Just Show Up
Last week I was stuck in a horrible flashflood within Center City Philadelphia. It was the exact day I had to walk around to choose my final dancers for this video.
Bad timing for me, but I still showed up. However, I quickly learned others had not.
So I chose 2 of the few dancers who showed up and they were absolutely fantastic. We’ll be filming next week and I think the video is going to turn out amazing.
But the lesson is that the ones who stayed home because it was the last week of school or due to the rain have just lost an opportunity. Maybe it was personal reasons or travel, who knows.
Of all the messages I get asking “Hey Walt how do I be a better music composer?” then this is one of my most important tips:
Just show up. Just show up.
reindeersparkle asked: Any tips for people getting started with orchestration?
Well, I have my “tips” tag over here. The one thing I think is most important is to learn all the things that they normally DON’T teach you in schools. Learn how money works, social dynamics, and how to take criticism. Don’t just concentrate on music. that’s actually not the main part of this all.
Some call it street smarts, psychology, and thick skin respectively. But whatever they are - they’re important.
A big turning point to my life was when I read Neil Strauss’ “The Game”. Contrary to many opinions, it’s not a book about how to promiscuously pick up women or be an alpha male. It’s actually a book about how to become your best self and present that to the world. The same confidence you need to walk up to someone across a bar is the same confidence you need to push “publish” on your music and overcome fear of criticism.
But now getting to my point: years ago my friend told me “always go straight to the source”. Best advice ever. Want to learn how to skateboard? Hang out with skateboarders, dress like skateboards, and do everything that skateboarders do. You have to immerse yourself in that world and learn it by osmosis and obsession.
So on day 1 of orchestration, just go to a music library and endlessly analyze the orchestra sheet music and the sound recording side-by-side. Then go to orchestra concerts, and read orchestra books.
But… and this is a huge but… also learn how money works. Learn how to talk with people and break your shell (you can be INFJ and still say hi to people at a networking event). Learn how the internet works. And learn how to press “publish” after you’re done writing your music.
After pressing “Publish” some people will say it sucks. Some people will love it. Some people will propose to you online afterwards. Some people will send you threatening messages. Some people will buy it. Some will steal it. Some will share it. Some won’t do anything at all.
But think. Think about how ALL of that activity came from something YOU did that wasn’t in the world 5 minutes earlier. That means you just changed the world in your own way.
That’s the goal. And whether your craft is in orchestration or welding, that’s what you should always aim for.
Answering The Call
Back in 2010 Robert Scoble’s video was highlighting Rana June as the first DJ to use the iPad for creation rather than consumption. In classic Youtube manner, the video comments were nasty and defensive, but both Robert and Rana (who are both awesome people) weren’t phased by it.
His response to one of the comments always stuck with me:
"DJs could have went to the iPad Dev Camp and ripped it up there. They didn’t. She did. Then she answered my call. That’s how this **** works. You want PR, you gotta work your *** off."
Speaking for myself, a lot of musicians are better than me at writing music but they don’t ‘answer the call’ or seek opportunities many times. But I learned an awesome lesson that day, and still consider it some of the best advice I’ve ever read.
Art Tip: Let It Sink In
I finished my Tobuscus CD yesterday, or so I thought. I was about to hit the Publish button but I had this urge that “Mini Minotaur” was not up to my standard.
So I let it sink in last night and then again this morning. I rewrote some sections and can finally say that it’s finished. And now I’m thrilled with it, which is all I wanted.
In football “any given Sunday” is a term that refers to how any outcome can happen between any 2 teams. This is exactly why I get upset about with composing music:
Would I have written better music on Thursday at 10:02pm instead of Monday at 3:28pm?
The answer is that I don’t know. No one knows. All I know is that when I’m not happy with a song then I simply place it down and let it sink in for a day or so - sometimes even a month or more. “Mini Minotaur” was the last song I had to finish for the 5-song Tobuscus album, and it’s a song that I wasn’t satisfied with until Monday at 12:48am.
Any more, my cures for my “any given Sunday” curiosity is just to not rush something. I’m learning that as much as “great art takes time”, it doesn’t really matter at what time you do it. Whether a better muse could have found you on one day or another, I’m learning that what ultimately matters most is that it’s all coming from the same source.
"Dress Everyday As If You’ll Meet The Person You’ll Marry"
My best friend’s dad always said this to me because I used to dress pretty bad, and he told me to always put my best self forward because you never know who you’ll see or on what day. The one day you dress sloppy will be the day you meet someone who takes your breathe away.
Now it’s become more of a life lesson to me rather that just about meeting someone:
Releasing a Youtube video? Make it burn.
Painting a picture? Sweat the details.
Going out with friends? Take the extra minute to iron your shirt.
The “marriage” part means to find someone who cares and wants to join your journey - that journey could be anything from a music community or even a life partner. There are songs I’ve arranged 4 years ago that people listen to, love, and then follow me. A marriage that came from a song I arranged 4 years ago!
