I recall a one-liner from one of my favorite standup comedians, Steven Wright, where he says, "The Stones -- I love the Stones. I can't believe they're still doing it after all these years. I watch 'em whenever I can. Fred, Barney..."
Obviously he did a great job with the misdirect, but it does make me think about the longevity of a band like the Rolling Stones who have been performing over six decades. As I've observed this crazy music industry, I'm often perplexed at the revolving door of talent that comes and goes. One-hit-wonders and those who never make it past the first place podium of a local talent show contrasted with the staying power of Aerosmith or Barbara Streisand. There must be something that keeps those in the entertainment industry focused on reaching their goals. It's as competitive as any high-level sport I've seen, if not more so. The amount of rejection coupled with the insanely hard work required to make a name for yourself is awe-inspiring. I believe it boils down to a single ingredient called tenacity.
When I was 23 years old I had already traveled internationally for business dealing with some of the top 10 corporations in the world at the time. My youth provided energy and the drive to prove something. Much like what I see in the entertainment industry as I work alongside my son to help his burgeoning career, youth is a rocket fuel needed to reach the heights no matter how much the gravity of adversity tries to keep you down.
Back then, I was offered a job from a competitor that paid about 50 percent more salary and offered complete operational control of a new division. My boss at the time was nearing 50 years old and warned me that leaving so early in my professional career would be a mistake since I was already working for the number one company in the industry. He declared I'd be back in six months. The CEO basically wished me well as I walked out the door. Within two years I created an $11 million division for my new employer.
On one trip to Dubai I coincidentally ran into my old boss who was staying at the same hotel.
We met for dinner. It was awkward.
I was no longer his protege', but now his competitor. Sitting at the table I recall some small talk that culminated into him shaking his head that I left after he taught me everything he knew.
He was bitter. I was giddy inside.
Although his parting words failed to materialize, their sting stayed with me and became a polarizing force guiding me to succeed. I spent the better part of the following eight years pursuing international clients and sold over $165mm in U.S. manufactured products to foreign buyers. I took that track record and opened my own sales and marketing company in 1999. After all, I was on a roll and, like a bulldog, not willing to let anyone or anything stand in my way of success. Tenacious.
Now, 15 years later and head full of gray, I reflect on my early days of pursuing success, but I don't miss the rat race and pace. Becoming an entrepreneur is very similar to plowing a path for yourself in the entertainment industry. It's full of similar challenges and pitfalls that I have encountered most of my adult life. I have often reached out to others who are blazing the same trail of success in a very highly competitive entertainment business. We share war stories and trade encouragement to one another even though our geographic locale and paths may not be exactly the same.
As I've talked to so many, some have impressed me with their version of tenacity at such a young age and I'm motivated to share just a slice of their stories in this blog. It serves as a reminder of what it takes to start and maintain a career in the jungle of the entertainment industry. Learning how to keep going when mental and physical exhaustion occur, who to trust along the way, how to stay productive when money or resources are limited, improving and mastering your creative skills, overcoming haters and rejection, or learning how to be a better time manager are all specific areas they shared with me for this post.
Music producer, Avery Berman of New Paltz, New York is barely 25 years old and already a serious player in the world of audio engineering, sound design, and music production. He doesn't boast having a large studio with floating walls and floors. Nor does he fall asleep staring at the collection of Grammys hanging on his wall (yet). He is a professional producer in a highly competitive industry where it takes just one song produced for one artist to catch a fire of clients waiting in line to hire you for their next project.
I've talked at length many times with Avery about the challenges he's faced in the industry of producing music. He reminds me a lot of myself at his age. Slightly arrogant, but in a good way. He's confident and highly motivated to prove the naysayers wrong and his own personal ambitions right. He does have a growing collection of award hardware to provide him some industry street credit. Beyond that, he quietly lurks behind the scenes producing music that artists in the U.S. and Europe are quickly finding they can't live without.
We are in a period today where you can create some of the greatest sounding records people have ever heard on close to shoe string budgets. It's all about the ideas in your head and your skill. And skill is learned and cultivated, not bought. I'm able to directly compete with big studios simply because I've cultivated that skill. I'm incredibly passionate about getting the most out of the least amount. As a good friend and mentor once said: Less is more.
Avery has been producing music since his late teens and is already a veteran in the scheme of traditional music producers earning an income from that creative process.
When I begin a serious record, I ask myself: 'What is the PURPOSE of this record? How should it make the listener FEEL?' Then I find that place within myself. The (public music preference) flavor of the month is simply the current hot vehicle to convey this emotion. If it's relevant to your record, embrace it. What I think makes a great producer is someone who doesn't just understand that music is a universal language, but can fluently speak that language.
But it isn't as simple as just make a song and people love it. He has had to learn how to deal with haters and critics alike.
Whenever I have a hater I ask myself: "Is there validity to the statement this person made?" If yes, then perhaps consider the core message, but ignore the attitude. It may be a great learning experience. But if you cannot find validity, (which, with haters, is more often than not) then smile and keep doing your thing. What I've found is for every hater, there are tons of inspiring, supportive people ready to help you however they can. Even if it's just with a high five and a smile of approval.
