Creatives No. 4 – The Real Story

Creatives is a weekly newsletter covering the best in music, art, and entertainment. Delivered to your inbox, weekly.

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My Posts
Tebow Music

What Tim Tebow Taught Me About Playing Music

We’re all working towards goals. But what happens when things go wrong? What happens when you zig instead of zag? Perhaps surprisingly, I think there’s a lot to learn from Tim Tebow.

Hypebot: 8 Steps to A Million YouTube Channel Views

My guest post for Hypebot last week. Hopefully the first of many.

Creatives Posts

1. The Legend of the Blind MC (Ben Horowitz)

I’m admittedly a Ben Horowitz fanboy. He’s a venture capitalist at Andreessen Horowitz, successful entrepreneur, rap enthusiast, and genuinely good dude (from the very few interactions I’ve had with him).

Ben typically writes about the real stories behind building companies. the good, the bad, and the ugly. But this post is a little different. He shares an incredible story about the power of music.

2. Zoe Keating Shares Digital Music Revenue Report (Hypebot)

3. How I’m Marketing My Self-Published Book (Charlie Hoehn)

4. Book Launch Breakdown: Play It Away’s First Month of Sales (Charlie Hoehn)

Few creatives ever reveal real numbers that drive their career. We all talk in generalities about revenue, strategies, and benchmarks. That’s why I really dug these posts from Zoe and Charlie.

Zoe is an indie musician, popular for her work mixing cello and electronic music. Charlie is a writer and marketing strategist for best-selling authors such as Tim Ferriss, Ramit Sethi, Tucker Max, and Seth Godin. And they both released fantastic posts on how they’re building their business.

If you’re not a writer, still read Charlie’s posts. If you’re not a musician, still look through Zoe’s breakdown. There’s gold for creatives of any kind.

Three common themes emerged from reading these posts:

– As an independent creative, you need to make your own opportunities. You cannot wait for others to come to you with dollars. Usually that means diversifying your distribution and revenue paths until you find what really works.

– Free is an option, but understand what free gets you. Is it an email address? Promotion? Social cred?

– When looking at distribution, broad social paths are usually too busy to make a difference to your bottom line. Look for smaller, engaged communities – blogs, email lists, etc – they’ll pay bigger dividends.

5. 48 Hours Offline (Hong Quan)

“Family first” is a great motto, but sometimes we forget to live it.

6. Spotify’s Artist-In-Residence Explains His Vision (Digital Music News)

The man, the myth, the legend DA Wallach talks about artist perception and longer-term vision of Spotify. This piece provides additional context to Zoe Keating’s figures above and more.

7. How I Get Ideas (Steven Pressfield)

Ideas are the first step. But don’t fool yourself – it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.

8. Jam of the Week (Facebook)

Jam of the week is a budding Facebook community for musicians. Great examples of simple, weekly videos made by musicians like you. Similarly, Chromatik is pretty cool too.

9. Jimmy Fallon, Idina Menzel, and The Roots Sing “Let It Go” with Classroom Instruments (YouTube)

I’m a sucker for any video that Jimmy Fallon and The Roots put out with classroom instruments. Especially when it features Adele Dazeem singing “Let It Go.”

What Tim Tebow Taught Me About Playing Music

Tebow Music

I should not be thinking about Tim Tebow anymore. We are a couple years removed from Tebowmania, his late game heroics, and that ridiculous Tebow touchdown stance.

He joined the New York Jets last year and got cut. Then the New England Patriots. Cut again.

Heck, I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan. I should be worrying about Tony Romo this offseason.

But when I saw Tim Tebow’s Super Bowl commercial last month, it reminded me why he is still part of the conversation today — he smiles through the struggle.

Seriously. Think about it. Though winning a few games with the Denver Broncos, he has all but failed as a starting NFL quarterback. No team will sign him. But he is still working hard, struggling, and smiling for the cameras.

I’m sure Tim Tebow would love to be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Maybe he will be some day, who knows?

But his journey highlights important lessons that any musician or creative can relate to.


Tim Tebow was a high school football star. He led Florida to two NCAA national championships and won college football’s biggest award, the Heisman Trophy. And though scouts questioned his ability to play at the highest levels, the Denver Broncos selected Tebow in the first round of the NFL draft.

Big fish, small pond.

