenal talent, and we often marveled at how he could, with a minimum of practice, play extremely complicated tracks in just one or two takes in the recording studio.  And in concert, Paul was always solid as bedrock and played his absolute best despite being frequently ill on stage.”

I was in the audience many times–that quote is solid truth, with one amazing point.

I never knew Paul was sick.

All that time–until he couldn’t play anymore–I never knew.  I wonder how many others saw his smile, heard him play,  and just assumed all was well with him.  It was an amazing gift he gave to us–He never let his illness get in the way of his work.

He never let it color my perception of the music, or the performance. I just knew he was good.

Thank you, Paul.

You  will be missed.


Be Tom Edison.

Posted in Uncategorized on May 6, 2009 by secretsocietyofstarfish

Persistence.

Ah yes.

The serious bloggaratti will tell you “don’t apologize for missing posts”.  “Don’t write posts about missing posts, etc.”

Don’t meta-blog.  Just blog.

So, okay already.  But that leaves an elephant in the room, called persistence–or lack thereof.  So..here’s a primer, as much for my own benefit as anyone else’s:

Persistence:

  1. The act of persisting.
  2. The state or quality of being persistent; persistency.
  3. Continuance of an effect after the cause is removed: persistence of vision.

It’s that third one that catches the eye.    Continuing to work at something AFTER the cause is removed.  Everywhere you look in life, you can see failures of persistence.

–Missed blog entries (Take that, bloggaratti!)

–lapsed practice (doesn’t matter if its a pen, guitar, or brush–did you pick up your instrument today?)

–ANY activity designed to display “six pack abs”, “big arms”, “toned ____”, etc.  (How many diets have you heard of? If they worked, would people want new ones?)

…..And the list goes on.

So, we know that there is  value to persistence–perhaps it is the ONE thing that matters.  And who owns it?

Why do I ask, you might ask?

Because I have a bit of a debate going–there are those who use the phrase “for the love of the _____”.  The blank is commonly “game”…but it could just as easily be “music” in that blank space.

“For the love of the game” is a phase that often refers to youthful enthusiasm, the amateurs love for something.  Something that amateur would do for free.

As if doing something for “free” demonstrated “love”, in and of itself.

I would put forth that Professionals love what they do MORE than amateurs.

Pros show up every day–even if their head isn’t in the game, their body is.

Amateurs go home when its raining.

Pros do what is needed–when its needed.

Amateurs do things “when they have time”.

and the list goes on.  Steven Pressfield has done a better job than I ever could defending this point of view.  Just about any artist will benefit from reading his book “The War of Art“.

Not too long ago, I heard a most crushing defeat.  I heard this:

“Man, we’re never going to “make it”.  This is only a hobby.  Its the greatest hobby in the world, but its only a hobby.

Defeat.  The pro goes amateur.  How did I respond?

“I want my 1,000 true fans, Damn it!”

What I should have said was something I wrote later:

My hobby is computer games, thanks.  Pick em up, put em down, try a new
one, dump the old one–no worries.

The band–this music– is something I sweat for, give to, and scheme about.  Its an oath to respect other’s contributions and time as if they were my own, with a common goal in mind.  When I don’t contribute, I feel guilty. When I do, I feel satisfaction.  When we succeed, I feel elation.

I never feel guilty about frickin video games.

Success is not always the top tier.  It _can’t_ be, for MOST of us, by definition.

Only so many players make the big leagues–does that make a college athlete’s efforts any less successful?

And unlike sports, music can be made for the rest of your life.  Ask a blues fan sometime how many ol’ blues players played for 20, 30, or even 40 years before they “made it”?  Those players didn’t care.  They were doing what they loved, every day–like a pro.  They were/are making a living doing it–like a pro.

Amateurs equate success with the top level of success in anything–its hidden perfectionism–a neat little trick..because like the fox, the amateur can then decide the grapes “were sour anyway”.

The professional stops jumping, and gets a ladder.

Thomas A. Edison said it best..here are a few of the things he said about persistence. :

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

And finally…..

“What you are will show in what you do.”

80/20 rule of “hits”: does it apply to you?

Posted in Uncategorized on April 20, 2009 by secretsocietyofstarfish

The Pop music world does one thing well—give the audience what they want.  There are plenty of reasoned arguments against this: that massive radio companies have “pushed” content audiences don’t really want, that record companies have dictated taste, etc.

There _is_, however a  counterargument: The listener has had over 5 years now of Pirate bay, napster, limewire, etc. where they can expose both strangers and friends to all that the world has to offer musically…..

