Masters Of Scale

“Release, observe, react”

That’s what Reid Hoffman says in his podcast with Mark Zuckerberg.

MARK ZUCKERBERG? He’s more inaccessible than a rock star, harder to hear in an uncontrolled environment than our President, just to hear him talk normally, off guard, telling his tale, is a thrill. We’re long in the tooth in the tech era. Despite Marc Andreessen’s pontifications, I don’t think the future is so bright. We saw incredible innovation for twenty years while we were paying attention, for nearly twenty years before that, but now there’s consolidation and power and that era where you had to constantly buy new hardware, check out new sites and apps, seems to be behind us. Oh, I’m not saying there’s not plenty of runway in front of us, but I am saying WHERE WAS THIS PODCAST WHEN WE NEEDED IT?

Reid Hoffman made his first big score with PayPal, but he’s most famous for LinkedIn, he knows everybody in the Valley, and he’s got them talking on his podcast. But it’s more than that, Reid is delivering his philosophy, it’s a master class for wannabes, it’s just that today it’s so hard to jump that hurdle from outside to inside. And speaking of inside, what they say is true, every industry is small, everybody knows everybody, whether it be tech or music or waste management. Make it, and you’re part of the club.

Now I want you to take advice with a grain of salt. Because it’s rarely particularized to you. Sure, it worked well for the person giving it, but you’re different, you have to play to your own strengths. But still, there are a lot of good transferable lessons in this Zuckerberg podcast.

Like the one above, “Release, observe, react.” First and foremost Hoffman says if it’s perfect, you’ve launched too late. Steve Jobs could get it right the first time, but for the rest of us, it’s best to get the product out there and observe…

I do this all the time.

And so should you.

I put out product, I write something, and I gauge the reaction. Sometimes I get a lot of e-mail, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I write something I know is great, but it’s not the kind of thing that people would respond to. And then there are the times I hang it out there, wondering if anybody will care, whether I’ll lose subscribers, and the reaction is NUCLEAR! The funny thing is it’s usually about my personal life, or observations, turns out my audience is more interested in me than what I have to say. Of course, not everybody. But Hoffman makes that point too, you play to the majority. And when I write about politics, when I go off point, it pisses some people off, but it resonates with others who forward it and I gain new subscribers, new doors are opened, if you stay in your own vertical you’re not gonna grow.

Assuming people care to begin with. Which is why you should constantly be releasing songs, combing the data, seeing what works. There are so many tools available.

Another aphorism from Hoffman is “Listen and ignore.” Turns out what people do is very different from what they say. They say don’t do this, they hate that, but then they’ll use it ad infinitum. Ignore hatred when your play count is soaring.

You also have to become comfortable with embarrassment. If you’re not willing to screw up in public, you’re best off being a worker bee. You need a thick skin to make it.

There are numerous lessons in this podcast.

But most thrilling is having access to Zuck. You feel like you’re in the room. It’s not that he’s making such incredible revelations, it’s just that he becomes three-dimensional, you can see the path. And he was into computers and networking long before Facebook. Most successful people paid a lot of dues when no one was watching. They look like overnight successes, but they’re not.

And Zuck would rather have a social impact than financial success. And I’m sure he likes the money, but that’s what the new tools afford you, the chance to make an impact. Hell, I deplore Breitbart and the right wing blogs spewing falsehoods, but you’ve got to give them credit, they used the new tools, the internet, to be heard, and their candidate got elected.

And the game is always changing, but one thing remains constant, it all comes down to people. And when you can hear the people speak…IT’S UTTERLY FASCINATING!

P.S. Now I started with Eric Schmidt. He was unbelievably boring, I turned it off, I was never gonna listen to “Masters Of Scale” again. But then one podcast ended and the episode with Crisis Text Line’s Nancy Lublin began and I got hooked. She’s a force of nature, she has grit, which is what the episode is about, so then I pulled up Zuck’s and was even more satisfied. And next comes Sheryl Sandberg, who was in this podcast, not in her I’m an expert on everything mode, but as an employee of Facebook, and just to hear her speak…WOW!

P.P.S. Smart is underrated. Smart is hard to do, as is educated. Sure, not all these people graduated from college, but they paid so many dues that when they finally speak the pearls of wisdom drop right off their tongues. Used to be we listened to musicians, now we listen to techies.

