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 musichacker.co 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 encore.zip 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 encore.zip 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 musichacker.co 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 encore.zip 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 Musichacker.co 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 Musichacker.co 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 dan@danscoolstuff.com 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 VideoFruit.com. 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 musichacker.co

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 musichacker.co, 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 Danscoolstuff.com as I had originally planned, and for the musicians out there who read my blog I have created a new site called Musichacker.co

Musichacker.co 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 Musichacker.co

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 Purevolume.com here: http://www.purevolume.com/news/peace-mercutio-thats-how-good-charlotte-got-famous-video

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.


How I Failed In Corporate America, The Music Industry – And Pretty Much Everything Else… part 3

$51,573.42 my spending was out of control

Dear You, The Reader

Thank You!

If you’ve been following the story so far, Thank you!  I’ve gotten some amazing feedback and it’s really encouraged me to finish writing my story. You already know I’ve failed a lot.  The point of the story is to talk about my failures, but also, in a final post that is coming soon, to provide you with lessons I have learned because of my failures.  If you feel like my story is really negative so far and you’re tired of watching a car wreck in slow motion, stick with me, there’s a shiny silver lining up ahead.

I Was Going For Broke

Long before I moved from Milwaukee to Seattle, I’d spent hours listening to local Seattle bands like Death Cab For Cutie, Minus The Bear, and more.  I’d researched the music industry and strategized shortcuts we could use to fast-forward our success as a band and stand out from the crowd.  I’d read article after article and tried to use what I’d learned from Tim Ferriss to think differently about how we would shape our sound and write our music.  When I finally woke up in  Seattle on a rainy morning in March 2010.  I felt determined and ready to tackle anything.

The one thing we all agreed on from the start is that we would need money.  It took me a month to find my first job in Seattle, and I used my hard-earned Excel skills from my failed Corporate Retail experience to get my foot in the door at a Seattle tech company.  The job paid decently and I quickly found myself building a surplus of money that I would use to fund the band.  I opened a $5,000 line of credit at the bank to help with the rent on our house, and then I took out a $10,000 personal loan to consolidate my debt and have some cash leftover for the band.  With $5,000 in my pocket and a fancy job to keep it from going empty I began to spend money on the band.

Now Wait, Something Sounds Funny Here Doesn’t It?

I didn’t come up with a carefully researched plan, exploring several options for spending with a cost/benefit analysis of each, and then proceed to gather input from everyone involved to see which option we should choose, NO, I just started spending money.  You may think I’m joking, or being exaggerative, but I literally just started spending money on anything I came across that I thought would put our band in the public eye.  Any focus on making good music, or researching our target audience was non-existent.  I did zero research on the customer I was trying to sell my music to, and zero research on what kind of music they wanted to hear.  The market I chose was ‘everyone’ and my marketing strategy was a giant windfall of spending on anything that sounded exciting and that wasn’t completely out of reach financially.

I pulled some numbers on my spending for the band between 2010 and 2013.  Check them out below.  I’ve listed out some of the crazy things I spent money on, including full-page magazine ads, billboards, and radio promotion, just so you can see I’m not exaggerating when I say I spent money on just about anything I could think of: (Note: I’m borrowing Pat Flynn’s format for listing out expenses because it’s awesome and easy to read, check out his income reports if you have a chance to see an impressive example of transparency and engagement)