If I didn’t take the time to “dress up” my music to present my best self, then people 4 years later would have had the wrong expectation of my product or myself. Not only are you never sure whose reading your blog, but you’re also never sure which song will be the one someone finds first, or on which day. You never know who your art will eventually “meet”.
It’s been one of the the best tips I’ve ever learned.
There Are No Bad Days, Only Bad Moments
Years ago when I was at a music event a young producer once told me “there are no bad days or weeks or months, only bad moments”. That hit me hard because it made so much sense. Why is it that I used to think “tomorrow is a new day” was acceptable? Why did I have to go to bed in order to pretend that I could start fresh?
The fact is that right now is when the new day starts. When I got upset at 6pm then I had to train myself to realize that 7pm is essentially a new “day”, not 7am the following morning.
So these past 2 months were tough because my songs wouldn’t export, and some days I got so mad I felt like everything was going wrong. But I didn’t have a bad week, I only had a bad moment throughout the week. And sometimes those moments stack on top of each other and create an exponential feeling of pain and hurt and unfortunate circumstance.
So the trick was teaching myself to start fresh as soon as something bad happened. Rinse and repeat.
It helps to have a short memory. It helps to have friends, and you, and music, and something to look forward to. So the bad went away and now I look forward to the journey of releasing my first few songs in a while.
The background is that since my Mac Pro was not working this week I’ve decided to return it (more on that later) and instead found a fix without much change. Simple always wins.
What this means is that the songs will be exported tomorrow at 10am and be sent to iTunes. In the old days I would have said “I’m so happy this month is over.” but now I’m saying “I’m so happy this bad moment is over”.
First 4 songs: Inspector Gadget, Disturbed, Brodyquest, and Frozen.
justanotherblogphoto asked: Hey there Walt! I was wonderingtiny if there was any advice you could give to someone starting g to teach themselves piano with next to no musical talent whatsoever?
Well I think talent is a misnomer. That being said, just practice every day. That’s the trick, really. It’s better to practice 20 minutes daily rather than 1.5 hours once per week. This goes for working out, learning how to salsa dance, or anything you can think of.
Find your favorite songs/artists and learn them inside out every day - just the beginner chords, nothing crazy. Then over a year or so start adding scales, arpeggios, and play live (or in friend’s garages).
It’s no different than trying to grow a fanbase online: you do it daily, start small, make it fun, and grow slowly. If on the first month you start getting discouraged by comparing yourself to Mozart’s piano success (or VSauce’s Youtube success) then you’re doing it wrong.
For example: There are a lot of people I went to school with who were better at writing orchestra music than me, but they no longer work in the music industry because I eventually surpassed them. How? I ran a steady race while they were out partying.
Don’t worry about talent, just do 1 hour per day. In 4 months you’ll be blown away how many songs you can play. FWIW iReal Pro for laptop is what I use on learning songs, and I love it.
Piano lessons help a lot, too, especially in the beginning weeks of understanding music theory and scales. But if you can’t afford lessons then online forums, google searches, my old website, or simple piano lead sheets (playing the chords not the melody) may help a lot. Even looking up guitar tabs and playing just the chords are perfect in the beginning!
How To Grow Your Tumblr Community
I get a lot of questions from Tumblr artists about this, so here we go:
1.) Bookmark your most popular posts. Spend an hour each morning opening up your bookmarks and message everyone who is a new ‘note’ on your post. 99% of the time they had no idea you’re the actual artist. Everyone is so used to re-uploads, infringement, parodies, reblogs, etc. that they assume the original post is not the one who actually made the art. As I’ve said, this is the #1 issue with Tumblr, so until that’s fixed then you have to reach out and introduce yourself. If you don’t have any popular posts then just start anywhere - a new post of your work with only 3 notes is still 3 people who enjoyed your work, don’t know you’re the creator, and would likely love to hear from you.
2.) Study the Notes. Let’s look at this post of mine with 46,000 notes:
Above Picture: if your song is getting more notes than you can handle, then select a few people to connect with. How do you decide? Well, here’s what I do:
- ‘Commenting’, to me, implies the highest fan investment on Tumblr notes. Reaching out to people who comment are usually always thrilled to say hi, and are a blast to message with back and forth. Also, comments can usually only be done on reblogs anyway, so it’s sort of like the ultimate fan.
- ‘Reblogs’ are the next tier of investment. 20 years ago you would never call 40 of your closest friends about a painting or a CD. But today, that’s exactly what happens - it’s word-of-mouth on steroids. So when someone reblogs you to their entire community, that’s intense praise. You need to message them immediately so they know you’re the artist, and because they care about your work.
