To Stay In For The Long Haul You Have To Play The Long Game

“It’s been a long long time”

Hi everyone,

As I write this I’m just getting over food poisoning that I got on Christmas day that has now kept me down for 3+ days.  The odd thing is that an experience like that can really get one centered.  When things are going bad and someone says, “Well you’ve always got your health!” it’s easy to be dismissive but there’s something about being doubled over in your bathroom for days on end trying to find any kind of relief that really makes a lot of the hubris of what really amounts to little more than obstacles and daily annoyances fall away.

So now that I’m at a stage where I can focus for 2-3 hour blocks on things I thought I’d get this long overdue post out.  First some overdue clean up:

GuitArchitecture cross polenation

Readers of this blog may dig a few posts that have gone up on my other site, GuitArchitecture more recently.

This post – talks about a musical director gig I got this fall and how it illustrates the 4 steps that need to be taken to to get any gig.

This post talks about being in the moment in life and performance.

This post – talks about how you’re not going to see another Jimi Hendrix (and why that’s not a bad thing).

And finally, I have a yearly post on GuitArchitecture I post on how now to repeat the mistakes of the past that you can find here, but I wanted to talk about a new project I’m working on and about the thinking behind it may help you.

LRAN

LRAN Test

This is a tentative logo for LRAN (Local-Regional Arts Networking), a Facebook page and podcast series that I’ll be doing a soft launch for in 2015 with a specific focus on interviewing artists, and small businesses associated with any kind of arts affiliation (promotion, grant funding,  business development, etc.)

There are several reasons I chose the name I did:

1. While I’ll be interviewing primarily people in my own region, my hope is that the information will be applicable to artists working in any scene.  So, for example, a podcast name like “518 arts networking” limits the audience at the get go because people outside my area code either will have no idea what that means or will never listen because they assume that the podcast isn’t for them.

2. It’s Local-Regional because I really believe that any kind of long term survival requires local and regional support.

3.  It’s Arts for two reasons.  A.  because I don’t want to limit it to any one type of artist (or arts business) as say a gallery owner might have an insight or perspective that could help a local band book better shows and B. because music is really in a funding ghetto in the arts world.  To see what I mean if you look at any arts grant page or residency page you’ll see the percentage of grants and residencies for visual artists versus performing musicians.  Usually, musicians have to sneak in under the guise of a title like “composer” to even qualify for funding.

4.  Networking.  Because I think it’s important to view networking as a verb instead of a static noun.  (I have some related posts about this idea “How not to Network” part 1 and part 2)

Get the focus off the small-small

When I told a friend of mine about the idea he said, “So wait a second.  You’re going to do a podcast that essentially gives free advertising to different people.  What do you get out of it?”

And here’s a paradox.  “What’s in it for me?” is both the small and the large world view.

In the small world view, “What’s in it for me?” means passing up opportunities because you’re more concerned with what you believe you’re due versus what you’re willing to do (Check out my post Due Versus Do for a step by step analysis how I’m applying this to my project with Farzad Golpeygani –  KoriSoron)

Yes, everyone is self serving on some level.  In the case of this blog (and the GuitArchitecture blog), I spend a LOT of time writing posts (hence my long break here for a while) about my own process to help people with their own learning curve.  I do this to give back, but I also do this to establish myself as someone who knows what he’s doing so that when I release a book, (like An Indie Music Wake Up Call) people are more likely to read it.  On GuitArchitecture, I wrote a lot of lesson columns to help people but it also promotes my books that I sell there.

“What’s in it for me?” can also be long term thinking as well.  Because for the audience or for any kind of collaboration – that’s their question to you.  “I already have too many things competing for my attention why should I give it to you.”

“Because I have a pretty song” will fail.  “Because I have a song that’s going to become your go to song for the next year” is going to get more people to invest time in what you’re doing.

It’s about what you do and how it affects other people.

It’s about becoming the “go-to” for someone.

So getting back to the new podcast, I help promote the scene and people in the scene but I also start making contacts and building a (virtual) rolodex of “go-to” people to call when I need that thing.

We are trained to look for immediacy.

But immediacy is a short term game that we have to endure to play for the long game.

Players in the long game look to the horizon.  How does what I’m doing fit into my 5-10-20 year plan?