  • Marketing:
    •  Billboard in Los Angeles (I’m not kidding!): $250.00
    • Full page ad in Alternative Press Magazine: $2,490.00
    • Online Google and Facebook ads: $435.39
    • College Radio Promotion: $2,500.00
    • Music Licensing Fees for MTV, Oxygen etc.: $1200.00
    • Miscellanious (Contests, Online profiles,): $4,492.13
      • Total: $11,367.52
  • Production and Merchandise
    • T-Shirts and CDs: $3940.07
    • Producer Fees and Recording: $1,054.35
    • Photography and Music Videos: $2,552.25
    • Graphic Design: $100
    • Miscellaneous (Wardrobe, Food for crew): $2,297.01 
      • Total: $7,646.67
  • Equipment:
    • Amp Mesa Boogie Stiletto II: $1,500.00
    • Peavey 6500 + Guitar amp and speaker cabinet: $970.00
    • Pedal Board, Power Supply and Case: $569.43
    • Music Recording Software: $663.89
    • Miscellaneous (Strings, Existing Equipment, Computers): $6,218.77
      • Total: $9922.09
  • Travelling and Tour
    • Moving Expenses and Trailer: $1,000.00
    • Tour Fees: $2,230.00
    • Fuel: $1,643.38
    • Food: $692.30
    • Miscellaneous (Toiletries, Emergencies): $121.46
      • Total: $5,687.14
  • Practice Space and Rent
    • Rent Split Of Basement w/ Studio Home: $12,950.00
    • Rent Split Of Practice Space: $400.00
      • Total: $16,950.00
      • Total Band Expenses 2010-2013: $51,573.42
$51,573.42 my spending was out of control
My spending was out of control.

$51, 573.42 ?! As I was writing this it was difficult for me to look at these numbers now 5 years later and see how irresponsible and ignorant I was.  All of the band expenses were on top of my living expenses including school debt and personal loan payments totalling around $48,000. During the course of three years,  I’d spent more money on the band than on my own living expenses.  I could write an entire post breaking down the mistakes in my spending, and I will comment on it more in a later post, but for now, I’m going to focus on a lesson that was very difficult for me to learn.

Passion vs. Purpose

The truth is I had a big problem before I even left Milwaukee or started the band.  I had confused the meaning of two important words, and it almost ruined me. My confusion caused me to be defensive towards criticism, alienating towards my friends and family, and foolish with money.  I had confused my passion for my purpose.

Dictionary Definition of Passion : 

A strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something

From the definition of passion it’s plain to see that I was never lacking in that area.  My own enthusiasm to start a band with Andy and be successful was pretty clear from the start when we moved across the country to make it happen.

Dictionary Definition of Purpose: 

The aim or goal of a person : what a person is trying to become.

I’d confused ‘who’ I was with ‘what’ I was doing. I had failed to separate my passion from the purpose of my life and who I wanted to be. It led me to treat every decision I made as life or death, success or failure.  I believed that music was what I was destined to do, it was who I was.  Instead of it being something I was enthusiastic and excited about, it became a desperate struggle, one that I would do anything to win.  If in the end I wasn’t recording music and touring for a living, then my life would be considered a failure. Since all of my life goals and the person I wanted to be were wrapped up in the success of my band, it meant that if the band failed, then I, as a person, had failed too.  I began spending money recklessly on anything I thought would bring us success.  College radio promotion, magazine ads, even real-life billboards, nothing was too ridiculous for me to try. I was determined to go bankrupt to make the band work. Since I was treating the entire endeavor as my destiny, I disregarded the long-term effects of my spending because I felt in my heart we were meant to be a successful band. If I put everything I had into making it work, there was no way it could fail.

A Surprising Start

Even with my disastrous confusion of passion vs. purpose, things for the band had started out well.  We recorded a full-length album, built a strong local community of other bands and booking agents around Seattle, and successfully booked, promoted, and performed shows all over the U.S. as part of two DIY (do it yourself) tours. It was 2012 and we had already accomplished amazing things, but something didn’t feel right.  The instant success we had expected never quite happened.  Our first few local shows started strong with 50-60 people (mostly our friends and family) in the crowd, but then nosedived with less and less attendance.  We thought touring would magically produce interest from record labels, fans, and income, but after two tours we had zero labels talking to us, a handful of fans, and the tours themselves had cost us more money than they had generated.  The idea that we could record an album, tour, and then magically be discovered by a label started to resemble the ‘if you build it, they will come’ scene from Field of Dreams, but instead of a happy ending with cars lined up for miles, our field was a desolate waste of weeds and broken bottles, not even worth the money to keep the lights on.

