Singer Songwriter Blogger Guitarist Content Creator
It was a good day…Sunday Slump survived!
Up first was “Behind the GIF: The Future of Online Visual Culture.” We all know GIFs. Here:
Next up was a panel about Immersive Content and going beyond a screen, which I thought was about something and it was about something else (it happens)…more of a brand and big budget kind of panel…so I wandered the trade show and picked up free pens.
After that I tripped into a chat with some impressive folk: Eric Schmidt (founder of Google), Megan Smith (Chief Technology Officer of the United States), and Walter Isaacson (he wrote Jobs, one of my favorite biographies). This panel was about “innovation” and, you know…stuff. (Can you tell I’m kind of fatigued at this point?) They talked about how giant corporations are not generally at the forefront of innovation, so the U.S. needs to do things like foster entrepeneurs and small business. They asked Eric Schmidt what Google was working on in regards to Artificial Intelligence and he said, “we don’t know what 20 years out looks like” and I was thinking YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE A ROBOT ARMY ADMIT IT, GOOGLE,” but hey, maybe that’s just me. Women in tech and fostering a love (and not fear) of math and science in young girls is on the forefront of Smith’s agenda because 1 in 13 computer science majors RIGHT NOW are women, which is disgustingly low. Other interesting notes: immigrants are more likely to be entrepeneurs so the U.S. immigration policy needs to consider that, and technology sector growth does not decrease jobs, it dislocates them into higher level work, meaning…education had better improve here, too. Good stuff.
Then, in an effort to be first in line for Amy Schumer’s talk, I got to head into the panel room early and watch Gina Price-Bythewood speak, the director/screenwriter of “The Secret Life of Bees” and the new “Beyond The Lights.” It was neat to hear about her writing process, but I didn’t take many notes.
Then I just sat in my awesome chair and waited for Amy Schumer, one of the comedians who has really caught my attention this past couple of years. I find her work on her TV show and her stand up to be really amazingly able to address important, serious issues with a really unique (sometimes risque, I warn you sensitive souls) sense of humor. (Here’s a skit…there’s language!) Her first movie, Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow, debuts this summer. You could clearly tell Amy is a true comedian…because she was hilarious. It was an unscripted interview and the audience asked questions, and she had the entire room laughing (LMAOing, even) several times throughout. She also came across as super down-to-earth, humble, and…basically, she just works hard and it pays off. Easy, right?
Lastly I went to see Hugh Mcleod of Gaping Void speak…he does cartoons. His cartoons are really popular amongst the business community, and his talk was about the importance of art in leadership. In the spirit of my brain breaking down from too much info, I will summarize as thus: art is very important for leadership.
Onward to the last day of Interactive…
Day 2 was another good one with some good variety in my panel choices that happened to be purely by accident.
First up was “Netflix Shares a Decade of A/B Test Learning,” which of course was super popular and full. Todd Yellin, VP of Product Innovation at Netflix, took us through the many innovations at the company and explained how they roll out new features and designs on the site. When you think about it, the scale of changing Netflix’s UI is daunting simply because people access it from so many different devices…laptop, Apple TV, Roku, iPad, Surface, etc. Each one has to have a UI that works. They also spend a lot of time tweaking design using “big data” collected from users and A/B testing control groups and experimental groups that way. Long story short, your Netflix homepage probably looks a little or a lot different than mine. They watch how we click, how we scroll, how we search, and adjust the design accordingly. Surprisingly, simple big data collection is less useful than you’d think…global taste is homogenizing…meaning 60 year old Swedish women might watch The Avengers and 24 year old American men might watch Dance Moms and there is no use in stereotyping by age and gender. We are a simple yet complex humanity, apparently. If you look at the photo above, you’ll see their test on what graphics cause the most clicks – this one for Breaking Bad. We all voted on the yellow Walter White as being the most popular but we were wrong! The most engagement was from the middle graphic of the camper. Netflix has revolutionized actual TV metrics because before we relied on Neilsen ratings which makes people keep a diary of their viewing…which was probably fudged. Netflix knows exactly what you watched, what time of day, how long you watched it, how many episodes in a row you watched it, when you clicked out if you got bored, etc. Interesting stuff.