Long term players work in the now for results later.  Mind you, it’s a balance.  You can’t look too far into the future if you don’t have a roof over your head now, but don’t lose the forest in the tree.

2015 is going to be all about the “we”.  This quote from a post Do you want to be right or do you want to be paid?

Sometimes you have to move past who is right and who is wrong and get to the central idea of weas in coming up with an answer to how do we both get what we need out of this?

Don’t worry if you can’t answer that question right now.  The industry can’t either.  It’s about having a game plan and adapting (i.e. figuring it out) as you go along.

I hope 2015 is your best year yet and I hope this helps (or at least entertains you) in some way.

As always, thanks for reading.

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PS – if you’re in the Capital Region of NY, KoriSoron has a bunch of shows coming up in the weeks ahead!  (you can check those dates out here.)

9 Things Kate Bush’s Recent Record Setting Album Sales Can Teach You About The Music Industry

Kate Bush is on a roll.

Her recent 22 date sold out series (which marked her first return to performing her music live in 35 years!) is by all accounts and artistic and financial triumph.  But it did something even more remarkable:

Last Sunday she was the first woman to have EIGHT albums chart at the same time.

(You can read the full story here).

Even more impressive give that all of the charted discography was more than 25 years old (with the exception of 2011’s 50 Words for Snow)!

#6 – The Whole Story (1986)

#9 – The Hounds of Love (1985)

#20 – 50 Words For Snow (2011)

#24 – The Kick Inside (1978)

#26 – The Sensual World (1989)

#37 – The Dreaming (1982)
#38 – Never For Ever (1980)

#40 – Lionheart (1978)

The Take Aways

This story has everything you need to know about the music business, book business and any other business where you are creating something that other people buy.

1. Real fans take a LONG time to cultivate.  

2. Fans support artists not products.  

3.  People buy recordings (and go to shows) because of how they make them feel.

4. There is value in scarcity.

5. If you exceed fan’s expectations, those fans will become acolytes who will try to convert everyone around them.

6. Word of mouth marketing is the most powerful force on the planet.

7. There will never be another Kate Bush – Kate Bush was a unique combination of talent, songwriting and Major Label resources to market her product.

8. There will never be another YOU. Do YOU to the best of your ability. Be honest in your art. Make great art. Make great fans. Show the cavalcade of mediocre crap hiding on the charts how it’s really done.

9. Sometimes the good people do come out on top.

As I write this – every major label in the world is trying to reach Kate Bush. I hope she’s enjoying a fine wine and laughing as she says no.

Here’s a classic track of hers that is a great reminder to keep running up that hill and chasing whatever it is you need to do.

As always, thanks for reading!

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Strong Opinions Are Like Strong Odors Or Speak Softly And Carry A Thick Skin

Hi everyone! In keping up with a semi-regular output, I thought I’d share another excerpt from my Amazon Kindle book, Selling it Versus Selling Out which may have a perspective that’s helpful for you.
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If you’re a musician, it’s easy to forget that you probably listen to music differently than non-musicians (i.e. most people).  That’s not to say that other people don’t listen to music passionately. It’s more about the fact that the number of times you need to listen to a piece of music to learn it is substantially more than it takes to merely appreciate it.  Learning parts to a song (guitar parts, vocal parts, etc) and getting those parts right requires a learned type of obsessive attention to detail that is alien to many casual listeners.

Consequently, you may find that you have a number of strong opinions as a result of familiarity with the subject matter.  You might know why you like a particular act or musician that your friends can’t articulate.  If you’re the type of person to strongly focus on one thing, you may be prone to carrying that focus over into other areas.

  • If you do something a lot that you care about, you’re likely to have a strong opinion about it.
  • If you’ve studied something intensely, you might have a strong opinion about it.
  • If you have a certain code of conduct that you adhere to and other people tell you to chill out; you might have some terse words for them.

Strong opinions are like strong odors.  Your friends won’t tell you that you’re rank, but your phone won’t ring either.

People generally meet strong odors and opinions with strong reactions rather than indifference (particularly in regards to opinions as they often feel threatened by strong opinions that aren’t their own).

My advice is to start building some calluses.

The difference between strong opinions and odors is that getting rid of an odor is much easier than getting rid of your opinion.

