In a way, it all kinda makes sense now. Those pointless hours spent in business school, learning about stupid shit like distribution and shipping invoices, the concept of marketing, accounting. Bullshit. Surely, I’d never use these things in my life, right? I mean, surely there’d be someone ELSE there to handle all this when I got to a job? And if not, surely I could figure out how to do things like keep track of money and how to ship things out? I mean, what’s the big deal?
Prepping for the release of my album, along with merchandise and everything, is a stressful entrepreneurial venture; which, on the one hand, is fun enough considering that it’s like a gigantic Sim City-like experience. But in those moments between me wondering how much bigger I can blow up the balloon, I freak out, think to myself, “Holy fuck, this is my real life I’m messing with.” And then I usually start crying a lot.
It sorta sucks too, because I’ve always very much been someone with my head in the clouds. I’m more concerned with making music, than I am in selling and marketing music to people. And I’ve been lucky enough up to now that my music has sort of spoken for itself. I throw it up online, I tweet it around, and in the end, it makes its ways through the ether into people’s ears. My biggest songs (Scott Pilgrim, Dr. Who, Ira Glass), I barely did ANY marketing for them other than push it out there and ask the core group of my friends and fans to spread it around. They kinda started moving on their own force, and I kinda just got dragged along for the ride.
So here’s what I’ve learned so far about trying to build up your own brand or product:
1. Email is a pain in the ass
For those who know me personally and wonder why I’ve completely signed off of IM since I stopped working, it’s because I am buried in a deluge of email that constantly plagues my existence. I spend, no joke, probably a solid 3-4 hours a day on email: reading, replying, thinking of things and explaining myself in emails to people, wrangling artists and collaborators, digging through junk and spam, and occasionally finding a gem in my inbox that leads to a great opportunity for my music. I think if I had to have another means to reach me, much less in an immediate way like IM is, I’d lose my mind.
2. Money like water
If you can, budget a flex amount in your expenses for an initial rollout of your product. There’s been about 12 times so far where I thought that was it, I’ve accounted for everything I need to spend to get my album out the door: art, production, duplication, materials, etc. And then i think, oh wait, I need invoices. So I probably need to go buy paper. And print cartridges. Or, I remember that I should get business cards, b/c I may be doing shows in places that aren’t my live show. Or I now want to have buttons to give people who buy the album. And then I watch as more of my savings fly through the door. Sigh, goodbye money.
3. Makin’ Misery
There’s something with a job that operates on its own inertia that makes it easy to let go of your shit the minute you get home. Sure, it may suck, it may crush your soul, but I slept a lot easier when I had a job. I’m about two steps away from carrying a little notebook with me everywhere I go, b/c I’ll be at a bar, drinking, goofing off, and then remember I need to contact this guy to make this thing that I need for this thing, and then whip my iPhone out and type on those tiny keys a long note to myself. I wake up at like 2AM and remember I should write a note to do this to myself. I am constantly stressed and envisioning failure; while pushing myself to do better, in writing, in handling my shit. It’s not easy.
4. No One Understands Me, Wah Wah
Okay, some people understand me. But there’s a certain amount of bullshit I do have to put up with in people who hear that I’m making a video, and then start telling me dumb ideas they have for the video that they want to do in it. Or that I should make sure my album has this on it. Or I should give them a tshirt for free. And so on, and so on. And I have to stop and remind myself, before I bash their heads in or completely ruin them, that some people don’t understand what I’m doing. That they sometimes forget that I quit my job, cashed in my 401k and took all my savings, and put all my chips on the table to make a real run at this. That this is my career and livelihood I’m dealing with. And that when they say stupid shit, you’re either wasting my time or making a mockery of this thing that I take very seriously. I’m a business, man.
5. The Prize Is the True Reward
Despite all the bitching, I have to say this much: getting to personally connect with a lot of strangers, having people tell me that they love my music, having opportunities happen, they are the moments in life worth living for. I can think of the number of times that I rocked an exam, did a great thing at a job, accomplished something in life in the professional sense. And it doesn’t register on my emotional scale. At all. I barely remember it. I get an email from someone telling me that they listen to my music while they draw, that my music led them to listen to more [good] hip hop, to see the outpouring of support and kindness from people…it is truly moving. And even if I end up cold, alone, and hungry because of it, stuck in some dead-end job paying off my debt for years and years, those moments will last me probably longer.
Anyway, that’s about all I got right now. I have to get back to work. And on a Saturday, too. I mean, really folks.