“Special Edition” post summing up Brenda’s experience working through “Music Success in Nine Weeks” by Ariel Hyatt.  

To listen to while you read:

Victory Speech (VERY rough skeletal mix)

Falling (Rough mix)

Edge of the Ocean (rough mix)

Well…I won a place in the 2nd place group, but still, I won!  For new readers, I’m talking about that blogging contest I turned myself inside-out over a recent three-month period for a shot at winning a PR campaign for my band from the top online PR firm in the country for independent artists.  I started this blog to qualify for that competition, and am still very new to the field of marketing and PR for an independent musical project.  Again for new readers, I’ve been a professional musician my entire adult life, but my career was heretofore concentrated on orchestra, session and sideman work, and even though my partner/husband and I have had an independent original project percolating away on the back burner for over 10 years now, it is only very recently that we shifted it to the front burner.  It’s been a really long time since I last won anything, so that was some sorely needed confirmation that I’m doing something right (For the record, you don’t get that very often when promoting a new all-original musical project!).

The euphoria shortly gave way to panic though, when I realized that I hadn’t begun with the end in mind…at least not clearly enough.  What I mean is that I didn’t begin with a crystal-clear idea of what I wanted to accomplish with the PR campaign.  Given the breadth of our experience as musicians and diversity of material it gives rise to, there are so many directions we can take it in, and the state of the music business keeps evolving and mutating so rapidly, leaving such a vast amount of information to be reviewed and digested, that it is extraordinarily difficult to distill it all down into a clear, coherent strategy.  And even so, the strategy I devised is a work in process that constantly gets updated on a “real time” basis as my understanding evolves and I get increasingly clear about that I want to do and what I do not want to do.  In hindsight I realize that part of the reason for this is because we are doing something rather off the beaten path musically, and are at a somewhat different place career-wise than most indie artists.  That in and of itself has been a source of endless tail-chasing – the dearth of information that is specifically relevant to what we are doing – and that was the most important thing I gained from my odyssey through Music Success in Nine Weeks (MSi9W) by Ariel Hyatt http://www.musicsuccessinnineweeks.com/.  The broad concepts described in MSi9W can be readily modified to suit virtually any project.  I also discovered along the way that I still had a lot of administrative BS to wade through as an ancillary function to effectively exploiting the various tools and communications means I was introduced to via MSi9W and the various sources of information it connected me to, so I have been spending a lot of time dealing with that upon completion of the blogging contest and in preparation for the PR campaign I won.  (I did win a 6-week campaign for The Panache Orchestra!!)

The process of setting goals (click here for my blog post about Chapter 1), and onward through implementing all the steps detailed in MSi9W confirmed to me that when one takes decisive, consistent action toward making something happen, the universe kicks in by sending angelic people your way to help with things that will bring your goal(s) closer to realization.  I don’t think I have permission to give a public shout-out yet to the new “3rd member” of The Panache Orchestra http://www.panacheorchestra.com/, but this dear old friend of mine/ours has transformed my life by giving me a big, well-experienced hand in retooling our web presence (The new version is not quite done yet – the above link goes to the existing version I cobbled together myself)!  Another angel is someone I very recently happened upon through a convoluted chain of Twitterings who has given me loads of practical ideas that are highly relevant to our project.  Thank you @SoloBassSteve (http://www.stevelawson.net/)!!  Everyone who is struggling with their music career, especially if you are doing something out of the box, do yourself a favor and go visit Steve to get some inspiration and encouragement.

The process MSi9W guided us through in developing a “pitch”, or “brand statement” was just what the doctor ordered , again since TPO covers so much musical territory.  In fact, to this day nobody has yet been able to peg us to any “sound-alikes”, however much we have begged and pleaded, so it has been tremendously helpful to be given an opportunity to carefully think through what we are and craft a concise statement to communicate that to other people in a way that they can make sense of and remember.  (this post chronicles my journey through that process)

On the other hand, maximizing our web presence totally bankrupted my technical capacity and involved spending an inconceivably enormous amount of my hopelessly limited available time on the most tedious, mind-wracking work I have ever taken on.  I am eternally grateful to my friend who is completely overhauling our “own” site because that is giving me hope that I will in the near future have a much better presentation and infinitely more user friendly platform to work with that will streamline my workflow in getting content up.  Another particular challenge is arriving at a web-based calendar feature that works efficiently.  I have experimented with various 3rd party services to simultaneously update the show schedule on various sites with mixed results, and that did little to streamline the workload while costing money I don’t actually have.  The calendar available with the template for our own website seems especially obtuse both for me to work with and for visitors to our site to make sense of, and in fact, is such a nightmare for me to use that I inevitably put off updating it, which obviously isn’t good for business.  (more about this effort here)