I can relate. Growing up, I was the best saxophone player around. I won national awards, got all the solos in jazz band, and gigged around LA. I then went to UCLA on a saxophone scholarship, thinking that I was going to be a professional musician.

Big fish, small pond.

You may already know Tim’s story. He won the starting gig with the Denver Broncos. Struggled. Squeaked out a few fourth quarter wins and limped into the playoffs. Pulled of a miraculous win in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Crumbled against the Patriots in the next game. Soon thereafter, the Broncos cut Tebow. And he hasn’t started an NFL game since. He is currently unsigned.

My story is less exciting. I was fortunate enough to go on the road with some incredible musicians, playing the US’ biggest venues. But I rarely got the solos or accolades. I got a taste of being a gigging musician, fighting for work, and struggling to make money. It became much less sexy. I didn’t love the life. So I left and found another path.

Being a big fish in a small pond can feed you false signals. Awards, beating local competition, and praise make you feel great. Sure. But you need to put it in perspective.

There is always someone bigger, better, stronger, faster, better-looking, or more skilled than you.

Entertainment has never been more accessible. Everything is global.

If you want to perform professionally, you have to figure out how you stack up against the best. How do you stand out? What unique skills can you acquire? What competitive advantages do you have? How are you going to develop an audience?


People love Tim Tebow. I mean, really love him. He developed a sports following only rivaled recently by Jeremy Lin. His fans idolize him on and off the field.

If he hadn’t cultivated that audience, would we still be talking about him? I’m honestly not sure. Some folks say that his fans are a liability. Some say that his fans are the reason a team should sign him (i.e. Jacksonville, to fill those empty seats!).

The reality is, he has not proven himself a reliable NFL starting quarterback. But his fans support him tirelessly. Perhaps there is a religious undertone, yes. But more than that, he spent years building his fan base. Meeting them off the field. Doing charity work. Speaking engagements. Interacting on social media. Shaking hands and kissing babies.

Tebow Baby

Apply this to music. Do you have 10 people Tebow-excited about your music? 100? 1,000?

Kevin Kelly’s concept of 1,000 true fans rings true across any entertainment medium. If you have a following, you can make a business. If you have a following, you will get opportunities. If you have a following, they will support your through the good times and bad.


After being cut by the Denver Broncos, Tebow and his agent had conversations with nearly every NFL team.

He was comfortable with getting NOs from almost everyone, so that he could find at least one YES.

Willingness to get 30 NOs for every YES is daunting. But that willingness also landed him a gig with the New York Jets.

Did you call thirty venues to land a showcase spot? What about thirty music schools for a teaching position? Thirty managers? Thirty agents? Thirty lawyers? Thirty investors?

Truth is, most people do not put themselves in the position to get a YES. It takes persistence and a willingness to hear many NOs.

“If you aren’t getting rejected on a daily basis, your goals aren’t ambitious enough.” Chris Dixon


Moral of the story, don’t take yourself too seriously.


I purposefully neglected religion thus far.

The truth is though, Tim Tebow is deeply religious. He talks about it regularly. But more interesting to me, he seems to have his priorities in order.

He balances personal with professional obligations. He seems to keep himself grounded, amidst 24/7 news coverage and more publicity than anyone could ask for. People close to him heap kudos on his character, integrity, and outlook.

I have made a lot of mistakes professionally and personally. I am still learning and growing. But when things get difficult, I lean on my family and friends for support. Nothing is more important to me.

For some people it’s family. For others it’s faith. It doesn’t matter what it is. You need something.

As demonstrated by Tebow and others, you cannot build self-worth solely on your career. Professional stumbles should not crumble your self-worth.

There’s more to life than your job. There’s more to life than music. There’s more to life than being creative. Everything in balance.

Tim Tebow obviously isn’t struggling for money, exposure, or opportunities. I know. The guy has millions of dollars and fans that could fill stadiums.

But he is unemployed. He is still struggling to make it back to the peak of his profession.

And Tebow’s struggle has been very public. Maybe it will have a happy ending. Maybe it won’t. But I do know that it has taught many of us lessons about “the journey.”

Folks always talk about achieving your goals. But goals are lofty. It may take thirty years. Or change along the way. Or never even happen.

Are you supposed to just put your head down for thirty years, hoping that one day you’ll achieve your goal and supreme happiness?