The good news for artists is that people are looking for strong opinions.  Audiences are moved by people who have a need to express something so strong that they need to physically manifest it.  I have collected music for years.  I have 122 gigabytes of mp3s from CDs I converted.  The last I checked, this is about 3 months of continual music without repeats…and  I still look for new music.  Even though I could never mark out the time to continually listen to all the music I already have!  I still look to be excited by what other people are doing, and many other people do as well.

People searching for something new is generally the market you want to reach as an emerging artist.

One problem many symphonies face is the demographic that had traditionally supported them is older and shrinking.  On one hand, showcasing new music (like the video game live tours) brings symphonic textures to a new audience.  The problem is that audience doesn’t want to pay $100 to hear Bach in a concert hall (which is something the people who are willing to pay that kind of money often want to hear at a symphony).  The people with money who go to the symphony generally want to hear the tried and true pieces that moved them in that (or a very similar) symphonic hall years ago.

Symphonies have a real battle in balancing contemporary programs with safe gentle pieces that won’t rattle the dentures of anyone sitting in the expensive seats.  Given the astounding production costs of maintaining an orchestra and performance hall outside financing (underwriting, etc) becomes increasingly important.  Even with fundraising, many orchestras have to tighten the belt and turn to alternative revenue streams and more diverse programming to try to get the bodies in the seats.

And now a word from Mr. Ives

You’llll have to search to find a non-vhs copy, but I highly recommend that you see a film called, A good dissonance like a man, which is a biopic about Charles Ives.  In addition to some excellent acting, the script is based on accurate historical research and comes across as a telling view into the life of a true maverick (Before people scoff at the term “maverick” – real mavericks almost never refer to themselves that way and instead let history make that distinction for them. Charles Ives was a true maverick.)

Ives also had a lot to say both as an artist and as a human being.  His comments below regarding consonance (versus dissonance) predate some sentiments expressed in this essay.

“… Consonance is a relative thing (just a nice name for a nice habit). It is a natural enough part of music, but not the whole, or only one. The simplest ratios, often called perfect consonances, have been used so long and so constantly that not only music, but musicians and audiences, have become more or less soft. If they hear anything but doh-me-soh or a near cousin, they have to be carried out on a stretcher.” from Charles E. Ives: Memos

Artistically, there’s no value in being all things to all people

Everyone wants to be accepted, and some opinions and ideas are confrontational and polarizing by their very nature, but by watering down your opinion, you also water down your message.

Watering down your message

(to paraphrase another Ives quote);

disappoints the artist, it disappoints the art and ultimately it disappoints the audience.

This isn’t to say that you should never compromise.  While some amount of compromise is necessary just to be human (much less an artist) you should recognize the difference between compromising and selling out.

When that little voice in your head says that people are uncomfortable with what you’re doing, you should take a long look to see if you’re doing something wrong or if other people just need thicker skin.

That’s a really difficult conclusion to come to objectively, but it’s certainly one worth investigating.

If you like this post, you may like two of the Kindle e-books I currently have out, An Indie Musician Wake Up Call and Selling It Versus Selling Out.

Is Music Dying?

[Please note: This is a re-post from guitarchitecture.org]

(Before we start – a quick plug for the BuckMoon Arts Festival)

As a reminder to anyone who happens to be in the upstate NY area, I’ll be performing live accompaniment for a staged reading of The Exonerated as part of the BuckMoon Arts Festival on July 12-13, and leading a series of panel discussions with working artists and industry experts on how artists can monetize their art.  You can read about both of those here.

In doing some research for the panel discussions I was listening to the CD Baby podcasts this week and I caught up on two interesting, and somewhat related stories to the panel.

1.  Apple’s Eddie Cue announced that Apple bought Beats because “Music Is Dying”

2.  Indie artist Shannon Curtis came on to promote her new book, “No Booker, No Bouncer, No Bartender: How I Made $25K On A 2-Month House Concert Tour (And How You Can Too)”

Is Music Dying?

I’ve never seen anyone at Apple make any kind of negative statement about the music industry, which is why iTunes Eddie Cue’s quote is somewhat telling:

“Music is dying,” said Cue. “It hasn’t been growing. You see it in the number of artists. This past year in iTunes, it’s the smallest number of new releases we’ve had in years.”

