Friend-Sourcing, Part 2: Good Press and Brand Building 

Full page feature in Pro Sound News, courtesy of good karma.

What a wild ride the summer of 2015 was! Great music, great bicycling, and great press. My life was in the groove. Plus, thanks to the #1 record, the time was ripe to ask my friends to help me further build the Michael James brand.

In the “new” record business, many folks believe that you don’t make money from record sales, but rather from “building your brand.” For the sake of this post, let’s not worry about what to actually do with said built brand after you build it. Instead we’ll focus on one specific way to raise awareness of your brand: “friend-sourcing.”

In my case, I made a point of engaging with my fans and clients since my first day on the job. I like to think I have some good karma and good will in the bank. Maybe enough to cash in, in the form of enlisting the help of my friends…

My plan? Mobilize the troops to create a renewed buzz about my current success stories, with the goal of expanding my client base.

When one attempts to do this beyond the local grassroots level, one typically (and wisely) hires a publicist and a street team. I, however, decided to friend-source. I called my friends directly to ask for their help.

This decision was not motivated by financial considerations as much as instinct. My gut told me that folks who knew me would be happy to treat me with the same enthusiasm, kindness and generosity that I showed them. Plus their efforts would be genuine, not manufactured.

I was right. Everybody I asked delivered…and there’s a reason.

I’ve always believed that healthy relationships are balanced with respect to both giving and receiving. I strive for this equilibrium.

As an example, Wade Goeke of Chandler Limited made it (relatively) easy for me to buy his products. After each purchase, I inevitably needed support in the form of consultation to ensure that I was able to get the most from his pro audio and guitar products. As we became more familiar with each other, we became professional friends. Not only would I provide real world feedback from the front lines, I would also take a genuine interest in his life—and he in mine. I recall sending him an emotionally uplifting song, Light On The Horizon, when he was facing a difficult challenge. He was very appreciative, and sent a heartfelt note to me, explaining that the simple act of reaching out was exactly what he needed to remember that he was not alone.

So, Wade was happy to help when I asked him if his social media maven could spread the word about my scene in a mutually beneficial manner. By publishing a feature about the role of his products in my workflow, he would be attached to a current hit while I would tap into his network of fans and customers. Win-win.

Several other pro audio sponsors followed suit, including Dangerous Music, Manley Labs, and Glyph Technologies. Their efforts, in turn, led to features with SonicScoop and other prestigious publications.

Meanwhile, I pondered who among my journalist acquaintances might have a reason to pitch a story to their editors. Clive Young, of Pro Sound News, used to publish a fanzine, Joy Buzzer, that was devoted to NY rockers Too Much Joy. Clive interviewed me a couple times about my role as Producer of TMJ’s major label debut album, Son Of Sam I Am. To this day, he and I remain devoted fans and friends of the band, so we share a bond that only TMJ devotees would understand. Long story short, I pitched him a story. Because Clive is a really good guy who genuinely enjoys helping others, he found a way to turn the idea into something even bigger and better.  He determined that we could break it apart into five separate features that would dose the Michael James story across several months instead of a one shot deal. Win-win again…and again.

Friend-sourcing ensured that everybody had a reason to help me. All my friends genuinely want me to succeed in my endeavors. By the end of the summer, I had been featured in around a dozen new, unique, significant publications, both physical and digital. The exposure was huge, and it opened new doors to opportunity.

I highly recommend friend-sourcing to anyone who is serious about pursuing or maintaining a career in today’s record business.  For it to work, however, it is imperative that you give at least as much as you take. Remember: people will want to help you if you demonstrate that you want to help them.

* If you’d like to read Friend-Sourcing, Part 1: Getting By With A Little Help From My Friends, click on the link. And stay tuned for Friend-Sourcing, Part 3, which will be here sooner than you’d expect!

I was a customer at Dalbir Sidhu’s restaurant, and now we’re friends. He’s become an evangelist for my mixing services.

“Friend Sourcing” part 1: Getting By With A Little Help From My Friends 

It’s true what they say: business is all about relationships. Despite the fact that I paid some serious dues and did a ton of woodshedding on my own, I can definitively say that nearly all of my achievements inside and outside of the studio have been affected by my relationships. It’s better to have friends than enemies. Even better is to have friends who are eager to help you because you have proven that you are willing to help them.