Masters of Scale

Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman – Apple podcasts

 

Katy Perry’s Failure

She appealed to all the people who didn’t care.

Her biggest album was “Teenage Dream,” and now she’s targeting oldsters who never cared in the straight media. It’s like she’s still living in the last century, in the pre-internet era, when there were limited outlets and fans were thrilled to see their heroes in mainstream publications. But now there are a zillion outlets and music fans get their stories online. They want an immediate bond with the artist. They expect interaction as opposed to media gatekeepers they do not care about writing fluff articles about their heroes.

And she broke the cardinal rule of music today. YOU’VE GOT TO RELEASE A HIT! You’d think she’d realize this after that Olympics song tanked. Perry is famous for anthems, like “Roar,” she should have put out one of those first and then bled into more image-expanding stuff. But no, she bunted when she needed a home run. “Swish Swish” is meh. It’s not a one listen smash. It appeals only to the hardest of hard core. And that does not keep you in the Spotify Top 50 these days, no way.

As for iTunes and the “Billboard” chart…THEY’RE IRRELEVANT! Perry’s fans stream, they don’t buy. And being number one on the “Billboard” chart is an antiquated concept meant to drive reorders when physical retail is nearly dead, when the only people paying attention to that metric don’t care. Do you really think Perry’s fans are concerned with her record going to number one?

We’re evolving. But Perry decided to live in the past. It won’t be long before there are no albums, just a continuous stream of product, driven by hit singles. And if you do have an album, you release the hit at the same damn time, to get all the additional streams. Think how stupid this is, putting out a teaser and building momentum for a sales event that doesn’t matter. At least, unlike in the last century, you can buy and stream the single, there is remuneration, but today you strike when the iron is hot. The new paradigm is instant release, with the hype coming AFTER the project is available. And that makes sense, you want to reap all that revenue. What does being number one on the “Billboard” chart give you…BRAGGING RIGHTS IN A SCHOOL THE FANS ARE NOT GOING TO!

And now it’s about longevity of the project. You make your money by sustaining. The short term spike hearkens back to radio and MTV, both moribund, now you’re better off bubbling under forever than rising up and falling fast. And sure, the mutual masturbators known as promotion and radio might force a record up the chart but that won’t last for long, because no one’s got the patience to wait to hear a track and the world moves much faster than that. Come on, radio is often six months to a year behind, the only people paying attention are members of the industry circle jerk and the most passive of consumers. If radio wanted to be relevant it would break records, but it never leads, and it’s doomed anyway.

And we’ve got to stop with this hype about tracks that are dead on arrival. Like Lorde. It looks like she’s gonna be yesterday’s news. She can’t come up with a track that sticks. But she too is featured endlessly in the mainstream press no one reads with hosannas. The symbiotic press/label relationship is completely out of touch with how music is consumed today, how all arts are consumed today. I’ve given up on the arts sections of newspapers, all fluff on projects that are here today and gone tomorrow. Look at the movie business, we know the day of whether a flick is a hit or a miss. You can go to rottentomatoes.com and see. Why should you be anticipating for a year, watching the nitwits on late night TV saying it’s the best movie they’ve ever been in, when it’s almost always a stiff and you know upon release. Same deal with music. I don’t want to hear the story in advance, I want to hear the MUSIC!

But it’s kinda like CDs. The purveyors want to send them to critics, want to employ their publicity departments, to make them think they’re doing something, that people care, BUT THEY DON’T!

Believe me, the target audience for these new releases knows they’re out. The younger demos follow acts 24/7. This is what the oldsters don’t get, releasing a record every three years, touring and then hibernating in between. You’re in the marketplace all the time, you’re cutting YouTube covers, you’re putting out singles, you’re in the game. You cannot win if you do not play.

And it all comes down to the music.

The problem with this Perry track is it’s got no soul. In a visceral era where we’re worried about the world blowing up the track is overmanipulated. Hell, didn’t anybody ever learn anything from the Ramones? It’s about the energy, capturing lightning in a bottle, and if you do it right you don’t need a year in the studio, you need a day or two, at most a week! Slickness is anathema. That’s all pre-Trump. The game has changed.

