CROWD SURFING YOUR WAY OUT OF HELL (Pt.1)
Steps To Outlining What Worked For Us, What Didn't Work, And How We Plan On Breaking Our Own Rules
Note: As I write this, Julien-K is preparing to launch its fourth crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo called “Time Capsule, A Future Retrospective.” Time Capsule will be our most ambitious release ever— a 60+ song, four disk mega-package that blurs the line of a “sane and logical” release. We are simultaneously announcing a seven-week national tour, which is our first national tour in six years.
I hope our friends, fans, and fellow struggling artists can find something useful in this article.
I hope a light goes on somewhere.
Some small inspiration.
Some way through this incredibly challenging life path we’ve chosen.
Please keep in mind that I am giving you an embarrassingly brutal and honest look at what WE did, and the way WE chose to make it through.
What will work for YOU will be your own creation, and it should be.
Take what you can use and toss the rest. Be authentic and honest in your style. Be painstakingly original whenever you can, while also effortlessly and unapologetically applying any lessons you may learn here.
Mid 2014, Julien-K was starting to look like an impossible situation— an ultra expensive mega-hobby owned by former “rock stars” that virtually consumed and controlled our lives with no clear path to real sustainable profitability, and with absolutely NO ONE we could trust to help us.
We were emotionally and financially beaten to near death. We were insanely stressed that this band may not be a viable “thing to do” anymore. Yet, this band was “who we are.” This band is our “identity.” It’s “what we do.”
We had unintentionally engaged in horrible deals that “should have been amazing,” but instead locked the band into prolonged periods of forced business inactivity and a string of absolutely massive missed opportunities.
We had a string of terrible business/personal relationships with all sorts of unsavory characters that always promised that they simply “loved the band” and were “our BFF,” while delivering net-negative results vs. money spent, and totally blurring the focus of the band, our fans, and our brand.
We have been threatened with lawsuits, had our equipment stolen and sold off, and had our name and our brand used to defraud our fans— all by these unsavory characters.
We have had our music rights and royalties (that means MONEY) tied up indefinitely by giant foreign and domestic music publishers and distributors. (Thank you SO MUCH Warner Chappell— who is still holding our FULLY RECOUPED Orgy monies indefinitely, and will not even return a call or email; fucking RAD COMPANY, and great business model!) We have been ignored by virtually every “legitimate” label, manager, agent, lawyer, distributor, publisher, publicist, and industry “friends” that fit any of the aforementioned entities— all of which could have actually helped us in significant ways if they deemed it in their self-interest.
This business is not kind, and of course, artists and musicians are typically not savvy business tycoons. I can confidently say that Julien-K is NOT.
Does this sound familiar my fellow starving and struggling musicians and artists? Regardless of HOW big you “were,” or how “small and new” you are now.
How the F___ did this happen?? ….To US????
We sold millions of records in our previous incarnation, Orgy, (on a major label).
We sold hundreds of thousands of albums in our alter-ego, Dead By Sunrise (on a major label… AGAIN).
The first music I personally had ownership in, released by Korn (“Blind”) sold tens of millions of albums (WTF!? Korn is RAD!!) Also, despite the never-ending truckload of miserable shit that Julien-K seemed to slog through since its inception, we still had combined sales in the low tens of thousands of albums. Yet, we were still rarely making money from our music. We were too small to tour anywhere as Julien-K profitably, and we had spent in the high tens of thousands of our own dollars creating, touring, and promoting our second record, We’re Here With You, around the world.
That is A LOT of money to us. Depending on how you calculate the “spend,” it could have been $100K+ over a few short years; down the drain with virtually ZERO measurable return on investment.
Rad job, Julien-K.
Now, before I time travel to “now,” I need to add a side note:
YES, we are grateful that we sold millions of records over the years of our collective career, and YES I acknowledge that it is not a “typical scenario” for a young and up-and-coming band to blow $100K of their own money creating and promoting their album. However, this does NOT change anything in the way of any useful information contained in this article. We had essentially found ourselves at a “starting over” point of -$100,000 with no legitimate or effective way to release our new music or make money from it. Of course, we were physically and emotionally torn to pieces— before launching what has now effectively become a “total career revival and financial turnaround”— and an honest and sustainable business model that is actually growing and profitable.
Julien-K’s crowdfunding campaigns now hover in and out of Indiegogo’s top 50 most funded bands chart.
Our last campaign raised over $10,000 the first hour, and we had raised $20,000 on the first day of a 30-day campaign. All of our campaigns immediately hit the number one spot on the Indiegogo music chart and hung out at number one for virtually the entire length of our campaigns. All of our campaigns blow past our badly needed goal within one day, and our last campaign ended at over 400% of our requested goal. We orchestrate everything ourselves, and we spend under $50 on promotion for any campaign; sometimes we spend $0. We have reconnected with a powerful core fanbase in the most incredible way EVER, and while we are not even close to being “rich guys,” Julien-K INC. now cuts regular dividends like a real company; which allows us to continue to make the music we love for the fans that we love. We are now FINALLY preparing to embark on a profitable national tour— the first of many I’m sure. This new model kicked open EVERY door short of radio success.
Will Julien-K’s music ever be on the radio like Orgy and Dead By Sunrise?
