It’s pretty rare that I have a chance to write about several topics of interest in one post: guitar gear, a founder story, stellar customer service, and sharing a great gift idea for your guitar-shredding loved ones. Looking for an awesome gift for a guitarist? I highly recommend the NOMAD ISO Battery Powered Pedalboard by Outlaw Effects. Please note that I’m nothing other than just a huge fan of their products. I also thought this would be an opportunity to not only talk about an amazing piece of gear, but also to share my customer support experience, and introduce you to another music startup founder whose story is truly inspiring.
A few years ago, I wanted to upgrade from a pedal board that had fallen victim to an errant beer at a gig. For those of you who have performed live onstage in front of audiences, it is highly likely you have experienced the hardship of poor or dirty power — the result of poor circuitry on many stages that have been trampled upon by hard-working musicians. In the past I’ve had the unsettling experience of showing up for a gig only to realize that I can’t get proper power at the front of the stage for the myriad of pedals that I use for my sound. The nerves are already ablaze prior to a show and it’s never helpful to add the extra stress of hunting for power right before your performance.
After some research I came across the Nomad battery-powered board by Outlaw Effects. The ISO-M model (pictured above) is large enough to handle my wah pedal; delay, distortion, boost, and compression pedals; a tuner; and the wireless transmitter for my guitar. In addition, it also has the proper power connectors, alleviating the need for batteries. After I plug all of those pedals into the top of the board, I’m ready to go. The layout of the board is simple, and is clearly designed by a performer. After charging the board I can play for about 4 to 5 hours before needing to plug it in again. It’s pretty awesome and there’s really no other board on the market like it. Believe me, I have tried multiple boards over the years and this is hands-down the best.
While the product is awesome, what has really stood out for me is the customer service. As a serial entrepreneur and founder, I have learned over the years that despite best intentions, I didn’t always deliver the flawless product that I had hoped. Customers often seem to have slightly different needs, and unforeseen circumstances arise. Sometimes, these situations are out of your control (sometimes it’s your own damn fault and you have to own up to it), but it’s important to communicate and partner with your customer to help solve problems. It’s never easy, but responding quickly and developing a plan is critical.
This time, I was the customer and I was in a bad situation.
I had less than two weeks to prepare for a gig. It’s an exciting time for any musician — trying to perfect a song, or fine-tune a portion of the set. But there is nothing worse than equipment failure. For some strange reason, my Nomad board would not take a charge. In a panic, I went online to my usual spots: Guitar Center, Amazon, Reverb, etc. to try to find the product. To my horror, I saw that it wasn’t available anywhere and it was on backorder. I assumed this was because the product was so popular it was sold out. I learned later that the reason was because a new and improved version was soon to be released.
I was in a tough spot because even if I could contact Outlaw Effects, there was no way that I could get them to fix it in time, and I was out of the warranty period. Keep in mind, most gear companies do not sell directly to consumers — they sell through large retailers. My only choice was to buy a new board from one of those retailers. I couldn’t find what I needed and was concerned that I would have too little time to set up and learn a completely new board before the show.
In desperation, I went directly to the Outlaw website and found a contact email buried at the bottom of a webpage. As most of us know, these email addresses typically lead to a black hole vortex. Nonetheless, I sent an email and went to bed with low expectations.
The next morning I awoke to find an email at the top of my inbox responding to my panicked need for a replacement board. I scanned the email quickly and saw that the email was written by none other than Doug Nestler, the CEO of Music Ship LLC, the company that owns Outlaw Effects.
I couldn’t believe it. Herein begins a masterclass on customer support.
Doug’s email was friendly and upbeat with a definitive, problem-solving tone. His email was almost surgical in nature as he was ready to get into specific detail around what he thought the problem could be. Most importantly, he was not defensive in any manner whatsoever. Moreover, he had clearly been thinking seriously about my issue, as he sent a few more emails responding to my initial email before I even had a chance to respond. Doug was running through possible solutions to the problem based on my initial description. This is a good reminder to be detail-oriented in support requests as customer support professionals often need to replicate the error or problem so they can debug or solve the problem.
After a brief Q&A, Doug figured out that the problem most likely wasn’t with the board, but with the adapter plug. Basically it seemed like the faulty adapter wasn’t pulling the right amount of power to charge the board. I was amazed that the CEO of the company made MY problem HIS problem. He then asked for my address and immediately sent me the replacement adapter. He never asked for payment for the adapter, nor even asked me for proof of purchase, as the board was completely out of warranty. Instead, he simply executed and sent me the adapter which I received a day later.
However, he wasn’t completely sure that the adapter was the source of the problem. Given that the gig was now less than two weeks away he wanted to make sure that I had a backup in case the faulty adapter wasn’t the problem. Here I was in a situation with a person whom I’ve never met before, who immediately stepped into my shoes, showed empathy, and worked with me to find a solution.
He then shared that there was a new model that he was just about to release on the market with several new improvements. He insisted on sending me one of the first production models. As you can imagine, just about any gearhead would love to try a brand new product before it’s released to the public but I tried to hide my excitement. I told him it was unnecessary and that we should just wait to see if the adapter replacement solved the problem. But he reminded me that there wouldn’t be enough time unless he sent the board immediately. He was concerned that his quick fix might not work.