As for Perry’s vaunted change…WHO CARES! She’s a nitwit musician. Great she took a stand, but she lives and dies on her tunes, which are all over the map, she’s dependent upon hits, which is why ticket sales are soft. She’s a POP ARTIST! If she wants to change direction, more power to her, but she should lead with her music and expect rough going, but if that’s her heart’s desire…

So there’s really not much of a story here. Act does scorched earth publicity and expects this will drive consumption when the music is substandard.

The target audience has spoken. They don’t care, they’re not moved, “Swish Swish,” talk about a lousy title, isn’t even in the Spotify Top 50. She blew it. It’d be like the Warriors opening up the Finals with the guys on the bench, leaving Durant and Curry sitting out. And when the stars did hit the floor, not letting them take three point shots. You go with what got you here. And you put it all on the line. And this has got nothing to do with Taylor Swift going streaming the same week, and their feud does nothing to drive consumption, only fame, which Perry has enough of. You’ve got to scroll through the detritus to see the obvious. SHE PUT OUT A STIFF RECORD! It’s not terminal, all she needs is a hit. Maybe one she writes by herself that appears in a month or two. The internet provides so many tools, use the new ones, not the old ones.

P.S. Sure, she did the multi-day YouTube thing, but there was no mania, because the track was stiff. Couldn’t someone see this happening and change the plan? In the digital world you adjust on the fly, but label marketing plans are set in stone.

P.P.S. Now the news story is the lack of success! That’s what overhype will do for you. But most of the target audience has just moved on, they don’t want to fight yesterday’s war, they’re just listening to something else.

A Modern Star

GRAVITAS

Take yourself seriously, or no one else will. Have something to say. Mean it. People want someone to believe in, and if you’re frivolous and wishy-washy you’ll get little blowback but you’ll never ascend to the pinnacle. We live in dangerous times and we’re looking for leaders. Not everybody will agree with you, but if some are passionate about you they’ll enlist others and you will ascend.

SMART

You don’t want to be an adolescent star. Shame on parents enabling their kids to make it. Especially the educated. Have they not looked at the scrapheap of child stars? Do they think their kids will be any different? They won’t. You want to grow up as part of the group, being bullied, having your peaks and being unknown. You want to go to college to experience others. You want to travel so you’re enriched. This is the well upon which you will base your creativity and life. The school of hard knocks is a pretty good one, but the school that teaches you how to analyze problems, that makes you think, that challenges your precepts, is the one you want to go to. If you think college is about getting a job upon graduation, you’re never gonna be a star. You’re playing it safe. Stars don’t, they put everything on the line. Today you get multiple opportunities to interact with your audience. When you speak poorly and can’t cogitate, when you show little grasp of the issues and no ability to think upon your feet, people laugh at you. Of course there are teen phenoms, but how many last?

DON’T TAKE YOURSELF TOO SERIOUSLY

You’ve got to be able to poke fun at yourself. Now don’t overdo it, makes me crazy when skinny women keep talking about their fat ass, and when smart men say how dumb they are, or vice versa, this is not what I’m talking about. We all commit errors, all the time. Admit them. Be the butt of the joke. Laugh along with others. Don’t be a punching bag, but don’t be holier than thou. We’re all imperfect, but don’t sacrifice your gravitas at the altar of fitting in.

HAVE AN EDGE

If you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing at all. We’ve got too many people who want to fit in, who are afraid to go on the record. We all don’t get along, we all don’t agree, and just because the spotlight shines upon you that does not mean you need to sacrifice your personality. Of course people are gonna disagree with you, be shocked that you didn’t toe the company line, but when the dust settles and they move on to criticizing someone else you’ll still be standing, assuming you didn’t cave, you’ll be stronger. Life is long and so are careers when done right. In today’s overloaded instant world they need a punching bag every day, but they forget yesterday’s, remember that.

GO ON THE RECORD

Don’t say you’re uneducated on the issues, don’t say you don’t have an opinion, EVERYBODY KNOWS WHAT’S GOING ON TODAY! Just wake up your phone and you can’t miss it. It’s your obligation to take the temperature of society, you cannot be removed, because no one else is. Have opinions and speak them. Become three-dimensional, otherwise people can’t get hooked on you.