As quoted from  http://readwrite.com/2014/05/28/apple-beats-eddy-cue-jimmy-iovine#awesm=~oHLbiOYNIxpYCB

My guess is that he’s talking about the smallest number of major label releases, as there is no shortage of independent music being released.  and that might be true. A recent Variety article entitled, Music Sales Continue to Plummet for Albums and Digital Downloads, brought up the following statistics comparing sales for the first 1/2 year of 2014 with sales from 2013.

  • Total album sales (any format) dropped nearly 15%.
  • Sales of individual digital tracks were down by 13%
  • Streaming was up 42% (but streaming revenues for music are almost nothing)
  • Vinyl sales were up 40%, with Jack White’s Lazaretto selling over 48,000 units.
  • The year’s best seller is the Frozen soundtrack which has sold over 2.6 million units.

As the article’s author, Christopher Morris put it:

“To put the steepness of the decline in perspective: Just 18 months ago, Adele’s Grammy-winning “21” – the bestselling album of 2011 and 2012 — finished the latter year with sales in excess of 10 million. It is conceivable that such a phenomenon will not be seen in the industry again.”

In contrast, check out the story about Indie Artist Shannon Curtis who went from playing clubs to making $25,000 on a 2-month tour of house concerts.

So, is music dying?

Well….music itself isn’t dying (that quote is just silly) but music making is being altered in a way that professional musicians are not able to make a living at it with traditional means. The traditional major label model has moved from a terminal status to life support and musicians are having to find ways to try to make money with more revenue streams than ever, that pay less money than ever, with more people competing in the market forever.

Shannon Curtis was able to bring in some money doing house concert shows to audiences who wanted to see her in a non-traditional venue (but I’m guessing she’ll make more money from her e-book from musicians looking for a new angle than she ever did from her concert tour!)  But the real problem most new artists face is that culturally we’ve created a Vine audience with a short attention span.  One that demands immediate gratification and doesn’t want to have to wait to experience something.

Having said that, people still want to connect with things on a deeper level, and the artists that can weather the storm and actually touch people – consistently in an honest emotional way, are the ones who will be building a career and those artists are going to face even bigger challenges over the next 10 years.  Perhaps that struggle will make some great art.

Back to the panel prep!  As always, thanks for reading!

Be Yourself And Become The Curve

Some Advice from Marty Friedman

Marty Friedman (ex-Cacophony, ex-Megadeth, current full time Guitar Hero) has a new album out (and a new signature PRS guitar) and so he’s making the promotional rounds with a number of interviews in American publications.  He had a great response to a question that really resonated with me.  When asked about advice he had for players who want to develop chops, he answered the question at a much deeper level

“The best piece of advice is this: Once you find something in your playing that sounds good to you, go head over heels in that direction.  Developing enough chops to play like me or Jeff Beck or anybody is not the goal.  The goal is to acquire chops to develop yourself to a point where you’re going in a direction that you like.  Once you do that, you’re halfway home because if you have your own unique direction than no one can touch you.  Ever since I started playing, I’ve gone completely in my own direction.  The flip side is, I could never be in a Led Zeppelin cover band or something because I would suck at copying Jimmy Page or anyone else.  The point is, if you really want to grow as a guitarist, find something that you dig about yourself, exploit the living hell out of it and continue developing that forever.”

– July 2014 Guitar Player interview

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Don’t Follow The Curve – Adapt To The Curve

One mistake I see some businesses (this includes musicians and any other entrepreneurs so yes – this applies to you dear reader) make is to try to capitalize on a popular trend.  Here’s the cycle (and thus the dilemma) with this approach.

  • The trend creator starts off with a disadvantage.  They have to get people to buy into something new.  Even if it’s something familiar, getting it in the hands of people (and getting the money out of those people’s hands) is time consuming and/or expensive.
  • If the trend creator becomes the trend setter, then the trend creator has a potential slam dunk because they’re in the position to fully capitalize on it.  But what often happens is that a previous trend creator (who is now an established trend setter) sees a new trend and is in a better position to capitalize on it than the trend creator.  If you ever watch Shark Tank, you’ll see investors wrestle with this idea with entrepreneurs fairly consistently, “There’s nothing proprietary about this.  What would stop (insert major industry player here) from taking this idea, mass producing it and crushing you?  Nothing.”
  • Years ago I heard a great piece of advice that I took to heart, “By the time you read about a hot new trend in any print publication – it’s no longer a hot trend.”   That was true 20 years ago – and it’s even more true now.

