Keyword Research and SEO



Lately I’ve been learning about Keyword Research and SEO. Wow, this is difficult stuff. I’ve so far sat through two hour-long YouTube videos, and read a few articles and I feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Keyword Research and SEO

About a year ago I stumbled upon the Smart Passive Income podcast with Pat Flynn. The podcast lays out the basics of building an online business that serves others and generates income. I was listening to the podcast the other day and I realized that over the course of the year, I’ve applied very little of what I’ve consumed. After hours and hours of listening, I’ve built 2 websites, with less than 20 articles each, and my passive income is probably negative at this point after hosting and email list fees. I know keyword research and SEO are an important part of building a site that gets traffic, but I never took the time to learn specific techniques.

About 6 months ago I had the privilege of being connected with a guy named Brendan Hufford who runs Hustle & Heart, a site dedicated to helping entrepreneur dads run their businesses and put their families first. Brendan is an awesome motivator and so I began taking action and created the site you’re reading right now (danscoolstuff) and also a dedicated “how-to” music blog called

While I’m very happy that I took some action to get started, I’m now struggling to get traffic to my sites. I realized I might have missed some important knowledge in my haste to take action, so now I’m doubling back to try and get some in-depth knowledge on SEO, Keyword research, and driving traffic to my posts and articles. I wanted to clue you in on what I’ve been studying, and I’m hoping that you might have some tips or resources that you’ve found helpful in your own journey to conquer the web and build a following.

My Fears


Some of my biggest fears approaching this online business stuff is that I’ll spend hours and hours and hours learning and consuming podcasts, blog posts, and emails from “the experts” and never actually have the time to apply what I’m learning on my own. I’m also afraid that in choosing my “niche” or the audience that I’d like to create a site to help and serve, I may choose a bad niche where no matter how hard I work, I’ll never get traffic or income going in a sufficient quantity to justify the hard work.

My Process

To address my fears, I decided that learning the process of creating a niche site is what I’m going to focus on. I started to serve independent musicians, which I am still committed to and would like to improve, but to be honest, it is not a very profitable niche. To justify spending so much time on this internet marketing thing, I need to make some income for my family. I’ll still be posting at Musichacker, because it’s my passion, but I also need to make a site that has a good potential to make income. My time being stretched as it is, I want to encourage myself by focusing on a project that serves others, and has a good potential to generate some passive income, so learning to make a profitable niche site is the next step for me.

My current process has been pretty simple. I installed the Yoast SEO plugin on my site and I’ve been using it with every post. I watched the Niche Site 2.0 keyword research and analysis video from Pat Flynn, which provides a great overview on keyword research using both free and paid tools. As part of the video, I also this supplementary video on generating seed keywords which provides 7 tips to generating some seed keywords.

Another resource I’ll be tapping is the newsletter and blog at Spencer Hawes, the creator of the site, was a guest on a Pat Flynn episode. He’s created hundreds hundreds of niche sites and I’m hoping he will have some great updated content on niche sites and a good process to create one.

My Questions

I have two important questions that I hope to answer as I tackle this process.

1. Is SEO and Keyword research still relevant today?

2. Are niche sites still profitable and worthwhile to develop? (I need to keep expenses under $500 per site)

From what I’ve read so far, it seems that SEO and Keyword Research still has its place in 2016, but things have changed dramatically from 2013 when many of the experts released articles and videos on niche sites, SEO, and keyword research. A few searches I’ve done so far indicate that niche sites can be timeless if they’re executed correctly. The fact that LongTail Pro still exists and appears to be running new projects is also encouraging to see. As far as cost goes, I’ve seen niche sites created for anywhere from $250-500, but that includes paying writers to create the content, which is something I might do myself to get the experience.

My Tools

Most of my tools are all recommended by P-Flynn.

For the keyword research I’ll be using LongTailPro. I purchased a copy of LongTailPro back when it was a a one-time fee for the standalone desktop version. I haven’t investigated the latest pricing model that Spencer is using for the tool, but it looks like you can sign up for a yearly or monthly subscription ranging from $20-40. I might upgrade to LongTail Platinum if I think the LongTail Pro academy looks like it’s worth the money, but I haven’t researched that yet.

