I might be selfish for choosing to write this article in a manner that I would want to read if I were looking to be inspired by an article covering the ASCAP Expo — but I genuinely believe the words I am about to share with you are rooted in the foundation of success. Not just in the music biz, but success for every aspect of life including the most important one of all; personal development. Don’t worry, I’m not about to go all “Tony Robbins” on you. Well, that’s not entirely true. Let’s jump right in.
We live in a very noisy world. No, I am not talking about downtown Los Angeles rush hour traffic noise — where everyone honks at everyone but does nothing about it noise (try pulling that off in New York City, where people actually do something about it), I am talking about noise in the sense that we have so many options to choose from. From streaming services (Netflix for the win) to production software, email automation software, grocery delivery services and just about everything else in between; how do we know what the right option is? Well here’s some cold hard truth; none of it matters. Why? Those are all external variables that amplify, or expedite what it is that you’re doing, when success, get ready for a cliche; is an inside job. The 2017 ASCAP Expo was full of amazing people, sponsors, and energy, but these are the top themes for success that I discovered through all the wonderful people that spoke.
1. Humility (Ego is the enemy)
Everyone who spoke, regardless of what field or avenue their success came from, humility shined brighter than any variable. We all love what we do, there is no doubt there — but I think we all fall victim (myself included) to either comparing ourselves to the success of others, or worse; obsessing on HOW they got there, and the path that worked for them. Each one of us has our own story, our own obstacles to overcome, our own moments of doubt, moments of success and moments where we want to jump ship. But then, we remember. We remember that our gift, our purpose, the very reason we all jumped on this rollercoaster in the first place comes from the fact that we have the best job in the world; to create. To inspire through our creations, have it be our words, our voices, our piano melodies or our instrumentals; we are the expression of self. Love is the language of the universe and through music, we are able to spread that message and influence parts of the world, or even, parts of ourselves that we never thought we could. There is a difference between thinking you’re the best and simply being the best. Those who think their the best, walk in a room with a sense of entitlement and say “no one in this room can provide me any value, they should feel lucky that I am here.” Whereas those who know they're the best say “I know I am the best, how can I be of service to everyone in this room and expect nothing in return?” Here’s the kicker, you think both are ego right? Well, you're right, ego is always a part of us, we cannot kick it the curb, but we can rewire it to serve others. Love all, serve all.
2. Gratitude (Our success is not our own)
Gratitude would be the next biggest key to being successful in this business. I sat in on a panel titled “ The making of Justin Bieber’s Purpose.” On the far right sat, Stevie James, the youngest of the group, in the middle sat Big Taste, who was a few years older (24 I believe) and next to him sat Poo Bear, the oldest of the producers. Chelsea Avery, SVP of A&R at Scooter Braun Projects sat on the far left and was the one asking the questions. From Bieber’s 2013 Album “Journals” to his most recent album “Purpose” was a long, 3-year process that each member of the panel discussed. Each, a story of their own, involving the capacity in which they were involved in the project and what it meant to them. Although they literally created the music and lyrics (amongst a handful of other people and let’s not forget Justin he hustles harder than anyone) they never took credit for their work. Seriously, I’m not joking, they didn’t. They were simply just happy to be a part of the journey in and of its own. Okay yeah, I know you’re probably thinking “well I too would be grateful if I got to work with Justin Bieber!” And you’re right you probably would. But did you ever stop to think that maybe the reason they got the opportunity in the first place, is because of the simple fact they feel with every cell in their body that they are lucky to just create in general? That they were always just grateful, period? As human beings, we experience every single emotion all at once. If we want to be sad, we can be sad, if we want to be thankful, then we can be thankful. We have the ability — and the right might I add, to amplify whatever emotion we want. Remember that. Oh and here’s a blunt note on the matter: whenever you’re feeling high and mighty, don’t. You didn’t create Soundcloud, or Spotify or Apple music. Or the program you’re creating your music on. You didn’t create YouTube of Facebook or the damn computer you’re doing all of this on. So be so damn grateful that you have all these tools accessible to you, that you want to cry. Seriously, think about how fortunate we are for just those things alone!
3. Listen Objectively (Take a step back)
Whether it’s your musical career, part-time job, significant other, and yes, even your mother; listening is a major key to success. Let me add another point to that; listening with the intent to understand, not waiting for the other person to finish so you can add your 2, or sometimes even 99 cents. Let me say that again: listen with the intent to understand, not so that you may speak when the other person is done. Everybody doesn’t just want to be heard, they want to be understood and that, can only be done when we listen to understand. The same goes for your music. How? Well, it’s simple — your music speaks to you. Not to get all spiritual but it’s true. Music is an energy and it’s one that has the power to move mountains. If you ever find yourself frustrated with your work, simply take a set back (literally) and create some space between the two. Take a couple deep breaths if you have to and give it another go! Listen objectively, and the answers will come to you. This concept is especially important when dealing with multiple personalities, behavior patterns and ego of a team. Regardless of your position, or if it’s just two of you — take a step back from a situation where progress isn't being made and come back with the intention of coming to a solution even if it means swallowing your pride. A little saying my team and I have is “it doesn’t matter who’s right or who’s wrong, as long as we get there.”