….and pop isn’t dead.

Its not selling as well as it used to–but pop is short for popular–(and I’m including ALL mainstream categories here–rock, R&B, Country, you name it.)–and its still selling strong.  There must be something to that….

Not everybody wants to be Spears, West, or Cash–at least, not in the “paparazzi-chase-me” sense–but most artists would like a piece of that success–the “enough-to-make-a-living-without-a-day-job” sense of popularity.

And that brings us to the 80/20 rule.

You’ve probably heard of the “80/20” rule–but if not, here’s the basics:

Lat 19th century economist Vilfredo Pareto discovered that 80% of the wealth in his country was controlled by 20% of the people.  He started seeing this 80/20 vibe happening all around him–even the vegetables in his garden (20% of the peapods producing 80% of the peas)!

Other modern examples:

-20% of your carpet probably gets 80% of the wear.

-20% of a businesses customers generate 80% of its revenue.

-20% of your clothes get worn 80% of the time.

Which leads us to the possibility that 80% of your gains as a band (writing, playing out, creating connections with your audience, etc.) will happen with 20% of your actions.

The trick is simple: Figure out which of your actions are in that 20% range–and focus on those.  If your actions fall outside the 20% range–question their utility, and possibly drop them altogether.  The more time you spend doing the things that generate 80% of your gains, the better off you are.  Seems simple enough, right?

This broad principle applies to a host of things–practice time and style, writing, editing, recording, etc.  Nearly all of an artist’s activities  can benefit from the application of this principle.  But there is one area where artists draw the line…ever wonder why some bands tracks “all sound the same”, yet they have hit after hit after hit? Perhaps they found that 20% of their songs accounted for 80% of their hits….and remember…”hit” does not _have_ to mean “platinum record”.  A Hit is what pays the bills, covers travel expenses, etc. But…..

Wait!! Isn’t that like selling out?  Allowing the audience to dictate your art?

It could be–and it might be exactly what you need, or it might break you.  This is a question each and every act must decide for themselves:

What do you want from your music?

If you are making art for the sake of art–if you are working your muse for yourself first, and any audience second–then this idea is anathema.  It would at best give you “stale” results, at worst turn you into a “tool”–something artists (rightfully) fear.  Problem is, unless what you like is liked by a LOT of other people, you are UNlikely to quit your day job.

If you want to be a “rock star” with all the trimmings–then this is precisely the path to follow–in fact, its the ONLY path to follow.  Find a sound that casts as wide a net as possible–and wallow in that sound.  As times change, you follow.  Problem is, you need to be awfully lucky or smart for that one. Those who have morphed their sound (Madonna) or simply ARE a sound (the ‘Stones) have lived the life–and while this is THE lottery win, it happens about as often. Perhaps slightly less.

However–if you are in a compact with your fanbase–if what they like is what you do, or if you strive to give your audience what they want…then perhaps you can take a lesson from Pareto in this most sacred of endevours.  Let the audience tell you what they want–and give them more of it.   Write what you love–find your 1,000 or 5,000 fans, and PAY ATTENTION to them.  Carefully.  Watch your numbers online–pay attention to what gets played.  Which songs give a coherent message to the listener?  Which tunes give them what they need–catharsis, happiness, energy, whatever–so they give you their attention.

Then give them more of it.

Studio update, part 2

Posted in Uncategorized on April 3, 2009 by secretsocietyofstarfish

SSoS will go into the studio again on April 15th and 16th–finshed work will be posted asap.

Who is YOUR Patron? Part 1 of….

Posted in Uncategorized on February 27, 2009 by secretsocietyofstarfish

Who IS your Patron?

WHO is your Patron?

No matter where the emphasis lies, the question is vital if you are to be an Artist.  The Internet has given just about anyone with an interest the chance to become said “Artist”.  Every artist, however, needs their Patron.  So, how to find ’em?

Let the Luddites rant and rave about the dangers of technology…I stand firmly on the side of what has been coined the “Technium“.  Never have so many had the chance to sculpt, paint, program, write, play, or “do” Art.  When Michelangelo was doing his thing, the Sistine chapel was pretty much “it”.  And to see it, you had to go there.  Now, virtually everything he did is just a Google search from your admiration, derision, or apathy.

Regardless of how you feel, you can get to his work without ever leaving your house.  You can, of course, still book a flight to Italy–and for a small fee–look upon the original yourself.  (I found the link via a Google search for “Sistine Chapel Tours”…so caveat emptor, and all that.)

