Posted tagged ‘derek sivers’

An Interview with Yours Truly

October 6, 2010

Yours Truly (L-R Eric Downs, Justin Portis, DJ Huggy)

Grassrootsy has gotten into the habit of interviewing singer/songwriters. Sorry guys! We forgot that there are bands out there reading this blog!  So I’m excited to share Yours Truly with everyone. They’re a fairly young power-pop-rock band based out of Pittsburgh, PA and they sound great!  I’ve got ears to prove it!

I ran into YT’s drummer, Eric Downs, at a show earlier this year and have since engaged in several great promotion-related conversations. I love a good idea!  After his comment on last week’s “Should I Avoid Shows that Require me to sell Advance Tickets?“, I asked Eric if he’d like to answer a few questions.  Read the below carefully because its good!

1. YT is fairly young. What’s the story on how you came together? Yours Truly actually formed as the result of a mutual contact, a contact you and some Pittsburgh readers may know, Gene Stovall.  Gene’s been playing around the city for a long time, and at the time that we met (my junior year at Pitt), he was trying to put together a band to play re-made covers.  This is where I met Huggy, who had been playing with Gene for some time.  We gigged in, and occasionally out of Pittsburgh, for a while.  One night, Gene got us a gig in Erie, PA, and Justin, YT’s leader singer and guitar player, happened to be in town from NYC.  Gene asked Justin to join the gig, and Justin and I carpooled up to Erie together.  During the two hour ride, he and I discussed everything we thought about music: our likes, our dislikes, our hopes, and our nightmares.  By the time we arrived and set foot at the venue, Yours Truly had been formed, with the unknowing DJ Huggy enlisted on bass.

2. You’re the drummer huh? Grassrootsy often talks about how important it is for bands to split up the roles of their bandmates. What are each of your “roles” or do you find that you carry the responsibility to keep things runing? I think the roles in our band are funny.  Justin and Huggy have much more experience in the music business than I do, and their specialties are songwriting and production/engineering respectively.  That basically leaves me with everything else, haha, and it’s funny because these are things I’ve never even considered undertaking before.  Things like managing, booking, finance, graphic design, merchandise, marketing, social networking, and more.  With the exception of personally using Facebook, I had absolutely NO experience doing ANY of these things upon entering the band.  However, what I think drove me to jump in and learn how to do these things was hunger.  I truly believed (and and even moreso strongly believe today) in our product, and so I was willing to put in the time to research what it means to be a band manager, how to professionally book a venue, how to use software like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to create merchandise, how to copyright music, how to create and manage an e-mail list, how to develop a working expense system, and the list goes on.  And it’s not like I didn’t fail at most – no – all of these things, but it’s like the Wright Brothers trying to fly a plane – all the failures are what make the success so sweet, but it’s the hunger to succeed that fuels you through the failures.

3. You’ve dropped a few of your novel ideas to me via email and in Grassrootsy comments (they’re always great). What has been your most original idea to date (if you want to share it)? Why has/did it work?  Haha, I will say that I have had a few tasty morsels cook up in my head over time – many I’m quite proud of.  If anyone is interested in these, I’d be happy to chat about it, but the most original idea I’ve had has got to be “What’s Mine Is Yours.”  This is going to be a long answer (so if you don’t want to hear some blowhard ramble on for a few minutes, skip this section):

“What’s Mine Is Yours” was an idea for an event I had had that was centered around one thing and one thing only:  everyone else.  This idea spawned shortly after reading a short e-book written by Derek Sivers; something about “survival guide” in the title or something (you’d think I’d remember the name if it had this much of an impact on me, haha!).  Anyhow, in the e-book, Sivers outlines many useful points, but the one that stood out to me the most is that “to be a successful musician, everyone else comes first,” or something to that effect.  What this means is that, by whatever means necessary, the interests of the fans, the promoter, the venue, the other bands, the door man, the sound man, the merch producer, ANYONE with whom you do business must come first.  Think about it.  Who buys the CDs and t-shirts that pay your bills?  Your fans.  Who makes you sound good (or bad, ha)?  The sound man.  Who pays you a (fair) settlement at the end of the night and considers inviting you back?  The promoter/venue.  And this goes on.  My perception of so many bands out there is that, “I think my music is good, so if I hold a show, I’m sure people will come and they’ll love the music because it’s so good so they’ll buy all my stuff and since I sound so good, the venue will have me back,” and I’m thinking, are you serious??  The sad reality of the music scene in it’s entirety is that it’s hard to find people who care.  Why should people get off of their warm couches to come stand around in a smokey bar for 3 hours, leaving at the end of the night with a stench and a thinner wallet?  The venue probably sees 10-15 bands a week – why should they care about yours?  Again, the questions go on.  What I began to do is try to start answering these questions.