A day later, I received a large package in the mail. It was the Nomad ISO. The packaging was beautiful. The board was pristine, and everything looked like it was sent from a high-quality manufacturer.
At this point my responsibilities as a decent human being kicked in and I begged him to allow me to properly compensate him for doing this. He adamantly refused and said this is the way to pay it forward.
This is when I became interested in him as a person and learned an incredible story about perseverance, survival, and seizing opportunities when they present themselves.
Doug is the current owner of northeast U.S. rep firm Reflex Marketing and CEO and founder of Music Ship LLC. He has been involved in music for over 40 years, having worked at Korg, Marshall, Vox, and several music retailers and distributors. What’s also interesting is that he became a founder at age 58. Here in Silicon Valley, you are hard-pressed to find a founder older than 30. Doug clearly demonstrates that you can be a successful founder regardless of age.
I have been writing about founders and their super powers for quite some time. One of the critical super powers that each successful founder has is uncanny resilience, and the ability to overcome challenges no matter how difficult they may seem. Doug has this in spades.
Doug describes himself as the black sheep of the family. He dropped out of college to pursue his dreams of being a rock star on stage, but unfortunately that never panned out. When things fell through with the promised record deal and an upcoming tour, he had to figure out how to make ends meet now that he was unemployed. Instead of giving up and living with his parents, he was able to convince a local music store to give him a shot at working behind the counter and selling keyboards. Thus began a lifelong career in the musical instrument retail world. As most of you know, being in retail is not easy, particularly in music. He’s had his ups and downs, which even includes getting literally hit by a truck at the National Association of Music Manufacturers (NAMM) conference in Anaheim, California.
None of those challenges compares to his most recent challenge. A few years ago, Doug was delivered some terrible news: he had a high-grade carcinoma in his bladder. This was an advanced cancer that had possibly metastasized to other parts of his body. The news devastated him as well as his family and he was told that his time on this planet may be cut short. But Doug’s resilience and perseverance kicked in — this time it was a life-or-death situation.
Fortunately, Doug underwent radical surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, where the skilled chief of urology worked his magic, and helped keep Doug with us on this planet. A second surgery was required in 2021, and between the two procedures there were 18 days in the hospital and months of recovery time.
Doug is now in remission and is thankful for every day that he is alive. When meeting people who have overcome overwhelming obstacles, I’ve realized that they focus only on things that truly matter.
I am proud to call Doug my friend. He is a remarkable individual, demonstrated in particular by how he treated me when I was a complete stranger. I have a lot to learn from Doug. Maybe we can all learn something from him, his approach to life, and his world-class customer service for a product I love and depend upon.
Doug publishes a music industry blog at https://sound-marketing.com/.
Al Saracevic was a gifted journalist, sports enthusiast, loving husband and father as well as a dear friend. The last time I saw him was from the stage at our show at Brick and Mortar Music Hall on August 26, 2022. “Big Al” as we all called him was always full of smiles and laughter and made you feel like you were the most important person in the room. He will be missed.
Being in a business that provides music for fitness apps, I have become interested in body hacking: optimizing my health in new and innovative ways. Like anyone with a busy schedule, I wanted to know what was the smallest change I could make to get the biggest benefit and impact on my health? I found one method that surprised me — that taking a cold shower for 2 minutes every day would reduce my resting heart rate and in turn potentially help prevent heart disease in the long-run. According to the World Health Organization and the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death globally and in the U.S. So finding something that could serve as a short-term “proof point” that could have long-term benefits seemed like a great place to start.
“Generally, a lower heart rate at rest implies more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness. For example, a well-trained athlete might have a normal resting heart rate closer to 40 beats per minute.” — The Mayo Clinic
I stumbled upon a YouTube series claiming that “cold therapy” in the form of a cold shower could reduce my resting heart rate by up to 20 or 30 beats per minute if I did it daily and consistently. I was intrigued but skeptical. The self-described “Iceman” in the videos is cold therapy advocate Wim Hof. His basic premise is that this method is easy, with minimal time investment, and in return you are basically “vaccinating yourself against heart disease.”
The gist of his scientific philosophy is that we as modern humans have gotten soft. Our prehistoric ancestors were exposed to extremes of weather while we try to keep ourselves in about 70 degree environments at all times. It might feel comfortable, but he explains that it actually does our body a disservice:
“Adaptation to cold is the optimal stimulation of your vascular system. By regularly exposing your body to cold, you train your heart — you’re literally exercising the vascular system. The skin is an organ which we rarely expose to natural elements — but it’s built to be stimulated. Living with clothes on all the time is de-stimulating behavior, so our heart compensates for that. It’s pumping more than it should. You weaken and stress yourself. This creates oxidative stress through the continuous presence of cortisone, which is a bad thing.”
