2016 was a great year.
It's not hard to find people who can't wait for 2016 to be over. They'll give you plenty of reasons. Several very accomplished people died, Donald Trump won the presidency, Donald Trump can't do anything until 2017, this guy had to give his nutcracker to the police because it turned out to be a hand grenade, etc.
Most of the time, this just seems to be people projecting their own issues onto external events. If someone wants to be negative and miserable, they'll find plenty of fuel for the fire.
Yeah, David Bowie died and Blackstar is an amazing record, but life goes on. It's cool to be bummed out for a minute—I certainly was with that one. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spider from Mars was the third or fourth album I ever bought as a kid.
But, I've always had better luck taking the positive route. I had my demons to slay this year like anybody else, but looking back 2016 was one for the books. I did more touring than I ever have, wrote a book, and found a lot of focus.
Major Successes of 2016
1. Doing Stuff
I've executed more meaningful projects this year than I have in the last 5 years.
I spent a lot of time (arguably a self-indulgent amount of time) being a student and absorbing information. College and graduate school with some time off between the two took a total of 8 years. Most of that was practice and study. I was putting in my 10,000 hours by learning from other peoples ideas.
Daily reading and study is still a part of my day, but this was the first year where I really felt I had something to contribute back into to the music world.
I have a book out that I'm constantly thanked for writing, blogged most of the year, and built a prototype of an endpin I invented and use for my performances. This has taught me a boatload about entrepreneurship and what kind of work I'm best suited for.
2. Better Lifestyle
I had some intense scares this year in the realms of money, health, near loss of loved (several) ones, and an absolutely insane situation with my former landlord.
Lots of friends and family came out of the woodwork and offered their help if I needed it. They assured me it would all pass and get better.
That's exactly what happened, because that's what I made happen. Certain factors were out of my control, but as I say in Make It, you can often control much more than you think.
Embracing that mode of thinking works and 2016 was the year that proved it.
Even though I was never really off the rails to begin with, basically all the important stuff is objectively better. I've made more money, I'm in better shape/physical health, live in a nicer place, and feel good most days. I've never sounded better as a player and I made some new connections to higher quality people too.
3. So much No
For a long time, my best strategy for growing was to say Yes to anything that came knocking.
And it worked.
There are some things you only learn by going out and getting involved in projects. You have to get your hands dirty. You have to see how things are done and also see some things get royally fucked up. Examples of what to do and what not to do are both valuable.
This year, I noticed that strategy wasn't working like it used to. I found myself on the phone with one of my bass buddies and were complaining about mistakes we see repeatedly on gigs.
It feels good in the moment to bitch about it and feel smart for seeing problems, but at the end of the day, I'm still hanging around people who are screwing up when I can see problems from a mile away. Whose fault is that? Not theirs. Mine. I can't control their fuckups, but I can control whether or not I'm around for it.
So I started to say "No" a lot more often and being much more picky (a.k.a. cranky) about what I agree to be involved in. This pissed off a few people and maybe lost me a few friends. That's fine. They'll either get over it or understand my side of things.
Sometimes instead of an outright "No", it was very effective to lay out my terms and see what they do, i.e. "I would need x and y to be able to do this, I understand that might not be possible".
For every 5 low paying gig offers that come in, usually 3 of them can't accommodate me and 2 will come back and give me what I want.
Saying No and being more particular with my work had the effect of making me a little more money, cutting away unproductive people, and most importantly saving me a ton of time. There were maybe 2 or 3 times where things got genuinely ugly and I had to lay into someone, but it's a small price to pay. The extra productive time is well worth it.
4. Commonplacing is a thing for me now
I used to think that people walking around scribbling in moleskins were more romanticized versions of those hipster types who go to coffeeshops to write poetry on a $1800 laptop and tell people they're bohemians.
Boy was I wrong. I was making an ignorant judgement. Stupid.
A good commonplace book is where you compile ideas over time. You fill it with stuff you like that relates to some common theme. Over time it can help you develop your thinking and see large pieces of knowledge that you may miss in the moment when you're down in the weeds.
I started doing this because I read Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker. This is one of the best, best books you can read for developing yourself. It's cheap, short, direct, and available on Amazon for under $5. Go buy it and thank me later.
Drucker advocates a simple system where you write down what you think will happen when you take certain key actions, then you revisit your record a few months later to see how your expectations match what actually happened.
What got me hooked was that it taught me a lot about myself, very quickly.
For example, over time it showed me that when it comes to ideas, I am an extrovert. I don't mean this in the Myers-Briggs sense—that stuff is barely a step above reading a horoscope. I mean that I develop my best ideas out loud. Hanging out alone is something I like to do and value, but my best ideas usually come in conversation with someone. The energy of conversation is creatively stimulating for me.
That's just the tip of the iceberg too. I had some talents that I didn't realize were talents. I was also telling myself I was talented at some things that I'm pretty average at. This practice shed a lot of light on to what's actually going on.
I still don't use a moleskin, but I have a few notebooks and yellow legal pads around where I take notes on everything.
Every time I start a new book, I get a fresh legal pad and take notes. If the book is really good, I'll read it once and make notes in the margins, then go back a second time and give it the legal pad treatment. Reading takes way more time this way, but the retention of useful ideas is much higher this way, so I think it's worth the effort.