If I were the target of this promotion, what would get my lazy butt off my couch to come out to a show?  Again, more often than not, the music is not enough.  What else can I do?  Well, I figured that people generally like free stuff, so I started to brainstorm on what kind of free stuff I could give away.  I started digging around my house and realized I had an old PS2, a TV, and a season of Family Guy I didn’t use anymore, so I gathered them up, continued looking, and instructed the band members from my band and the others on the bill to begin assembling stuff of the like.  Originally, I had wanted to find a business or two to sponsor the event and buy giveaways prizes in return for advertisement, but I couldn’t find one, so I drafted a business proposition and delivered that along with our band’s business card and a flyer to the show to EACH and EVERY business on the South Side (where the event was taking place) bar none.  I let the businesses know that by donating coupons for their goods, they’d be gaining advertisement to a demographic who would be letting out of a show around 10 PM and would be hungry after standing around for a few hours.  Of course, any employees of these business that wanted to attend got free tickets, too.  I got three businesses (Carson St. Deli, Primati Brothers, and Blue Grotto) to donate gift certificates.

When people started to file into the show, they received a small piece of paper, informing them that our goal for the night was to have nearly every person in the audience leave with something in their hand that we gave them for free.  It informed them that there would be four awesome bands playing that night, and that each band would have an e-mail list set up at their merch table.  Each time you sign up on a band’s e-mail list, you get a raffle ticket, so, 4 bands = a total of 4 possible raffle tickets.  We would draw for the raffle at the end of the night (as to prevent “show-up-for-my-friend’s-band-and-then-leave syndrome”).

All of this translates into a winning situation for literally all parties involved.  The audience gets to see an awesome show, but then on top of that, most of them receive a free item (most of the time of notable value) ranging from a TV to a t-shirt to a pre-lit christmas tree to gift certificates to local South Side businesses, etc.  When they take that prize home, even if it just sits on a shelf, every time they see it, they’ll have a visual reminder saying, “oh yeah, I got that Sega Genesis + 6 games from that awesome show I went to!”.  The venue gets a packed house (we aimed for 150, we got 147 in the Smiling Moose!), so both the venue and the bands get a nice chunk of change and the venue is more likely to host the event again.  The bands get a huge influx into their e-mail lists (so valuable), and they get to get rid of a bunch of stuff they don’t want anymore. Plus they have a big audience to which they can sell merch!

Ok, whew!  What a freakin’ mouthful!  Anyhow, again, this all stemmed from thinking of everyone else first.

4. As a young band, what is a hard lesson you’ve had to learn? Pick your gigs well.  If you don’t do your homework (what day?  what time?  in what order will you be playing?  what other major shows are taking place that night that will take attendees from you?  what’s the settlement?  mainly, WHY WILL THIS SHOW BE WORTH IT?), you’ll screw yourself and waste your time.  Sure, when you’re starting out, take what you can get, but as you grow, only play in your primary/home market once every 2-3 months, and make them huge shows…no…huge EVENTS (use a theme or something to make the night something BIGGER than just 4 bands playing) that you can plan for and work on ahead of time, using smaller, out-of-town shows to promote.  Finally, most people don’t care about going to see new local music.  Give them more of a reason to come.  “What’s in it for ME if I come to your show?”

5. Here’s the question Grassrootsy asks all of its interviewees: What do you think is the single most important thing an artist should do to promote themselves better? Haha, again, think about it from everyone else’s perspective.  Why should someone come to your show rather than eating microwaved pierogies in their underwear while watching House reruns?  Why should a venue/promoter book you?  What’s in it for them?  If you were someone to whom a band/artist was beckoning for attendance, what would make you come?  What wouldn’t?

Also, make it easy for them to continue to support you.  A popular promotion Yours Truly does on all of its show is offering 50% off of any one merchandise item if an audience member bring their ticket stub from the last show.  They walk out with your merch, they came to another show (and maybe they brought a friend!), so big deal if you sell your shirt for no profit?  The 5 bucks you lost is worth it for a more devoted fan, which, again, is the most valuable thing you can have.

Yours Truly Online:


Ignore Everybody and Just DO

January 11, 2010

"Please hire me. I'm a hard worker"

Ok, I admit.  Last week’s post was a bit brutal. But the more I look over various chapters of MacLeod’s Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity, the more I realize that he is offering the reader two choices. DO or DON’T.  You either DO your passion or you sit back and watch others do theirs.  It’s as simple as that. And the kicker is that if YOU don’t do your thing, it will never get done.