His creative space: A 12x15 room in his home. Today's music industry doesn't need the overhead of a storefront to create good songs. It keeps his costs down and allows him to work long hours with the convenience of a kitchen and bedroom not far away if he is ready for a break.
A young teen artist named Sebastian Janoski, based in Pennsylvania, has been turning heads of both young and old music enthusiasts because of his unique approach to making music in the old-school way. Having been on the Katie Couric Show in New York at only 14 years old, Sebastian is a singer/songwriter with a guitar and he loves to cover classics from the days of his father's own childhood. Far from being a cookie-cutter teen artist making bubblegum pop, he is slowly making a loyal fan base of not only young people, but soccer moms and middle aged men who still sing along to James Taylor on their satellite radio stations.
Aside from his obvious creative artistry, there's the all-too-familiar reality that it takes money and time to launch the career of anyone in the music business. Unlike the few hundred dollars associated with a team sport at a local school or YMCA, promoting yourself and traveling in the music business can take a serious commitment of resources.
His dad, Paul, shared some insights they have faced while helping his son pursue his career.
We decided in the beginning of his young music career that he would be successful due to his talent and not the size of our bank account. With that said, he has had to pass on some opportunities because our lack of or unwillingness to put forth money. If opportunities seemed worthwhile, we've made sure he understood he would be investing from his own savings as well.
But the challenges for his career haven't been limited to just resources, but also knowing who to trust along the way.
Early on in Sebastian's young career we made the error of thinking he needed outside management. Mostly because that's what we were being told by the many potential managers contacting us looking to further Sebastian's career. After much thought and vetting we did eventually sign with one particular company. It became the very definition of 'Fizzled'.
Any and all upward movement in Sebastian's career was the result of our efforts, the management company basically had a piece of paper giving them the rights to a percentage of money made by Sebastian but was doing essentially no work. The last straw was during a time when Sebastian had a part in a particular Broadway show (through our efforts alone) and the manager wanted to come to the venue to be at the opening, which we thought could be a good idea until we found out he was planning on charging us for travel and accommodations while in NYC. Needless to say his trip to NYC never happened and we immediately contacted our attorney to have Sebastian's contract with the management firm voided.
What we ended up learning from this experience was there are MANY management companies that sign young talent and just "hold the paper" waiting for one of them to become successful and cash in.
Sebastian is indeed a unique teen artist who has chosen to embrace his passion for music and singing despite the rejection and bullying it has generated from a few in his community. He has learned that having a thick skin is part of the process of being in the public eye.
Seventeen-year-old Alyssa Stroner of Cleveland, Ohio spent her formative adolescent years pushing through the pains of extreme conditioning and practice to become a professional member of the highly competitive ballet community. Devoting seven days a week to rehearsals, training, and live performing while commuting from a suburb of Chicago to downtown, she discovered the reality that a tu-tu and ballet shoes were the uniform earned, not only dreamed about.
Training to be in a professional ballet production really put into perspective the intensity of the art. Ballet is often viewed as frivolous and effortless, this I learned very quickly not to be true. It was very demanding physically and mentally. Long days rehearsing on the weekends and regular classes throughout the week begin to weigh heavy on your body as well as your mind. These elements made the dream feel so far off but, when show time rolled around and it was finally time to perform it was worth it. The blisters, the soar muscles, the long rides in the car doing homework, all of that disappeared as soon as I set foot on stage.
Alyssa quickly realized that to be seriously considered at a professional audition, she would need to reorganize her life and time management. This led to the unpopular decision among family and some friends to homeschool. It also took its toll on her personal social life.
Truly, outside of ballet I didn't have many friends. I had two friends who had been by my side throughout the whole journey that were not involved with dance. They were incredibly supportive and made the transition from school to the studio incredibly easy. Something that I always reminded myself of was 'quality over quantity'. Surely, I only had three true friends, and to society I was looked upon as odd because of it, but those girls kept me on track to seeing my goal succeed and they mean the world to me.
This can take a toll on a young person's mental and emotional state when trying to compete against so many talented other teens aspiring the same goal.
My teacher used to tell me that ballet is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. I found that to be so true, not only in ballet but in my everyday life too.
Discovering what tenacity requires is the majority of the game of life. Finding ways to keep moving forward and avoid getting stuck in regret or failures along the way is how tenacity is formed. Each one of these young people I spoke with have started to learn the rules of tenacity and how to maximize their journey with that knowledge.
Like my old boss' words were to me early on, each of them have a muse to motivate them to keep pushing and trying. Even if it's an internal voice that begs them to never give up, it will nonetheless be just the right ingredient needed to continue pursuing their dream.
There may come a day when someone says I'm too old to try something. Watch out, I may just accept those words as a challenge to further my own tenacity in life. After all, if Fred and Barney can be relevant stone-age icons, why not me?