Unpopular Music Biz Truth – What Canadian Musicians can learn from a Sri Lankan cook

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True story. Years ago, during the three year stint I ran my first recording studio, at Danforth and Greenwood, I met a young Sri Lankan restaurant owner who wanted me to create a sound design (with a funny moose character who talked about items on the menu) to be played on a loop from a a little sound system set up outside so that people walking by the restaurant would hear it. Fun gig.

During the course of this gig I got to talking to the restaurant owner and learned a few things about him that I will never forget. His story was fascinating. He escaped Sri Lanka during a time of conflict. He barely made it out alive. Even though that part of his story was fascinating, its not the part I want to talk about. Its what he did once he arrived in Canada that had me the most compelled.

So what did he do? Something Canadians rarely do. Basically he worked his ass off for two years straight, bought himself a house, a gas station (hired a small staff to run it), and a restaurant (which he had some partners to help him run). So what job did he work at for two years that provided him with the seed money to invest in real-estate and other businesses? You are probably thinking some high paid specialized skill type job right? Wrong. He worked at the Flat Iron and Firkin as a line cook from 10am to 2am, 7 days a week for 2 years straight. He had two days off per year and never called in sick once.

What Canadians usually due is spread out the misery off working over like 40 years, usually because we spend more than we make. The Sri Lankan cook rented a room in a friends house and saved all his money during that two year period. Think about it, pretty much all of his meals were at the restaurant. $350 a month for the room was his only bill. He saved thousands every month for 2 years.

A musician who wants to make a living off of music is an entrepreneur. Her product/service and brand is herself. To start that business she needs seed money. The more the better. Any young musicians can easily hook up any shitty restaurant job and work like a dog for 6 months to 2 years and earn enough money to properly seed their investment (in themselves). One of the comments that the cook made during my time working on the sound design for his restaurant was that the Canadian dudes working at the restaurant as servers were working less hours and making way more money (because of tips). But, when they had a night off they would go partying and spend it all on being entertained. By the time I met the cook it had been a few years since he had flipped his last burger at the Firken. It was interesting to see him shake his head in disbelief at the dumb asses still working there, still broke, still partying.

Work ethic and self discipline is what Canadians can learn from the most inspiring Sri Lankan cook I’ve ever met.

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – A Better Way To Work

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When I first open the doors to Euphonic Sound the only thing I could think to do was charge studio time by the hour. But it was difficult to work with acts that I was really interested in producing with an hourly payment model. The artists were always in a hurry and didn’t want to take time to experiment or refine performances. So I came up with a flat rate and a flexible payment model. For the last 6 or 7 years that is how I have been producing artists (A flat fee where both the work and the payments happen over time). Its been great. Way better than the hourly model. And I’ve produced a ton of great material that myself and the artists are really proud of.

The problem is that spreading a project over too much time really starts to kill the project momentum. Not working on someones music for one or two weeks (but working on 10 other projects in-between) can be very challenging to remember where things are at. What was the vibe again? What are we trying to say with this collection of tunes? I keep notes on every project/artist and I do all I can to keep things moving and on-track with these projects, but with so much time in between sessions sometimes even the artists forget exactly where we are at and what do we need to do next.

Lately I have been working with singer/songwriter/rapper Kevin Lavally (who wants to have his record finished in two months). So he basically booked me and the studio exclusively (well almost exclusively) for the last two months. Even though I realize that many indie recording artists don’t have the budget to do what Kevin is doing over such a short amount of time, I have to say that this is by far the best way to work. Everyday I get up and I have Kevin’s music on my mind. I am so fully immersed in his world I feel connected to his spirit (don’t laugh serious spiritual things happen at Euphonic Sound during music creation on the regular…some artists have taken to referring to Euphonic Sound as Church). There are less interruptions and distractions. And there is more focus, productivity, experimentation and creativity.

In the future I will be recommending more artists take this approach. If possible lets drop everything and do your record in one to three months. If its not possible we can use the old model and take 6 to 12 months, but there is nothing like the creative high and momentum that comes from a more intensely focused and immersive approach to music making…its more fun too!!

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Project Management, Following and Leading

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Being able to take direction, give direction and follow up both on the directions you give and are given is an essential skill for anyone doing pretty much anything that involves groups of people, a project, and a goal of taking the project and the people involved to a place where all efforts are rewarded with the successful feeling of accomplishment. Most projects have a leader(s) but often times there is a fluidity of roles as the key people switch back and forth between giving and taking direction. There is no room for ego in the modern project management equation. There has to be a co-ordination between the project participants and a mutually agreed upon set of shared values that revolve around the purpose and intent of the project.

