You Get More Done When You Know What's Worth Doing

Being an independent musician or photographer is tough. Not only do you have to be a creative genius, you have to be an accountant, salesman, project manager, customer service rep and marketing guru, too. And based on my conversations with people who do it day in and day out, they're willing to do the work, they just don't know what is and isn't worth doing. So I'm launching a new idea to help on the branding and marketing front. It's called the BigHowdy Mini Brand Exam for creative professionals. Find out more after the jump. Since this is the beta testing stage, I'm going to work with the first FIVE people who raise their hands and I'm going to do it on the cheap — $199. It's for musicians, photographers, painters and other folks who need help with their marketing but aren't sure where to start and have a limited budget to consider. The key is priorities. With that in mind, I'll review your materials, sites and content and give you specific feedback on What Is Working, What Isn't Working and What's Next. This is NOT a full-on "dive in deep" brand audit. It's a short list of specific priotities that you can do to get things moving and headed in the right direction. The process is really simple:

  1. Email me at exam(at)bighowdy(dot)com and say "Examine Me, B!"
  2. Fork over $199 via PayPal, credit or debit card. Plus tip (I kid. I kid.).
  3. Fill out a short questionnaire and send links to all your work (music, portfolio, etc.), sites, pages, videos, merch and other stuff.
  4. I review everything and develop a series of insights and specific recommendations for what you should keep, what you should lose and what you should do next.
  5. We meet—either over coffee in Nashville or via Skype or phone—for up to two hours and talk through your materials and I walk you through my insights and recommendations.
  6. I tweak stuff based on our conversation and email you your very own BigHowdy Mini Brand Report in one of those fancy schmancy PDF documents a couple of days later.
  7. You go and do all your stuff and become an international sensation, guaranteed*. (*Not a guarantee in the literal sense, of course. More in the "No doubt, Bud!" or "For realz!" kinda way. You feel me on this, right?)

So what does a BigHowdy Mini Brand Report look like? Well, for starters, yours is developed 100% for you. It's broken down into three sections: What Is Working, What Isn't Working and What's Next. The first two sections include things like "You're a great writer and your blog seems to really connect." Or "Your photos and design don't fit with your music." Or "You are very focused on Twitter, but your audience is more engaged on Facebook." Or "Your website is full of typos and it reflects poorly on your attention to detail as a photographer." Or "You don't have up-to-date music on your pages."

What Next includes things like "Schedule one blog post per week and promote each post in these 3 ways…" Or "Make the photos on your website larger for more emotional impact." Or "Add a RootMusic BandPage to your Facebook." Or "Invest in a good photo shoot." Or "Check out BigCartel or Goodsie to set up an easy online store." It's specific, it's realistic and it's a realtively gentle kick in the pants.

So, if you're stuck and sick of feeling like you're spinning your wheels… If you need direction. Priorities. Honesty and objectivity… the BigHowdy Mini Brand Exam is a good fit and a great place to start. Email me at exam(at)bighowdy(dot)com and we'll get things set up. If you have questions, post them on the BigHowdy Facebook page or email me. Thanks for reading!

Working with Creatives: The Danger of Expectations & Preconceived Ideas

"Not what I had in mind" is bad feedback when you're working with a creative professional (designer, writer, photographer, etc.). In fact, "not what you had in mind" is the point. What they bring back shouldn't be your idea on paper. It should be something better than you could've come up with. If it doesn't surprise you and make you a little nervous, THAT is a good reason to ask for another try.

Read More

Something New… BigHowdy Creative Coaching Groups

Artists are out there, everywhere, struggling to make music and get that music heard. They have more  options than ever – distribution, labels, marketing, social media, etc. – too many options, in fact. And too many people telling them everything they should be doing. Unfortunately, few of those people actually know what they are talking about or understand the limitations of an artist's time, focus and money. So, some of those artists come to me. It's been frustrating because every week I get at least one coffee or lunch invitation from someone amazingly talented who is paralyzed by the scope and complexity of their options and the fear of doing the wrong thing. So they do nothing. They want help, but they can't afford a team. And I really want to help them. So how does that person get access to the expertise and resources to develop a smart, focused strategy and a plan to put the music out there? What I do is pretty involved and expensive and the artists I'm referring to don't usually have a budget to get into all that. So I've decided to try something new. I've developed what I'm tentatively calling BigHowdy™ Creative Coaching Groups. In these groups, I'll be working with multiple artists at the same time, making it affordable for all involved. Each artist gets personal attention on their strategy and plan but is left to execute it on their own. I'm really excited about this new approach and I'm looking for the right group to launch it with.

As an artist, you know how to make music. The question is "How do you make a living doing it?" BigHowdy Creative Coaching Groups are a strategic resource that helps aspiring musicians start building a brand and a business. In these sessions, you'll learn to define yourself as an artist and tell that story in smart, creative ways through content and promotions. The groups are led by a strategist and creative marketer (that'd be me!) with extensive experience both inside and outside the music business as well as a select team of your peers who are trying to climb the same mountains you are. Each session will be one part classroom, one part hands-on workshop and one part support group. So you learn what to do, start doing it and feel like someone has your back if you don't get it perfect right out of the box, which you probably won't.

So, Who Wants To Be A Guinea Pig?