I’ll also be using a couple of the free options Pat mentioned like Google Trends and of course Google search.

For the on-page SEO for my site I’ll be using the Yoast SEO plug-in, which is 100% free and really easy to use.

My Goals


I’m trying to keep my goals simple, but specific.  Here they are:

  1. In the next 6 months I would like to create 2 niche sites that are thoroughly researched (keyword research, SEO research, article topics researched on relative user forums, etc.) and executed end-to-end (at least 20 articles on each site, good graphics, WordPress theme, and monetization techniques all in place)
  2. I would like each niche site to generate at least $100 a month the first month after launch, and at least $250 per month consistently in passive income.
  3. I would like each niche site to have organic traffic of at least 10,000 unique visitors per month.

I Could Use Some Help

Are you also learning about Keyword Research, SEO, and niche sites at the moment? I could use your help. Please leave a comment with a resource that you’ve found helpful to your learning process.  If you’re already a niche site ninja and have some tips for me, I’d love to hear those too. I usually charge ahead with ideas without consulting experts and make some really obvious mistakes. That’s great for learning, but not great for speed, so if you see some pitfalls in my process let me know! Thanks for reading, please keep me posted on your niche site learning and projects. Let’s do this!

Learning Out Loud – The Volatyl WordPress Framework – Day 07

LEARNING OUT LOUD The volatyl wordpress framework

Day 07

So yesterday I was able to activate a custom page layout using Volatyl.

That was cool, and now I’m looking for more ways to customize my site.

At this point I’m not sure how to proceed, I have two thoughts for how I can achieve the look I’m going for with the site. To refresh your memory, here’s my rough sketch:

My site layout
A quick sketch of my site layout
  1. Paste completely customized html into the custom page layout I created yesterday
  2. Use Hooks? Some sort of pre-formed layout pieces to build the site?

I’m also thinking it might be possible to edit elements of the Encore child theme I already have installed on the site.

At any rate, I don’t know where to start, so I’m going to head over to the Documentation page at Volatyl Themes and click on the Customize Volatyl topic

Site Structure

I clicked into the tutorial I’ve already scene regarding the custom page layout, and now I’m kind of meandering. Towards the bottom of the post I see a link regarding site structure. That looks interesting I’ll take a quick read.

volatyl html structure

Cool! Looks like this has some insight into how I can use that HTML section on my custom page layout.

After reading through the rest of the site structure page, I’m going to have roll up my sleeves and work with the HTML and CSS code to customize my site. So regarding my earlier ideas:

  1. Paste completely customized html into the custom page layout I created yesterday
  2. Use Hooks? Some sort of pre-formed layout pieces to build the sites

It seems my first ideas is the most correct. I’ll need to customize the HTML and CSS, but I’ll probably be doing that within the Encore theme that already exists on my site. I’ll jump into that tomorrow.

Am I doing something wrong? Have a better idea of how I can do this? Leave me a comment!


  1. Documentation for the Volatyl theme is extensive and very helpful
  2. Hopefully you’ve studied up on your HTML and CSS (I personally need to study more)


Learning Out Loud – The Volatyl WordPress Framework – Day 06

LEARNING OUT LOUD The volatyl wordpress framework

Day 06

This morning I sat down to reflect on my life and the errors of my ways and more importantly, figure out why my custom page template wasn’t working yesterday.

I realized I’m dumb.

So dumb in fact, that I neglected to notice that I placed my HTML to test my template inside of a comment, which rendered the HTML inside of the comment invisible.

So let’s try to fix that first thing today.

I’m going to go right into the functions.php code where I ended up yesterday

I’m going to remove these motivation-sucking, time-destroyers known as HTML comment tags and view the page again

remove html comments



Alright awesome. Now I can edit HTML and create a custom template. I’m actually not sure where to go from here, so I’ll have to do some more research. Until next time, remember beware of HTML comments!


  • The Create a Custom Page Layout document on Volatyl’s site works great!
  • Beware of HTML comments and how they may break your site
  • I have a question: What do I do now?