COMMIT ERRORS, APOLOGIZE WHEN WRONG BUT STAND YOUR GROUND

Never back down immediately unless you feel inside you made a mistake. Just because you’re being excoriated, that does not mean you’re wrong. Hell, that’s what Fox does, and you can learn a lesson from them. When the left goes insane Hannity just doubles down, he pushes back, because those criticizing him are not members of his audience anyway, he doesn’t care about them. Don’t cave to the looky-loos who aren’t normally paying attention. Just because they’re playing GOTCHA! that doesn’t mean you’ve got to, either back down or play GOTCHA! in reverse. Ignore that which does not become national news, unless you have something you’re dying to say, controversy burns out.

APPEARANCE

Looks are passe. Hell, look at Alicia Keys, wearing no makeup. It’s too hard a job to prettify yourself for consumption. Those grooming themselves for Instagram are living in a false world of appearances, believing models rule, but that was back in the nineties, today it’s about having an identity. Times change. Don’t be lost in the past.

DON’T WITHHOLD

Everybody’s an open book online, you can Google anybody and find out tons about them. By not playing, by restricting information, you look like a zombie alien. Now, more than ever, stars are not on a pedestal, in a world where everybody has a voice on the internet, where all your foibles are revealed, you’re no better than the rest of us. It’s your attitude and your work that make you rise above.

ACCESS IS YOUR CALL

You don’t have to tweet, don’t have to glad-hand if your work can stand on its own. But if you do interact with your public beware that whatever happens becomes online fodder. If you don’t mind appearing rude, be so. Your fans keep you alive. But you’re not in a good mood every day, no one is. So this is dicey, you want to be famous for the perks and then you want to be left alone. There is a line, you get to draw it, but know that all of your audience won’t be happy.

YOUR PLATFORM

Use it to support your agenda, to weigh in on different topics, as long as your motivation is pure and you’re not looking for a merit badge for your good work.

ANYBODY CAN PLAY

Credit MTV, where the younger generations were exposed to different colors, different religions and different sexual preferences. The younger generations are a lot less prejudiced than their elders. Of course there are exceptions, but straight people now have gay friends, minorities have pride and we don’t care where you come from, as long as you’re fresh and you entertain us.

CONCLUSION

The world has changed completely. Credit the bulge of the millennials. Credit the internet. Credit progress. Credit dissension. You can’t operate on last year’s rules. Politics is for everybody. Income inequality is rampant. Ignorance is widespread. It’s a crazy world wherein we need people to rally around and inspire us. It’s a hard job to do, most people say they can when they can’t. But if you’re in the game know it’s less about self-promotion than identity, and the trick is to last. Reality TV will make you famous, but it won’t give you impact, never mind a career. Neither will one hit song. You’ve got to play for the long haul. You’ve got to be famous for something, otherwise you’re here and gone. So specialize in your talent, go deep, and continue to play. And if you’re doing it right you’ll gain an audience that will increase. Not everybody gets to win. It’s all not based on talent. You need perseverance, luck and friends. But someone makes it. And if you want a chance, to change society, to have impact, obey the above rules.

We Don’t Care

We’re operating like it’s the twentieth century in a twentieth first century world.

The media industrial complex believes if it just beats us over the head hard enough, keeps putting faces in front of us, that we will pay attention and care. But that don’t play in an on demand world where we have access to whatever we want whenever we want it.

Used to be choice was limited. Then we were liberated by the internet. Started in ’95 and has been going down this path for twenty years, intensifying with the adoption of broadband, we’ve all dug deep into our niches and we don’t care if you’re famous for something or famous for nothing, unless you’re in our vertical, we’re not paying attention, but you keep thinking we are.

Beyonce is not that big.

Neither is Fallon. Or Colbert. Or any of the late night hosts. We keep hearing about their ratings wars but almost no one is watching, just a few million in a nation of three hundred million. It’s affecting everything, from the Oscars to the VMAs, unless they’re going to kill somebody on stage, we can’t get excited enough to watch, unless it’s a really cold night during the winter and there’s nothing else to do. Scratch that, THERE’S ALWAYS SOMETHING ELSE TO DO!

