Question Answered: How Do I Get My Foot In The Door?

Foot In Door

I received this question via email this morning and decided to turn it into a blog post:

QUESTION: Hey, I’ve been a fan for years now but I’ve been meaning to ask, how does one go about getting their foot in the door musically? I don’t mean with a band necessarily, but I’d like to session work as well as generate different streams if revenue online… I figured you could offer a bit of insight. I would appreciate it greatly!

ANSWER: Thanks for being a fan of my old music. Since I’m not currently a working musician (I haven’t even played much music at all in probably 5 years), I can only give you advice based on some of the successful musicians I work with.

1.) First of all, if you really want to increase your opportunities, it helps to live in a place where there is a lot of music work available. You’re going to have to connect with people who can pay you for your services, whatever they are. Later, once you’re established, you can live pretty much anywhere that’s near an airport, and even do a lot of session work remotely.

2.) In general, music is a terrible career if you want stability. I know many talented and hard-working musicians who graduated from places like Berklee and Musicians Institute and are still struggling month to month. They take whatever gigs they can, teach lessons, go on low-budget tours for small artists, and play in cover bands in order to pay for rent and food. It’s a treadmill, so it requires endless energy. After some unpredictable amount of time, they will start to get gigs that they can brag about on their resumes — although their income might not change all that much. Which means they have to stay on the treadmill while pretending not to be on it anymore! The rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle may seem like a dream come true when you’re full of nervous energy in your 20s and have no responsibilities, but it will most likely become hell as you mature.

3.) I know only a few (what I would consider) successful working musicians. I’m referring to those who can afford a “middle-class” living. They tend to have the following traits: sober, easy-going, hard-working, honest, financially responsible, appreciative, and realistic. And yes, you mentioned “different streams of revenue.” These successful few are not caught up in hype and pretense, which means they are willing to do real work, not just the glorious work. They don’t live in a fantasy world of “making it big.”

4.) Don’t be afraid to “green light yourself.” I don’t remember who came up with that term, and it’s probably a cliché by now. But don’t wait around for someone else to tell you that you’re officially a musician. You don’t need endorsements and a record deal and connections to get started. Only a handful of people ever took me seriously as a musician in the beginning, but it wasn’t until I saved up and paid Virgil Donati to play on a song that I got some attention from others and sold CDs. I had to decide for myself that I mattered and deserved it. Too many musicians are passive about their success.

5.) Get over the “I’m the chosen one” next-lottery-winner / gambler mentality. And don’t do the “I will suffer for my art” thing. Learn about healthy compromise. Don’t take your image / Wikipedia page too seriously. Stay away from drugs and alcohol. Being a musician is a marathon, and you’ll need all your health and good judgment and energy for as long as possible. Unless you want to collapse when you’re 40, a financial disaster with shaky hands.

6.) Try not to get involved with people who don’t share your principles. In the long term, non-virtuous people have a high-probability of failing. You’ll come across a small percentage of fools who happened to stumble into some form of “success.” It’s possible for some of them to stay alive / malfunctioning for a very long time on residual income and / or inheritance. As much as this can piss you off (and it definitely pisses me off sometimes), don’t let it distract you too much. Read some Warren Buffet and don’t invest in volatile stocks (A.K.A. losers).

7.) Rather than worrying about “getting your foot in the door” just focus on being valuable. Often, if you just consistently do great work, doors will open for you. Be patient. The music business is a life-long process if you truly want a career in it.

I hope those ideas are helpful. Remember, I can only base this on my own observations from the outside. I’ve met some amazing professional musicians, but mostly a lot of overgrown children. Maybe this is all too philosophical / abstract, but that’s what’s on my mind lately.

-Carl.

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Sir Millard Mulch Song In Toxic Avenger IV: Citizen Toxie

ToxicAvenger

Years ago, I signed a contract with Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma to license one of my Sir Millard Mulch songs (15 Interesting Things To Do With Tiny Chairs) for The Toxic Avenger IV: Citizen Toxie. I saw some of the movie when it premiered in Atlanta, but had to leave the movie at some point (I don’t remember why). Anyway, I recently found the contract and correspondence in an old box. All this time, I figured it didn’t actually happen, but it did — according to IMDB! I just ordered a copy of The Citizen Toxie Soundtrack on Amazon. I don’t think the song was incluided on the CD version, but we’ll see.

By the way, Troma never paid me anything, except the opportunity to have something to blog about today.

-Carl.