Trying to capitalize on a trend is a dead end because you are rarely in the position to make  it work for you.  In the 1980’s, Yngwie Malmsteen was a trend setter for neo-classical guitar.  There were a bajillion guitarists who tried to ape that style.  The ones that just played that style recorded one or two records and were never heard from again.

The one’s who took those technical ideas and applied them to other areas are among those who kept making music and developed audiences for what they did.  They adapted to the curve instead of following it and in doing so, became their own curves.

(Incidentally, the one neo-classical player from the 80’s who’s still consistently recording and on tour as a solo artist is Yngwie Malmsteen and people are still copying him.)

Trend creation is hard but trying to capitalize on someone else’s trend and make a living from it on the ground level is infinitely harder.  You may want to remember that the next time your fellow band mate comes to rehearsal and says, “Maybe we should write a Black Keys (or whoever else comes to mind) type of song.” ; )

As always, I hope this helps and thanks for reading!

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Differentiating Between Action and Change

Physician Heal Thyself

I was reading an e-book on my iPhone the other day and hit the library tab by mistake which revealed every book in my account.

Since a lot of authors will give books away to try to get reviews (a profoundly unsuccessful tactic that I tried myself once) – there are a number of titles there.  Skimming through them  I thought about the difference between taking action and making changes.

Taking Action is often a cycle that is more of a stationary bike than anyone would care to admit.  For many of us, the cycle works like this:

  • You realize that something is wrong and needs fixing.  Perhaps you’re in a dead-end job, or you need to lose weight or you need to figure out how to get your product out in the world.
  • Realizing that you have a problem – you decide to take action to fix that problem.  You do research and find that someone else also had this problem and came up with a solution – and their book is only $3.99!  You pick it up, and (if you’re really motivated) you read a chapter and perhaps have a few “a-ha!” moments and start to carve out your plan.
  • More likely you pick it up and go make yourself a coffee or a tea to sit down and read it and then get distracted by what someone posted on Facebook and then never get back to it.

I saw (what I may have mistakenly remembered was a) TED Talk that advised people to not discuss projects at the preliminary level with other people because their likelihood to complete them would diminish.  The speaker cited a study that showed that discussing future projects with other people created the same chemical reaction in the brain as actually completing them.  It’s why some people get super psyched about a plan they’re going to enact, have their friends tell them it’s brilliant and then there’s no fire the following day to complete it.

From personal experience, I can tell you that it’s easy to confuse buying something with doing something because by buying something you’re taking action – which is what you said you’d do.

Taking action doesn’t necessarily mean making change.

Change comes from consistency.

  • Consistency means working on something repeatedly (and often daily) until it becomes an integrated part of you.

Change comes from focus.

  • Focus is a skill.  It has to be developed and nurtured.
  • Focus is easier to maintain when options are limited.
  • It is much easier to sit down and focus on a book if it’s the only book in the queue and not have a full queue and have your energy divided between which other books there you should read.

Some people are autodidactic.  They can read a book, assimilate and integrate the material and take immediate action.

Not everyone works that way though and the irony is that people who are not naturally autodidactic will often read a book, not take action on the book, assume that something must be wrong with them because they can see that the material book is working for other people and then solve the problem by buying another book.

Your book will not solve your problem on it’s own.

The actions you take from doing the things talked about in the book however, may.

So please, stop reading this post and start making the change you want to be.

But also please come back – I’ll have a lot more material up to help stay whatever course you happen to be on.

As always, thanks for reading!

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The 10,000 Hour Rule In Context

There was research and then there was Gladwell..and then the Gladwell acolytes…and then the Gladwell detractors and then we were left with a number.

10,000 hours.

You need 10,000 hours to master something….or do you?

Here’s another opinion.  From the trenches, based on no scientific data whatsoever, but operating solely in the area of personal experience.

First off – mastery as a term is deceptive at best.

I’m highly suspicious of anyone who calls themselves a master musician, because I’ve never seen anyone who operated at a level of mastery that identified themselves as such.  The people who play at the highest levels are often the ones who can tell you exactly what they can’t do and still struggle with the demands of whatever instrument they have.