No. That’s ridiculous.

Smile through the struggle. Enjoy the journey.

Creatives No. 3 – Art or Business?

Creatives is a weekly newsletter covering the best in music, art, and entertainment. Delivered to your inbox, weekly.

If you dig it, please consider signing up and sharing the newsletter with your friends on Twitter (click to share) or Facebook (click to share).

Would love to hear what you think in the comments below!

1. Art, Not Business (The Lefsetz Letter)

Art and business are conflicting concepts. And at times, it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Read this piece by music industry analyst Bob Lefstez a few times. It’s worth it, I promise.

2. Warner Music’s Shazam Deal: What It Means for Music (Billboard Biz)

3. Lyor Cohen’s 300 To Use Big Data as A&R Early Alert System with Twitter Deal (Hypebot)

What happened to artist development and A&R? Can social media and big data now predict hitmakers? Doubtful. But it can tell you who has a potential platform for distribution.

Major entertainment companies — record labels, book publishers, movie studios — do not invest in artist development anymore. They do not have to. Gatekeepers look for creatives with an existing audience and platform.

In years past, these same gatekeepers prided themselves on finding and developing talent early. But with social media and direct-to-fan platforms at our fingertips, gatekeepers now expect artists to do the work themselves before signing. They are not in the business of artistic risk, they are in the business of financing artistic expansion and distribution.

Success on Twitter and Shazam are simply early indicators of an artist’s platform. Every competent entertainment company now has weekly social media recaps, both for their properties and potential signings. Lyor Cohen and Warner Music are now institutionalizing and marketing that process.

4. The No. 1 Habit of Highly Creative People (Zen Habits)

“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude.” Rollo May

5. What’s It Like to Earn a Living Through Poker? (Salon)

Michael Shinzaki takes us through his life as a professional poker player. The roller coaster of success/failure will resonate with any artist or entrepreneur. And after reading this, I realized that I likely played poker with Michael in college.

6. Publishing 3.0 (The Altucher Confidential)

James Altucher outlines his newly-developed thesis to writing, marketing, and distributing books today. He includes benchmark figures, names, and strategies helpful to any author.

7. Life is a game. This is your strategy guide. (Oliver Emberton)

Real life is the game that – literally – everyone is playing. But it can be tough. So Oliver Emberton gives you a guide, from the perspective of playing a strategy game. Big thanks to Andrew for sending me to Oliver’s blog.

8. Why Actors Act Out (New York Times)

James Franco on Shai LaBeouf and a public professional reclaiming his public persona.

9. Ira Glass on the Creative Process (Get Out the Box)

“This American Life” host Ira Glass has some words of wisdom for those struggling to be exceptional at something. Brilliant and real.

Chromatik Releases New “Tune of the Day” Apps for iOS

What a launch day.

I am so excited to introduce Chromatik’s new applications for iPad and iPhone.

Apple’s featured Chromatik as a Best New App, with category features in music and education. We could not ask for a better start.

Chromatik App Store

Chromatik featured as #4 best new app, #1 music, and #2 education!

Making music is easier now than ever.

Take out your phone. You will find an app to record, mix sound samples, or auto-tune your rap. Making music is not limited to the recording studio or classroom anymore. It happens all around us, every day. We are all musicians, in our own way.

But what if you want to play with tunes atop the Billboard charts? Or learn your favorite Katy Perry song? Or jam on a Stevie Wonder classic?

Enter Chromatik.

Chromatik with Guitar

The new Chromatik apps cycle around a rotating catalog, so you can play a new, free tune every day. With music for every major instrument and genre, you can practice charts, record practice sessions, and show off by sharing your performances.

Here’s the quick rundown…


Access a new Tune of the Day, every day.  As part of our rotating catalog, the sheet music is yours to play for 7 days. Recent Tune of the Day titles include pop hits such as Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Lorde’s “Royals,” alongside classics like “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder.

Tune of the Day


Each tune features the best sheet music, tablature, videos, and lyrics for over 20 instruments. Learn the chart with a reference track that automagically turns pages for you. Mark up your score with Chromatik’s annotation tools on iPad. And share what you’re practicing with friends!

Totd Playing


Record your own video or audio sessions right from Chromatik. Save the full recordings to track your progress. Or share a 15 second highlight with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.