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R.I.P. MutantMall.com

MutantMall-RIP

After 10 years (2004 – 2013), the time has come for me to put MutantMall.com to rest… and to move the store to my main domain, CarlKingdom.com. The old domain name will continue to function, and simply forward to the new.

All orders already placed on MutantMall.com will be fulfilled, and until I de-activate it, you can still access the old shop here: MutantMall.MyShopify.com.

The reason behind the change is pretty simple. It seems silly to me to maintain and promote multiple names and sites. I liked the name CarlKingdom (as suggested by Zeke Piestrup at my wedding) because everything I did could be contained in it. As I get older, I don’t have the energy to waste going in multiple directions, so there. I’m still working on moving the Shopify page to an official subdomain, but that will happen in a few days.

A little history: I actually bought the MutantMall.com domain in 2001, and intended for it to be a vast online library of products I endorsed and considered to be “mutant.” A non-profit thing, and maybe some Amazon Affiliate links. It was inspired by The Happy Mutant Handbook. It went through a lot of experimental changes through the years, and became a functioning store in 2004 — in preparation for the release of Sir Millard Mulch / How To Sell… in 2005. So for the first year, I sold a few weird T-shirts printed by my friend Chris Sittel. That was fun. But the site really took off and became profitable in mid-2005 when Web of Mimicry dropped (and I mean “didn’t do anything with”) the Mulch record, which meant I decided to start selling it myself. When I moved out to Los Angeles and stopped releasing new music, business slowed down quite a bit. I kept the site running, paid the fees, carried mountains of CD boxes with me everywhere I moved to all these years, etc. Occasionally Martin Pursley and I would do new things with it (usually when I had a new Carl King product). Since my wife and friends and I have to ship the orders out ourselves all these years, we sometimes run into delays and backordered items. Some months when there is nothing new happening, the store loses money. On average, it continues to make a small profit on an annual basis, so we can afford to keep it going and sell these weird things that some people like.

So: thanks to everyone all over the world who has supported the store over the years!

Now go buy something from The CarlKingdom.com Store so we can test it!

-Carl.

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How To Get 1,000,000 Hits On Your Website

Here are seven simple steps, because I like prime numbers. Do them in exactly this order:

1.) “Stay home. Read a book.” -Nomeansno.
2.) Post a blog, not about the book, but about your own personality traits. Wonder if everyone will see through it.
3.) Forget about it for 3 years while no one cares.
4.) Overnight, get 23,000+ hits after being reposted on Stumbleupon.
5.) Receive sincere emails every day about how your blog made people cry and changed their lives. Try to keep up, then realize it’s not possible to sustain a genuine tone responding to that many people. Feel guilty, but instead spend your time on making more stuff.
6.) Get reposted on Wired.com and Owl City.
7.) Reach 1,000,000 views as Introversion becomes trendy at Forbes, TED, and Time Magazine.

There you have it. I never expected 10 Myths About Introverts to be looked at a MILLION times. But it’s officially the most popular / famous thing I’ve ever made. At the time I’m writing this, I’m the #3 Google Result for “introverts” — after Wikipedia and About.com.

Pretty impressive these days for something that requires reading.

For the techies:
90% Unique Visitors
Average of 5 Minutes on Page
84% Bounce

Most of those one million views took place between April 2011 and April 2012. Before that, the page was getting under 10 views per day. The biggest day was December 13, 2011: 26,000+ views.

I might seem irreverent about this topic, but it’s because the process of creating and releasing material to the public is absurd. It can’t be taken seriously by an artist. I wrote 10 Myths About Introverts in an afternoon. By comparison, I spent a whole year investing my soul in a fiction book called Cuyahoga! Sometimes people care and sometimes they don’t.

Why?

“We don’t know!” as Jim Rohn once yelled, in his Idaho farm-boy accent.

He also said: “The things that are easy to do, are also easy… not to do.”

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Sorry, No More Free Music.

For 3.5 years, I offered my entire discography for free download, through the (now gone) Dr. Zoltan website.

Here’s what I was thinking:

1.) I don’t care about my music career.
2.) It’s better for 1,000 people to hear my music for free than it is for 100 people to pay for it.
3.) Most of the great experiences in my life came from handing someone a CD or cassette for free.

Decided not to do it anymore.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the capitalist system of paying for music should be maintained, even in the absence of physical products.

Two simple reasons:

1.) $1 per song is a fair and acceptable system of exchanging value for value. It’s an absurdly low price to pay for a potentially-timeless piece of art.

2.) Free downloading devalues music. In the same way that Netflix devalues movies, and Facebook devalues friendship. The result is endless, superficial browsing rather than a wholesome experience.