If You Build It They Will Come Quote

Two years had taught me a lot, but had also caused me a great deal of stress and confusion. The dream I thought was mine to take, was not coming true, and worse, it now seemed totally out of reach. I began to be angry with other band members who didn’t like the ideas I was proposing or didn’t seem ‘committed’ in the way that my passion/purpose confused brain deemed correct.  I made decisions as a lone wolf, not little decisions like what type of paper we’d be using for the set lists at our next show, big decisions-like who we would record our next album with and what songs we would should cut before recording.  I did all of this on my own, without informing the other band members about my ideas until I had already taken action on them.  Their resulting frustration was totally justified, and in hindsight I can’t believe how I ever thought that was an OK thing to do.  Not only was I being counter-productive by wasting time on ideas I’d be never be able to use if the band disagreed with them, but I was also undermining everyone’s trust, and consequently their confidence in the band.

My Wheels Started To Fall Off

It came to the point where I almost deliberately ruined the whole thing.  We had just finished our second tour.  It had been a decent tour and we’d had fun, but an awkwardness had crept up between all of us as friends and band members.  I had been going through a very difficult time in my life, feeling lonely, feeling as if the band was going nowhere, wondering what I was even doing anymore.  I was afraid to fail, so I began to work harder and harder to avoid failure.  Instead of spending time with friends, I shut myself in our basement studio on weekends forcing myself to write music.  The results of forcing myself to be creative and make art weren’t great and I began to implode in a wash of negativity, anxiety, and hopelessness.  At my very worst, I sent emails (the most impersonal and worst way to communicate personal things) individually to each band member chewing them out for the ways they were affecting the band negatively, all the while not acknowledging my own mistakes.  To this day I don’t know how they managed to forgive me, or how we were able to move forward together as band, but somehow, we did. I learned that I needed to separate my passion from my purpose, chill out, and quit treating the band as life or death, or there wouldn’t be a band anymore.

It’s Not Over Until It’s Over

Things weren’t looking great at this point.  I was still in the band and more importantly, we were all still friends, but our local shows continued to be small, and my passion for writing had waned.  I needed something to recapture the excitement and fun I’d once had and turn things around.  I spent hours thinking about what we could do, what would really move us forward.  It was actually a chance meeting at a local church that would turn everything around.

A church would probably be the last place you’d expect to meet a founding member of an incredibly successful hard-rock band, but that’s exactly what happened to me, and it changed everything…

Read the next post in this series to find out how sending one email changed my life in the final conclusion Part 4.

Lost? Maybe you need to read Part 1, and Part 2

Got a question?  Have you been through a similar experience? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at dan@danscoolstuff.com Let’s talk!

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How I Failed In Corporate America, The Music Industry – And Pretty Much Everything Else… part 2

There were hundreds of them

There were so many of them out there. Over a thousand people in the crowd, all applauding, cheering, looking up at me as I stood on the stage, a guitar in hand, two of my best friends on either side of me. It had been a cold day, and I was sweating beneath the crewneck sweatshirt and knit cap I was wearing as rows of bright lights were shining down on us.  I was thinking about everything that had led up to this point, leaving Milwaukee, finding a new job, pursuing a dream, and how it would all be over soon.  It was the last night of our most recent tour which had seen both coasts, 31 venues, 15 states, and thousands of cheering fans.  It was Feb 2, 2014

Peace Mercutio Portland, OR
It was a cold day in Dallas, TX (this is actually a photo from Portland, OR)

If you’re reading this after reading part 1, I have to apologize, there was something I forgot to mention. I had a hidden talent.  It was one I had given up on in college and buried it so deep I hadn’t realized it was still a passion of mine.  I was a musician and I’d been playing guitar since I was 12.  I wasn’t amazing at it, you wouldn’t hear me shred Van Halen, or Jimmy Hendrix, but I was better than a lot of my friends in college who picked up my guitar in my dorm room and tried to play me a song they knew.  It was something that came easily to me, something I could do almost effortlessly.  It was a secret strength and I hadn’t thought much about it until I was 23, five years before the lights and the crowds, reeling from a bad job situation, I was hurting and in need of a friend.  That’s when I met Andy.

Realizing A Dream

anchorman costumes
The time we had the best group Anchorman costume ever, I’m Brian Fantana.