From Chromatik’s early days, we looked to reshape the way musicians learn, practice, and perform.

So we developed “Chromatik for Schools and Groups.” Bands, orchestras, choirs, religious organizations, professionals and more all play music powered by Chromatik daily. Utilitarian and powerful. It fits the needs of music groups nicely.

Heck, even folks like American Idol, Bruno Mars, and more of your favorite musicians love Chromatik for Groups. Pretty great.

But we wanted to create more magic around your personal jams. Learning a new tune on guitar. Belting along with Adele on the piano. Nailing the Macklemore saxophone riff. Having fun, playing more music.

Sure, there are video sites available. Some guitar tablature applications. And Spotify or Beats Music to listen to the tracks.

But there isn’t a de facto platform you can play, record, and share your favorite tunes. There isn’t a community of like-minded musicians who collaborate around those experiences.

Chromatik hopes to be all that and more.

We think you will love this new version. The Chromatik team is ridiculously proud of it. And it’s a great stop on our path to realizing the bigger vision of Chromatik.

On a personal note — I am humbled to be working alongside the Chromatik team. We’ve had our highs and lows, and it certainly has not always been easy. It has truly been a team effort to bring you Chromatik.

So thanks to Steve Lawson, Jim McEvoy, Kelley McKinney, Corey Richardson, Gustavo Souza, Aaron Botello, Giorgio Galante, Oliver Brown, Bruce Donley, Gabriel Steiner, Alex Wand, Matthew Karnstedt, Sam Crittenden, the Chromatik Board of Directors, our investors, advisors, Chromatik musicians, and everyone else that helped us along the way.

I cannot say enough about the job everyone has done. The congrats all go to them.

Go download the new apps and tell us what you think! We would love to hear from you. Any ideas or questions are always welcome. Feel free to shoot me a note personally – matt at chromatik dot com – or hit me on Twitter @mattdsandler.

Life is short. Play more music.

And thank you for all the support.

The Artist CEO, Part II

Continued from The Artist CEO, Part I

Jay-Z Artist CEO

The best creatives are part artist, part CEO. You’re creating a business. You need to choose your path forward.

In Part I, we discussed finding product-market fit. It may take a few months, or a few years. But the road towards product-market fit is essential to finding your artistic voice and community.

Once you’ve nailed your product, then it’s time to build a business, which means dealing with your finances, team, building your platform, and having real goals. That’s what we’ll cover here.


A CEO is responsible for overseeing the financial operations of a business. You need to manage the bottom line.

Now’s the time to find a path to sustainable cash flow.

Cash flow positive is a position that every business owner dreams about. It’s the point when your business net revenue exceeds your monthly expenses. Meaning, you can live off your business without needing additional capital.

Let’s look at expenses first.

How much money do you need to live every month? Not how much are you making now. Not how much do you wish you had in your bank account. But how much, given your current circumstances, do you need to live?

If you’re a single person living in a major city, I’d guess that you can sustain on $2,000 – $3,000 per month.

Rent – $1,000

Internet, Phone, and Utilities – $200

Food – $500

Fun – $250

= $1,950 per month

That can fluctuate, depending on bills or circumstances. But you get the picture. Break down your spending every month to set a target revenue goal. It doesn’t matter whether that’s $2,000 or $10,000 per month. Just know your magic number.

The equation is simple from there. Your art needs to generate more income than your magic number. Until then, you’ll lose money every month and need investment capital (from another job, parents, loans, selling a kidney, etc).

We’re not covering how to make money here. How you generate income from your art is up to you. But, know that if you’ve taken the product-market fit and 1,000 true fans concepts seriously, there are plenty of ways to monetize your audience.

Three of my favorite recent examples are…

  • Patreon – Web platform that enables fans and sponsors to support the artists they love. Patrons pledge support to creators on a recoccurring basis for each work created, empowering a new generation of creators the ability to (hopefully) make a living off their passions.

  • LeanPub – Web platform for authors to write, publish, and monetize in-progress books.

  • See.Me – An artist-focused community of over 1 million people, across web and mobile. Creators post what they love and earn money from their creations.

You’re the CEO. Manage the budget.


We can only do so much alone. Once you hit an inflection point, surround yourself with the right people — whether that be a manager, lawyer, or street team of friends and interns. Build your team.