The best way to get approval is to not need it.

Sovereignty:  “It doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours.”
…and when it’s yours, no one but you can tell you what to do with it.  As independent artists we often make the mistake of trying to do what singer/songwriter XYZ has done.  But originality always wins out. See Creating Value: Is your Music Worth Something?

Grassrootsy  talks often about mimicking other artist.  See Mimic the Artists You RespectLearning from people who are more experienced than you is essential; but mimicking is not the same as copying.  Take what others have done and put your own spin on it.

Sovereignty is ownership.  If it’s not yours, you don’t own it.

Power:    “Power is never given. Power is taken”
…and when you have sovereignty, power will follow. You don’t need someone to give you control over something you already own. If you’re an artist looking for that “big break”, make sure you’re making as many breakthroughs as possible on your own.  No one wants a freeloader when they can have a hard worker.

Consider the following:

  • Do you truly own what you have?
  • If you owned a record label, would you bring yourself on as one of your artists?
  • Are your methods original or have you been trying too  hard to copy someone else?
  • Are you confident in yourself or are you continually looking for other people to affirm you?

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The Problem with Wolves & Sheep

January 6, 2010


Grassrootsy was one of 17 blogs picked by Derek Sivers (founder of CDBaby) to check out a new book by Hugh MacLeod, Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity.  I should first mention that this is not a book review and I was not asked to “sell” the book. I should also mention that there is alot of great stuff in this book for any aspiring entrepreneur. Clarification: if you are trying to make a living off of your music (or any type of art), you are in fact an entrepreneur.  I’m sure I will be referencing the book for months to come.

The price of being a sheep is BOREDOM. The price of being a wolf is LONELINESS. Choose one or the other with great care.

Are You a Wolf?
Reading this book brought back many memories from 2 years ago.  I was months away from quitting my job. I knew it.  But at the same time I was making more than any young professional should probably
make at a 9-5 and actually felt pretty stupid for thinking about leaving my job…b/c it went against all common sense.  But I also remember being extremely bored and realizing that pursing my dreams would be more fulfilling.

One month into my freedom, after quitting my job, I suddenly realized that, not only did i not have a boss, but I also had NO ONE to help me get started. Go figure. I’d been playing out for 3 1/2 years but the pressure of  really making this full-time venture successful was all on me. It also took a full 18 months for my parents to honestly acknowledge that my “career move” was actually a career and not a hobby.

Or Are You a Sheep?
Sheep are bored. They follow. They don’t lead.
Sheep copy ideas and follow in the shadow of others.  MacLeod talks, in his book, about the problem with followers.  They might not like your idea, but if you’re successful, they’ll “like it” because they want to be on the winning team. It’s the human condition of wanting to be part of the something big…even if it doesn’t make sense.  I’d personally like to think that this is also the definition of pop culture.

Choose One or the Other
First of all, There is NO condemnation here.  This blog may come off as a bit biased, but one is not better than the other…unless you strongly feel you are on the wrong side.  Maybe “bored” is a strong word to use, but its assumed that, if you’re reading this blog, you’re trying to make moves with your music. You can’t be a sheep and make moves with your music. You can’t sit back and be timid.

At the same time, you won’t always be liked as a wolf. Wolves are kind of mean. They eat the people in their way and they don’t wait for someone else to do what they can do on their own. And this, my friends, is why wolves are lonely.  They make moves even when no one support them.  This is the primary reason no one likes Hugh Laurie of the Fox TV series, House. But he gets the job done! And he’s good.

…all this from a man who became famous by doodling comics on the back of business cards.  I think he’s worth listening to.

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Blogs are still BIG!

October 15, 2009
Hiram Ring

Hiram Ring

They don’t seem as popular anymore. But blogs aren’t dead…at least not yet!  In the past few weeks I’ve found myself reading more blogs and have also had a few conversations with people hoping to start blogs in order to better-connect with their fans. So here are some thoughts on what gives a blog a good name and consistent readership.

Remind people that you’re human
I’m finding that the more someone blogs about every-day things, the more interested I am in themwho they are. Maybe you feel the same way. Maybe you don’t.  There’s nothing worse than someone pretending that they’re more interesting than they actually are.  If you’re music career isn’t all that glamorous, don’t drum it up to be something extra special. Blog about funny things that happened on the way to your gig…or blog about random things that readers might find interesting. 

