Music is my magic. “Magic’s just science we don’t understand yet”. I’ve dedicated my life to music, and the connections it makes with the world. Driven by my curiosity towards one of life’s greatest energies, I dedicate this blog to my discoveries, insights and histories in hopes to pull more threads on the fabric of the vibrational universal frequencies that is music.
- Keylow Jules
Back in 2011, I had the trifecta of a young man's life in full effect: good job, solid friends and a clear path. My community of artists and entrepreneurs filled my days while spending my Tuesday nights hitting shows out to discover the next future generational talent. Working in a solid office with a batch of incredible peoples, I had a strong core as any 23 year old on a trajectory. Yet something was missing. I had an itch that I couldn’t scratch. In my young mind I had given up an old life of passion for a stable foundation to launch into my own future. I would often think back to 2008, the last year of the long nights in dingy clubs and foreign townships chatting up random concert goers while I was sweat drenched and exhausted from an hour set lighting up a 12 foot stage with my best friends. The look of surprise and exaltation on newly conquered fans fed my adrenaline after the 15 minutes of post show magic, and I felt I had earned something. As if something I put my mind into had come into reality. My own Green Lantern experience of sorts, seeing my will infuse with my reality. An idea that became a team, and a team became the dream. It was a drug, the best one I’ve ever tried, and I could not get enough.
Of course, life took the turn and I found myself bandless, jobless and lost without my internal direction that got me through those awkward high school years. I didn’t know how to generate my own ambition into actionable goals. Not on my own. My desire to continue my exploration of my musical adventures was thwarted with a crippling self-confidence and unhealthy reliance on other people. It was as if I could only pursue my own dreams on the backs of others. It was as if I wasn’t capable or brave enough to become my own man with the grips of my own future in my own hands. As I’ve learned over the years, there is a power in the awareness of one's own inadequacy, an understanding of rock bottom providing a comfortable “got nothing to lose” strength combined with a lowered expectation. Incredible to think how many times that combination brought me back from my perceived to be “rock bottoms”. However, in this case my lack of direction gave me the important teachable moment that I was capable right my own ship. All I needed was that combination of ignorance and courage, a solid “don’t give a fuck” and “capable of anything” point. I just needed a direction to dedicate my mind and my heart. Cue, the internship.
2009, I gave up my teenage expectations of achieving the old rock n’ roll tales of Hollywood and record deals. I knew my own skill set at the time did not inspire others to generate a solid team that I could once again build the dream. Although I can clearly see that as deluded BS from a hurt and whirling 20 year old, the idea that I could take my passion and learn about the craft I had dedicated so much of my life to, seemed like the best approach. I could infuse my strong will and deep emotional connection to the music from the back end. Become my very own Wizard of Oz, keep the lights on while working magic to create the dream for others. What better way than to get the formal education of the business behind the world I craved to explore. Little did I know how much fun and knowledge I was going to pick up while working with some of our country's top acts and labels. Sure enough, I was good at it too.
Back to 2011, I felt like I’ve hit my new journey’s climax. Running a department, A&R’ing for the top urban label, and watching my friends develop into the futures generational talent. I got the pleasure of learning to best and worst our industry had to offer. Yet, that lingering feeling of life’s greatest drug was still in my DNA. I wasn’t able to shake it, no matter the amount of cigars and champagne at the back of luxurious boats rubbing shoulders with the biggest in the business.
I vaguely remember the moment, which I’ve definitely romanticized since, which helped me with the leap into becoming the artist I am today. I was explaining the basic corporate structure, the one that breaks down the employees at the bottom, with the managers above them, vice-president, president and finally the CEO, during one of my consultations with a pair of upstart budding indie label owners. I was explaining the traditional route of success using the corporate pyramid where you work your way up until eventually you earn you place amongst the top. In many creative industries where the product is driven by the market reaction, such as the fans that dictate the value of the artist, the risk/reward of the music business can be extremely difficult to predict for investors and business minded leaders looking to make a buck. The traditional climb, like in many industries, does pay off over time if you can survive long enough. Right then the shock of my realization dawned on me. In order to reach the top, you must undergo the changes that comes with survival, each step on top of the backs of someone else. I finally saw the pyramid structure as made of human beings. As a fan of history, I realized this corporate power structure is very similar to the empirical class structures: lower class, the middle class and the upper class. Human societies really like these structures, and the natural state of growing as an individual, whether in the empirical sense of lower, middle and upper classes, or the employee to CEO, the rags to riches stories are everywhere. And here come the anomalies to save the day. Or break the mold of tradition.