But — don’t just hire to hire.

Go through this week marking down every task someone else can or should do. Write down every opportunity that falls through the cracks. Note any projects or ideas that aren’t being completed.

When you have a meaningful list, identify the skills you need on your team. Only then can you hire intelligently.

Nothing is more important than the people you bring a’board. A business lives and dies by the folks involved.

Take hiring seriously, and follow these three rules:

  1. No assholes. Life’s too short.
  2. Hires must be willing to work harder or more efficiently than anyone. (*This doesn’t mean more hours. As legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden would say, “don’t mistake activity for achievement.”)
  3. Hires must be the best, or striving to be the best at what they do.

Remember, you’re the CEO. You want to build a brilliant, trustworthy team. If you have folks 10x smarter working with you, you’ll have more creative time. And fun. Yes, fun.

I’m still a work-in-progress when it comes to management, so I’ll defer to the best readings I know…

You’re the CEO. Build your team. Lead.

Boss vs Leader


Major entertainment companies — record labels, book publishers, movie studios — don’t invest in artist development anymore. Gatekeepers look for creatives with an existing audience and platform.

In years past, these same gatekeepers prided themselves on finding and developing talent early. But with social media and direct-to-fan platforms at our fingertips, gatekeepers now expect artists to do the work themselves before signing.

Do you have 250,000 YouTube Subscribers? A recording contract is in your inbox.

Can you prove that you can sell 10,000 books? Publishers are blowing up your phone.

Did you just raise $750,000 on Kickstarter for your indie film? An agent is already at your doorstep.

Only expect a major entertainment company to invest once you’ve already proven that you can move product. Plain and simple. They are not in the business of artistic risk, they are in the business of financing artistic expansion and distribution.

The point? Developing a distribution platform is half the battle in your creative business.

As I said before, building an audience and making money are different per artist. But I’m more concerned about your line of thinking.

You’re the CEO. Develop your platform.


What are your goals?


What do you want to accomplish? Making a living from your work? Win a Grammy? Make an hour standup special for HBO? Write a New York Times Bestseller?

Have vision, but don’t start by creating a five year plan. You’ll just be writing BS.

Instead of five years, look ahead five months. Where do you want to be? What do you want your business to look like? What are your revenue goals? Audience engagement goals?

Now look at your team. Have you articulated your goals clearly to them? Do they buy into the gameplan?

You’re the one leading this ship. Ultimately, you’re responsible. Start thinking like a CEO. Set goals. Go execute. Nobody else will do it for you.

To paraphrase one of my favorite writers on CEOs, Ben Horowitz — if you are a CEO and you feel awkward or incompetent when doing some of these things and believe there is no way that you’ll be able to do it, welcome to the club. That’s exactly how I felt.  So did every CEO that I’ve ever met. This is the process. This is how you get made.

The Artist CEO – Part I

Artists rarely think they’re starting a business.

Building something is difficult in any setting. But more than other industries, creatives struggle with the ambiguous path to success. The economics of creativity are dizzying. Most artists know how to create, but fail to recognize that art is only one part of their job.

“If you build, they will come” is a dangerous myth. Comedians believe it’s all about the jokes. Musicians believe it’s all about the music. Writers believe it’s all about the words. And it is…until it isn’t.

Talent and great art only gets you so far. Even (and especially!) the best artists put substantial work into customer development, audience engagement, marketing, and ultimately monetizing their creative output.

Making an analogy to the corporate world – your art is the product, and you are the company’s CEO.



Before anything else, you need confidence that your product is good enough to support a business.

You’ve recorded music, painted, or written jokes. Great. But that art was made in a vacuum. How do you know your product is good enough? What data tells you that you should be building a business?

In technology, we frequently talk about product-market fit. Meaning, you need to make a great product that satisfies the needs/wants/desires of a market. Enough to get them to part with dollars.

But how do you know if you’ve hit product-market fit? I contend that for artists, it’s a balance between gut feelings and data:


  • How does the audience react at your shows?
  • What do artist peers say about your product?
  • What do fans tell you via YouTube, Soundcloud, or DeviantArt comments?


  • How many audience members come to shows specifically for you? Are those numbers consistent, growing, or declining?
  • How are your social, newsletter, and/or website metrics trending? Have you surveyed fans to get a sense of their affinity to your product?
  • What do your online conversion rates of email capture or content sales look like?