Today Kelly Oxford tweeted:

Now you’re asking…WHO’S KELLY OXFORD?

The Twitter queen of the comedians. She’s gotten tons of hype. She’s got 779k followers. She’s got books, she’s all over the media…THE ONE YOU’RE NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO!

And I’m not watching ESPN, never ever.

That’s the story of the twenty first century, the decimation of institutions that we were forced into buying that we really didn’t care that much about, if we cared at all. Kinda like all the channels propped up by cable payments that are gonna disappear. Kinda like malls… You mean you want me to waste an hour searching for inventory you don’t have? BUT ISN’T SHOPPING FUN? NO!!

Sure, there are women who love to shop, men too, but it turns out most people don’t. And given a better, easier solution, they stopped. Sure, Amazon is an efficient operation, but it delivers what we want, convenience, selection and the elimination of wasted time, and we all hate wasted time, we just don’t have enough of it!

But the major media outlets keep parading people like we care.

Pick up “People,” go to Radar, you think you’re the only one who doesn’t know who these people are? THE TARGET DEMO DOESN’T EITHER!

Furthermore, they’re playing a bad game, delivering what once worked in a world where it doesn’t. Come on, do you want to sit at home and watch some guy behind a desk interview people, and not really interview them, but set up jokes for them, even though they’re bad storytellers? They’ve been doing that for DECADES! If I want to see a comedian, I’ll go to YouTube. Same with a musician. You mean I’ve got to wait until 12:30 AM to see some up and coming act? Sure, I could DVR it, but I don’t want to waste the time fast-forwarding.

So this is the game we are playing, niche and mainstream.

That’s right, some stuff goes mainstream. Right now it’s Washington, D.C., because we care, it affects us, and the movie is…better than any Hollywood production. That’s right, Tinseltown is producing superhero fantasies and everybody in Washington is aged and flawed and to watch the machinations is utterly fascinating.

And in music the labels keep telling everybody they should care about hip-hop and pop when there’s a great swath of people who don’t. But try to create another Adele…the biggest act in the world…they’re not even trying!

We just get endless retreads, endless repeats of what was.

We love fresh faces. But today being good-looking is not enough. Hell, I’d argue we’re looking for someone normal, that we can identify with.

Our whole culture is topsy-turvy. The “New Yorker” writes an exhaustive article it believes will change the culture but doesn’t recognize it’s in an echo chamber, that the brand is so elitist most people pooh-pooh it. David Remnick doesn’t even know how to promote, no one in old media, from books to newspapers, knows how to get its story out, maybe other than the “Washington Post,” with its breaking news, investigative journalism, burnishing the brand with excellence.

And forget naysayers. They come with the territory. The internet opened the world to them. If you’re not getting blowback, you don’t matter, you don’t have enough traction.

And you either play for all the marbles or realize you’re part of the underclass. Nothing is more pathetic than an act that plays klezmer music with bad vocals believing it belongs on Top Forty, they don’t even understand the game.

And the established media of old farts can’t stop bitching about fake news as if Mark Zuckerberg could eradicate it, no, people like feeling part of a tribe, they like going online and reading that which speaks to their heart, that’s the issue, not that the essence is false.

Want to appeal to people? DON’T CRITICIZE THEM! Study after study says it’s almost impossible to change someone’s political opinion by telling them they’re wrong, but the left keeps denigrating the right, I don’t get it. Take action, lead the way, show a path, that’s how you get ahead today.

But the oldsters believe they still rule when they don’t.

And the youngsters are self-promoting as if they can become the stars of yore.

We can only comprehend a thin layer of stars, thinner than ever before, because the universe is just too big. If you dream of world domination you must play to the world, you must have an edge, otherwise there’s no hook, you must be supremely talented and experienced, and you must present something brand new.

Remember when all bands sounded different?

No wonder music is moribund.

Hell, there’s more innovation in TV than there is in music.

But there are only 450 scripted shows, not hundreds of thousands.

And still, we don’t care about most.

That’s the modern world. One of chaos. The Tower of Babel.

And either accept it or change it. Admit you’re just one of many playing to a small audience or come up with something so unique, so phenomenal, so different, so appealing that everyone will pay attention.