This was the point I combined by old rebel self with the entrepreneur maverick looking to use my time on this planet for good. Now, if you have gone this far in this time jumping story, bare with the music industry talk just a bit longer...
Back to the boardroom drawing triangles with some suits in a tower at 2pm midweek. I described Using a sustainable model of low costs and high return, the probability to earn a profit becomes more likely the longer you play. The more efficient you can generate product, the more you can work the release cycle making incremental leaps up the chain. That’s one theory of incremental growth. The more songs and artists you put through the machine (in this example, the pyramid), the more likely you can come back with a successful return if you can afford to produce and release the products with minimal investment. Thus, putting out lots of good music in a sustainable way, and eventually you can earn the return back. However, the traditional rate of success, even with major labels, is one (1) in twelve (12). One artist pays for the other eleven “failures”. Ouch. I warn you (the reader) to not feel too terrible about these results, as the “failures” are most often looked at from an investment perspective, not a artistic achievement lense. 1/12 is a rate of success at 8.33%. However, if 11/12 achieve an artistic foundation that builds a fan base, over time the artists market can correct itself by being consistent in quality and continuing the quantity of releases, in theory you can create a wealth of successes. The only challenge with high risk and high reward systems that are played at major record labels, is the fact that time is money. To not have a return is to stop the investment all together. Another ouch.
Cue once again back to boardroom. All these concepts racing through my mind, and I’m breaking down a healthy strategy to impart on a couple fresh minds to join the fray. That’s when I saw my own path in front of me once again, as if I was a young teenager with a dream ready to take on the world. “Rocket ships.” Instead of climbing the pyramid, as I was steadily climbing for the last two years, I knew life had other options to make it to your goals. One that doesn’t require stepping on humans to advance over them. Instead, reaching your goals could elevate us all. Focus on the foundation and the house will last. These concepts were running through my mind, and I know deep down my quest to pursue music to the furthest reaches the universe has to offer, I had to tackle the combination of my current worlds into something bigger.
First problem… If I don’t climb… why not fly? I’ve seen how one song can change the lives of many. Both for the artist and the listeners. Every song is a rocket ship in its own right. One that can take me to the moon… Or at least land in the clouds.
Second problem. The romantic stories of the Wright Brothers achieving 59 seconds of flight in Dayton, Ohio, many others didn’t make it. For every innovator, I’m guessing 11 of them didn’t make the limelight. 8.33%. Pretty stark odds even when taking in the fact those numbers are estimated from established career artists. How was I going to combine these important strategies into the realm of being of creative artist? Better embrace the odds of the lottery ticket.
Third problem. Incorporating a rocket ship that I can build. Relying on other people may bring me back to the old life, but leave me with the same void that took me years to rebuild. Instead, I have to learn self-sufficiency in order to make my mark. I know that doing this on my own isn’t the sustainable approach. I know people are the essential building blocks to build this vision house I’ve been locked in for the last seven years. My challenge is to build a foundation. One strong enough for many houses. My mark will be made, but I must do it by inspiring the people around me into action. And that starts with inspiring myself.
These problems are now my greatest challenges. I’ve got to continue to develop my skills so I can get closer to building my own rocketship. I know in order to do that, I would have to learn to apply it to other people, even more ready than me. I must continue to learn and to practice patience. I’ve got to embrace the consistency and sheer will to finish things that I start. This is my path, and my struggles to get there are all part of the story.
To be continued...