The list goes on and on. It boils down to whether you’ve proven that people want and will pay for your product. That’s the golden ticket.

Be willing to do anything and everything to find product-market fit. Hold down a fulltime job, while practicing every night. Perform as a street musician in the downtown area every weekend. Show up to four open mic nights a week, ready to jump in with a ten minute set. Keep learning, iterating, honing your craft, gathering more data, and producing better content.

It’s worth mentioning that there are also a couple services to help in this process – Fluence and Clarity. Both are marketplaces for advice and constructive feedback from industry experts. Fluence is focused on creators and artists. And though Clarity is dedicated to business experts, you can find fantastic advisors in music, art, comedy, writing, and more to connect with. Get a fresh set of eyes on your project.

Be real with yourself – can you honestly say that you’ve hit product-market fit? If so, let’s talk about building a business…

Continued in Part 2, where we’ll discuss making money, putting a team together, and setting up a sustainable business. Dig this post and want more? Subscribe to get notified about new releases.

Creatives No. 2 – Fail to Succeed and More

Build Stuff That Matters

Creatives is a weekly newsletter covering the best in music, art, and entertainment. Delivered to your inbox, weekly.

If you dig it, please consider signing up and sharing the newsletter with your friends on Twitter (click to share) or Facebook (click to share).

I’ll send around an email midweek and also post the links here on my blog. Would love to hear what you think in the comments below!

1. 7 Things a Record Deal Teaches You About the Music Industry (Cracked)

Spose, a young hip-hop artist, details his crash course in how the recording industry works. He doesn’t hold any punches or names. Just one person’s perspective, but it’s a great read for those looking to work with record labels, studios, and institutional entertainment companies.

2. Fail to Succeed (Auren Hoffman)

Exploring failure’s role in success.

3. Too Poor for Pop Culture (Salon)

In a world where the latest Kardashian selfie drives mass media consumption, D Watkins talks about information being class-based.

4. I left New York for LA because creativity requires the freedom to fail (The Guardian)

Moby’s take on why New York is “no longer the world’s cultural capital.”

5. Creative Machines (InfoQ)

Addressing the question of whether machines can be creative.

6. The Economics of Girl Talk (Priceonomics)

A discussion about piracy and sampling, in context with one of the world’s top artists, Girl Talk.

7. What Does Pussy Riot Mean Now? (BuzzFeed)

Pussy Riot’s unlikely journey from art-school project to international icon.

8. Slaves of the Red Carpet (Vanity Fair)

Are the top Hollywood stylists cold-eyed dealmakers, or vulnerable freelancers, dependent on the whims of designers and stars?

For Musicians: 8 Steps to A Million YouTube Views

YouTube Audience

I get at least a dozen emails a month from musician friends who want to build out their YouTube presence.

I don’t claim to be a YouTube expert, but I spend a good amount of time at Chromatik working with artists and the YouTube ecosystem. We’ve built the Chromatik channel to over a million views (led by the extraordinary Kelley McKinney), and I’ve worked on musician friends’ channels with over 50 million collective views.

Through the process, I’ve noticed some clear do’s and don’ts when trying to build a quality YouTube presence. If your goal is fame and fortune without hard work, move along. But if your goal is to build a lasting community for your music, then follow the general guidelines below to a million views and beyond…


Failure isn’t your biggest obstacle to success, it’s not even starting. Most people talk the talk, but never actually walk the walk. You want a great YouTube presence? Start making videos…today.

I know that there’s a tune you can crush. Maybe it’s Classical Gas, maybe it’s Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Perhaps 15 seconds of a popular chart? It doesn’t matter. Spend 30 minutes recording and uploading it to YouTube…today.

Start viewing YouTube as a sandbox for playing, performing, and sharing. Not everything you upload to YouTube needs to be perfect or professional quality initially. We’ll get there. But as a relative unknown in the YouTube ecosystem, you’ll want to just get comfortable with the recording and upload process first.


One of the YouTube myths I hear all of the time is – “I just need ONE video to strike it big.”

So what do folks do? Pour a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money into producing an incredible video. Cool. Assuming that you rocked and it miraculously went to the front page of Reddit, you now have 100,000 views and a couple hundred subscribers. Now what? Can you replicate that?