For this first group, I'm looking for four to six artists who are seriously working toward building a professional career in music. Ideally, the artists have done some touring and have a record or two out there. Genre is unimportant, but I will be curating a bit to make sure the group is a good fit. We're going to compress the normal twelve weeks into eight weeks. In order to build momentum, the first four groups will be held weekly before transitioning to biweekly for the last two sessions. So what can you expect in this initial 8-week period? A total of six sessions that each last 1.5 to 2 hours. The time, day and location is TBD, but it will be the same time each week and somewhere near Music Row in Nashville.What can you expect to get for your investment of time and money? At the end of the eight weeks of sessions, you should be able to:

  • Describe yourself and your music in a concise and consistent way
  • Understand your basic goals and timelines
  • Build a rough content and promotion strategy and timeline
  • Put that strategy and plan into action
  • Measure the results & tweak the plan

And now for the big question… What does this cost? Well, since this is my guinea pig group, I certainly don't want to charge you full price. On the other hand, I also believe that if you invest your own money in this, you'll take it more seriously. [EDITORS NOTE: The first "guinea pig" group received a substantial discount off the regular $449 rate for eight weeks] With that in mind, I've decided that a discounted [DELETED] per person for the eight weeks is a good, balanced number – fair for both sides (considering your guinea pig status and all).

So, if you'd like to be considered for one of these initial slots (there are only 4 to 6), please click here to email me before Friday, March 25th at Noon, CDT. [LINK DELETED] Just tell me a little about yourself, your music and where you are in your career. A few sentences, tops. I'm trying to get these started in the next two weeks, so the sooner I can assemble the group, the better. Thanks for your interest and let me know if you have any questions.

Going Viral. Or Not.

You can't choose to do a "viral" campaign or video. You can do a campaign or a video and HOPE it goes viral, but viral isn't up to you. It's up to the audience and it's incredibly, incredibly rare. It means that people are excited enough about it to bug their friends with it. And those friends feel the same way. Viral is an Okay Go video that gets three million views in three days. You see it in your Facebook feed posted by fifteen different people. Plus two cousins and an aunt email it to you. THAT is viral. But you can't build a marketing plan around something going viral any more than you can plan your retirement strategy around hitting the Powerball. So make great content, post in places that having sharing tools, but expect modest results. Then build off of them. And if one day you wake up and you have 10,000,000 views, you are waaaaaay ahead of the game.

What The Hell Is A “Brand” Anyway? Part 3

Well, if you happened to read Part 1 and Part 2, you know that a brand is simply what people think of when they think of you and that the audience controls that, not you. Also, if you read those, thanks. In Part 3 of 3, I wanted to quickly cover one other important thing about what a brand is and that is how it evolves over time. First of all, they do and they should evolve. Second, you need to account for that in your plans. The general idea is that they start small and two dimensional and they grow over time to be large and three dimensional.

When you're introducing yourself and your music (or your product or service), you need to tell a very simple story. Initially, your brand will be small and two-dimensional. That's because anything more than that is too much to expect anyone to remember. You are a laying a foundation. And that should be as simple as "he's an authentic rodeo cowboy singer" or "she's the old-school torch singer with the huge voice." Even something that references someone else – "he's the next George Strait" or "she's a modern version of Patsy Cline" – is okay as long as you move past it pretty quickly to create your own story. It serves as a landmark and a shortcut to make people understand.

Then, over time, you start to add detail and dimension to your story. But pace yourself. The story has to unfold over the course of ten years or so. Go too fast and not only will you confuse people, but you'll run out of story to tell. Go too slowly and you'll fail to keep people's interest and attention. Eventually, if you’re fortunate enough to have a long career, your brand will be large and three dimensional. It will be a great story that people love and share with their friends.

What The Hell Is A "Brand" Anyway? Part 2

In Part 1, I talked about how a brand is simply what people think of when they think of you. It's important to note that I didn't say "what you WANT people to think of when they think of you." That's because–and this is important– you don't get to decide what your brand is, the audience does. That's right, folks. You are NOT in control. You can (and should) try to influence it through your music (or products/services), messaging, design, photos, pricing, events, charity work, publicity and so forth, but ultimately the audience will decide for themselves what your brand represents. And that is exactly why the two biggest ideas in building a strong brand are CONSISTENCY and DISCIPLINE. The more you reinforce the same key messages the better the chance that people will remember and believe them.

Not only will people decide for themselves, but it will vary from person to person, even with the best brands. Look at Apple, probably the most consistent and disciplined large company in the world. Depending on who you ask, they are either a company that makes technology easy to use through great design and intuitive software (the message they want you take home) or they are a style-over-substance bully that overcharges for their products (Steve might not agree with that assessment). Both positions are born of their owners' experience through some combination of using the products, price points, newspaper and magazine articles, Apple's ads and the opinions and experiences of their friends. Two totally opposite opinions. One brand. That's life.

In the end, not everyone will agree on what your brand represents. And that's okay. With smart, consistent, disciplined work, you have a good chance to get the ones who will listen to tell the story you want them to tell. And that is the mark of a great brand.

What The Hell Is A "Brand" Anyway? Part 1

I've been referred to as a "branding guy who hates the word 'branding.'" That's because it gets thrown around. A lot. And often by people who don't really understand it. Depending on the day and the person it might be used to refer to a logo or a pair of trademark glasses or the ability to get sponsors. Or whatever else happens to come up in conversation. But everyone is pretty much over-thinking it. Quite simply, your brand is what people think of when they think of you. That's it. It's what you represent in the minds of the audience. Nothing magical or technical about it. It isn't a typeface or a color or a tour sponsor. Those things can be part of a brand: they can represent it, be triggers for it or influence how people think and feel about it. And they can be really important tools. But the brand itself is nothing more than what your audience and potential audience thinks about you. So if reading this makes you think I'm a self-important opinionated jackass with a blog, welcome to your very own version of the BigHowdy brand. Thanks for dropping by.  = )

NOTE: Keep an eye out for the second and third parts of What The Hell Is A "Brand" Anyway? We'll talk about what it means that different people think different things about you as well as how a brand evolves over time.