Have any ideas where I should go next? Leave a comment, I could use the help!

Update: Right after I published this post, Sean Davis the creator of Volatyl was nice enough to comment on my last post to help me fix my HTML comment issue. Thanks Sean!


Learning Out Loud – The Volatyl WordPress Framework – Day 05

LEARNING OUT LOUD The volatyl wordpress framework

Day 05

Today I’m going to be working through the Custom Page Layout tutorial.

I’ll jump right in.

The first step is to create a new page that will act as a custom template

I’ve created my new page and now I need to set the Page Attributes to Custom Layout

Oops, I thought something was wrong because I was looking at the Volatyl Quick Page Settings instead of the Page Attributes menu (it’s on the right side of the screen if you were wondering)

page attributes menu

Okay now I’ve changed my Page Attributes to Custom Layout and I’ve published the page.

The next step is to get the Post ID by hovering my mouse over the edit button next to the Short Link, but that isn’t working for me.  I did the same thing next to the Visibility option in the sidebar and that seems to be working. My Post ID is 226

Post ID

Okay the next steps look a little intimidating.

In order to further customize my template I will need to use PHP

I need to add this snippit of code to the functions.php file of my child theme

// Custom layout
function custom_page_layout_1() {
	if ( is_page( 165 ) ) { ?>
		<!-- Your HTML goes here. -->
	<?php }
add_action( 'main_content_custom_layout', 'custom_page_layout_1' );

I think I can find that file under the Appearance menu.  I’ve clicked into the editor sub-menu


I’ll quickly through the scary Do You Want To Proceed? warnings like a boss, and then I’ll click on what appears to be my functions.php file. One more click through of a warning and this is what I see.


Okay, looks like this is indeed my Encore theme skeleton’s functions.php section so I will now paste in the code…

Oh yeah, I forgot I will need to change the Post ID in the code so it knows where to find my custom template

php code

Alright that looks good. So according to the rest of the tutorial I should now be able to add HTML to the Custom Layout code in my functions.php file (where it says “Your HTML goes here.”) and it should appear on the page I created. I’ll test this out by using some simple HTML code to create a link to

html test

And now I should see my HTML on the page…


Darn… nothing. I think I did something wrong. I’ll try to figure out what went wrong next time.


  • The functions.php file is located in Appearance > Editor
  • Just because you can find the functions.php file doesn’t mean you know how to use it.

Learning Out Loud – The Volatyl WordPress Framework – Day 04

LEARNING OUT LOUD The volatyl wordpress framework

Day 04

Yesterday I made some amazing progress.

I managed to install a child theme skeleton called Encore and now my site looks like this.

musichacker encore theme installed

At the moment it’s pretty basic, but today I’m going to start working on some customization.

I’m not really sure where to start on this one. I think I’ll start by trying to customize the Encore child theme skeleton in WordPress

customize encore

Okay, that didn’t help me much. I think this is a good time to mention that my total experience with editing WordPress templates in any way amounts to… zero. I have zero idea what I am doing. That’s okay though, that’s why I’m learning out loud.

Next I have clicked into the Editor tab for the Encore theme. Once I click through the “Do you want to proceed?” warning, this is looking a little more promising.

CSS editor encore

Okay I still have no idea what I’m doing, and instead of editing my CSS and breaking my theme, I’m going to check out the official Volatyl site to see if I can find some info on how to edit this the right way.

I’ll start by reading the Create Custom Page Layout article

Hook, Line, and Sinker

Right off the bat the article mentions hooked liners which I’ve heard of several times now, so I’m going to jump to that link to read more.

Wow, this is a lot of information to process. The hooked liners consist of mainly a Headliner and a Footliner. Apparently I can adjust these using Hooks in the themes settings. Okay, now there’s another one I’ve heard a lot about, I will click through to learn more…

hooks custom layout

Hooks sound like the main building blocks of a custom page. Awesome. Now I can go back to the custom page layout article where I started and I’ll have a little more context.

The custom page layout article reads like a tutorial, unfortunately I’m out of time for today, but I’m excited to run through it tomorrow.


