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)

DAN’S BAND EXPENSES (2010-2013)

  • 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
Lies!

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.

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

DC_HH_B

“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.