“Over time, this weakens your vascular system. Not when you’re young, but starting at around 30 and increasing with age. By just adding two minutes a day in a cold shower, you stimulate the cardiovascular muscle tone, blood flows better to cells, and your heart rate goes down. If you do it regularly, your vascular system becomes less stressed because it is activated and optimized. This in turn increases your energy because your body is working efficiently.”
Hof makes a compelling case, but it also seemed too good to be true, so I wanted to see for myself if it had any effect. So I chose the month of January for my experiment. I wanted to have a good baseline to come to a conclusion with, and I had already planned to take that month off of alcohol (something that affects your heart rate) so it seemed like the perfect time. To set a control environment, I changed nothing about my diet or exercise other than I stopped drinking alcohol. I use the Apple Watch and the companion Health app on my iPhone to track my physiological biometrics.
My resting heart rate on January 2nd was 56 BPM (beats per minute). In another article, I discuss taking a break from booze, which almost immediately brought my resting heart rate down to about 50 BPM that week. As you can see, I baselined at around 50 BPM for that first week.
I then began experimenting with Hof’s methodology to slowly introduce myself to cold showers. Hof explains his method in the video:
“To begin, just go step by step. Begin with taking a regular shower. Then for the last 30 seconds, turn it to cold only. The next day try 40 seconds, and keep adding 10 seconds until you’re up to 2 minutes. Don’t force it. You will feel what you’re capable of. You can go higher but it should be no longer than 3 minutes. The goal is to do it until it becomes just water to you. Try not to cramp up and don’t panic. You are purposefully stressing your body. Take longer “out” breaths. Learn to control your breath and it will go quickly.
I have to say, it takes some getting used to. The first time I was in complete terror and my heart was racing. I tried to mentally prepare myself but it really does shock your senses. Heating your body up before with the regular shower does help though. I put my head in first and gradually move my entire body in. After about two weeks, my body started to adjust and it was no longer that feeling of fear when I did it. I really did start to acclimate. One important tip is that if you spend the entire two minutes swearing and trying to make yourself warm, it won’t work. If you do it slowly and consistently, you will get used to it to the point where it really is just water. Also, just know in advance that your skin will get bright red and that’s normal.
My BPM went down each day until mid-month when I caught a 24-hour bug and my resting heart rate shot up to around 58 BPM, but returned to the new low average of 50 BPM very quickly:
Interestingly, I started to see some dramatic results. The next week my average went down to 47 BPM and stayed down. So after doing this for just a few weeks, I was shocked, yes literally and figuratively, to discover that by the end of the month I was down to 47 BPM from the high of 56 at the beginning. I attribute the high of 56 to be the alcohol, but it’s probably fair to say that I dropped from 50 to 47 doing NOTHING but introducing cold showers.
You can see over the next several weeks that my resting heart rate continued to stay at an average of 47 BPM.
So if protecting yourself from heart disease is important to you, I would highly recommend this practice. It is easy once you get used to it, and the payoff, according to my amateur findings appears to be real — maybe not the 20–30 BPM drop like Hof claims, but certainly a definitive drop.
Maybe, as Hof says, “Cold exposure is your friend for life.” Literally.
Video links for Wim Hof’s Cold Therapy:
I’m fascinated by how our bodies react to different trends like intermittent fasting, or how we can rewire our brains through neuroplasticity. Something that has always intrigued me is the way alcohol, and lack thereof, affects us both physically and mentally.
I came across a video on YouTube called What Happens When You Quit Alcohol?, by Gregory Brown. The video deep-dives into how your brain and body react when you stop drinking alcohol–even temporarily. Brown does an excellent job of breaking down the impact it has, both for casual drinkers and for those with moderate to severe alcohol use disorders (AUD). I decided to take a month off of alcohol myself and juxtapose my own experience with Brown’s findings. (I highly recommend taking just ten minutes out of your day to watch the video, but I’ll summarize his findings below.)
Alcohol has also been proven to contribute to weight-gain. Probably not surprising. Most of us can relate to desperately trying to find food ANYWHERE to satisfy those late nite munchies after a night out on the town. A study found that participants ate around 11% more after an alcoholic drink compared to those who did not drink alcohol. Participants also ate almost 25% more high-fat foods. In addition, since our body can’t store alcohol, it processes the alcohol immediately, causing our fats, carbs and proteins to be pushed aside and stored, but stored as body fat. When this happens, your metabolism hits the breaks. This metabolism slow-down will just increase overtime the more you consume alcohol.
Alcohol also decreases blood pressure for up to 12 hours after ingestion and then increases blood pressure afterwards. “Alcohol consistently increases heart rate at all times within 24 hours of consumption.” You’ll see how much my own resting heart rate spiked after imbibing on New Year’s Eve. As Brown describes how alcohol damages our sleep, which can, in turn, directly affect weight loss by blocking our body’s metabolic process. A study concluded that a low intake of alcohol resulted in a 9% decrease in sleep quality, and a high alcohol intake decreased sleep quality by almost 39%.