The unfortunate reality is that 100,000 views and a couple hundred subscribers doesn’t get you very far in the YouTube ecosystem. Not to mention, with over 100 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, there’s a 1/1,000,000 chance of you achieving that result.

The myth is dangerous because it forces you into an assumption that “if you build, they will come.” Which, as many creatives – from musicians to tech startup founders – learn quickly, just isn’t the case.

So let’s focus on starting small and building a community. Without a miracle, the only replicable way I’ve seen to build a successful YouTube channel is by being prolific and regimented with content production. One of my favorites, Gabe Bondoc – now with 272k subscribers and 48 million views! – was phenomenal at this early on (thanks for the recco, Corey!).

You’re learning or writing new tunes every week, right? Great. Set up a regimen. Chose two or three days a week, every week that you’re going to spend 30-60 minutes recording a new tune and posting to YouTube. Not every tune needs to get 100,000 views. Rather, start with a goal of fifty views on each video, and work your way up. We’ll talk growing viewership shortly.


Your videos do not need to be professional quality, but they should look somewhat polished. Here are a few quick tips:

  • Don’t record in your messy bedroom, for goodness’ sake. Find a space that looks hip, or at minimum, neutral. You want to be the focal point.
  • Backing tracks are clutch when playing popular tunes. If you’re a solo instrumental artist, it adds a tremendous amount to your video performance to play the melody in context. You can find almost any backing track you need on iTunes.
  • Many YouTubers record audio first, and then mime/sync the video to get the visual right. Not saying that it’s the best way, but think about how you can most effectively record videos for quality and time investment.
  • If you’re not great at AV editing, I suggest investing some time into learning. If you need some help along the way, Fiverr has great folks who edit videos, design intros, and more for just $5.


YouTube is currently the second most popular search engine in the world. While bloggers and websites spend a lot of time thinking about search engine optimization (aka, how to appear at the top of Google search results), many YouTube creators don’t give the same amount of thought to their videos.

What if, when you typed in “Katy Perry Roar,” your video was the first search result? You’d get millions of views. Obviously that’s unrealistic, but you get the point. Where you fall in search results matters.

Check out the YouTube Playbook for some basic details on how to title and tag your videos. It’s important.


We’ve established that you’re posting great videos to YouTube regularly. Now’s time to build an audience.

Simply put, passively posting to Facebook and Twitter will only get you so far. Your video will get viewed by a few of your friends and family, and then disappear from the stream/newsfeed after a couple hours.

Before anything else, read 1,000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly.

To build a sustainable YouTube channel, you need to drive conversion to channel subscribers. And that’s going to take some hustle, both inside and outside the walls of YouTube. Most folks will never just happen upon your content and share it to their friends. So for the sake of brevity (another post on building an audience to come), here are a few thoughts to get your brain a’moving…

  • Regular, personal communication paths to friends and family, asking them to check out your videos and subscribe. Email Newsletter, Facebook messages, Twitter DMs, Instagram Direct, Snapchat, and more are all potential communication paths.
  • Make a clear call-to-action in your video and video description.
  • Sharing on video communities like wimp, Reddit, and Remember to respect the rules and community.
  • Outreach to bloggers who feature “Top YouTube Videos of the Week” or write about music closely related to your style/influences.
  • Work with friends and other YouTubers. See “Work With Friends” below.

The point being, you likely will not build a lasting YouTube channel by simply posting to Facebook and Twitter. Get hustling.


We talked briefly about SEO for YouTube. But the core variable with SEO is building content interesting to a target search audience.

People use YouTube search just as they do Google. They type in “Katy Perry Roar” or “Lorde Royals covers” with far more regularity than your name or “jazz saxophone.”

So, game that user behavior by covering the most popular music, happening right now.

Let’s take an example — if you were to create content on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” there are thousands of back-catalog videos already there that you’re competing with. Many with thousands, or millions of views. Hard to win, especially if you consider the low search volume today for MJ’s “Beat It.” Regardless of how popular the tune is in pop culture.

But if you create a video today for Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” (or any other tune that spiked on the charts this week), you’re entering the search competition with the same amount of views, time, and opportunity as anyone. And the search volume for a tune like this is 100x that of Michael Jackson in its first four weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

You may not love the most recent tune by Katy or Beyonce, that’s fine. Find a way into one of the top tunes, by layering in your performance style, technique, or a full-on remix to make it your own. If you hit the right cover and timing, I promise it will pay dividends in views and subscribers.