It all really comes down to how much you want people to know about YOU. I’ve noticed that Derek Sivers, the music marketing “guru”, has begun to blog more regularly about non-music related ideas. Last week he sent out a blog post ( about what it means to “like” someone, “love” someone, and be “in love” with someone.  I’m sure some people were a bit annoyed by this post (including myself), but regardless of its relevance, Sivers engaged his audience in a non-music related conversation.  The post earned over 1200 comments from readers.

Try a Vlog or Plog (made Plog up)
Because the attention span of the average web surfer is getting shorter and shorter (don’t know how to prove this, but it’s a floating statistic), find ways to stimulate your web visitors interest.  Try video blogs (vlogs) or picture blogs (plogs).  There’s nothing better than accompanying your words with videos.   Most readers will not read your blog from start to finish. So put in a short video to help break things up, or to appeal to those who don’t want to read.  Good friend, Hiram Ring, does this and it seems to be working. Check out his blog.

Make Sure Your Blog Isn’t Just One Huge Advertisement
Yes, a blog is one of many ways to build faithful supporters and people interested in who you are as a musician and person. BUT, if you’re not genuine and only use your platform as a way to proselytize, you fans won’t hang around for very long.

TCPR recently posted some excellent tips for maintaining a blog.  Go check it out.  And remember: anything with quality will thrive with consistency and hard work.  If you’re putting a little effort into your blog, people will continue to visit, and maybe even subscribe.

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Executing Your Ideas

August 26, 2009
10 out of Tenn

10 out of Tenn

All “talk”, and no “do” makes Jack an interesting boy…but just a talker.  The problem with people who have great ideas and no execution is that their ideas either get stolen by others who hear them, or their ideas get dusty on top of a metaphorical shelf full of past ideas.

Everyone’s got dreams they want to make happen…but often times artists feel their dreams are too big and don’t know how to even start. The key is to scratch the surface and allow yourself to act “irrationally” every once in a while.  Here’s what I mean…

What’s the Worst that can Happen?
If you read the “What’s the Worst That Can Happen?” post from January, you’ll realize that every possibility has two answers – either yes or no. But that’s about it.  It seriously can’t get any worse. You won’t be black-listed for asking to open for John Mayer. If anything you’ll probably just be ignored.  That email or phone call will most likely not be returned 🙂  That’s a “NO” just in case you were wondering.

But it doesn’t hurt to ask. Lets say John Mayer is playing at your college.  It really isn’t that bad of an idea to ask if your band can open up for him since you’re students at the school (assuming you don’t suck).  The University of Pittsburgh does that every semester for “Bigelow Bash”.  They have a local band (that has a least one Pitt student) open up for the featured performer.  Pitt has welcomed Jason Mraz, Ben Folds, Lifehouse, Gavin DeGraw, and others to their semi-annual event.

Time & Fear – the two great inhibitors
Most people use the excuse of having time, but if things were to pick up with your music, would you make the time to accomodate the success? Heck ya!  But how can they pick up if you don’t take the time to make them grow?  There’s always a way to find balance between what you love to do and what you have to do.

Fear. It’s a bigger problem than time. You and I both run into people all the time who are afraid to do anything with their music. The problem is, most people don’t realize that it’s fear holding them back.  Fear of not being able to make money. Fear of getting rejected. Fear of failing. Fear of succeeding.

Learning to act big
If thinking big isn’t hard, why is acting big such a huge problem? I recently came across a group called Ten out of Tenn (TOT) that is doing just that. What it if you could tour without forking out so much $ for gas, promotion, sleep arrangements…etc.  TOT is doing this in the most clever of ways. They’re 10 singer/songwriters out of Nashville who have rented a huge tour bus, and travel around sharing each others’ fanbases and communities. They act as each others’ band on stage too. They’re at the point now where they’ve got Corporate sponsors like Toms Shoes, and American SongSpace (a branch of American Songwriter Magazine).  And they also have a compilation CD.  With sponsors, ticket sales at shows (which is usually around$10) and sales from their CD, they’re trip is easily  funded and everything else is pure profit. Just like that!

Imagine if you had all the money in the world to pursue your dreams. What would you do?  Check this past post called “Thinking Outside the Box” and follow the lead of  TOT. Thinking outside the box isn’t hard. Doing outside the box shouldn’t be either.  And…if you act on your ideas, they’ll be mimicked instead of stolen. Check out “4 on Tour“. Its a new group following the lead of TOT.

“I don’t want to hear people’s ideas. I’m not interested until I see their execution.”

