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Everyone who I’ve distributed my pillowcases to has received the ominous warning, “do not bleach.” Some take this warning without question, trusting that I have the expertise and the mastery of my linens to know what is right and what is wrong when it comes to my product. Others though seem to question my motives, thinking that I have some scheme against the conglomerate bleach companies. I give the usual explanation to my customers where I describe how the dark color of the design on the pillow will wash out and become illegible. Instead I’m going to use a strategy that I’ve learned from my mother by mimicking her argument for why I should marry a nice jewish girl.

Valued Customer: “This is ridiculous Barry. Why can’t I bleach my pillowcase?”

Barry: “Because if you bleach your pillowcase, I’m going to kill myself.”

It’s quite an elegant simple solution to many problems! Think of how the extra minutes of time explaining why not to bleach could be used! And there need be no more explaining! The point has come across crystal clear and the customer doesn’t bleach, and I have some extra time to answer other FAQ’s.

When dealing with a new product, the designers, the marketers, and the managers inevitably will spend many hours every day staring at it, talking it up, and yelling it’s name in hopes that people will give it some attention and “like” it on facebook. What inevitably happens is that those so intimately involved in the product is that they become biased and desensitized to whatever they are selling. They lose the ability to judge how good the product actually is.

Lets examine Pillowcase Studies. I’ve essentially been awake for 72 hours asking people to give feedback on the idea of a Pillowcase Study, the design of a Pillowcase Study, and the website Pillowcasestudies.com. So far not one person has said that the design is terrible, the website is terrible, or the idea is terrible. What I’ve discovered is that people, especially ones that I would ask advice , have a vested interest in not hurting my feelings so they have created a unique rating scale.

Facebook Chat Marketing Strategy:

Barry: Hey! Long time no speak! You should check out the small business I started! www.pillowcasestudies.com

Potential Customer: Barry, why are you spamming me?

Barry: No! I swear it’s really me! It’s a pillow case business!

Potential Customer: Ok. One sec.

At this point, the recipient has just gotten over his/her fear of me sending viruses through my computer and is usually in a bad state of mind. Then after 2.5 minutes of silence, the conversation has the ability to go two separate ways.

The good way:

Potential Customer: Barry! These are hillarious! I’m totally going to buy one! They’re genius! If you made an international relations design I’d totally buy like three! I’m buying the Drama design for my brother.

OR

The bad way:

 The idea is very interesting. Nice job on the website though! It looks very professional.

Notice how both spare my feelings from being hurt. Unfortunately, unless I understand the rating system, I wont be able to become any more specific in identifying my target market. Luckily now that the rating system has been appropriately mapped, I will be more effective in doing so.

Ask a young musician what her biggest fear is and she will inevitably say “that she won’t get gigs out of college.” Ask a young musician how she conquers her biggest fear and she says “practice.” The music education industry is unique in its encouragement and reproduction of deluded masses, hopeful that their hard work inside of tiny prison cells known as practice rooms will one day land them paying jobs. They think that minor scales, tone quality, and improv technique alone separate the worthy from lazy and after graduation, the person that can play Donna Lee fastest lands the big band seat and the guy that lags behind never receives a paycheck. Weeks after graduation even the most talented students often remain unemployed and start seeing their part time jobs at their local music library as their only source of income. Many have to give up on their dreams of being jazz musicians and go back to school to pursue a different major.At a professional level, practice has next to no effect on the success of a young jazz musician. The large portion of promising young players have skill levels high enough to be indistinguishable in terms of technical prowess and sound, which leads directors often to look at their non-musical qualifications. I’ve seen lots of big sounds get left out of struggling groups and lots of weak players given high paying spots because many of the auditions I’ve experienced have been decided first, by who has the best reputation and second, who has the best sound. I firmly believe that the great Charlie Parker would have had an impossible time finding a steady job today over less talented, yet more reliable players. No jazz theory, or atonal harmony class can prepare the young musician to this truth. Students may go to conservatories to learn how to play music, but it is school itself that ignores the real talents needed to succeed in music.

Here are some of the biggest misconceptions that most universities fail to warn their students about.

1) My teacher told me that if I practice enough, I’ll be able to get a job when I graduate.

a. Practicing is extremely important, but if nobody knows who you are, that you are reliable, or if you have talent, then getting a job is impossible. Marketing vital in succeeding in professional environments. If you have to sacrifice an hour of practice for an hour creating a website for yourself, or attending a professional colleague’s performance, or finding a way to network with fellow musicians, then it would be an hour well spent. Marketing for musicians, is what separates two candidates of similar talent to an employer, not raw skill. Just as nobody would get great sushi from a food truck over bad sushi from Japanese restaurant, nobody would hire an unknown Dizzy Gillespie over a well established John Doe. Raw talent is irrelevant to a good employer. A professional looking website, good networking, and bold business cards will signal to employers that a player is a low risk investment and a good hire. No website, no business cards, and no references signal that the player doesn’t care about furthering his career and should be avoided. Networking is one of the more important aspects of marketing yourself. During a break in practice, go on facebook and take time to friend potential employers and local players. Definitely make a professional facebook page and get all of your friends to like it. Make sure to clean up your social networking to make you seem as low risk as possible (no alcohol, partying, or drugs).

2) My college big band is the only group I really need to be in.

a. Chances are that your college jazz band won’t have any potential employers in the audience. It will be mostly friends and family who will enjoy the show, but not have much ability to further your career. The truth is that people don’t usually get jobs from the people paying to listen to them as often as the people playing with them. In a college big band, nobody on the bandstand has the money or power to further your career as they are most likely in the same situation as you are. Spending time building a good reputation with students is time that could be used to build a good reputation with a professional group of musicians. A working musician will inevitably be in many groups at once, so try to avoid night classes to join non school related groups. It’s not uncommon for a student to play part time, or sub with 3 or more non scholastic groups in a year. This is an excellent way to start networking with local club owners, and musicians to ease the hiring process out of college.

3) I should wait until I graduate to look for a job.

a. Easily the best way for a student to feel confident that they will have a job out of college is to get the job offer before senior year. A great way to see what groups are good leads is by getting to know some of the players and offering to sub for them upon their absences from rehearsals. They will be more inclined to hire someone that they have a professional relationship and have played with before than someone (even who has a better sound) that they have not.
If you do find a way to get hired before the end of college, try taking semesters off of college to play and travel with the band. Most conservatories and universities understand when a student takes semesters off to pursue professional goals. Similarly, most schools understand that performing in professional groups is the best way to improve playing and learn the ropes of the industry so if you wanted to go back to school at some point, re-admittance is usually a non-issue. Even so, I’ve personally never met somebody that said they learned more efficiently in college than in a real professional environment.

Every open spot in big bands and combo groups receives hundreds of applications. No director has the time to listen to recordings of every applicant before finding the ones he wants to audition. If he has a connection to you from outside networking, or one of the people in the band passes along your resume (even if you’re not an ounce more talented than the other applicants) you will get special consideration. There really is no point in spending your years in college worrying about finding a steady job out of college when you could be actively searching for jobs a month into your freshman year. Networking in college is crucial to guaranteeing yourself employment outside of your institution and is as important, if not more important than practice.