In the meantime, we’ll keep focusing on our FANS, and doing what pleases them and us. Maybe at some point, the “gatekeepers” will notice us again.
So, how did we do this?
1) Read 1000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly
Now, reread it, and this time pay attention. Afterward, genuinely think to yourself: “How can this concept apply to our band and our fans?”
We thought REALLY hard about this.
We talked together about the article, and the concept it espoused at length (for months).
The band spent hours, days, and MONTHS being very honest with one another about who we are, what we do, who cares about what we do, and why do we really do what we do. If there is anything I can truly stress in this essay, it is that we spend a lot of time talking, thinking, and being honest with ourselves before we do ANYTHING in this band. We communicate with each other extensively. Please take this to heart my fellow artists, as this article is designed to (hopefully) help any artists who may be searching for inspiration, and some sort of brutally honest example of how another band truly “changed direction” in a profitable way, against all odds and without any outside help (well, let’s not forget the FANS, but we’ll get to that later!).
A band is a family, and you have to spend time nurturing the communication in that family and creating a reliable system for making decisions together or nothing works. It is through this “hyper-communication and brutal honesty” technique that we ultimately looked to our fans as our ultimate and most coveted resource. They are virtually the only thing that matters.
Seems simple, right? Like…“Well, of course dude!!” Duh.
Okay, well, if you know that then why the f___ can’t you figure out how to partner with them? Why can’t you effectively ask them for support?? You can’t just create music for free, and give it away and live off air and crackers. You have to figure out some way to have your core fan base participate in your business; a value for value transaction. We had to bring this to them in an honest and authentic way without… well, begging. We had to be (gasp) creative! We had to come up with “something” that excited our fans and ourselves— notice I said “something” and not just “an album of music”? Or “the right songs?” All of that is MEGA important, but there is so much more.
2) Now watch this.
This changed everything for me. Amanda Palmer redefined and reframed what it meant to be a “professional artist” (that means you do this for a living— as in this is your JOB). Amanda absolutely punched me in the face with her base truth of humble, yet confident authenticity. I started to imagine that we could begin harnessing this innate authenticity to simply ASK our fans for support in an indisputably honest, natural, and fearless way.
I watched this many of times, and I humbly allowed this to alter my perception of what it meant to interact and exchange value with our fans. I realized that our fans were actually the closest thing to best friends that we have ever had in our lives. Amir actually shared this link with me, and I thought it was FANTASTIC. I absolutely LOVED that he was searching as hard as I was for meaning and a path forward in this brutal lifestyle we had chosen.
So, let’s keep going then!
3) Exercise “Extreme Ownership”
I stole this concept from ex-Navy Seal Commander Jocko Willink’s book, Extreme Ownership. This is an AMAZING book. If you read it and don’t agree, read it again, and AGAIN. Then, be honest with yourself.
The book is about leadership, but I applied this concept a little differently when it came to us: We agonizingly and ultimately decided that NO ONE was going to help us. No label. No manager. No radio guy. NO. ONE. (No one, but our fans. Again, how did we get that to happen??)
Amir was instrumental in this. I’ll go into the roles we all play in the BUSINESS of being a band later, but in our band Amir’s nickname is “The Voice Of Reason.” I can’t remember who gave him this name, but it sure is funny and spot on. Amir pretty forcefully started to push the idea that at some point we just have to “stop the bullshit,” and realize that we have to just dig in and “do this thing ourselves and OWN it totally.” (We didn’t know what “this thing” was exactly YET, but we got the picture.)
That meant that I, Ryan Shuck, the guy that is essentially the “head of new business” for Julien-K, the guy that is always looking for new contacts and connections to advance the band agenda (and in many cases successfully), HAD to look 100% inward for a solution. This was very hard for me, and this went against my personality type. I am an “attractor”. I am a “team guy.” I always try to build a team of people that are better than I am (and this is still a good philosophy, but what if no one sees any way they can make money off of you quickly? Unfortunately, that is the only thing 99.9% of “gatekeepers” and “managers” care about in this business).
What do I do then?
What happens when the “Ryan Shuck cult of personality” isn’t enough to get people to work with the band because there just isn’t an easy path to profit for them?
I’ll tell you what WE did.
We prepared to get very uncomfortable, drop all preconceived notions and assumptions (and EGO), and sit down at our computers to research shit endlessly. We ran through ideas and scenarios endlessly, thoroughly built and then discarded countless systems and strategies, ignored BS “offers,” “deals” and “new business relationships” (that shit takes time to manage), learn tons of new things literally by taking classes online and watching YouTube for the free stuff, and we just OWNED IT. The whole thing: the failure, the (maybe) success, the work, the discomfort, and “becoming a beginner” again.
We got REALLY into being humble, and we decided that we somehow had to hyperfocus on our “core fans” to be able to make something that made THEM happy. Even if it was for just 50 fans total.
We don’t have the marketing money to recapture the millions of fans that bought our music over the years. Therefore, we were actually prepared to go way below the “1000 true fans” threshold. So, we started thinking REALLY small and became really focused. We shook off all of that “we sold millions of records” mentality— because what was left of it anyways? At this point, we started to find freedom. New ideas and new approaches began to flourish, and we began to rediscover our true power and principle.
To be continued…