So first…the good news.

Since the world’s population is getting comfy with the idea of accessing _everything_ from the Internet, Lorenzo de’ Medici is no longer the only game in town for the future Michelangelo, regardless of his medium.

You have an interview scheduled with anyone, anywhere, who can find you. And–unless you can convince Bill, Warren, Carlos,  or one of the other folks from the Forbes list that your work is worth their investment–you’re going to need quite a few “someones” to help you.  The Age of the Patron is all but over.  The Age of the Patron(s), is alive and quite well, thank you.

If your medium can be recorded, that means anyone in the whole internet capable population could choose to be your Patron, from the guy down the hall, to the fine folks down at McMurdo Station.

The downside?

Everyone Else in your talent pool is completing for the same attention.  Attention is governed by the only scarce resource that will always remain scarce…Time.  You need to provide not just an experience with your Art–you need to provide one that your future Patrons will find worthy of their last currency: Attention over time.

How to do that?  The first part is easy.  Do what you do to the best of your ability, and continuously look for ways to improve what you do.  But, you were doing that anyway, right?  Were you?

Every once in awhile, an Artist you love gives a performance that just isn’t up to par…they “phone it in”.  Be it a lip-synced song, a half effort with a script, a book that just reads, well, tired.

You can tell when an Artist is punching a clock, can’t you?  So can everybody else—your future Patrons.  So,  first rule of finding your Patrons is simple.  Don’t disappoint them–Give your all to your Art.

Rule One: Give your All to Your Art.

How does that find your Patron?

If you’re reading a blog this obscure, odds are you’re already doing it.😉

Give your all to your art.  More than just making your art–millions of folks make music, paintings, and pictures that never leave the Garage or the Basement. The Field of Dreams is the only place THAT worked.

Give yourself the Time to build skills if skills are what your style of music calls for.  If your music needs powerful enthusiasm and a powerful stage presence, then study and practice that. Give your Art the time and dedication, and it will reward both yourself, and your future Patron(s). Common sense, you say….

The resources to succeed are absolutely out there if you are solid on Rule One.  But don’t stop there…You need more than Rule One to find your Patron(s).  The drive to create, and believe in what you’ve created end with Rule One. You need more:

Rule Two: You ARE your marketing dept.–so start marketing!

Find ways to make your work audible and visible. This is the part where artists stumble.  This is the part where an Artist does not. There is a reason for the vaunted “Rock Star” ego.  You have to believe in yourself and what you do….a LOT…to make it happen.  More than just make the music, these days….If you’re making music in the garage, do yourself the favor of  googling up some resources to help folks find you.  Try the Indie Band Survival Guide, for starters–that will lead to other resources–all online.

Hundreds of books have been written on how to “Make It In the Music Business”, and no offense to the authors–they put in a lot of time and effort–but if its on a dead tree, its probably a Mostly Dead idea. The Old Ways aren’t all the way dead–if they were, like Max said: all we could do is check for loose change. But….

For the most part, the answers live in the Cloud now–nothing else changes fast enough to keep up.

Get inside your Patron(s)’ head: You know what you sound like, and WHO you sound like.  Find out where Patrons find them, and you’ve found out where their Patrons might become your Patrons.  iPods hold a LOT of music–there’s room for you on them.

You don’t have to stop there. The advent of file-sharing has done more than just make a LOT of music available to a lot of people.  It has encouraged breaking down the walls of music tribalism.  Country Music lives on the same iPod these days as Pop, Surf, Metal, Rap, etc.  People want music to be GOOD these days.  Ask anyone under 20 what  they like, muscially. Go ahead, I’ll wait…..

They didn’t give you a genre, did they?  They said something like, “Oh, I like everything–except maybe (fill in the blank).  I like, you know…good music.”

So….all they really want, these Patrons, is to listen to music that obeys Rule One.  So, get out there and find ’em.  you certainly don’t need to abandon the Old Ways of doing so…just just need to add more to the Old Ways.

Doing the dreaded Bar Gig, for instance.

You know it well…Your close friends are there out of a sense of loyalty, your associates and aquaintances might drop in to see just what it is you’re doing–cause you talk about it all the time, after all–and there are some complete strangers as well.

The strangers are your best chance to find new Patron(s).  They’re either there because they found a flyer, saw an internet posting, or they visit the bar every Friday, regardless of whose playing–but they are the only people at your show that don’t have a personal connection to you.  Exactly who you need to meet.  There might be 5 people, or 500…but any way you look at it, they are your Potential Patrons.