Next up…”The Changing Face of Fame: Social Media Celebrities.” There are people on Youtube and Vine with thousands and thousands of followers, creating content on a weekly basis that is liked, shared, and commented on by their fans…and if you’re over the age of 30 you might not know them at all. The Top 5 most influential figures among U.S. teens right now are these online short form content creators…not traditional celebrities. So many people consume content on Youtube these days, it is not surprising it has its own brand of celebrity. Interestingly, these newer stars are often very attached to causes and charities, so brands and nonprofits are trying to leverage this as a way of reaching new audiences. Cubby Graham of the Charity Water organization said, “Emotional connection is the new definition of quality in marketing.” Short answer: people can smell a disingenuous pitch from a mile away and millenials are even less susceptible to traditional ad marketing.
After that…a Conversation with Biz Stone (know for being the founder of Twitter). I was amused, because I saw Biz Stone talk last year and he was all about his new app Jelly. Jelly Jelly Jelly Jelly Jelly. It was going to revolutionize the way we help each other online. I downloaded it, used it for a minute, and now it’s off my phone. Turns out, that happened with a lot of people. So THIS year, Biz Stone is all about his new app Super! Super Super Super Super! To his credit, he talked about the failures of Jelly and after he explained Super…I was in. Super’s mission is to foster empathy. It’s a creative platform for people to share their thoughts with the help of graphics and text. As Biz said echoing the last panel, “The future of marketing is philanthropy.” I kind of like it. I don’t know if it’ll catch on. Truth is, you will only have a Twitter once, probably. It was cool to hear him talk about announcing Twitter to the 2007 SXSW people and having the app go down right before they unveiled it…but having that kind of revolution in tech with something catching like wildfire and growing to a company the generates over a billion dollars a year is…rare. A unicorn, if you will. In the meantime, try Super if you’re inclined.
Next up: keynote by Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud of the Saudi royal family. Amazing story. She is breaking down barriers in Saudi Arabia, running several successful business and charitable causes while working with the Saudi government for women’s rights. I guess the country has recently mandated that women must work in certain sectors of society (even mandating men NOT work in them), but Princess Reema has been tackling all of the cultural and societal norms there that still get in the way of the mandate. Things like…women can work, but they cannot drive there. “As a business person, you have no chance of measuring productivity among your workers if they are reliant on a driver to get themselves to work.” Princess Reema, who owns a successful department store line akin to Barney’s, is the first employer to offer a transportation stipend and on-site daycare for her women employees, as well as financial planning and training…things they have never had.
She’s also very involved in Saudi fashion which is very innately tied to the shifts in culture there. Her main point, “Work on the women first, then the business.” When your employees feel “safe, stable, and respected,” you will be successful. Her new project is a breast cancer awareness campaign for women in the Middle East…another taboo there that she argues needs to be overcome for early detection and education purposes. Check out www.10ksa.com for a great video.
On to UCB on TV: How Improv is Changing Everything with Nick Kroll of The Kroll Show, Matt Besser of The Upright Citizens Brigade, and Katie Dippold, a writer for Parks and Recreation and The Heat (and the new Ghostbusters!!). Cool panel. They talked about how the idea of the “Yes, And” is useful in acting and anything, really…instead of shutting down a colleague’s idea and killing any sort of flow, you learn the improv trick of saying, “Yes, and…” and let the story/idea/concept flow. That’s how brilliance is achieved…as opposed to, “that is a terrible idea let’s go home.”
LASTLY…phew! Sarah Lewis discussed her book “The Rise” and “The Story of Creative Icons…from Failure to Mastery.” As Sarah pointed out, “Mastery is not about the arriving, it is about the reach,” and our focus should not be on success, which is a one-time event, but on a commitment to mastery over time. To achieve mastery, we need the mindset of a “deliberate amateur” most of the time meaning…we need to not be afraid to fail. We need to “play,” we need to keep our art or research in a private domain and be careful not to share it too early, because…well, the world will crush you. I liked a lot of the ideas here and want to get the book.
