I get jealous when I see people praising Derek Sivers.
Not because his ideas are bad, not because he hasn’t worked hard, not because he doesn’t deserve it… but because of the pretense that everything he says is brilliant because he created and sold CDBaby.
But it’s just the way storytelling works. Derek has a Backdrop.
Disclaimer: I’ve hung out with Derek and he’s every bit as smart and weird as the hype says he is. Back in 2000, when my friends and I were in New York City marketing a revolutionary music compression format that didn’t exist, he listed it on CDBaby for millions of dollars.
Well, I haven’t made millions of dollars (yet)… so until then, my ideas will be taken seriously by about 12 teenagers in the Netherlands who like progressive rock.
For those who weren’t around, I spent the first ten years of my original music career being completely ignored by everyone. I did everything I could think of and got nowhere. I learned every skill I could, read every book on the subject, but still heard the following phrase probably every single day:
“You’re a genius, but it’s too bad that the world is too stupid to appreciate what you do.”
I couldn’t take that paradox seriously. What people said about me, good or bad, didn’t matter. I knew that what I was doing wasn’t working. I was trapped in a small retirement town in Florida. I didn’t want to be rich and famous, I just wanted my artistic machine to sustain itself. And it wasn’t. The subtext I couldn’t deny was “Failure.”
At the same time, I was getting the attention of people like Steve Vai, Trey Spruance, and Devin Townsend. My heroes. I was obviously doing something right if they were listening, right? Isn’t that logical? If they like it, shouldn’t everyone else like it, too? What’s wrong here? Why isn’t this working?
I went on, living a mundane life, working stupid jobs and living with my mom, haunted by the boos from audiences, the bad reviews from John Chedsey, and the confusing praise from my heroes.
At some point I figured out that I should get those guys involved with my creative projects.
I felt self-conscious about making that kind of move. Would everyone see through it? Would my heroes think I was just trying to ride their coat tails? I got over it and decided that’s just the way “breaks” work. Someone gives you an endorsement, and off you go. Then you have the honor of living up to it. No problem, right?
It was magic. As soon as their names were attached, people started listening to me. It didn’t matter how small their contribution was. I pulled in fans of each of those named artists and suddenly I was taken seriously, too. I used that energy to get into magazines, signed autographs, and attracted a loyal cult following who bought my weird stuff. I was doing interviews that got printed in languages I couldn’t read, getting fan mail from all over the world every single day, and I made enough money to quit my day job.
That all sounds great, but I immediately wanted to start over and do something else. Once I figured out “the trick” I became bored. It kinda felt like a scam to me. Thinking like a programmer, I knew that as I matured, Sir Millard Mulch was a Y2K bug in my career. I wanted to take everything I had learned and do it the right way. I wanted to move to Los Angeles and recreate myself — as me.
And here I am… a writer, producer, philosopher.
Not a very impressive Backdrop, is it?
In the meantime, watch the above video presentation by Derek Sivers. Particularly from 32:06 to 36:15.
It’s a brilliant idea, regardless of the creative genius who says it.
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