After all, everyone knows something like 250 other people…and if this new person becomes a Patron…a FAN….how many others will join them on the journey?  Now how many people will they tell?  It depends on the individual–but if you have FREE music for them to give to their friends via CD, or website location, you improve your chances immensely.  And if you (politely) obtain their email, and you were to SEND them your music–well now they don’t even need to google you. Now…what if they agreed to send it to a couple of their friends?  for FREE?–and in return you give them ANOTHER tune, or a cd, or a t-shirt?  Now your in the realm of tiered content, and your Patron is now recruiting for you. They’re happy to do it, you’re happy to see new listeners, and the new listeners just got free music.

You just might have 5 or 6 more NEW Patrons for your next Bar Gig–a gig they might pay to see.  A gig where they might buy a t-shirt, a membership at your site (for more and new content, of course) or even sponsor your next recording session (in return for yet more new and interesting content).

And so you go on, playing gigs the Old Way….All while working Pandora, iTunes, LastFM, MOG, and so on and so forth….

Yeah.  Now you’re working Rule Two.

I’m working on those rules myself.  I hope to find others to compliment them.  I hope you’ll share your discoveries with us as well…because the pool of Potential Patron(s) is vast indeed…..

..and there is a LOT of room on an iPod.

10,000 downloads. Why?

Posted in Uncategorized on February 27, 2009 by secretsocietyofstarfish

10,000.

10k.

The number of downloads I want to see in a year for a tune from the Secret Society of Starfish.  Why that number?  Why not, “as many as you can”?  Why not a more “realistic” number?

Simple.  Just like any other endeavor that  intends to sustain itself, SSoS is looking for 1,000 true fans. Check the link–its a great explanation, and worth looking at.  The “1,000 true fans” theory is one which we intend to put to the test, and 10k downloads will be our first Great Experiment.  The real number may well be different–it might take 100k downloads or more…but 10k is a number I expect we can hit quickly, and start tabulating results.

As to the REST of the why…the “art” side of the why…..

We would like to continue making music for as long as we can, and to do that, the music needs to sustain itself.  The music bug bit most of us early, and life has marched along regardless of our desires.  We, like millions of potential music artists out there, have lives/wives/children/friends etc. Those who give to us: whose joy, gifts, and yes, obligations we choose to add to our lives, all need to be met.

Now add to that a burning need to create, and you have a quandry.  The music will always consume a measure of  Time.  It should _not_ consume Capital: it should generate it.  Show me a great artist of the past–I’ll google his/her/their Patron.  Michelangelo had Lorenzo de’ Medici.  The Beatles had a sizable portion of the world’s population.  But one patron or millions, the Artist needs a Patron(s) to continue their work.  I would bet the artist in the caves of Lascaux had someone else hunting and gathering for them, at least part of the time.

Let me be clear: the music needs to make enough money that it doesn’t cost us out of pocket–and preferably allows us to work on music part or full time. This is the only way for the Artist to work in harmony with their purpose.  Starving Artists…..aren’t.

So, in addition to satisfying our need to be heard (After all, if you’re an artist, and no one hears your work, does it actually make any noise?) we need to give our listeners value over and above the music….BUT.

First we need to be heard.  If no one knows your work exists…they can’t decide whether or not you’re worth listening to, much less go and see you live or wear your name on their chest, and tell other people about you.

You need to discover your Patron(s)–and they need to discover you.

The path to 10k downloads will be challenging–but may prove to provide unexpected answers.  I expect that I’ll have to go beyond a Myspace page, or a LastFM spot…those are a start, but what other options are out there?  A YouTube video might work for some (especially if there’s a Kitten in there somewhere), grinding out live performances the way for others. The best way?  Unknown.

And to make matters more interesting, Everyone Else is looking for their Patron too….and the Attention Economy is a moving target.  Careful planning, a know business model…don’t exist.  Not yet, anyway.  So…The Great Experiment begins.

I’ll update the blog with notes about what works, what doesn’t, and how many downloads we get as the year rolls forward–if your reading this…join the Great Experiment…give the Starfish a chance!

And if you’re really brave…let us know what’s worked for you…

studio update

Posted in Uncategorized on February 18, 2009 by secretsocietyofstarfish

Today, Joe K will go back into the studio for more guitar tracks/edits/changes/adds/etc.  I will be going in tomorrow for vocals–same deal.

Wish us luck!