The Five Words Or Less Challenge

(Hey everyone.  Since I’m in the process of moving, the gone fishin’ sign is still up on the door and for this week’s post I’m rolling out some more excerpts and miscellaneous observations from my Selling It Versus Selling Out ebook that you may enjoy.

The podcast will come back in the weeks ahead after I’m settled.  In the meantime, you can check out the latest one here.)

Five Words Or Less

Up until fairly recently, I had a habit that, in retrospect, is quite embarrassing.

I couldn’t describe what I did musically in five words or less to other people.

When asked what I did, I said I played guitar, and then went into a painfully earnest description that was supposed to be informational (but in reality probably sounded more like babbling).

No matter how sincere people are, most of them shut down with information overload and anything more than 5 words describing what you do initially (“initially” is an important qualifier here by the way) is information overload.

That might sound harsh but it’s not meant to be.  It’s simply that even musicians (i.e. people who do this every day of their lives) tend to lose focus after 10 words or so. I might talk about how hearing koto playing worked its way into my comping and they might be looking at me smiling and wondering about the discolored tooth in the front of my mouth (it’s discolored because I got into an accident the day of my grandmother’s funeral and ate a face full of gravel killing the nerve in my front tooth.  It’s also why I very rarely smile with a full open-faced smile.  But I digress….).

To non-musicians it’s even more alien.  They often really want to understand what you’re doing, but experience has shown me that the more descriptive you get, the more you’re going to lose them.  People are busy.  They have a lot on their mind and they’re often easily distracted, so don’t lose them if they’re interested in what you do!

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The restroom pitch

Now I’ve clarified this with the word initially.  For those of you familiar with the term, this is less of an elevator pitch and (in terms of length of time) more of a restroom pitch.  Imagine you walk up to a sink in a restroom and someone is already using the neighboring sink.  The person recognizes you and taps the soap dispenser and asks, “Hey don’t you play music – what kind of music do you play?”  you’ve got about 5 words to get it across before he or she runs the tap water and can’t hear what you’re saying.

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The goal of being able to do this isn’t to limit yourself in a bad way.  

The point of it is to come up with just enough of a description to get someone’s interest and have them ask more about what it is that you do.

Interestingly enough, while the 5-word rule applies to a band bio (keep it short and to the point), it doesn’t necessarily apply to other text-based media.  People who want to read about a band are often willing to read lengthy articles and will actually retain the information – but that’s after there interest is piqued, and the window for that is generally a short sentence or two.

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In person – in an initial meeting  – you’ve got about 5 words to bring them in.

If you’re interested in trying this for yourself here are some tips that may help.

  • Try to describe yourself musically in 5 words or less.
  • Make it descriptive enough that people get some sense of what you’re doing – but open enough to let their imagination fill in the other pieces.  “Improvised rock guitar” isn’t a bad start, but people who hear that are going to think “jam band”.  So if you play in a jam band it’s easier to just say “I play in a jam band”.  If you don’t play in a jam band, you might need a better description.
  • If you’re comparing yourself to other bands – don’t use any more than two (“Black Sabbath meets Elton John” gets someone’s attention.  “Take Yngwie Malmsten’s leads with Tony Levin’s pocket and hold it together with Zakir Hussain’s tabla” looses people.  Shred guitar with tabla gets it back again.  Will your bassist get pissed at that description?  Probably – but again the idea is to distill it down to its essence – because the essence is where all the potency is.

While this process will help you describe your music to other people (and thus make it more accessible to them automatically), it has a second (and ultimately more significant) advantage. It clarifies in your own head exactly what it is you’re trying to do.

If it takes 30 seconds for someone to initially describe what they’re doing it’s generally because they’re a little muddled on the goal as well.  Again, it’s something I was guilty of on my own and I now have short descriptions for everything I do.  They’re not all 5 words or less (and they all need revision and improvement)  but they’re distilled enough that people get the gist of what I’m doing.

For example, when people ask about performance I often tell them I play “ethnically influenced rock guitar”, “loop-based improvised guitar” or “improvised music for multi-media”.

When asked about my teaching style, I can explain that as a teacher my goal is to “help students hear the music within” or to “help students sound like themselves”.  Both sentences are a little clunky – but that’s the simplest essence.  That’s what I can boil it down to and if I understand it on the base level, I can always expand on it later. How I do these things is a much longer discussion.  Even though none of them fully define what I do, they help open a door for that discussion to occur and opening doors is what music should do in general.