- ‘Likes’ are important, but if a post has 10,000 notes and growing then I would concentrate more on invested fans. Remember, I always say “it’s not about creating the biggest community, it’s about creating the best one.” I consider Facebook and Tumblr ‘likes’ to be sort of passive. People who comment and reblog your art usually are more vocal and passionate of your work.
So what if a post has all ‘likes’ and no ‘comments’? Then find out who everyone is reblogging from. In the above picture, ‘sheasmagicemporium’ and ‘waltdisneyismyhero’ show up as a reblog source (the right side) quite often. So based on the above example, if I could only choose 3 people to message then it would be ‘emkatmcbride’ + ‘sheasmagicemporium’ + ‘waltdisneyismyhero’ (in that order).
3.) When messaging them send it as a ‘Submission’ instead of an ‘Ask’. This is because you can only send 10 Asks per hour, but dozens (hundreds?) of Submissions per hour. You’ll reach more possible fans in a shorter time frame.
4.) The cream rises to the top. The reality is that some Tumblr’s post 60 times per day, and some people follow 1,000 Tumblrs. Do that math - so how do you cut through all that noise? In a waterfall dashboard, you can’t. So concentrate on quality rather than quantity. When I release a new song I make sure it burns (more on that at the bottom) so that it gets passed around. If it’s great art, then your community will pass your work around.
5.) Create original content. Aside from your actual product (which I would assume is an original piece), consider making most of your blog posts original content, too. Sometimes it will stick and other times it will not. But the times when it sticks, prepare for some awesome people to find out about you. If you want to make a “reblog Tumblr” about a certain topic, then by all means do that and become the linchpin curator for said tags. I constantly reblog other’s work, but find a balance between spreading other’s work and your own.
6.) When posting pictures, link to your blog. As shown directly below, there are actually 2 places for trackback links: the source, and the picture link. Use both because 1 of those will probably be edited by someone in the future. 2 is just for insurance.
7.) Submit your links. Shamelessly send your work to Tumblr Tag editors, fandoms, and more. If you’re sending it to someone who reblogged you then include a message like “I saw you liked my painting, here’s another one I did. Come follow for more.”
8.) When tagging, think global. Picture of a dog? Don’t tag #dog. Instead consider #doge #ruffruff #lookatthoseeyes. I notice I get more followers when my tags are more specific and not competing with generic terms.
9.) Twitter search. A lot of people, myself including, have their Tumblr posts get automatically tweeted. So use Twitter Search to track your posts. But don’t search the full URL “http://fororchestra.com/post/70260794081” instead, use just your Tumblr username, in this case “fororchestra”. The former begets almost no results, but the latter gets everything. Twitter search is the most effective thing for Tumblr.
10.) Album art matters. I want this post to pertain to all Tumblr artists trying to make a living. But as for musicians: album art matters - a lot. Let’s take Soundcloud’s new player:
The yellow arrows show what is taken up in the update. So now CD covers can’t quickly be read in someone’s dashboard at a glance. So the remedy is that now I have to make the album art take place mainly in the center. This is useful for Youtube thumbnails too:
The left you’ll see my old album art got clipped. My new versions do not. This is also the case with Deviant Art, Etsy, etc. So pay attention and constantly browse your website every few weeks as if you’re a new visitor - take notes!
11.) Do not copy + paste messages to your prospective fans. If you’re not going to take 3 seconds to care about them and personalize the message then don’t waste anyone’s time.
12.) Schedule posts. The reason I schedule posts every few hours is so that I can remain active in your dashboard (without clogging it all up at once!) even while I’m sleeping. Momentum is incredibly important. It also allows me to reach new audiences - because when I post at 4am I’m chatting with my Australian audience - hi!
13.) The Tipping Point. There’s a point when everything falls in line after a few months or so and things start rolling on auto-pilot: press, community, reblogs, purchases, understanding how the internet works, and all types of stuff. If it seems daunting, then it’s not. Just start and end with one rule: find and keep in touch with those who care about your work. You’ll get there!
14.) Concentrate on 3 new fans a day. Within a year you’ll have 1,000 diehard people fighting for you. That’s incredible - think about that. Don’t say “Buy Buy Buy or GTFO”.
15.) Good work dies, great work spreads. All these tips do nothing if your work isn’t great. The reason I don’t have a marketing budget is because I worry more about making great art, then the rest is on auto-pilot. I sweat the details - from my web layout, mobile layout, color scheme, blog posts, and more. Love is the difference between good and great. You have to love your work and everything surrounding it.
In closing, I’ve never been a big fan of promotions or follow backs or anything like that. When building a community, I imagine it as providing a service to people who care about you. So I follow who I need to so I can stay up-to-date on which songs to consider. I always felt promos were a spam tactic, but maybe I’m wrong. It just always made more sense to spend my time keeping in touch with people.
Make sure your work burns. Keep improving on every aspect you do - from your art, community, web design, networking, and more. And most importantly don’t just love your work, but also the ones who support it.