12-24 Hours Without Alcohol
The science behind this is that alcohol changes the way your brain and nervous system function. Alcohol is classified as a depressant. In chemistry terms, that means it suppresses excitatory neurons (glutamate) and enhances inhibitory neurons (gaba). Gaba is one of the brain’s chemical messengers that helps you to feel relaxed and less stressed. Booze also increases the level of dopamine in the brain which is a chemical messenger for sending pleasure signals. Thus, the happy feelings you have when you drink are due to the increased gaba and dopamine, which makes information in the brain move more slowly allowing only the largest signals come through. This leads to thought-clarification, which is why we get so excited about simple ideas when we’re intoxicated (I’m sure we can all recall many of those times), and in turn, this leads to serotonin-release. It also leads to a reduction in impulse control which is why many describe alcohol as “liquid courage” when our brain’s become impaired to stop bad decisions.
When you stop drinking, the inhibition from the alcohol stops, and in comes the excitatory overload. (In heavy drinkers, This can lead to shakes, seizures, hallucinations and delirium tremors so talk to your doctor before quitting alcohol, because for some, quitting cold turkey can be dangerous.)
I probably experienced the worst hangover in years on New Year’s Day. My guess is that it was due to the junior varsity move of mixing too many different types of booze, not eating enough and not taking enough water breaks.
The hangover was brutal. I forced myself to work out at 7am to sweat out the poison. I later realized that I was likely still buzzed. While a brutal way to get over a rough night, I did feel slightly better. But, there was still a noticeable feeling of exhaustion, anxiety of stupid things that I likely said and just generally a lethargic feeling. Throughout it all, I felt like I was going to get sick at any given moment. Moreover, my thinking seemed impaired and I had trouble articulating clear thoughts. It wasn’t until 8pm that I barely felt human and then pleaded with my family to let me go to bed.
24-48 Hours Without Alcohol
Most people begin to feel agitated. That serotonin is gone and you, candidly, feel crappy. This leads some people to start drinking again in order to feel the serotonin spike, which we all know never ends up making us feel better long-term.
The Japanese word for hangover is futsukayoi. The literal translation is “two days sick.” As I get older, the hangovers have not only gotten worse, but they actually last longer. So yes, I still felt like crap even two days later. Ironically, knowing that I would take the rest of the month off from drinking booze gave me energy and motivation.
3 Days Without Alcohol
When you drink, you change your brain, says Brown. Therefore when you stop drinking, your brain is trying to navigate regressing back to its original state. By the 3rd day, the brain has an increased corticotropin-releasing hormone, which causes a spike in your cortisol. This leads to a lack of appetite, heightened anxiety and focused but stress-inducing energy. Brown goes on to say, with supporting evidence, that animal studies and post-mortem scans of people with alcohol use disorders show that exposure to alcohol “alters the expression of genes involved in diverse cellular functions.” In addition, your dopamine will be low and potentially drop lower, making it more difficult for you to feel good without booze.
At this point, I must admit the gag reflex of the thought of booze was gone and I even considered having a glass of vino with dinner. But I quickly reminded myself that I was taking the month off and to lay off the sauce. The sneaky way alcohol can affect behavior was playing itself out.
4 Days Without Alcohol
Lower dopamine transporters begin to return to baseline. Your brain is starting to change so that it positively benefits your health. In long-term, heavy drinkers, this process can take up to a year to fully complete.
3 Weeks Without Alcohol
AUD leads to leaky gut issues due to bacteria-interference. This can lead to depression during those three weeks after you quit. But by the time you hit that three-week mark, your gut begins to heal itself. By 4-8 weeks after quitting, your gut will start to level out.
4 Weeks Without Alcohol
Your sleep-quality will improve. Though we may fall asleep faster when we drink, our brains actually increase alpha wave patterns, which cause our brains to be more active than they should be while we sleep. People with AUD commonly experience sleep disorders like prolonged rapid eye movement and lack of deep sleep. These issues can take up to four weeks to begin to subside.
“Sleep-related regions of your brain vastly overlap with parts of the brain where people with AUD have decreased grey matter,” Brown says. “It can take up to three months to change in the brain… so it may take three months to have the best quality of sleep you could get.”
5 Weeks Without Alcohol
Your skin will improve. Drinking causes dehydration due to alcohol binding to your body’s protein that helps reabsorb water back into the body. This means you urinate excess water while you’re drinking, which typically would have been retained by your body to stay hydrated.
6 Weeks Without Alcohol
You may have higher thinking and problem-solving skills, memory and attention than those who are still drinking alcohol. Several studies show that if you stop drinking, your chances of getting cancer, having a stroke and early death will decrease.
Because I was a casual drinker, my experience in abstaining was much less severe, however, there were notable, documented changes I noticed through my Apple Watch and my Fitbit scale when I was drinking versus not drinking.
The main physical differences I experienced was a drop in my resting heart rate and a noticeable decrease in my weight when I abstained. My weight went from 167 and got as low as 157 in the month I didn’t drink alcohol. I purposely did not change anything around my diet or exercise so I could remove any other factors. For my resting heart rate, I just used the standard Apple Health app that comes with my phone that is automatically paired with my Apple Watch.