  • Hooks are the building blocks of a custom page layout
  • Fishing terms make great section headers




Learning Out Loud – The Volatyl WordPress Framework – Day 03

LEARNING OUT LOUD The volatyl wordpress framework

Day 03

Yesterday I think I finally figured out how to create a custom template for the Volatyl framework. Exciting!

Today I’m going to pick up where I left off with a theme skeleton.

Since I’m also posting on while I work on this template, I have to switch back and forth between a stock theme and the Volatyl Framework theme while I learn how to make it look good. Hopefully I’ll hit a point where I can make changes and not have to switch, but I’m not quite there yet.

So I’ve switched my theme to the Volatyl Framework and now I’m going to download a theme skeleton to apply to the framework.

theme skeletons page

There’s a few templates Touch, Vibrant, Rigged, and Encore.  They’re all free downloads, of course you’ll need to pay for and download the Volatyl Framework to first in order to use them.

Looks like I can do a live demo of each template. The live demos will give me an idea of what’s possible with each theme. I’ll try to find one that gets me as close as possible to my ideal site design, and then edit it from there. If you’ll remember from my first post I’m looking to make my site like this:

My site layout
A quick sketch of my site layout

I really like the look of the Vibrant theme, however, it looks like the Encore theme will provide the layouts that I need to make my ideal site design, so I’ll choose that one.

I went through a quick Add to Cart > Checkout process on the site and downloaded the theme for $0.00

I’ll check my email box for the download link. Clicking the link downloads a .zip file that I will have to figure out what to do with next. Oh neat, there’s a 30% commission affiliate program that I was not aware of, I will have to check that out (maybe by the end of this post) 🙂

encore download email

How Do I Install This?

So now that I’ve downloaded my theme skeleton I want some instructions on how to use it with the Volatyl framework so I’ll head back to the Volatyl site for some instructions.

Hmm… searching, searching, searching…

I can’t find any instructions on how to install a child theme skeleton anywhere on the site.

I’m going to open up the file I downloaded from my email and see if there’s some instructions in there.

Nope, nothing there either.

A quick Google search shows me that I missed the instructions in the documentation on how to create a child theme

child theme installation instructions

Cool! So it looks like I can just upload the file I downloaded as is to my WordPress site and the Volatyl parent framework will pick it up automatically. That’s easy.

I’ll go to my WordPress dashboard at and make sure I’ve got the Volatyl theme installed

volatyl theme wordpress installation

Looks good. Now I’ll click Add New and upload the file.

Once it’s uploaded I’ll make sure to activate it.

encore theme installed

Alright! It’s installed. Yes! Let’s see how it looks on the site.

musichacker encore theme installed

Okay, nothing special, but I’ve made some great progress today. I’ll activate my previous theme again for now and try to do some customizing on the encore theme tomorrow.


  • To install a child skeleton theme download from the child skeleton themes marketplace, make sure you have the Volatyl Framework theme installed on your WordPress site, then upload the child skeleton theme .zip file like you would a normal WordPress theme.  The Volatyl Framework parent theme will automatically detect the child theme.
  • Volatyl has an affiliate program, cool!




Learning Out Loud – The Volatyl WordPress Framework – Day 02

LEARNING OUT LOUD The volatyl wordpress framework

Day 02

I just wanted to mention if you’re a musician and this ‘Learning Out Loud’ idea is at all interesting, I just started a new Learning Out Loud for Audacity (free music recording software) over at so check that out if you’re interested.

So working on Day 01 I hit a roadblock. I need to learn about Child Themes.

A quick scan of the Volatyl Themes site and I found this helpful article that explains the subject.

I read the article and I’ll try to summarize as best I can.

Volatyl is a parent theme.  A child theme inherits attributes of the parent theme and WordPress requires a parent theme for every site.

So if I have this correct, by installing the Volatyl Framework on it is now acting as a parent theme.  I think I need to create a custom child theme that can be loaded into the Volatyl parent theme.  Basically the Volatyl theme is a picture frame, and the child theme is the picture inside the frame?  That’s my best guess at how that works.

So now I’m going to read about how to create a Volatyl Child Theme.