Jac Holzman, founder of Elektra Records and WEA, once told me that one’s success in business was directly limited by one’s success in home life or marriage. Even the most impressive macho empire could be toppled by a woman scorned. I’ve seen very expensive recording sessions be canceled due to lovers’ quarrels.

Both personal and business relationships require nurturing and maintenance. I can’t imagine a way to be successful in business without building strong teams and strategic alliances. In my experience, developing a rapport and finding common interests beyond the task at hand are key in developing lasting relationships. That’s how I’ve become true friends with many of my vendors, clients and artists. The deeper the connection, the more likely we are to succeed at seemingly impossible endeavors. Two people working together for a common goal are 1000 people strong.

Consultation is a huge part of my spiritual practice. Trust me when I tell you that I am quite capable of making decisions quickly, with conviction. That said, I find that consulting with a group of proven friends (who can leave their personal baggage at the door and evaluate the facts without prejudice) is an effective way to create a solid game plan.

About 10 years into my career in the music business, I made the jump from working at a carpet cave (Radio Tokyo Studios) to a world-class recording studio (Westlake Audio). I already produced a few hit records, but I had absolutely no idea how half the gear at Westlake even worked. “Famous Manager” phoned me in a panic because “Famous Producer & Engineer” walked out on day one of tracking an album. They zeroed out the Neve console before splitting. I guess there was a problem with the deposit check.

I had to finish my recording session in Venice Beach before driving over to West Hollywood at midnight to begin recording the band. They were patient – all 12 of them – even after waiting seven or eight hours for me to arrive. Luckily they did not add to my stress level despite the fact that they were clearly disappointed by the events that transpired earlier in the day.

Westlake Audio had a reputation for training terrific assistant engineers, and the guy they assigned to me was no exception. Chris Fogel eventually went on to become Alannis Morissette’s engineer, but on that night he was simply Chris, the guy who could either make or break me during my first at-bat in the big leagues. I quickly realized that I was in over my head, so I asked Chris to take a more active role than an assistant typically would do. He knew all the equipment and I knew how to inspire a great performance and make a record, so we were a good team. Chris knew that I appreciated his contributions, so he felt valued. He got me through the night and helped me to learn a lot of technical stuff that was previously beyond me. I, on the other hand, was able to encourage him to abuse perfectly good equipment in the quest to coax the best out of an artist. Neither one of us was too proud to ask the other for perspective and knowledge. We friend-sourced each other.

I’m chuckling as I type this blog post because I distinctly remember one day when I was working in studio C with a client while Chris was woodshedding without a client in studio D. He had a mix set up on the desk that technically sounded terrific, but he felt compelled to ask my opinion. I’m glad he did because his work was too clean, and was not emotionally resonating with me. It sounded beautiful, but I wasn’t feeling anything from it. We talked about the importance of getting things right without overly laboring them. Polishing away all of the rough edges can also take away some of the soul or mojo of a record. He said something to the effect of, “These guys are paying me $2000 a mix, and I don’t even know what I’m doing.”  Being a consummate professional, Chris was of course being humble and modest, but he truly cared. That’s why he was putting in the extra hours to develop his craft, and that’s also why he was not too timid or shy to ask for a friend’s help.  Needless to say, Chris went on to become one of the best of the best, but he, like all of us, had to start somewhere.

To this day, I continue the practice of consultation and friend sourcing.  I do as many favors as I can, and I consequently get a lot of help from my friends.  As abundance came into my life and I became the guy who was able to help others, I learned that it is a pleasure to help someone in need, someone who is willing to work to earn your support.  I now realize that when I was homeless, I probably did not need to spend nearly as many nights outdoors as I actually did. I didn’t want to wear out my welcome, because if it rained, I wanted to have better odds of finding shelter. When my friends took me out to dinner, I would order the cheapest item on the menu, typically a grilled cheese sandwich for three dollars while they were having $12 roast beef sandwiches. I eventually understood that good people want to help other good people who need a break. They are happy to help somebody who is willing to help himself.  And we all need a break every once in a while.

The moral of the story is to be as helpful to others as you can, and to be willing to ask for their help.  Friends enjoy helping other friends.  Teamwork ensures success when individuals fail due to scarcity of resources. Plus it’s more fun to share success with your friends and loved ones than it is to sit alone in silence, admiring your trophies.  “Party” sounds so much more enticing than “party of one.”  That’s why I will continue to get by with a little help from my friends.