Phew! Day 2 in the books. Onward…
Let me explain. I’m deep in a year-long program with Rubicon Artist Development called Rubicon Gold. It’s for folks like me who want to keep focused on our musical goals and “next level” it. It’s self-paced and guided by my producer and great friend Daniel Barrett. There’s reading, check-ins, goal setting, vision and values assessment, and lots of positive encouragement.
It’s actually changed the entire action plan for my music in the past five months…or at least helped me embrace it. I’ve always been fascinated with commercial music and music business, and I unabashedly love popular music, and now I want to write it. I want to meet people who write it, write with them, write it alone, get cuts, chart things, see my name in the “songwriter” slot of the Grammy nominations, have my songs in the background of your favorite TV shows. Working with Gold and Dan has helped me work this out, and now I’m starting to take steps to do this. I have a trip planned to Los Angeles in April and while I feel a little bit like a freshman on the first day of class, I already have a few things lined up to make this trip a good one, and it’s just the start.
You may also recall that I have blogged about Dan’s book before – The Remembering Process. Dan taught this to me years ago – and I recommend you get the book. The jist is a technique beyond positive visualization to make proactive change happen in your life. Instead of thinking about the future, you actually REMEMBER the outcome you want as if it already happened. It works and it’s FUN.
Dan challenged us Gold program folks to make a video about how the year is working out for us, so I decided to apply The Remembering Process and post my interview with Oprah after my success as a popular songwriter in the year 2025. I know, I haven’t aged a day and neither has O. (She said I can call her “O”). Here it is…as you can see, I’ve had some good stuff happen.
This is the 4th year we’ve done the Red River Songwriters’ Festival in Red River, NM in late January, and the first year we actually had to brave some snowy roads to get there! We did it though…because nothing can keep us from a line up like this:
It was one big weekend of good friends, inspiration, and snowy vistas.
Lori McKenna headlined on Thursday night and was absolutely incredible. She’s had songs covered by Little Big Town and Faith Hill among others, but nothing beats hearing Lori play them with just her voice and a guitar.
Matraca Berg and Jeff Hanna headlined the next night, and again…so much goodness and a slew of hits. Matraca started off with “Wrong Side of Memphis” that Trisha Yearwood made popular, and ended with “Strawberry Wine” which is one of those songs that you KNEW BY HEART if you were anywhere between the ages of 12 and 112 in the 90’s.
Then I got a guitar lesson from Jeff Hanna and everything was amazing. Music takes you on some strange, wonderful journeys sometimes.
A couple of weekends ago I got to immerse in a gathering put on by the lovely folks at the Austin Songwriters Group. These folks have been bringing the industry side to Austin for a long time and it is much needed. We have a lot of live music but no publishers, song pluggers, or that sort of thing. ASG fills that void and also helps songwriters…write more. And better. Awesome stuff.
The keynote speaker/performer was James Slater, who has had a lot of hits including cuts by Martina McBride, Jamey Johnson, Chris Brown, and Enrique Iglesias (as an aspiring pop writer, this perked my interest). He gave a wonderful talk and has a great performance style. He spent years performing in piano bars in Europe and he’s clearly mastered the instrument. Biggest takeaway? Write what you want to write…don’t write to the hit. Sound advice, nice to hear it from someone successful.
The pitch sessions…so, when you register, you get to meet with a song publisher for 15 minutes. To…you know, pitch a song. All of these lovely folks are from Nashville and I am not actually country at all (though I have been told Nashville is pretty open-minded?), so I expected nothing. Sure enough, my first meeting was met with a resounding…”keep trying.” It was fine, though these things are apparently like Vegas because I walked out of that meeting and immediately signed up for another one with a different publisher.
I waited until the 3rd day of the conference for the next meeting, and this was with a publisher who works with Disney in Nashville and Los Angeles. I told her to put on her film/TV licensing and pop ears (no mouse pun intended), and played her a couple of EP tracks. Her response was very encouraging and helpful and I left motivated to pursue more film and TV stuff because she said…heck yes, do it.