I read through the entire article and found the information I was looking for at the bottom:

volatyl customizations

Cool, so I’ve tracked down what I need to do to customize my site layout.  It looks like I can edit the style.css and functions.php files in a child theme to get the custom site layout I’m looking for.

Looks like Volatyl provides some skeleton themes that I can start customizing to look the way I want, so I’ll start there on Day 03.

My CSS and PHP skills are feeling a lot more limited than I originally thought.  I’ll have to do some more research into how the css and functions.php files work together.  If anyone is reading this and has some advice on where I should look, please email me at or leave a comment.

That’s it for Day 02. I’ll hopefully be writing an (almost) daily post from now on so stay tuned.

Learning Out Loud – The Volatyl WordPress Framework

LEARNING OUT LOUD The volatyl wordpress framework

My commute to work is killer.

Every day I hop on the 405 and drive an hour to an hour and a half in rush hour traffic to get to work. It’s the same on the way back too.

I used to listen to music, the radio, my iPod, but I felt like I was wasting my time. So last year I tried something new and started listening to podcasts.

Learning Out Loud

One of my favorite podcasts is The Smart Passive Income Podcast with Pat Flynn. In episode 190 of the Smart Passive Income podcast, Pat interviewed Bryan Harris of Bryan mentioned a book called Authority by Nathan Barry.  In the book Nathan told the story of two developers. Both developers began learning web development.  One developer decided to use a technique called “learning out loud” where he blogged about everything he learned, teaching it to an online audience as he progressed.  The other developer went the traditional route learning his skills and applying them to his job, but not sharing or teaching them outside of work. Both developers were successful, but the developer who used the “learning out loud” method was able build and teach an audience, sharing his knowledge with others and eventually creating a successful product and ebook.

To me it seems like both developers put in the same amount of effort into learning their craft, but one chose to share as he went, and it made all the difference. So that’s why I’m going to try “learning out loud”.

The Volatyl Framework

For my first learning out loud project I’ll be tackling the Volatyl WordPress Framework.

The Volatyl Framework
The Volatyl Framework

Note: I’m going to write form my own understanding however limited it might be as I go.  I’m sure there will be lots of strikethrough text as I learn new things. Please comment if you see me post something erroneous and I will do my best to correct it post-publish.

WordPress of course is itself an amazing framework that allows a user to set up a site in minutes and customize their site using themes and plugins.

One of the most popular themes for WordPress is the Thesis theme. The theme allows for drag and drop customization of a WordPress page and looks pretty slick once it’s all set up. Unfortunately for my budget at the moment, the $197 for Thesis put it out of reach. That’s when I saw the site collegeinfogeek by Thomas Frank and learned from Thomas that it had been built using something called the Volatyl framework. At only $39 it was within my budget to try it out.

Starting Out

I’ve got some decent HTML and CSS skills as well as a few thimbles full of PHP knowledge.  I’ve read up on Voltayl and it seems like it provides some basic building blocks within the theme, as well as the ability to add your own HTML and CSS to fully customize a WordPress site exactly as desired.

Eventually I’ll be building a theme for my site

For now, I’ll be updating this site using Volatyl as I learn.  So hopefully, you’ll be able to see my changes in real time as I go.

Volatyl has some excellent documentation, as well as a blog with some specific lessons. I’ll be starting with this entry on building a custom layout.

About a month ago I installed Volatyl on, so I won’t be writing about how to do that, but you can follow the quick start guide if you’re installing Volatyl on your site.

Day 01: Building A Custom Layout

I’m not actually sure how I want my site to look, so I’m going to assume that’s probably where I should start.  Here’s a quick sketch I drew of what I’d like to see for my site’s homepage.

I really like the clean, easy-to-navigate look of sites like collegeinfogeek, smartpassiveincome, and listenmoneymatters, so I’ll be basing my first design off of those sites.

So here’s my first draft, a quick sketch with a pen on a piece of printer paper:

My site layout
A quick sketch of my site layout

I began my learning for today by following the instructions to build a custom layout from the Volatyl site.

I followed the instructions and created a new page which I’ve called ‘Template’ on my site.