I have another notebook that I carry around like a carpenter carries his toolbox. If I don't have the space, I take a few notecards and tape them into the notebook later. This is where I collect those ideas that come up in conversation or random thoughts that slip away in oblivion if they aren't immediately captured.
Problems of 2016
1. Making Music
Learning how to write and market a book as well as actually going out and doing it is extremely time consuming. Saying No more and freeing up time was necessary. Had I not published Make It, I wouldn't have been fighting to free up time.
I did a lot of music making and touring in the first half of 2016, as well as the summer thanks to the Lucerne Festival, but the time in between was mostly focused on my book, developing my endpin, and gigging.
A lot of my practice time went out the window and my gear is in terrible shape. All of my bows need to be rehaired and my bass needs a trip to the luthier for some surgery.
I haven't released or performed any electronic music in a while either—at least not my own. In 2016 I played quite a bit of other people's music and worked on my own products, but my music hasn't been doing much.
I'm finally hitting the point where the pain of not writing music is worse than the pain of clearing out the time to do it so this is going to be a higher priority in 2017 for me.
I've had some interesting money problems this year. Financially, Make It did well. I'd prefer not to say exactly how much, but it made more than I thought it would. Yay, money! Right? Not really.
Book income is endful. You can't rely on it.
If you want to write a book and sell it because you have something to say, you should do it. That's why I wrote mine.
Do not write a book to make money because books are a horrible way to make money. You sell the book to someone once, then that's all the income you make from that customer. The work you will do to sell them that book is the same as the work you will do to sell something much more expensive with a better margin, or something with a recurring billing schedule. The only way you can make money again from that customer is to sell them another book (lots of work) or sell them some other product related to the topic (also lots of work and risky—they might not bite).
Sure, I could crank out a lot more writing and maybe make some kind of subscription service, but that's not really what I'm trying to do. I'm a musician that does some writing, not the other way around.
My endpin project is an example of product with the potential with a better financial upside. It has a decent margin, I have to sell less of them to make a nice amount of money, it's easier to sell the customer related products, and after a certain number of years will need to be replaced. But that has it's own obstacles. More people are required and a much larger upfront investment is needed to make it work. A book cost me my time and a couple hundred bucks. The endpin will take my time and a few thousand dollars.
Where I'm at now is I need to raise around between $9000 and $10,000 to get the endpin into production. That may sound like a lot, but that's actually nothing to get a product off the ground. If I want people to buy it, I need it to be reasonably priced. To get the cost per unit down, I need to order a lot of them at once from my fabricator to make it worth his time. Then there are patent fees, product insurance, shipping fees, customer service, and the other miscellaneous accounting and legal fees that go into running a business.
Moving forward, this is one of my big goals for 2017: get my endpin funding, into production, and ship it before the 1st quarter is over. All the pieces are in place, I just need to add money to make the gears turns.
3. Website Fail
The frequently taught model I attempted to implement was basically a form of inbound marketing: You blog for a year or two and get your website large enough that people discover you organically, then you conveniently have some products available for sale, or affiliate links to products you recommend.
Things didn't quite shake out like that for me this year. Blogging turned out to be an excellent way for me to develop content for my book and test ideas. Does it help net me an audience? Not really, at least for now. If you're reading this or benefit from one of my other articles, consider yourself one of the lucky few. Emilioguarino.com doesn't get stellar traffic. It gets some, but not the kind of numbers needed to monetize it as a standalone property.
The problem is likely that I'm not writing about things that resonate with enough people, I haven't been doing it long enough, or the content isn't good enough.
Outbound marketing worked much better for me. Reaching out to people who would be interested in my book seemed to work best. There was no big Mailchimp campaign and paid advertising barely made a profit.
Shooting an email to individual people, one at a time, usually worked well. This is super boring and unsexy, but that's what worked. People get so much spam and garbage so it's at least a little refreshing to hear from a human. I'd usually get a response and the response was almost always positive. Even the super busy people who I thought wouldn't get back to me eventually did.
Where the website has worked out well is when I go make some contact out in the real world or through a one on one email, they go to my website and get a good impression. It seems like my people skills are much better than my marketing/SEO skills.
For the moment, my instinct is to just double down on what's working: Keep EmilioGuarino.com going, but not make it the main event and aim to do more business in person the old fashioned way. That seems to be where I work best.
This kind of article is great to right because it helps me find focus and keep my eyes on the prize. I could have easily written it down on paper and kept it private, but I wanted to make it public for two reasons:
1. Some people just might be curious as to what I'm up to.
2. It helps keep me accountable.
#2 in particular is important for me to keep moving forward and developing things. If I tell people I'm going to do something, I feel a lot more pressure to keep that promise.
To wrap it all up, I'd like to finish with those promises. This is where I intend to focus in 2017:
- Screening for good ideas and executing them, or saving them for when I can execute.
- I'm living better than I have in the past. It's important to not go backwards. For me, that means continuing to grow financially and maintain my physical health.
- I will say No to the time wasters.
- I will continue to self-analyize and develop my ideas through commonplacing
- My 2017 will have more of my own music. I'm still learning about how to release it and build a brand around it, but that's all secondary to just sitting down and working on the music. Make music before managing it.
- My endpin project is looking great, but needs funding. A major challenge I need to tackle this coming year.
- I'm proud of this website and the work I've put into it, but I need to adjust the direction and focus of it to meet my goals.