I’ve never been a free downloader. I like to pay living artists for their work. When I buy music, I usually buy it on iTunes. It works well. And I’ve enjoyed getting a constant stream of payments from CDBaby over the years, for all those iTunes sales.

Spotify seems to be an OK system. I’ve gotten checks from it already. It’s nice that they keep track, rather than simply exploiting creative people.

I don’t expect the money from my digital sales and streams to ever be impressive, and it’s rarely noticeable. I stopped making “real money” from music in 2007. I just think paying an artist is the honest thing to do. So thank you to the few who have sent me donations over the years. And if you’re one of the people who has downloaded and enjoyed my music for free, PayPal me: mutantmall@mutantmall.com.

From now on, if you want my stuff, you can find out how to pay for it at http://www.carlkingdom.com/music

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Why Book Stores Are Closing

[Photo from Oxford Daily Photo.]

This morning, I was horrified to see several large signs in my neighborhood:

BORDERS CLOSING SALE! EVERYTHING MUST GO!

What a HUGE mistake.

(Because now I won’t be able to walk down to the corner and see my new book on the shelf, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Really.)

I do know Borders had been planning this closure for a long time, but I was in denial. I noticed probably a year ago that they did a store-wide inventory — they even put a total dollar value on each shelf. Never a good sign.

But the businessmen behind Borders were wrong about one thing all along.

A book store is not about selling books. “That’s the simpleton’s view,” as Eman Laerton would say about other topics.

These aren’t just widgets we’re talking about here.

A bookstore is An Environment For Discovery. A Gallery of Written Ideas.

For those of us who have been disillusioned by formal education, book stores have offered an escape: a place to stumble onto new shit.

Since way back in high school, when I’ve needed creative juice, I’ve take a random stroll through a book store… to raise my awareness, study independently, and find inspiration in unexpected places. I’d sit down with 4 or 5 books at a time and dig through them. I’d usually go home with at least one.

I’ve purchased around 500 non-fiction books in my lifetime. I can’t put a price on how much I’ve learned from them. It’s millions of dollars worth of knowledge. And it wasn’t only the time I spent turning pages and moving my eyeballs. It was the time I spent staring into space, sitting on the floor of the book store, digesting alien ideas, wondering if this was the book that was going to reveal its secrets to me.

Say what you want about how “books are old media.” But there’s still something special about printing words on paper. It says “these words deserve to be here.” Anyone can make a PDF. It’s when you realize that even the copied words are worth killing a tree or squeezing an octopus.

But it’s not just the book, it’s the experience of being in the book store that matters. Instantly ordering and downloading exactly what you want with one click is not the same — and if you think it is, you’re one step closer to living in the fucking Matrix.

So long as people have physical bodies, GOING TO PLACES and DISCOVERING NEW THINGS THAT YOU CAN TOUCH will matter. That can’t happen when everything is linked and indexed and blurbed and reviewed and meta-tagged into sterility. 5,278,945 people Like this? Who cares?

Chaos must be involved. The element of surprise.

Me? I go to the book store to find what I’m NOT looking for. I want the book that I see out of the corner of my eye, just a few letters of the spine showing on the top shelf. Way up there, hiding from me. Probably in the wrong section, something I’ve never heard of. I don’t know who else has read it, and I don’t care. (Coincidentally, while writing this blog entry, I used some writing techniques I learned from The Art of Nonfiction by Ayn Rand — which I discovered during the above experience last weekend.)

If I only read books that I’m looking for, they’ll tell me what I already know. What good is that?

I admit… that was getting harder to experience, because there are too many published books to keep in one store. Only the cheesiest, pot-boiling easy-sellers were kept in stock. I’d see several square miles dedicated to a bullshit biography on Lady Gaga (or some other pseudo-celebrity that’s “famous for being famous”) while anything published more than a week ago was in Clearance. That is, unless it happened to be on a required reading list — and we know all those books are time-honored crap for conformists.

Sad.

Why not go to the library, then? Because their collection is made of whatever people decide to abandon, stuff they couldn’t even give away.

There must be a solution, right?

Boutique shops like Writers Store in Burbank have figured that one out. Nurture a community (give seminars, panel discussions), stock the best products and tools for a particular profession (writing), and most importantly — make people feel inspired. I always think, “Just by walking in here, I’m a real writer.” Makes me wanna go home and get to work, but not before I buy something to thank them.