Yes you need time – but it has to be focused time

I know a lot of people who started playing guitar when I did.  They’ve easily put 10,000 hours in on their instrument.  They’re marginally better than they were when they first started.  There are several reasons why:

  • They got one thing down and never expanded upon it.  If you ever listen to me practice, it rarely sounds very good.  There’s a reason for that – when you’re practicing you’re supposed to push yourself beyond your current capacity.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked by a practice room where someone was just playing all the stuff they already knew how to do and were convinced that they were really getting better.    If you ever go to a blues jam – you will always find that guy who’s playing the same thing over and over again on every tune.  Come back next week and you’ll hear it again.  It’s like you’re listening to a human sampler.  If you never push yourself – you will never get better.

 

  • 10,000 hours needs both focus and context.  What are you spending 10,000 hours working on?  The person spending 2,000 hours on focused goals that integrate skill sets will generally run laps around the person who put an unfocused 10,000 hours in.

 

  • It’s daily work – often on fundamentals.  Really.  It’s putting consistent focused time in every day that yields results.  Itzhak Perlman still practices scales 4-5 hours a day.  Trust me, he knows those scales everywhere there is to play them on the violin – but mastery is in going deep into areas that few other people are willing to commit to.

 

  • You’ll need models and or mentors.  No one is an island.  You’ll need to emulate other people to get to the unique combination of influences and skills that will create your unique artistic stamp.

 

  • A big portion of the time required for mastery goes into developing aesthetic.  I can teach you the technical aspects of guitar playing in a relatively short period of time, but it’s going to take me a lot longer to teach you how to play well.

 

A musician was once relating to me the story of how pedagogy was handled in the part of India he was from.  “If you wanted to learn tabla.  someone would make an introduction and that person would handle all elements of the terms of study (payment, etc).  That was never discussed between teacher and student.  Then, you would go to the guru’s house and you might not touch a tabla for a year.  You would be cutting wood and doing all sorts of manual labor around the house – but the lessons would be going on around you and subconsciously the sounds and rhythms would be working their way into your ear.

Then one day you might get a lesson and learn some basic rhythms.   It might be a three hour lesson to get some basics together and then there would be some follow up spot checks to see how you were progressing.   Once you were ready you’d get another lesson and that would eventually become a regular event – but all during that time you’d be absorbing what was happening around you and starting to develop a sense of how things are supposed to sound – that way you know what sounds you are trying to create.”

A Rag is a DEEP thing.  If you’re just running the notes up and down, you’re not playing a Rag. It’s not just a collection of notes, each one is a world that contains melodies, phrases and even times of day that they’re to be played that define it.  You can learn some of the phrases relatively quickly but really knowing the Rag is a whole different thing, and a whole different time frame.

Aashish Khan once told me that his grandfather made him stay on one particular Rag for a year.  To put that into context, imagine practicing C major scales and phrases for 12 hours a day for a year and at each stage having your teacher tell you, “You’re not ready yet.”  Could you keep pushing forward in the face of that adversity?

Here’s the thing:

Very little is impossible.  The amazing thing about acquiring any skill set is that it’s about breaking complex motions down into its simplest components, mastering each one of them in a vacuum and then integrating them into a larger context.

Bukowski once said, “Endurance is more important than the truth.”  What I think he meant by that was that no one starts off as a brilliant writer/guitarist/anything.  There’s a long period of time that you’re going to be bad at something when you take it on, but the people who keep at it eventually get better.  Some of them even get to be great and become the very thing they were trying to be.

Mastery is largely about learning how to acquire a skill set.  If you’ve gotten good at playing guitar, it will probably not take you as long to get good at say, mandolin.  I’d argue even further that if you’re a great instrumentalist, you’ll probably pick up something like cooking at a high level much faster than someone who has not acquired mastery in a specific area.

Finally, I’d argue that mastery is a reflection of self.  It’s not about being able to play a scale the fastest or having the hippest lines over a chord progression.  It’s a cumulative process that uses something (playing guitar for example) as a means for getting to the best version of you that’s possible.  It’s not about mastering a Rag for example, it’s about your individual expression within that Rag.  It’s about where you are in a given moment of time and about what you have to say within that medium.

Mastery isn’t about guitar.  It’s about you.

To master anything

You’ll need time.

You’ll need focus.

You’ll need challenging things to work on.

It’s best to get crackin’ now!

As always, thanks for reading!

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