4. Reverse Engineer (Only do what matters/amplify your strengths outsource your weaknesses)
Your best friend says “ come visit me in New York, I live in SoHo.” You, living in Los Angeles want to take a road trip, pack your car and start driving to New York. Eventually, you make it there and even make it to SoHo but you have no freaking idea where your friend lives because she never told you what her address was. Unfortunately (or fortunately) this is how most of the world works. They have a general idea of where they want to go but have no GPS coordinates to get there. If Sally (this feels like a standardized test math question involving apples) gave you her address, you would end up 3 feet in front of her apartment. Success works like that too.
I am an artist manager with an entrepreneurial background. I treat my artists like a business, like a startup actually. There are many messages and takeaways from my experiences and others like me, but here are two that are very close to my heart.
Never leave customer (or in this case fan) unanswered (thanks, Eli Chmouni)
Where do you want to end up, and how do you take the steps to get there? The first is kinda a side note that I think is very important to all those reading this; never leave a customer (fan) unanswered. If a fan engages, engage back. If they have something rude to say, drown them with love — there is already enough hate in this world. The second is super SUPER crucial. Where do you want to go? Is your goal to sign to a label and sell millions of records / win a grammy? Okay cool, track your steps backward. Are you an amazing singer/songwriter but a subpar producer? Swallow your pride and work on what you’re already incredible at. Outsource your production to someone who's extraordinary in that field. Are you an amazing vocalist who can’t write? Okay cool, again, collaborate with an amazing writer who wants to see his/her works come to life. Yes, things change but remember the GPS example, it’s a major key to keeping yourself focused. Are you here to make it, or are you just here to make music?
5. Hustle. (Please stop the hashtags / by any means necessary)
It’s 05:30 am. You’ve been in the studio or your office for 18 hours and you’re exhausted. You’re super proud of what you’ve accomplished and you know that there’s a 90% chance tomorrow is going to be another 18 hour day and to be frank, the next 3 years are probably going to be the same. So, naturally, you snap a photo and post it on Instagram with an assortment of subpar hashtags including #hustle. You peak at your normal 87 likes and get a few comments from your homies that toss you some praying hands and a “keep at it, bro.”
This is where I tell you to stop. For the love of Chuck Norris; STOP. While you’re showing off how hard you work, some kid on the other side of the world is taking all that energy and cracking out 10 times the results you are. Sorry, but it’s true. I am not saying don’t be proud of what you do, but keep it for yourself and for your team. Let your results speak for themselves, your process is your own. We’ve all heard the line “Hard work beats talent” which, I will agree with. However, when you’re talented and you work hard, that’s a deadly combination. Work hard in silence, let your success make all the noise.
But wait, there’s more! (Paul Williams inspired)
Here’s secret rule #6
6. Internal Handshakes
We tend to think that our lack of success comes from a lack of resources. It’s 2017 and we have Google, so let’s toss that excuse out the window. Let me be very VERY real with you; or as Stevie Wonder said do you want me to be Stevie or do you want me to be Frank?” Can we all take a moment and agree that he’s the f*cking man?
There are millions of people trying to do the exact same thing you are. I live in the heart of Hollywood, within a 5-mile radius there are probably 10,000 people trying to do the same thing I am, and the same thing my artists are trying to do. Hell, a better half are probably more talented and better funded. If you walk into our (I live with my artist) apartment/office you will see a whiteboard that says: “How badly do you want it?” This is a daily reminder that we moved out here to be remarkable; to be extraordinary; we came out here for greatness and we will not accept anything less. And by attending the 2017 ASCAP Expo, so did you. So I leave you with this thought…
Although I am sure you met a ton of amazing people, remember that YOU and only you alone hold all the keys to your success. Everything you’ve ever wanted does not lie with you shaking the hands of others, but rather, you shaking hands with the person you are striving to become. Yeah so maybe you need to shake the hand of the CEO of Republic Records to get that deal. But ask yourself this: is the current version of yourself ready for that? If yes, then literally go walk into the office and demand (kindly of course) that you speak with Monte Lipman and won’t settle for anyone else. Trust me, when you want something that badly your eyes say it, your soul screams it; the universe conspires in helping you achieve it. If the answer is no, then go chase that version of yourself and bridge the gap between the two.
You’re already half-way there, I promise :)
“Our purpose lies not within the product we create, but rather the process in which we are consumed by; the process in which we surrender ourselves to.”
- Tomer Greenfeld obo Hunnypot Unlimited