You’re only one person. You’ve tapped your network, hustled to get additional coverage, and done great thus far. But how do you expand your reach even further? Work with friends.

Pretty simple equation. More people involved = most potential reach. Collaborate on a few videos, and ask them to share to their friends. Or better yet, have their friends subscribe to check out future collaborations.

If you have YouTuber friends, there are a plenty of cross-promotional things you can do together too. YouTube’s written a great primer on this, so I won’t re-create the wheel.


This process is going to take a serious investment of time and effort. Building an audience for your music is not simple, but hopefully I laid out pretty straightforward guidelines for success. You going to need patience and resiliency. 1 million views won’t come overnight.

As a musician, most of our dreams circle around playing for an audience. But we all wish that we could get more stage time with a captivated crowd. YouTube can be that vehicle for you. You have the talent. Now put it into motion.

And if I can be helpful in any way, please feel free to send me an email (mdsandler at gmail dot com) or message on Twitter (@mattdsandler).

Creatives No.1


I’m trying something new — a weekly newsletter about the business of creatives.

Musicians, actors, comedians, writers, and artists are trying to find their way in a business that has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. Almost all creatives now experiment with different technology platforms, distribution paths, and ways to grow their art-driven ventures. And that is what I spend the bulk of my day working on at Chromatik and beyond.

So I figured it would be fun to send around my top 11 weekly highlights for creatives. It’s not really meant to be all-encompassing or “breaking news.” Rather, I’m hoping it sparks interesting thoughts around the creative process.

If you dig it, please consider signing up and sharing the newsletter with your friends on Twitter (click to share) or Facebook (click to share).

I’ll send around an email midweek and also post the links here on my blog. Would love to hear what you think in the comments below!

1. At Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie (New York Magazine)

We live in the age of the selfie.

2. The Nerdist Podcast: Paul Williams Returns (Nerdist)

Singer-songwriter Paul Williams joins Chris Hardwick to talk about his upcoming book, Gratitude. He gives an incredible glimpse into Muppets history, addiction, and his thoughts around new music distribution.

3. King Kendrick and the Ivory Tower (Foreign Policy)

What hip-hop can teach academia. Seriously.

4. Neil Gaiman Reads Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham (Open Culture)

Neil Gaiman reads Dr. Seuss. If you haven’t heard the story of Green Eggs and Ham recently, it’s worth it.

5. One Man Has Written Virtually Every Major Pop Song of the Last 20 Years. And You’ve Probably Never Heard His Name. (CelebrityNetWorth)

A look at one of the most influential and powerful musicians in pop music over the past 20 years, Max Martin.

6. Surely They Can’t Be Serious (Grantland)

The unlikely rise of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, Hollywood’s majorly hated, hugely successful kinds of the modern-day spoof.

7. In Conversation: Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels (Vulture)

An inside look at Lorne Michaels. He discusses SNL, diversity, Lassie, and when he actually laughs.

8. Storytelling Lessons from World Wrestling Entertainment (Harvard Business Review)

Pro wrestling is perhaps the only 24/7, 365-day-a-year fictional storytelling machine alive. What can we learn from it?

9. Spotify: How A Busy Songwriter You’ve Never Heard of Makes It Work For Him (The Guardian)

SEO for music, via Spotify. Matt Farley has composed and digital released over 14,000 songs over the past six years. In 2013 alone, he grossed $23,000.

10. Learning to Think Outside the Box (NY Times)

Can creativity become an academic discipline?

11. How to Write a Bestselling Book This Year – The Definitive Resource List and Hot-To-Guide (Tim Ferriss)

The master of lifestyle design walks through what writing a bestselling book today looks like. Challenges, marketing, publishing, and the creative process.

(Header Image Credit: JK Chapman)

Guitar Center: Interview with Metallica’s James Hetfield

Great interview and quick jams with Metallica’s James Hetfield at Guitar Center.

On his early decision to play music — “It was one of these forks in the road, that was pretty pivotal to my life. Do I want to be second string playing football, or do I want to be up on stage, with a mission, speaking through music?” (2:55)