You can see the stats and impact on my resting heart rate and weight below. While my experience isn’t as monumental as the experiences Brown described above, there’s clear evidence both through clinical trials and my own amateur trials that alcohol does have an adverse effect on our weight and heart rate.
End of December 2021 to Mid-January 2022
I realize this looks a bit backward at first glance. In the first screenshot on the left, the less recent date starts at the bottom. I weighed in at around 166 pounds in late December. Also notice how my resting heart rate was in the low 50s.
When New Years Eve rolled around, I drank. My resting heart rate spiked on January 1st to an average of 61 BPM. My weight was at 168.1 lbs and few days after. My guess is that I didn’t want to hop on the scale and see the horrors on January 1. A few days later my weight decreased to 164 lbs by January 7th. Also, note that my weight fluctuates dramatically based on the amount of water I’m retaining. That’s why it’s important to see the week-over-week change as opposed to fluctuations in just a few days.
Mid-January to End of January
By the middle of January, my resting heart rate dropped to an average of 47 beats per minute. In addition, my weight started to drop and got as low as 159.
Again, to be clear, I did not change anything about my diet or exercise. I wanted to keep as many factors constant as possible so the effects of not drinking would be isolated.
Beginning of February
At the beginning of February, I was drinking a good number of non-alcoholic beverages, which contain small amounts of alcohol. Interestingly enough, my weight spiked (likely water retention) 161.2 lbs and my resting heart rate average increased to 48 BPM –– not a huge increase, but a sure increase. The spike that took place at the end of the period was due to being a bit under the weather. Interestingly enough, though I didn’t have any symptoms, my resting heart rate rising was likely a reaction of my body’s attempts to stave off illness.
In conclusion, taking the month of January off from booze had positive impacts on my resting heart rate and weight as I was able to share from the screenshots. However, while it is difficult to quantitatively track, I felt better about myself, more rested and generally less anxious and stressed about things. In fact, because I felt so good, I extended the total time to 6 weeks. There’s no question in my mind that I will be doing Dry January for the foreseeable future. Maybe, I’ll even try another dry month mid year. You should give it a try too – please share and compare your findings!
We’ve all seen the various takes about the Spotify controversy involving Joe Rogan and Neil Young spill into our social media platforms. I think it’s safe to say that Joe Rogan is wildly irresponsible given his large audience to spread Covid misinformation – his use of racial slurs is an entirely separate and disgusting matter. The news is now focusing on Rogan’s recent apology, and all the noise is drowning out some crucial music business issues that are still very much worth exploring.
A recent New Yorker article about the controversy, “Reasons to Abandon Spotify That Have Nothing to Do with Joe Rogan,” brought up some interesting points about the subscription business model’s structure and its role in what the writer calls “the radical devaluation of musical labor.” But I disagree that Spotify is “singularly hostile to working musicians.”
The article begins with “It’s good to see Spotify suffer, at least in the short term.” Why should Spotify suffer? Does it pirate content? Does Spotify not need to negotiate licenses that give it a chance to operate as a business?
Spotify pays large fees to music rights holders via incredibly complex licensing deals. The company initially proved it could execute and succeed in Sweden – albeit a small market for a launch, but one where music piracy was rampant. Spotify convinced users in this market that a great product at a fair price was better than stealing music. The company then expanded to the rest of the world and negotiated some of the most complex licensing deals to the best of their ability in order to build a viable going concern.
The tough reality of the recent controversy is that the Joe Rogan issue has forced Ek to walk a fine line between content censorship and downright misinformation. Ek knows that Rogan delivers a massive audience and that means revenues to his platform. Ek’s creation of a “content advisory board” may come off as lip service to addressing the issue of such polarizing content, but in fairness, he has some tough decisions on his hands. As a public company CEO who has seen a massive decline in market cap recently, he is keenly focused on boosting his numbers and improving margins. Rogan and the growing market of podcasts does both.
The article also paints Ek as an arrogant and aloof billionaire who sits in an ivory tower. In reality he is a resourceful entrepreneur and just one of the streaming founders that broke out despite insurmountable odds in the early music technology space.
While I applaud Neil Young and others for their choice to remove their content due to the COVID misinformation spread by Rogan, I’m not sure if it really matters. There are multiple ways to access content and many listeners use multiple streaming services. In the end, his catalog likely got a boost from the controversy but that overshadows the real workings of streaming music.
There is still the question of the sustainability of Spotify’s original business model of a streaming music platform. It created a massive free and premium subscriber base out of its music offerings but margins have been tight. However, in a smart move to boost gross margins, Spotify has launched podcasts a few years ago as a new form of audio content to delight users. It seems to be working.
So the bottom line is that streaming goes beyond just music. It is the combination of digital podcasting, music streaming and the association of advertising and subscriptions that can build sustainable business. Spotify’s move to podcasting in the past three years and its potential ad revenues are similar to talk radio in the analog era, but in repeatable digital format. It has proven successful. In doing so, they created a “revised business model” based originally on its music subscribers, but evolving to become an audio media platform for innovative, even controversial, podcasters and program directors.