I adjusted the page attributes to ‘custom layout’ and then published the page.

Now I’m stuck, in the post it says that I can now create my own custom layout using PHP, but then it also mentions something called ‘Child Themes’

Do not do this in the functions.php file of Volatyl itself! All style and function customizations need to be done in a child theme. Learn more about child themes.

Looks like I’ll need to read up on those before proceeding.

No time right now, I’ll have to try again tomorrow.





See You Next Year

Happy New Year

Wow, what a year it has been.

Within a year I:

  • Married the love of my life
  • Became a dad
  • Quit my band of 5 years
  • Joined a mastermind group
  • Discovered the amazing world of Podcasts
  • Became a blogger

There’s so much to be thankful for, and I can’t say enough how much of a blessing this last year has been.

For 2016 I have some news.

I will now be blogging about anything and everything on as I had originally planned, and for the musicians out there who read my blog I have created a new site called will now be the HQ for all things related to thriving online as an independent musician.  I’ve had so many ideas for articles spinning around my head and I can’t wait to share them with you. Check out the first post below, and I hope you all have an amazing 2016.

Happy New Year

– Dan Buckley

–> Read my first post on

How I Failed In Corporate America, The Music Industry – And Pretty Much Everything Else… part 4

Writing one email changed my life

Déjà vu. A glitch in the Matrix. I was in a conference room again with my manager and my manager’s manager.  The mood was tense, my job was on the table.  It had been 4 years since I’d escaped Corporate America, and here I was again, sitting in an uncomfortable office chair in a tiny room, trying to come up with the right words to explain the choices I’d made.  On the surface, this was a repeat of the same situation I’d found myself in at my first job, but this time, everything was different…

For those not born before 1998, it’s from an awesome movie…

The band had slowed down considerably after three years in Seattle. I felt as if I was working extremely hard, but getting nowhere. Depression started to set in and everyone seemed to be just going through the motions.  The incredible amount of spending I’d put into the band had provided a small boost in fans, but our first album sales had plateaued and we weren’t gaining new fans.  I felt stalled.  I was physically, spiritually, and emotionally drained.  I decided that it was time for my music to take a back seat.  I wanted to reconnect with my faith and so I began helping out the production team at my local church.

Any Given Sunday

It was a typical Sunday morning when I learned that I would be mixing stage sound for Matt Carter, a founding member of the hardcore band Emery.  I had met Matt before this point, but working with him that Sunday I was able to have some one-on-one conversations with him and get to know him better.  He told me bits and pieces of his own story of moving to Seattle to pursue his dream of music.  He let me pick his brain about recording tips and ways to succeed in the industry.  It was during these conversations that I learned his band was planning a short tour for the Spring.  My own band and Matt’s band could not have been further apart in the realm of success in the music industry.  My band had played a handful of local shows, had never been signed to a label, and besides receiving a few posts on relevant music sites, we hadn’t made any waves in the industry. On the other hand, Emery had been touring and releasing records through a well-known music label since 2002.  Even in 2012, Emery was still adding to a huge and loyal fan base.  Getting a chance to meet Matt and talk with him about this stuff was unbelievable.

Writing One Email Changed My Life

After hanging out with Matt I went home that night and wrote this email.  The email I’ve pasted below is not the exact email I sent, but it will give you an idea of what I included.

DISCLAIMER: Please Don’t Email Matt

Seriously, don’t. That’s not why I wrote this story. I had a personal relationship with Matt before I ever contacted him.  Having an existing relationship with someone is a really important step if you’re going to try this sort of thing. Even if you manage to find his email address, it probably won’t help you.  Matt gets emails like mine ALL THE TIME. The thing about the music industry is, there’s no one way to be successful, and each band or musician’s journey is unique.  So by all means emulate my methods, but don’t copy them in every detail. My email reached Matt at the right time, and said the right things.

So here’s what I said…

Hey Matt,

Dan here. I wanted to reach out to you regarding Emery’s next tour. My band Peace Mercutio is looking to help out on tour with a bigger band this Spring/Summer in exchange for a short set each night and we would love to join you and Emery on tour.