We had met at a bible study hosted by the local church we both attended.  We weren’t immediate friends, in fact we’d been hanging in the same circles for some time without ever speaking, but as I overheard him list of his favorite bands to the group, like Five Iron Frenzy, MXPX, Emery, and Underoath I knew that one day we would be close. We learned about each other’s musical skills that night and decided to meet. We were sitting at a Denny’s waiting on our order when Andy uttered the one sentence that would change my whole life:

‘I want to start a band.’

That was when I realized, I did too.

It had come to me suddenly.  What was a I really trying to accomplish with my life? What was I truly passionate about? What would use my skills and talents that was also something I could do for hours on end and never get tired of?  Why sit at a desk scrolling through excel documents, or flip houses in the real estate market when what I really wanted to do was something that the richest men in the world couldn’t buy with all their money?  I wanted the experience of being in a band, touring the country, playing music that I had written with my best friends.  It seemed stupid, maybe even reckless, but at that point I didn’t have anything left to lose, or so I thought…

I Almost Made It

We had been planning our escape for a few months now.  The plan was this: Andy, our bass player Dave and myself would pack up everything we owned, and move almost 3,000 miles across country to Seattle, WA where my high school friend and now drummer Tom had established a home base for us.  I had been walking around the office on egg shells the whole time, doing my job to the best of my ability, and trying to show just enough interest in advancing to the next position up in the company so as not to arouse suspicion that I would soon be leaving.  I thought I had turned things around.  My weekly meetings with my manager were going well, I was the #2 analyst in my business unit, and our department’s sales were through the roof, so it came as a surprise to me when my manager called me into a small office with two chairs and her boss sitting across the desk from us.  There were only two reasons I would be called into a meeting with my boss and my boss’s boss, and I knew I wasn’t up for a promotion at the moment which left only one option…

“We know you’re not committed to this job.  It’s time for you to start thinking about what you’re going to do next.”

It was so frustrating.  I was angry.  Here I’d been jumping through every hoop to please them, putting in ridiculous late-night work hours on projects to impress them, doing everything I possibly could to dig myself out of the hole I had fallen in and it still wasn’t good enough. They had seen through me, they knew I didn’t like my position, and that I didn’t want to be there, but I’d never wanted them to know that.  I’d wanted desperately to be the one to bring up the conversation, to ride out of the company on the idea that I had quit, and they hadn’t fired me, and I had won despite all the odds, but in the end they’d left me no choice but to admit defeat.  I had failed as a Merchandise Analyst.  I informed them of my plans to move to Seattle, sent out a few emails to my coworkers to let them know where I’d be going, and then I walked out of the front doors of corporate retail never to return.

It Was Time To Go

It was our last night in Milwaukee, WI.  Andy and I were putting the finishing touches on packing the trailer that we would be towing behind his mid-sized SUV all the way to Seattle.  Everything I had left in the world fit into a small corner of the trailer, packed in a few boxes, next to my guitars and an amplifier.  A few of our close friends were over, celebrating with us and saying their goodbyes.  I’m sure some of them thought we were crazy for doing this, but they never said anything about it to us, and we were so into our dream at that point I’m sure we wouldn’t have listened.  We said goodbye to our families the next morning and left.

map route
This is the route we took to get to Seattle. It’s close to 3,000 miles and takes 3 days by car.

I Was Excited, But Afraid

I remember waking up in the attic of our rented house in Seattle. We’d spent the night moving boxes and a 400 lb. piano up a set of 12 stairs.  My room downstairs was filled with boxes wall to wall, and so we had all crashed upstairs in Dave’s attic bedroom.  I was exhausted and trying to take in everything that had happened since we left Milwaukee three days before. For better or worse we were here now.  Whether we accomplished anything or not was a responsibility that rested squarely on our shoulders.  It wasn’t a day dream or a lofty plan we could talk about accomplishing some day, it was happening in real time, and the next decisions we made would pave the way to our success, or cement our feet in failure.

Everything had gone to plan so far, but things wouldn’t stay that way for long.