In tandem with that task, having never been much of a “joiner” or “techie type”, I have always been put off by social networking, so MSi9W walking me step-by-step through the totally overwhelming and bewildering morass of social media sites, right down to identifying which ones are the most important and how to most effectively utilize them guided my efforts in a way that distinctly accelerated the crazymaking, massively time consuming process of figuring it out and making it work.  (I turned this post into a treatise  on how social media can benefit professional side players too.)  I learned that this is a key element of promotion: developing and building an infrastructure that enables fans and friends to connect with you and see/hear what you are doing on a regular basis.  That maintains the engagement and bridges gaps between shows and album releases.  Now I love Facebook and Twitter!  Facebook has reconnected me to many long-lost friends and family, as well as giving me another way to share information about my musical project in a user-friendly manner.  Facebook was mind boggling to figure out in terms of being a means of promoting music and displaying our stuff, but I like it now that I have gone through the angst to get it set up (have a look).  In the opposite extreme, what I love the most about Twitter (which I had originally dismissed as just one more stupid, time-wasting, irrelevant thing) is its simplicity.  It’s just like getting a rolling marquee of news headlines full of links to all sorts of interesting and useful information that I can browse as I have time to without being left with having to delete a bunch of crap from my email inbox.  I also especially appreciate the “selective post” feature to integrate with Facebook.  I hope ReverbNation will come up with a similar thing.

Another fringe benefit I have personally gained by increasing my involvement in social media is that it gives me some relief from the isolated life I am stuck in due to a combination of having to work constantly in order to have any hope of ever being able to get anywhere I want to be career-wise and being held hostage in a marriage to a person who upwards of 75% of the time is an abusive, drug-addled mental case (I know, TMI).  It really does help me to regularly be reminded that there are plenty of decent, non-toxic, mentally normal humans around that I have at least some contact with, albeit primarily online.

Along these lines, I have always enjoyed writing, whether creative or factual reporting, but however much the blogging part came naturally to me, the technical aspects did not, i.e., setting up my new blog site, adding photos, stuff to dress the page up with, like a banner leading to The Panache Orchestra’s home page, adding tracks to the posts for people to listen to while reading, etc.  That part drove me crazy and consumed an phenomenal amount of time I desperately needed for other things.  WordPress does have good user support though, and now that I’ve waded through the techie mumbo-jumbo and got it mostly sorted out, I love it.  I just wish I had a more efficient means of dealing with photos.  I know it will come with practice, but I just have a few too many other things to practice now, like my instrument, for starters!  As I got deeper into my experience with the blogosphere, I started to get discouraged when I realized that the most heavily trafficked blogs that generate the most interesting conversations amongst followers are by legitimate pundits and/or people with super-sized personalities, of which I am neither.  However after taking a step back, I realized that is because the blogs I have been spending the most time on are written by pundits.  I then recalled that a couple of my favorite ones, one of which has a large following, that I don’t visit as often but still enjoy greatly are written by regular people just talking about their day-to-day lives.  Incidentally, one of my favorite quotes I found floating around on Twitter is “Only deal with people who can handle who you are.  Find your people.”  I don’t know who to attribute it to since I didn’t know how to mark a post as a “favorite”, and thence make it retrievable at the point that I found it, but that has become my marching orders.  (more about this)