Fast forward to the evening, after dinner break, when I am walking down the hall and Maggie, one of the ASG bosses, runs after me (thank you for running, Maggie) and tells me that “Throw You Forward” is the Publisher’s Pick and would I perform it that night? WHOA. Stunned. Usually I get a spidey sense about these things but I did not see this one coming. It was the good kind of blind-sided. I borrowed a guitar and played it live for ballroom of very kind folks.
So the lesson here is…well, a couple. First…join these organizations and go meet people. You’ll be inspired and who knows what creative or business collaborations will come from it.
But secondly and most importantly, if you knock on a door and it shuts on you…try the next door. Whatever possessed me to try again after having a lackluster first pitch session really paid off…the momentum is real, kids. Keep knocking.
OF COURSE. The inevitable end-of-year summary, and my life would be incomplete without throwing my 2 cents into the fray. I usually just do a music list, but I feel like 2014 was a weird year for media (or maybe just my consumption of it), so I’m going to highlight…whatever I feel like highlighting. Nothing is in order.
Taylor Swift – 1989 of course. I’m not just partial to TaySway because she helped me write a good blog post…she killed it this year. Her album is pop goodness, her promotion was spot on, she’s hilarious, and I think she will continue to climb. Hail the Year of Taylor. A vignette:
(SCENE: Jana meets up with Katie)
Katie: Is that a Taylor Swift shirt?
Katie: You mean you own 2 Taylor Sw-
Drew Kennedy – Drew released Sad Songs Happily Played, which is a live album he didn’t know was being recorded while he was performing. This is the coolest way to make a live album. He is such a good writer and if you don’t have it, well…get it.
The Belle Sounds – Black Stone EP. This band sounds like nothing in Austin at the moment, which…face it, can we all admit how refreshing that is? Noelle Hampton’s songs are gems.
Emily Shirley – Suffering Soul. Emily’s releasing a single at a time these days, which I love. This one captures some sort of cinematic genius where you can almost picture Quentin Tarantino getting out of a muscle car in the middle of the desert when you listen. (This is my own personal movie, take a listen and apply your own).
Sara Barreilles – her album The Blessed Unrest did not come out this year but she was nominated for album of the year at the Grammys for it and this single – I Choose You – came out this year and it’s so good.
Susan Gibson – OF COURSE. This would be a favorite even if I wasn’t in the audience. The Second Hand: Live at the Bugle Boy is the thing that captures the genius of the Gibson live show, in a great venue, FULL of great people. The perfect night on disc. If you have not heard The Second Hand or The Best of You well GO LISTEN WHILE I WAIT. I AM WAITING.
Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin – this show went on hiatus last year and I was sad. Now it’s back. Alec has many skills but I think radio host is one of his best ones. It makes me want to have my own show and talk to people, which is weird for me to want.
With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus – the set up of this podcast blew my mind. Every week Lauren is a new character and her guest is actually the HOST, making Lauren the special guest. As the theme song says, “She’s the host but she’s always a guest and the guest is a host so she’s not really the host, it’s With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus, with your host as somebody else.” Whoa.
Caity Weaver’s 14 Hour Search For The End of TGI Friday’s Endless Appetizers. Just…read it. Pure genius.
Yes Please – Amy Poehler: No brainer. Amy’s book is different than most other comedian tomes I’ve read and I’m good with that. She’s smart, kind, and oh yeah, funny.
The Power of No – James Altucher: James is my favorite blogger. He writes about real stuff and getting better at life, as opposed to all the self-improvement blogs that contain an air of unreachable perfection.
The Remembering Process – Daniel Barrett and Joe Vitale: This book is amazing and I’d be saying that even if Dan the Producer of Awesome hadn’t written it. Truly, get this and reframe how you think. It has done me wonders.
Through the Woods – Emily Carroll: I never thought I’d be caught up in a graphic novel of scary stories, but I found Emily Carroll one day and she sucked me in. It’s Hitchcockian in its creepiness, which is about the right kind of creepy for me.