Spotify is navigating a difficult but evolving space. Reducing it to the Rogan vs. Neil Young event or the Spotify vs. musicians war misses a more lasting reality: that streaming is here to stay, whether it’s words or music. The content decisions being made now are being informed by the age-old question, “what are people willing to pay for and what do they expect for free?” The answer changes generationally. With all the colorful controversy, I think it’s important to note that those like Ek who are trying to navigate these turbulent waters are not the bad guys here, they’re innovating on their feet in a time of massive change. The technology indications at play here are the bigger story.
2020: it’s been a year. We’ve gone from music festivals to online concerts, and consistent album releases to a borderline hiatus. Artists are learning to navigate this new, digital music world, and I think they’ve set up 2021 for what could be some impressive options. As always, these potential feats come with their risks, but I don’t think this newfound digital music world is going to go away anytime soon.
Here are my predictions for music in 2021:
Music in Digital Fitness Will Continue Its Growth, Despite A COVID Vaccine, and Instructors Have Adopted Their Role As the New Radio DJs
Since the closing of gyms due to the pandemic, people have found their own ways to workout at home. People are taking more walks than they ever have; trying a Zoom group workout; and, quite especially, gravitating towards the flood of fitness apps right at their fingertips.
During the pandemic alone, the number of health and fitness app downloads has globally increased by 46%, as has the number of daily active users. Some in-person fitness programs have added alternative options for their users. ClassPass, a company that gives members the ability to take fitness classes from different venues, began offering livestream and on-demand classes during the pandemic. 81% of members participated in these online classes.
Beyond that, instructors are becoming DJs. Instructors curate their classes towards their clients, and offer introduction to new song releases and remixes, even during a digital age when the music production world has slowed down a bit. Labels are paying attention and have considered fitness as the new music distribution channel for years.
So, do I think digital fitness will cease or slow after a vaccine? No, I don’t. People will likely think twice about going to a gym. There was a time we wiped sweat and grime off equipment, well, because it was gross. Now, we will do it so we don’t get sick and infect others. A survey by Mindbody reported that participants said they will still take virtual classes, even after gyms reopen. Feed.fm’s own research also supports that 70% of respondents are working out more at home post-COVID than pre-COVID. It’s been a pretty revolutionary year for the digital fitness world. Peloton is now even rumored to be one of the top music players and actually eating some market share from Spotify, Apple and the other top music streaming services.
Live Streaming Is Here to Stay
It goes without saying that this year, live music took a brutal hit. Concerts were cancelled, and we really weren’t certain when live music would return. But artists found alternatives, making concerts more accessible for even more people. Livestream music has let listeners turn their own homes into personal concert venues. Friends can connect virtually and stream concerts together.
Artists have been able to collaborate more easily, and have even been able to interact directly with fans through Q&As, storytelling, and virtual meet-and-greets. Some virtual concerts even feature songs that have yet to be released. Artists have been able to give back through these events, donating proceeds of earnings to charities from educational programs to COVID-19 relief efforts.
Digital live music has given artists the opportunity to connect with audiences that haven’t previously been in the venue. In doing so, they’ve pushed their reach even further. I think this is just the beginning for digital live music. Direct-to-fan engagement through digital channels will become the norm for artists’ marketing strategies, with or without a label.
Live Music Will Come Back, But It Will Be Different
We’ve already seen live music come back, but it’s not going to be crowds of people spilling their beer all over each other. Concerts have already restarted, in forms of drive-in concerts from your car, and pop-up shows featured on roofs.
There have to be precautions taken, but I think these events are doable. People can drive into an outdoor venue, socially-distance their cars, and listen to live music comfortably. Musicians are curating their spaces towards what concerts look like during a pandemic–– and it’s working.
Yes, eventually people forget even the worst of times. The vaccine will succeed and memories of the pandemic will fade. People will eventually come back to venues to watch live music in droves – but the question is when will that happen? My guess is that it things will come back during festival season in 2022 and fans will go bonkers. Perhaps it will be the Roaring 20s all over again, but this time the Roaring 2020s. In the interim, let’s hope venues can figure out a way to make ends meet while audiences remain at home.
An Increase in the Sale of Publishing Catalogs
In an attempt to pull in more money, musicians have begun selling their song catalogs. When their catalogs are sold, they typically lose their ongoing income and royalty rights to each song. One particularly notable catalog sale was that of The Beatles when Michael Jackson outbid Paul McCartney. Fortunately, in 2017 after a 50 year fight, McCartney was able to reclaim ownership rights in a private transaction with Sony ATV.
Right now, the value of catalog sales are higher than ever they’ve been, which is mostly due to low interest rates and a strong market of bidders. Because of these low interest rates, buyers are able to find cheap debt financing to buy catalogs. However, that has driven prices up prompting some notable sales. Bob Dylan recently sold his entire catalog to Universal for between $300 to $400 million. Stevie Nicks sold 80% of her rights, as well.
As musicians find it more difficult to make money (especially, it seems, those later in their careers), they’re turning to catalog sales. I think we’ll continue to see an increase in these sales from private equity and other buyers who can use leverage to make large acquisitions.