I think Private Libraries are another fantastic business idea. Old books, new books, it doesn’t matter — as long as they’re personally-selected for a devoted audience. Instead of coffee shops, why not pay to hang out in a media library personally selected by the Coen Brothers or Kevin Smith? Go there and study all day. I think we’ll be seeing those popping up in the future. If I’m lucky.

Let’s hope that the businessmen behind book stores grow to understand what a book store is really about, and can turn this all around. I repeat: it’s not about selling widgets. I’d hate to see book stores go extinct because they can’t understand that simple premise.

R.I.P., my local Borders. It’s too bad you couldn’t make it work. You were a corporate whore, but I loved you.

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When The Squeaky Wheel Gets Too Much Grease

I worked at an Advertising Agency on and off for 8 years. My boss and I would spend hours and hours focused on the issue of H.R. It was our Holy Grail. (It wasn’t part of my official job description, but it was an area that fascinated me, so I’d try to sneak into his meetings all the time. He always valued my input, because I’m judgmental and paranoid.)

We were hiring Salespeople, and the talent and skill combination we needed was essentially Acting Plus Specialized Technical Knowledge. It was the most difficult combination to find in people.

As a result, the sales department was a core of two or three immensely talented and self-managing people, and a revolving door of newbies that just didn’t have the gift. The best salesmen would spend their valuable sales time trying to fix the salesmen who were broken. It would infect the entire company.

Even the graphic artist and secretaries would be distracted by this problem. We’d have company meetings, analyze everyone, tell them to read books, try to figure out why they couldn’t do it. We’d make up rules, give them quotas, try and counsel them. No amount of micromanagement and training ever helped.

The squeaky wheel was getting too much grease.

Jim Collins has this concept called First Who, Then What — better known as “Getting The Right People On The Bus.” Since reading his book in 2001, I have followed this principle and it’s always worked like magic. 

The problem is that it can take a long time.

How long should you hold out? As long as you can. Having just one of these gifted, self-managing people will make up for the time and energy you would have wasted on the other fifty.

When you’re looking for The Right Person (whether it’s an employee, band member, co-writer, creative partner, or mate), you can try to quantify and measure it, but the truth is:

You will know it when you see it.


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Reversible Mascot Suits For Good and Evil

People love to argue about Capitalism and Socialism as if they’re sports teams. It’s tribal mentality that over-simplifies and encourages chanting. Everyone on the other side of the line is evil, and we must destroy them.

Capitalism: The Government says, “OK, People. Here’s the Money. We’ll entertain the idea that you won’t screw it up. ”

Socialism: The People say, “OK, Government. Here’s the Money. We’ll entertain the idea that you won’t screw it up.”

Unfortunately, both teams screw it up.

I see the concepts of Collectivism and Individualism as valid techniques to be applied to different situations on different scales. Sometimes one guy should do the job, and sometimes we need group input. Somewhere between the extremes, there’s usually a holistic, realistic approach for achieving goals.

For my own creative career, I’m a believer in what I call Lemonade Stand Capitalism.

While $2 is better than $1… as you scale it, making the pile infinitely bigger is not inherently the best goal. I choose to keep it small and sell the best lemonade possible. Leave me alone, and I’ll figure it out. I won’t piss in it. I take my lemonade craft personally.

I agree that private enterprises are typically run more efficiently than government institutions. It’s because The Post Office can’t go out of business if they suck — the government will keep paying old women to fall asleep on piles of phone books in the back room. There’s nothing at stake. Let people stand in line all day long outside the DMV. If they’re unhappy, it’s not like they can find a better deal down the street.

A monopoly is a monopoly, regardless of how it happened. Lack of competition tends to lower the value of goods and services. But so does competition itself. Two companies will fight to create the cheapest, most toxic, malfunctioning bags of shit and call it Fast Food.

Team Public or Team Private… Who cares? It doesn’t change the fact that whoever has the money and power needs to take their jobs personally.

When we focus too much on making $1 turn into $2, we depersonalize the work, ignore the big picture / long-term consequences, and do stupid things.

So whether it’s a politician invading a foreign country without Congressional Declaration of War, a doctor prescribing Quinolones and SSRIs without having studied bio-chemistry, or a business executive dumping almost 100 million gallons of oil into the water, some actions affect too many people to let one madman call the shots.

On the other hand, have you been a diligent CEO in your own universe? Do you agree that your own personal disasters could have been averted if you had exercised a greater degree of concern for your safety?

If everyone, everywhere made better decisions, we wouldn’t need these reversible mascot suits for good and evil, and we could focus on higher-level problems.


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