To Be Continued in Part 3

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How I Failed In Corporate America, The Music Industry – And Pretty Much Everything Else… part 1

How it all started

It was November 2009, I had just returned from a trip to Seattle, WA and was sitting at my desk in a huge corporate office somewhere near Milwaukee, WI counting down the days until I would be moving out to Seattle for good.

Segways in Seattle
A photo from my first trip to Seattle November, 2009 (We rode Segways)

I had viewed it as a promised land, an escape from my tedious existence as a Merchandise Analyst stuck behind a desk in the Midwest atmosphere of Milwaukee, WI.  Probably the biggest reason I had become so interested in moving to Seattle, is that I was failing, and I was failing hard.  About 6 months into my job my manager called me into her office.  It wasn’t going well.  I was behind all of my peers in basic job skills, was doing all the wrong things trying to catch up, and I wasn’t performing at the level they needed me to.  To explain why I was doing so poorly I have to explain what led me to take the job in the first place.

It was a tough year

My senior year of college was a difficult time for me.  I was struggling to keep a two and a half year-long distance relationship from crumbling, I’d given up on school because I would never graduate with honors and it was too late to change the fact, and I was freaking out about how I would support myself financially once school was done.  I started to plan out my life, creating a five-year plan with specific goals and milestones, then expanding it into a ten-year plan complete with lofty projections about how rich I would be and how many kids I would have.

Dan in the marching band
Yeah I was in college marching band, so what?

In hindsight it was all very, ridiculous.  How could I at the tender age of twenty possibly know what would happen even in the next few months? How could I possibly plan on how much money I would make, when I had never had a full-time day job?

My arrogance was through the roof.  My problems were compounded when I began to read books (note the following are affiliate links, if you want to check these books out, please click to the links and it helps me out!) by Donald Trump, Robert Kiyosaki, and Napoleon Hill that were all about gaining wealth by thinking differently and choosing relationships carefully.  It’s probably helped lead to the eventual end of my relationship at the time and the alienation of friends and family.  I remember distinctly bragging to a friend’s dad about my plans to retire at the age of twenty-five on my winnings from real estate investing.  I was a fool, and my friends and family were kind and didn’t have the heart to tell me.  I spent the summer coming up with schemes to make money, even going as far as to buy a lot of broken iPods, swapping broken parts for working ones between the units, then selling the ‘refurbished’ units on craigslist.  It wasn’t my proudest moment, but I was desperate to begin making the money I thought I needed to achieve my ridiculous 5-year and 10-year life goals.

How Many Interviews Does It Take?

I interviewed with twenty-seven different companies before I received my first offer. That’s right, twenty-seven.  I blew through so many interviews so fast it made my head spin.  I tried to learn and avoid making the same mistakes, things like interviewing for a sales position and asking if I could leverage the position to quickly move to the marketing department, or oversharing from my personal life when asked simple questions like ‘What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?’  By the time I figured it out I was short on time and options.  I interviewed for the position of Merchandise Analyst not being sure of what a Merchandise Analyst even was, but knowing that my rampant desire to be an entrepreneur would surely fill in any gaps in my knowledge or skills and help me succeed in the position.  Without giving it a second thought I accepted the position, found a room to rent from a local church housing board, and moved to Milwaukee, WI.  It was September 2009.

I Was An Idiot

Around that time I discovered a book that would change my life, The Four-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris (you should read it! Please use my affiliate link here).  It was an exciting book about ‘Lifestyle Design’, or if I can summarize, finding a way to make money that doesn’t involve sitting in an office 40-50 hours a week.  I had found a new idea to latch on to.  I would apply what I had learned in the book to my day job.  I would batch my emails, try to get out of as a many meetings as possible, find shortcuts to learn faster, and automate my job so that I could spend time working on developing a product I could sell to escape the rat race.  There was just one problem, I was an idiot.

Tim Ferris The 4-Hour Workweek
Tim Ferris is the man.  Just be careful how you apply his knowledge.

