Dear You, The Reader
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)
DAN’S BAND EXPENSES (2010-2013)
- 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
- 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 ?! 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.
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…
To Be Continued in the final conclusion, Part 4.