The latter part of the book gave a series of tactics and steps to take in order to make use of the web-based infrastructure you develop in the first half, particularly focusing on building the mailing lists, and keep your fan base growing and engaged.  For us, getting a real, honest-to-God newsletter up and running was another big accomplishment (and massively time consuming, mind-rending pain in the ass that merited its whole own blog post and another and one more, and was heretofore a huge missing element in The Panache Orchestra’s promotion strategy.  I simply did not know how crucially important a real newsletter is for keeping in touch with friends and fans, or how to design and utilize one effectively.  Although I have sent one out (and hopefully two by the time this gets posted) I am still hung up with the newsletter for a number of reasons.  First is the simple exasperation of having to try to get the indie rock-biased ReverbNation template to do what I want it to without being an ace at writing code.  That notwithstanding, I have realized that the biggest underlying issue is that we work very hard and generate so much fresh content and so many column inches of news that I am perpetually at a loss to find the time to edit and upload it.  It seems that I am faced with the choice of either: A. Create the Content; or B. Report and Share/Upload It.  (Part of that has to do with the cumbersome design template that came with the web hosting service we are using.  My tech whiz friend and I are working on something to fix that which will be unveiled in the near future – stay tuned!).  The same limitation also applies to various other aspects of being an artist.  I can either (a) be performing constantly, or (b) producing quality output, i.e., building my chops through personal practicing (as opposed to just “survival rehearsals” with the ensemble); developing and refining my interpretation of our individual pieces, (as opposed to simply cramming them into my head and hands), etc.  Carrying this further, I am finding it very difficult to imagine at this point having the time and peace and clarity to ever be able to finish and transcribe any of my own material what with being stretched so thin already.  We’ve only done Chi’s material so far.  My input consists of playing it and doing improvised solos as needed (and all the work of marketing, promoting, administrating/managing it, plus day job to keep a roof over our head.)  I have not had the time or energy available to do any actual creation despite having loads of ideas, which is intensely frustrating.  (My progress through with this is documented here.)

The final step of the program tied it all together and guided us through designing a continuum program to maintain and increase fan engagement through a variety of ways.  By this point, I have initiated so many collaborative projects inspired by Chapter 9 of MSi9W that I have to write them all down and regularly consult “the list” just to remember them all and keep moving them forward!  In fact I’m starting to feel as if I have been permanently assigned to the sauté station at a busy restaurant – a job I think could eventually drive even the most level-headed person to a nervous breakdown.  (Related blog post here).

If there is anything I would have added to MSi9W, it would be a section on best practices for data management, since that was the horse shoe nail that kept losing the battle for me over and over.  I am working on a white paper on that subject that I will share when it’s done.  It should be emphasized that the conversations and interaction that take place on social media sites are in “real time”, i.e., you have to be there and be prepared to respond immediately if you want to participate in a meaningful way.  It doesn’t seem to work very well to jump in and try to revive a conversation from three days ago after the topic has shifted to many other things in the meantime.  Effective data management greatly facilitates timely response to opportunities that come up.

I must admit that getting through the entire programme left me so burned out and fatigued from having my brain all stretched out of shape trying to figure this way-too-high-tech stuff out and make it work, and all the sleep deprivation that effort entailed that upon finishing it, I just went offline for a week or so because I couldn’t bear to face anything computer-related.  Actually, the flame-out occurred after a series of dates in April immediately following completion of MSi9W that included organizing our first house concert, and that gave me a good test run in implementing all the stuff I learned, particularly on the side of administrative follow-through, which I had never done before.  THAT was what blew my circuits.  Thankfully, now that the construction dust has settled and most of the debris has been carted away (at least I HOPE SO!), I’m back in the game, and making fair to reasonable progress. What the hell, here’s the bonus track to my MSi9W blog series.

Final word: what has made the most dramatic difference to where we are now, which is about six months since I started working through MSi9W, and where we were before (progress was happening, albeit slowly and laboriously, and I was getting so burned out and depressed that I was seriously considering divorcing Chi and sending him back overseas and quitting music for good) was writing goals down, looking at them on a regular basis, and taking decisive, regular action toward realizing them; and concentrating my efforts on following the blueprint outlined in MSi9W instead of just running myself ragged trying to do everything that every Tom, Dick and Harry says I’m supposed to be doing in order to advance my project.  That has made a critical difference between being desperately depressed and overwhelmed, and being still overwhelmed but feeling like my time and energy is being expended on something that is definitely going to help us and produce real results instead of just chasing my tail.  To all readers who have bought MSi9W or are thinking of doing so, and contemplating entering the upcoming blogging contest: EVERYBODY DO THIS!!!  Just do it.  And do it with the intention of winning no matter what else you have going on (within humanly reasonable limits, of course).  You can be 100% certain that this effort will get you through the entire PR program quickly, and that will change your life.  The book is no good to you unless you read it and implement the process it teaches.  After two years of chasing my tail, now I feel that my efforts are being targeted in a way that will really produce immediate results.