Artists Have Either Disappeared, Or Used Quarantine to Their Advantage
It seems that artists have gone either one way or the other during the pandemic: heads in the sand, or intensely focused on songwriting and figuring out ways to make it out of the pandemic successfully, as an artist.
Some artists have really felt the hit of the pandemic due to their inability to perform live , in-person concerts, while others (most notably Taylor Swift) have really used this quarantined time to their advantage. Swift published two albums during the pandemic, folklore and evermore, turning her home into a music studio. She worked with Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner over FaceTime, and went on to record a special with them for Disney+. Both albums resulted in enormous success, with folklore spending six weeks as #1 on the Billboard 200.
It’s promising and inspiring to see how artists can tackle both songwriting and the digital music world amidst a pandemic. But it does involve a surge of productivity, and a commitment to it, at that. Let’s hope that musicians that have given up on their artistic careers to get through COVID will be able to return to doing what they and their fans love.
Most of us agree that 2020 was a year that we want to forget. But it did pave the way for new digital communication from the comforts of one’s home. This may be a revolutionary first we’ve seen of music in a digital age, but it isn’t the last. Artists have leveled up their innovation, and recognized that not everyone is going to be comfortable with going back to in-person events, even in a vaccinated world. 2020 has laid the groundwork for future digital music revolution, and 2021 will hopefully lead us back to normalcy, perhaps a new normalcy.
As the age-old saying goes, practice makes perfect, right? In basketball, you might practice shooting hoops again and again with the dream of becoming Steph Curry, hitting three-pointers from any range. In golf, hours at the driving range will hopefully improve your inside-out swing, groove muscle-memory and lower your handicap. Mainstream sports are engulfed in the idea of refining and perfecting these fundamentals.
However, all of this is quite different in the newest sport (or perhaps anti-sport) added to the Olympics: Skateboarding. Skateboarders (aka skaters) need not only have the fundamentals: leg strength, sense of timing, coordination, stamina and incredible balance, but they also need a repertoire of tricks and most importantly, the perseverance to execute.
Skateboard pros aren’t pros just because they can flawlessly execute fundamentals. They aren’t just really good at doing one thing like a 3-pointer. They are pros because they’re learning more movements or tricks, trying them out and, eventually, executing them seamlessly, often in sequence. Skateboarders not only have this constant need to keep redefining their style, but also a drive to learn something new. They need to learn something bigger, faster and more technical to stay at the top. In many cases, the more difficult or scarier, the better. It is a drive to try new things in order to get better… all of the time.
It’s a process of continuous improvement.
It takes a combination of preparation and trial error. You have to prepare yourself well by creating goals, researching, seeking guidance, and envisioning yourself accomplishing this trick. Finally, you just try it and see what happens.
It’s extremely rare that you nail a trick the first time. Usually, you make several attempts, fail multiple times, learn, try again and sometimes you injure yourself forcing you to take a break from the entire process.. But that’s the cycle: you fail, you learn, you fail again, until you get better, and most importantly, you stay persistent. It’s all trial and error until there’s a small break-through, that bit of learning that gets you to the next step. Watch this amazing video of how this skater tried and tried and tried to land this crazy trick.
For startup entrepreneurs, this cycle probably sounds familiar. I’ve realized that this slow, gradual and often painful process of learning a new trick is a lot like running a young company. It’s all about failing, getting back up, brushing yourself off, and continuing to try until you execute. As someone who has been skateboarding since I was a kid, I believe the parallels are incredibly similar. Let’s get into the mind of a skater and perhaps it can help us become better entrepreneurs.
Stage One: Creating Goals
Set a goal for yourself. It can be daunting to reach that goal. It puts you out of your comfort zone, knowing that hard work, injury, and failure all lie ahead. For me, in skateboarding, my most recent goal was a rock-to-fakie. I shared my video earlier in this post
Brainstorm a plan for this goal and something to work on every day. Your goal’s practice should be a “non-negotiable” part of your day. Diligence and perseverance become your greatest allies. Breaking it down into small steps can help make the goal less daunting.
Stage Two: Research
It’s always important to learn more about your craft and the goal you’re trying to reach. Sisters often watch and learn from other skaters to see what they did and get inspired. Read about what other people have done and how you can play off of their strengths and weaknesses. Learn about the difficulty level and the risks that you would be taking. It’s important to expose yourself to examples of the skills you’re trying to accomplish. Questions are just as important in order to become proficient in a skill.
Stage Three: Seek Help
If you can get someone to help you, do it. The skate culture is very much about helping learn a new trick and supporting them in the process. You can always benefit from the skillset of someone else. It’ll help accelerate the learning process. An article in the Harvard Business Review suggests finding someone who would be able to notice changes in your progress and give you candid feedback can drastically speed up learning. You need to be humble enough to know when you are beat and need help, but also confident enough to know when your own ideas may be better. Entrepreneurs often can benefit from a founder group or formal advisors who can help provide guidance. An important part of skate culture is to sit around and cheer your fellow skaters on when they are trying to nail a trick. No self-respecting skater would ever admit openly admit this, but yes, it’s a bit like a support group and it works.