What we would offer for a 15-20 min set at a time slot of your choosing would include the following:

1. We will be your Road Crew – Loading in and setting up all gear for Emery at each stop, sound-checking, tech duties and safely storing and loading out all gear for Emery at the end of the night. All of us have been working with gear for years and our bass player is the operations manager at GC (Guitar Center) and can provide additional knowledge and services if required.

2. Merch Sales – Dedicated merch assistance with at least one Peace Mercutio member selling your merch for you at all times.

3. Promotion – We have some solid contacts online and would provide news posts and media blitz for the tour including features on *********.com, ************.net and several others to promote the tour.

4. On the ground – Fliering and street team promotions the day of at each stop when appropriate and as long as it does not interfere with gear duties

5. Social Media – Facebook advertising up to $10 per day promoting each tour stop and the tour as a whole, including promotion through or social media outlets like Facebook posts and tweets

6. Videography – filmed updates from the road if you guys approve we’d be happy to produce and edit these for your review to help promote the tour as we go.

You can check out our latest release of our new single and music video on here:

No worries if you are planning on something else or it doesn’t work out, I just wanted to let you know in case you would be interested.


Dan Buckley

Wait for it…

So we waited for a couple days without hearing anything back.  I was beginning to get nervous, but then, two days later I received a phone call.  It was Matt Carter.  He said he’d read my email. He made it very clear that sending my email was a total long shot, but it would probably work out to have us out on tour with Emery.  He went on to say the email had addressed everything they needed to complete the tour and it didn’t make sense to say “No”.

Finally after all my failing, we had a huge opportunity for success.


We Found The Pain

Why did my email work?  To quote software entrepreneur Dane Maxwell, we found the pain.  We identified some of the biggest pain points of touring and provided a list of the ways we would solve these problems if Matt was nice enough to let us join Emery on the road.  We were asking a lot, but also providing a lot of value in return.

Touring is 95% pain.  No, not the 5% of the time when you get to play in front of hundreds of screaming fans, it’s everything else. Here’s a typical schedule we experienced on the road:

3:00pm-5:00pm – Arrive at venue, find parking (this takes hours in New York), prepare gear for load-in, meet with promoter and venue owner

5:00pm-7:00pm – Unpack trailer, load in equipment, set up merch display, sound check equipment, change guitar strings, set up green room, organize meet and greet fans, take pictures, sell merchandise at booth

7:00pm-7:30pm – Perform 20 minute set, assist with changeover for next band, pack up instruments, sell merchandise at booth

7:30pm-10:30pm – Film video, manage band changeover, facilitate sound and equipment requests, crowd control, sell merchandise

11:00pm-1:00am – Sell merchandise, take pictures for fans, pack up equipment, load equipment back into trailer, pack up merch, settle up with promoter, eat (maybe), plan out route to next venue, brush teeth/hygiene routine (if you’re lucky!)

1:00am – Drive for as long as possible to next venue (this can be anywhere from 6-18 hours depending on the routing)

Also, not on this list are all of the everyday tasks that most people take for granted and are much more difficult on the road like vehicle repairs, feeding yourself, finding places to pull over and sleep, and securing a place to shower or wash clothes.  So as you can see, an email that provides a solution for road crew, a dedicated merch person, videography, and promotion (however small) can be very appealing, especially if your only request is to play a small opening set.

I Had To Quit My Job, Again…

To pay bills for myself and the band, I was still working in Corporate America at the time of our first tour with Emery.  I was now a Web Producer working on launching products to our company’s website.  You’re probably expecting me to complain about feeling “trapped” or “unfulfilled” at this point, but this time around, my experience was completely different.  Instead of failing constantly I was actually succeeding using the lessons I had learned the hard way in my first job. One thing that made a huge difference is that I had amazing co-workers and managers.  In fact they were so amazing that it made me question everything I knew about Corporate America up until that point.  My managers were super accommodating and allowed me to work from the road for the tour with Emery, I was able to keep my job and pursue my dream of music, at least until I had to request time off for the second and third tours…

Back To The Future

Which brings me back to the uncomfortable scenario at the beginning of my story.  It was my second meeting with my managers that month and we all knew that I had to choose– stay on and progress in my job, or leave and take my chances on the road.  I took a deep breath and slowly explained that after careful deliberation, I’d decided to leave my job and hit the road for the unforeseeable future.  I knew that things would be difficult going forward, but I had to see where my dream of music would take me.