Any experienced 9-5 employee would know that certain principles that Tim proposed in his book should be taken with a grain of salt.  If you skip meetings because you deem them unimportant, but your boss disagrees, you will get in trouble.  If you answer urgent emails 2-3 hours after they were sent because it fits in your ‘system’ that way, you will get in trouble.  If you bounce between departments asking the ‘smartest’ person how to perform a work task instead of using your own appointed mentor within your own department, you will not only look flustered and unprofessional, you will piss of multiple departments and managers all at once, with the end result of, trouble.  (Note: If you are an entrepreneur marketing an idea and designing a business, Tim’s advice works amazingly well, I have found it does not work when applied to 9-5 jobs, but I don’t think that was Tim’s true intention in writing the book in the first place, as he quit his own 9-5 job as a big part of his story, basically, I love Tim Ferris and would highly recommend you read his several books, podcasts, blog posts, and other content which I have read, enjoyed, and learned from, please be sure to pay attention to my particular mistakes and be careful in applying his knowledge)

I Finally Found Some Breathing Room, Or So I Thought…

This all led to my uncomfortable meeting with my manager.  Because I was acceptably pleasant to everyone and this was my first position, I would have exactly one chance to re-train at my current position and turn things around.  If in 6 weeks I was not performing better, I would be gone.  I accepted the terms and met my new trainer, who thankfully was amazing at training.  With his help and a better understanding of social queues in the workplace, I went from being the worst analyst of the bunch, to the number two top-ranked analyst in my entire business unit.  I still wasn’t enjoying my job, in fact every day felt like creeping through a minefield, but I was surviving.  The number of uncomfortable meetings with my manager became almost zero, and I felt like I finally had some breathing room to figure out what I would do next.

That’s when I met my friend Andy.

To Be Continued in Part 2

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Hardcore History – Punching You In The Face With The Past


“It’s History.  The events. The figures. The drama. The deep questions.  It’s Hardcore History.” – Intro to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Podcast

I know what you’re thinking, ‘History. is. borrrring.’  I am here to tell you why you are wrong, dead wrong. (trying to be hardcore, sorry)

Enter: Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

This amazing podcast came to my attention while I was listening to another favorite podcast of mine, The Tim Ferris Show

Each episode of Hardcore History revolves around the host, Dan Carlin, reading a crap-ton of books on a specific event in history, gathering as much information as he can from historians with varying viewpoints, locking himself in a studio, and recording a multi-part, 8-10 hour podcast series where he presents his findings.  The show gets its title from the often intense and graphic first-person accounts that Carlin likes to include to help the listener enter the mind of someone who lived through the events as they happened.

The result is something that I can only describe as a mix between the awe-filled, totally-immersive experience of watching an epic blockbuster in IMAX 3D and listening to your grandpa tell you the tale of the time he survived an attack by Genghis Khan’s horseback armies.  It’s personal, it’s epic, and once you start listening, it’s impossible to stop.

And then they killed 90,000 people with axes...
And then they killed 90,000 people with axes…

My favorite thing about Carlin’s take on history is that he doesn’t choose sides.  He is always very careful to point out that he’s not a historian, but references several historians with different viewpoints on whatever subject he’s speaking on to give the listener a full picture of the event and let them decide who’s right and who’s wrong.  The effect of this approach makes it easy to imagine being alive in 13th century Asia, sitting across the table from two old men debating the character of Genghis Khan, listening to two completely different opinions on why the Khan is a murderer or a unifying force that is bettering the world.

The name ‘Hardcore History’ comes from the personal and often tragic stories from history that Carlin weaves into every episode.  They are usually bloody, intense, and full of emotion.  Carlin doesn’t celebrate violence, or purposely try to make events gory. In fact, as I heard him explain it in one of his podcasts, Carlin’s empathy for the people in the stories he finds make his imagination run wild and his quest to understand what their suffering must have been like results in his sharing his amazingly vivid re-telling of the stories he reads in a way that makes you feel like you are watching the events unfold before your eyes.

I became totally obsessed with this podcast as soon as I started listening.  If you want to try it for yourself, I’d recommend listening to The Wrath of the Khans series first, and then the most recent series, Blueprint for Armageddon, which is a fantastic summary of the events of World War I.