Give it a try!  You may find out some interesting things about yourself!

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As always, thanks for reading!

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PS – If you dig this post, you may like my ebooks (both available for Amazon Kindle or for the FREE Kindle App).  Click on graphic for book link page.

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Indie Musician Wake Up Call

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Gone Fishin’

Out Of The Loop

I’m stepping out of the loop for a couple of weeks.  The metaphorical Gone Fishin’ sign is up on the door, wheels are turning and plans are in motion (including a small low risk plan that involves a big scoop of Wemple and Edicks Almond Joy ice cream).  During that time, I plan on posting some miscellaneous observations and excerpts from my Selling It Versus Selling Out ebook that you may enjoy.

Given the somewhat tough love podcast last week, I thought I’d post a music business essay with a personal development twist that’s at the heart of a lot of the ethos here. I hope you enjoy it!

On Adversity

I wanted to talk about adversity today because while many people do whatever they can to avoid it (and avoid dealing with it), life’s very nature requires that you will face adversity throughout your time on this planet.  If you’re a working guitarist (or planning on becoming one), adversity is going to be as constant a companion as your gig bag is.

Taking proactive steps to work through any kind of adversity is a noble and just effort.  But it’s easy to slip in to daydreaming about the people or the things that will turn adverse circumstances around.

It’s important to understand the difference between working to get access to people who can help you with your goals and expecting that other people will swoop in like a white knight to save you from your current plight and hand your achieved goals to you on a platter.

Shockingly enough, the two comments that I hear from fellow musicians consistently are:

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“Oh if only I had a manager”

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“If only an A&R person were to hear this”

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The problem is…

The only white knight is on a chess board

The reality is that no white knight is going to come and save you from whatever problems you (or your career) are facing and this is good news because once you get away from the concept that you’re a damsel in distress that needs to wait around for someone else to save them – you can move towards  being part of your own solution.  

To be clear – I’m not saying don’t seek out help – you’re never going to get anywhere in life trying to be an island –  but don’t waste energy and time counting on other people to help you unless there’s something in it for them.

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Can a powerful entertainment attorney help open doors for you?  Quite possibly… if you have something profoundly marketable, a proven track record in sales, promotion and success and if you pay him or her a lot of money (either up front or as a percentage).

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When you go to a store and see Metallica on four magazine covers in the same month, that’s not an accident.   It’s instead the result of a carefully managed marketing and publicity campaign that probably cost more than the average person makes in a year or two.

Would getting access to a publicist at that level help get you attention?  Again, quite possibly – but you’d still need a killer story, you’d still need a great product and you’d still need to keep feeding that PR machine to keep your name out there once the initial blitz is done.

(this  reminds me of the old music business joke,

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“Question: How do you make a million dollars in the Music Industry?

Answer: Start off with two (million dollars)”

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When people talk about the death of the music industry, they don’t mean that the industry is getting smaller. The industry is actually larger than it’s ever been and that’s the problem.  The entertainment dollar is now getting divided between more and more performers which makes it harder for everyone to get their share than ever before.  Getting that share is  ultimately anchored in the knowledge that everyone in the industry comes to sooner or later – there really aren’t any long term shortcuts.

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Can getting signed to a label get you fame and fortune?  Well fame quite possibly…but the length of your fame is another matter entirely.  A record label can spend a lot of recoupable (i.e. your) money to put you in front of a lot of people, but if you don’t have the skills/branding/looks/personality and/or wow-factor, you’re going to fall just as quickly as you rose up.

Bands come and go, but the bands that stay are the ones that have put the hours in.  They’re the ones that have built relationships with fans and building any long-lasting relationship takes time.  So if you’re planning on sticking around, plan for digging your heels in for the long haul – and plan on a lot of adversity.

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“Don’t make excuses make it right”

One thing that may not be obvious in all of this is that in those moments of adversity, some well-meaning people around you will come up with (and present to you) numerous external reasons for why things may be going wrong for you.  It’s the wrong timing.  The wrong setting.  The wrong message.  The wrong delivery.  Etc.  Etc.

While they may be legitimate reasons,  external factors often aren’t actionable and very well may be outside of your control and despite their good intentions, those moments can help make you feel powerless.

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If you get caught up in the mindset of not being in control of what’s happening around you equaling not being able to control what’s happening to you, then you’re relinquishing personal power and actually self-victimizing.