What Happened Next…

So what happened next? Our first tour with Emery went really well.  So well in fact that they invited us out for two more as part of a 10-year anniversary tour for their first album. We all grew close and made amazing memories, becoming friends with some musicians that we had looked up to our whole lives.  Sure, there were blow-out fights within our band every tour, but that’s actually normal for a lot bands (believe it or not). We had our fair share of misadventures driving around the country playing shows, but the overall experience gave me wonderful memories I will never forget. Things picked up for my band following our tour with Emery. We won a spot to play on the 2013 Van’s Warped Tour, joined Project86 for a NorthWest mini-tour, and even had a song on the premiere episode of MTV’s The Challenge: Rivals II.

Peace Mercutio On The Real World Rivals II

And They All Lived Happily Ever After

Well, not quite.  You see, the band had an amazing time touring with Emery, but our sound was not updated enough to make it as a “real” band. Sure if we had been on the scene in 2007 we might have had a shot, but in 2013 our sound was dated and not what listeners were looking for. We had multiple rejections from labels we contacted (the ones that replied) and we couldn’t gain enough traction to be financially successful on our own. We would eventually play our last show Dec 5, 2014 to a small Seattle crowd full of friends and colleagues that had supported us over the years. In the end, pursuing my dream of music took me on many amazing tours and I played in venues all over the country.  I met some of my best friends in the industry Kevin and Anthony from This Wild Life and I even had the chance to tag along as their tour manager for the 2014 Van’s Warped Tour. I really can’t complain. Even though we didn’t make it, the lessons I learned from my failure have proved invaluable as I’ve begun pursuing new entrepreneurial projects.  I know what it feels like to go all out for a big dream and fail, hard.  Failing is not always a great experience, but it’s always an educational one.

So What’s Next?

I’ll be posting more about what’s next in the coming weeks.  In short, it’s time to focus on some new dreams. I met the love of my life, Katie, and I’m getting married to her this December.  She’s changed my life in so many ways for the better and I’m so excited to spend the rest of my life with her.  I had my shot at music, I enjoyed what I accomplished, but as with anything in life there’s a time and a season, and the season of “making it” in music has ended for me.  The same entrepreneurial spirit that drove me to succeed with the band has now led me to pursue building a business online. This blog is part of that.  I want to share what I’ve learned by navigating the pit falls of being an independent musician.  It’s so difficult to start any creative endeavor, especially a band or music project.  There’s things I wish I knew starting out, and that’s what I’m going to write about. Thanks so much for reading this ridiculously long story about some of my (mis)adventures.  I hope you stick around to see what’s next.

Thanks For Reading


Emery – Matt and Toby from Emery have started their own amazing entrepreneurial venture, Bad Christian, which is their platform for a music label, podcast, blog, and publishing company that explores Christianity, music, and culture from an alternative viewpoint. If you want an example of musicians who are killing it as online entrepreneurs, these guys went from 0 to 65,000+ email subscribers in less than 2 years.

This Wild Life – Kevin and Anthony are the hardest working musicians I know. In fact, there’s only two of them in the band, and they do everything.  After our tours with Emery together, they signed to Epitaph records and have since been on the 2014 and 2015 Van’s Warped Tours, as well as arena tours with some huge bands.  They continue to release amazing albums and they’ve taught me almost everything I know about Twitter and how to build an audience around a band.  Check out one of my favorite This Wild Life songs Stay Up Late.

Peace Mercutio – We all still live in Seattle.  Andy has started his own solo-acoustic project On The Shoulders Of Giants.  Taylor is happily married, and Dave, Taylor, and Andy will be joining me as groomsmen in my own wedding this December.

Are you a musician? Please check out my musician’s mastermind group.

Part 4 of what? Check out Part1, Part2, Part3 of this story.