Musicians need organizational/managerial skills. Before this can happen musicians must learn to be great diplomats capable of handling a wide spectrum of personality types. They must be confident and disissive in their leadership, but also humble enough to listen to the ideas of other team members and admit when those ideas are better. A great leader possesses many of these positive qualities which in turn bolsters their leadership abilities by the fact that they garner respect from the people they work with.

Successful musicians are extremely diligent and have a clear picture of what project management phase they are in at all times. The 5 phases of project management are:

1. Initiation – Project is conceived and ideas are flushed out.
2. Planning – Most important step. All details of the project get considered here as a plan is formulated.
3. Execution – Project begins (better hope the idea and plan is solid).
4. Control – Overseeing the execution of the project ensuring everything is running smoothly. This is the quality control department of your organization.
5. Closure – After the project is completed a ton of things are needed to be done to wrap things up. This is the number one place musicians drop the ball.

A band, for example, may do everything right when planning and executing a live performance event. But forgetting to send thank you emails to the fans that attended, or forgetting to pay the sound and lighting guy, or to follow up with the booking agent or club owner are all common things that get missed because the band’s heads are still in the clouds from the rush of performing live. Big mistake. Once you walk off the stage the closure phase begins with you shaking hands and thanking the audience who attended. The next morning should also be spent wrapping things up and closing the project down in a way that leaves no loose ends.

It makes the life of the musicians easier as well as everyone they work with when the 5 phases of project management are properly implemented. Projects themselves also have a tendency to be more successful and run much smoother when these phases are considered. Admittedly my approach to running projects (mostly producing albums, EPs and singles) has improved greatly (and things have become much less of a headache) since I got hip to these 5 phases of project management.

Good luck with all of your projects people :)

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Hierarchy of important things to spend over 20, 000 hours dealing with when producing music

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This is the order of priorities that I have been following since before Euphonic Sound (when I used to do recordings on-location).

1. Quality of song.
2. Quality of performance of song.
3. Quality of musical arrangement and production choices applied to song.
4. Quality of instruments that are used in the performance of song.
5. Quality of rooms in which the instruments are played during performance of song.
6. Quality of recording devices (mics, press, comps, eqs, A/D conversion) and post production (mix/master engineer) utilized to capture and present song.

The first time I started doing recordings (really really bad ones), back when I was a young teenager (I think 16) I prioritized the above list in the reverse sequence. It was fun for a few years to capture sound and musical parts but it didn’t take long for me to get frustrated with the results. So I found some older dudes in my city who were also doing recordings (but theirs sounded good), and started hanging out with them, assisting them with their recordings, asking them a million questions day and night, and getting their feedback on my still crappy sounding recordings. It took forever to get things sounding good.

At this point I don’t know how many session hours I’ve accumulated, the best estimates are between 25,000 and 30,000 session hours (20,000 alone at Euphonic Sound, and roughly 5000 to 10,000 more doing location recordings and fucking up early bed room recordings). I have learned a great deal in all of that time. The list above is one thing that literally took 10,000 to discover, but since I have I’ve never looked back. A lot of young cats these days are making the same mistake I did back in my early days. It’s great to have great gear, but pointless if the songs and performances are not great. An obvious statement maybe, but you would be surprised at how fast the music production priorities go out the window once people start playing with recording gear and computers. In my studio we rarely talk gear, all of the devices (including computer) run in the background (sometimes we forget that they are even there LOL). The main focus will always be the quality of song, performance and arrangement.

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Unpopular Music Biz Truth – Luck

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In my opinion luck plays a much smaller role in a musician or artists success than people will have you think. When an artist has their act together and is on the grind every day, they are constantly present on the scene. Sometimes they are headlining a show, other times opening, other times they get called up to sit in during a song or set. They are present on the scene and they are constantly networking with others also present. The grind goes with the artist on and off stage, in every meeting they attend, with every phone call they make and email they send. The successful artist has a grind that is unstoppable like a malignant tumour…it grows and spreads.

Its a steady regimen of focused grind through which the artist plants seeds. With every business card they collect or hand out, with every hand they shake, every conversation they have before and after their set, every social media status report, every email newsletter or blog post, every video and/or photo they post they are in essence planting a vast garden that, if cultivated with care, will grow up and surround the artist in a forest of strategic music biz opportunity. But when the artist finally gets a bit of a break and one or two of his seeds grows into something bigger than expected, people will say it was luck. Just pure dumb luck. As if the artists had been walking around with his head up his ass the whole time and a perfectly suited opportunity materializes out of thin air and attaches itself to the artist like a parasite.

Some opportunities may be viewed as lucky, but all the work and effort that goes into creating the conditions for luck and opportunities to happen is rarely recognized.

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