-Derek Sivers
(“Ideas are just a multiplier of execution“)


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“Just Do It”

February 19, 2009
Download Free on iTunes. It's worth listening to

Download Free on iTunes. It's worth listening to


Perhaps the theme for this week’s posts should have been “Just do it” or “Pep Talks w/ JoyI dunno. But I’ve recently had several conversations with artist who are frustrated by the amount of work they’ve put into a project and the fact that no one knows the project exists.   I’ve read An Interview with The Lost Sea  a few times since Monday and I’ve read several more comment posts on Derek Sivers “Nobody’s going to help you blog” since yesterday and here’s my final pep talk. 

Stop Waiting
Stop waiting for a big break because even if you do get one, you’ll have to put in twice as much work to keep the momentum going.  Its the little opportunities that create big ones and if you can do well with the little, the bigger things will come in time. Just be consistent.

Seriously take Sean Atkins advice
If you haven’t read An Interview with The Lost Sea, make sure to check it out.  Sean says…

“sometimes you just have to be persistent and if you think you’re doing everything you can, and you’re not getting anything.. then you’re not doing enough, being passionate means being willing to suffer a great deal and risk everything you have.  if you’re really serious about ‘making it’ then you will suffer for it”

I’d been working full-time for three years before I decided to quit my job and do music full time.  I took a 50% pay cut, I am spending more money investing in my art, and I am working so much harder than I ever have.  Some people reading this think I’m insane (I think I’m insane too…depending on the month).  However, I’ve made more progress in the last 8 months (of being a  full-time musicians) that I have in the last 3 years.  When you are willing to devote time and money to something you believe in, you will see results. And if you dont…well at least you tried.

Remember that Music is a Business
Music is a commodity that you are trying to sell. If it weren’t marketable,  we wouldnt have music in commercials, in movies, at clubs, in the elevator, grocery stores, weddings…etc. When I think about this, I realize the world literally needs music to stay lively.  If you have what someone needs, you need to market it.  You have to somehow convince your potential buyer that you are better than your competitors.  You have to convince yourself that your product is worth selling.  100% of that has to do with having a product you are proud of- whether this is a peroformance or a tangible CD.  Just do it.

I (again) strongly recommend listening to Music Business Radio’s weekly pocast. Its created for artists like you and I who are trying to”make it”.  They interview other artists, industry execs, agents….etc


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Helping Yourself #4

February 18, 2009


Read the other blogs in this series:
Helping Yourself #1
Helping Yourself #2
Helping Yourself #3

Today I went to re-visit Derek Sivers’  “Nobody’s going to help you  blog. Make sure to read this blog if you haven’t already.  Its got some excellent thoughts and excellent reader comments.

Here’s comment by a frustrated reader…

Response # 6,780 by Karsten Schwardt

  • “If I want to write and record my music, and have work and be there for family, there is simply no time left at the end of the day to promote my music or be my own booking agent. So I am excited and frustrated all at the same time. Excited because of everything I learn by doing it myself and the opportunities that exist. Frustrated because a promotion and publicity campaign is a full time job, and I don’t even enjoy doing it much. So I will write my music, record it best I can and put it up for the world to see. If they only knew where to look…”

Its a frustration shared by far too many artists.  By the time you’ve put all of your creative energy into making and performing your music, you don’t have much time or energy left to promote it (espec. if you have a family).  And if marketing isn’t your favorite thing, then you might not do it that well.  I wish I had an easy answer for this. The whole premise of this blog is to help you become better at promoting. But if you don’t like it…well Grassrootsy can’t do much fo you.  Check out “The Things You’ll Hate To Do…But Should Do Anyways

The truth of the matter is that if you are passionate about what you do, you will use all means necessary to share it with the world.  You’ll play out as much as possible, pay out as much as necessary, and work to make connections with people who love your music.  If you have a good product, let people know it exists.  No use spending so much money to make a CD if no one will hear it. 

I strongly reccomend listening to Music Business Radio podcast – specifically the December 17, 2008 interview with indie/folk/pop artists Meiko.  Meiko and her manager Mike Savage talk about  her trek from no-name Open Mic artist to someone who now has over 6 million hits on her myspace and a record contract with Myspace DGC Records. This podcast is especially useful b/c Savage and Meiko talk about how they share the job of promoting her music and how they capitalize on once in a lifetime opportunities to keep the momentum going. MBR is free on iTunes.

If promotions is hard for you to wrap your head around 

  • 1] Be good at the easy things!  Cultivate great relationships with your fans.  KleerStream Entertainment said it best: for every 1 die-hard fan you make, they’ll eventually reel in up to 10 more of their friends who will ultimately become fans as well.
  • 2] Look into other artist friends who are also overwhelmed by promotions.  Meet together, share notes, and collaborate.  Check out to learn about 4 artist who did something similar.
  • 3] If necessary, find a manager who has more music business knowledge than you. (this will probably cost $)

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