You can’t change everything in the world – but you can change your perception. You can change how you choose to interact with things and you can choose the paths you take.

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The responsibility for what you do lies with you and that is empowering.

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Be your own knight when things get rough.  It’ll save yourself (and your friendships) in the long-run.

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As always, thanks for reading!

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PS – If you dig this post, you may like my ebooks (both available for Amazon Kindle or for the FREE Kindle App).  Click on graphic for book link page.

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Indie Musician Wake Up Call

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Guit-A-Grip Podcast Episode #10 – On “You’re Welcome”

Hello everyone!

The iTunes synch.

This has been an on-going battle but (fingers crossed)  I think this is finally all set.

It looks like the links and streaming is reset on the individual pages on this site, but if you’re subscribed to the podcast you may have to unsubscribe and re-subscribe to the podcast to get the episodes that got jacked up in the synch (Episode #3, #4, #5 and the latest #9).

Again, my apologies!!!  I’m a real luddite on some things I guess!

If you’re unsure how to reset this in iTunes – in my iTunes, I went to Podcasts Selected Get-A-Grip.  Unsubscribed and then hit the subscribe button, and the episodes all came up with the right episodes and times.

(Also FYI – you may have noticed a page on the top bar that says PODCASTS and they’re all there for download and streaming!  Hopefully it’s all set now.)

Episode #10?

The ten episode milestone is now in the rear view mirror!   Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #10 “On ‘You’re welcome”‘  is out and available for download/streaming.

Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:
  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:
  • or you can right-click here to download it.
  • or you can stream this episode below.
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Guit-A-Grip Episode #10 – Show Notes

Generally, I listen back to the podcast and make copious notes about what I thought was clear at the time that turns out to be pretty murky.  I only have a few points I feel compelled to address this time.

I don’t have all the answers.

Well…Duh Scott ; )

No one has all the answers, and I’m more than suspicious of anyone who does.  I’ve just been fortunate in that I’ve made a near infinite number of mistakes – some of which I’ve actually learned from –  all of which have given me a perspective that’s been useful to me. Hopefully my answers will help you solve some of your own questions,  (you may want to check out my – Don’t buy the app – Be The App podcast for more on this idea).

For me, the main thing to remember is that lessons only have value in their application (as does philosophy hence my mini rant mid podcast).

That Martial Arts story:

That’s a post I did called Finding The Deeper Lesson.  If you haven’t read it yet, you might dig the article!

I don’t believe in evil:

That’s not entirely true, but I didn’t articulate it well.  I believe that people do evil things to each other quite often, but they don’t see it as evil, they see it as being the right thing to do (or the self serving thing to do) with no care for how it affects other people.  People in caves (or anywhere else for that matter) are not trying to advance an agenda they think is evil (Like Dr. Evil in an evil lair) – they’re doing what they think is right for themselves or their cause.

Much of evil, then, lies in action  maybe even in some cases more so than intent….more on that later.

There’s more

There’s always more, but it feels like I actually touched on a lot of things in the podcast I intended to, so I don’t feel compelled to write a lot about it here.

As always, thanks for visiting, reading and listening.  I hope you get something out of the podcast, and if you like the series please drop a line sometime.

Thanks again!

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Guit-A-Grip Episode #9: Transitioning From An Island To A Peninsula

Hello everyone!

After a little blogging run, I’m back to podcasting.  I’m experimenting with the format for what works best for people, so the fate of the podcasts are TBD but in the meantime, Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #9  is out and available for download/streaming.

Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:
  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:
  • or you can right-click here to download it.
  • or you can stream this episode below.

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Guit-A-Grip Episode #9 – Show Notes

The genius in question

I’ll reveal this someday, but for now if you know me from my club ’98 days, you’ll know who I’m talking about.

The study in question.

Here’s a link to the Huffpo article I referenced in the podcast.

The last meal in question.

Uh…my death row meal?  Depends on where I was…probably a bahn mi, but really good pizza, mashed potatoes, burrito, veggie burger or mac and cheese would be on the list as well.  Iced coffee would be there.

The show format

The fluff above not withstanding, I think it’s really important that anything I post here is succinct enough to be inspirational and actionable.  So I’m shooting for more of 10-20 minute posts that have a central idea to ponder and then move from there.  But I’m really interested in how these things benefit you. As always, If you like the podcast please let me know. If you really like it -and listen to it on iTunes –  leaving a rating there would be really appreciated!

More posts and podcasts are on their way.

Thanks again!

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