Stage Four: Visualize Success
I would often watch other skaters over again and try to imagine myself landing the trick. Where would I place my feet? Where would I land? Pro skater Killian Martin from Spain often discusses visualizing executing a trick like a film in his mind. Check out this CNN Interview.
But the science goes deeper.
Saurabh Vyas, a bioengineering graduate student from Stanford, conducted a study on the motor cortex using monkeys. The monkeys mentally practiced moving a cursor across a screen not physically. The researchers changed the biometric so that brain signals used to move the cursor up now moved it in a different direction. Vyas found that the monkeys adapted successfully. When it came time for the monkeys to execute their tasks physically, they were again successful even when obstacles were presented.
Vyas elaborates saying that when you think about an action you’re about to execute, your neurons are already operating before you even make that first move. Practicing a skill in your mind may help increase the success of your results when you actually come to execute. Vyas believes you still have to physically practice, but setting yourself up mentally by running through what you’re attempting to do may really benefit you. From Tony Hawk to Rodney Mullen, visualization has been important as skaters try increasingly difficult tricks.
Stage Five: Execute
You’ve got to just try the trick and see if you can do it. “No language was ever learned without speaking. No success was ever built without risk and the willingness to fail.” You aren’t going to wake up one day and automatically have a skill down pat. It takes practice, time, and the bravery to put yourself out there. The concept of a developing a MVP is precisely analogous. The product is not going to be perfect, but at some point, every good entrepreneur and skater needs to get beyond just the research and theoretical stage and actually execute the vision. And yes, it can be scary.
Stage Six: Fail and Try Again
After you try it, you’re probably going to fail. I can’t tell you how many times I fell while practicing various tricks. But your focus shouldn’t be on the fact that you failed, it should be on what you learned from failing. If I had given up over every scraped knee and elbow, sprained ankle and broken tailbone, I would have never landed the trick.
19 out of 20 startups fail. So, to succeed, you need to try something at least 20 times. All it takes is one win, to get to the next stage in your company’s development. If I had given up after a customer loss, investor rejection, or any of the myriad of “no’s” that form the basis of my entrepreneurial existence, I would not have been able to build our business.
Stage Seven: Practice makes Progress
Then it’s all about repetition and trying out new things. Practice. Try out different approaches. Find the method that works best for you so you can accomplish your goal. There’s an idea of a form of practice called “deliberate practice.” It means that you’re not just practicing to practice. You’re practicing with some sort of objective in mind. You should have a goal for each time you go out for a session. Often times, the goal of practicing or trying different approaches is to gain a small insight that would increase your chances of success the next time. The goal is progress, not perfection.
Here’s a great (and long) video done at the VMWare Conference featuring two of the greatest skaters of all time that I mentioned earler: Rodney Mullen and Tony Hawk that reviews many of the concepts that I review in the post…
Stage Eight: Success
Finally, you get that first win. You land the tick for the first time. Congratulations! You should be proud of yourself. However, can you repeat it? How can you still improve? How do you execute this in a way that you have a repeatable process?
I remember the first time, we thought we had achieved product market fit. We found our first paying customer and landed our first annual contract. It was a celebration. However, it was short-lived as we went out to try to repeat that win with other customers in the sector. We found tremendous difficulty and ended up, as you can imagine, trying a different approach. I’m glad to say that after several trial-and-error processes, we eventually did find product market fit and scale our business.
These eight stages of learning a skateboard trick are analogous to being an entrepreneur. With any skater, or entrepreneur for that matter, a mix of perseverance, smarts, practice, and execution can lead to success. You may not be able to successfully create a business on your first shot, but if you repeat the process and learn from your mistakes, you can win. Congrats, you landed your first “trick” and even better, you may have created a repeatable business.
There are a number of reasons why I love funk, but to boil it down: funk is all about the groove – a highly rhythmic experience where each musician needs to think about their specific part and most importantly, how it fits within the broader context of the song. The guitarist may be doing something different from what the keyboardist and bassist is playing. The kick drum might be locked in with the bass while the overall rhythm is different from the guitar strumming. Each musician has a role – they need to find and stay in their lane or “pocket” – so that they properly fit with what the rest of the band is doing. Finally, adding a hooky melody and horn section over the rhythmic section requires a deep understanding of finding your place in a band.(more…)
Another year has come and gone with music events making history. Some predictions from my post from last year were correct: new highs in streaming, the growth of podcasting and music “excitement” in the fitness world, but I totally missed on others – wearables didn’t grow as fast as I expected. Nonetheless, here’s a list of what I feel are the top ten moments in the music business in 2019. The list is primarily in chronological order with some general trends at the end.(more…)
Jeff Yasuda founded Feed.fm alongside Eric Lambrecht and Lauren Pufpaf, with the belief that music integration and licensing should be easy for any business, whether digital or brick-and-mortar. Early adopters like American Eagle Outfitters, Anheuser-Busch, and other consumer marketing companies found a legal and efficient way for customers to stream music within their online environments.(more…)