(this post originally appeared at Sheri Candler Dot Com on August 19, 2010).
Sitting in a music business class at a shall-not-be-named institution (rhymes with “Jerklee”) during the death of the music industry as we knew it was fascinating. This was in 2003-04, and it was a sad time to be in “the industry.” Nonetheless, we clung to our hardcover and expensive door stops, taking in each lesson as we were told. But the writing was on the wall: you’re learning stuff that was out of date yesterday. Thanks for the tuition check.
As I sat there, staring blankly at what was going on in front of me, one remark the “professor” made stuck with me: “Those who control the trucks control what’s out there and what isn’t.”
Funnily enough, my training in business and creative marketing didn’t come from a music business course. It came from majoring in music composition, where self-distribution is the way of life. No one is going to pluck you out of obscurity when you’re writing obscure pieces of new absolute music. You have to bootstrap (as this is Sheri’s blog, I can’t let my first post go by here without mentioning the equally ubiquitous Seth Godin). You have to find your own musicians. You have to find your own performance venues (even if it’s a dude with a guitar in a subway station), and you have to get it out there.
It was during my time there that I learned the most important lesson of creativity: It doesn’t matter how good you think you are, if no one knows about you, you’re worthless. Creativity is not only a collaboration with other creatives, it’s a collaboration with your audience as you reel them into your work and make your work part of their lives.
When I made the career switch to film in the middle noughties, that sensibility carried over. I’ve never been a patient person, so I have no interest in waiting for others to swoop in and get people to see my work. I was hard-wired for self-distribution because it was the only way to survive.
When I worked at a non-profit, I used no-budget video documentaries to bring in new eyes to bad news and increase readership and site usage. The videos could stand on their own, but were meant to highlight individual stories within the purview of the NPO’s mission and cause.
So what, you may be asking, does all of this have to do with the newly coined (and rapidly burgeoning) position of “Producer of Marketing & Distribution?” If my time as a music composer hard-wired me to self-distribution as “Plan A,” my film and NPO experience taught me the most important lesson of marketing:
Never market something you don’t feel passionate about.
I cared about the NPO’s mission greatly. But I was never as passionate about it as I should have been. For awhile, it was greatly successful, but then the recession hit HARD and the competition for purse strings skewed the direction of more heart-tugging causes. Failure after failure piled up, and weighed heavily. By the end, I felt like the guy trying to market the Titanic as sink-proof after the iceberg.
As a filmmaker, I would never take on a project that I wasn’t completely, unabashedly, 100% passionate about. I would never take on a project if the script wasn’t wonderful, if it didn’t make me well up with tears at the thought of someone else making this movie. As a PMD, I would never take on a project if I didn’t have the same feelings for your project. I owe you that.
But what stirs up those feelings? A great story.
My love of marketing comes from a love of storytelling – and in spite of my seemingly haphazard career jumping, I have always been a storyteller, be it in music, film, or marketing. Your career is a story. Your film is a story. The making of your film is a story. I want to help you tell your story.
Orson Welles famously said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” I’ve seen stories stop at sad endings, and at happy ones. And I’ve been responsible for both outcomes.
In today’s wild west media landscape where truly, as William Goldman remarked, “Nobody knows anything,” filmmakers and creatives are in a position of power. Our careers are in our hands now. Gone are the days where the magical distributor will discover you like a Tarantino or Rodriguez; we are no longer in the age of “making it,” but in the age of “getting it made and getting it seen.” It’s the latter part of your story that I’m excited to be a part of.
I’m a creative because I want to see cool stuff. I want to tell a great story. I want to be engaged. I want to be told a great story. And now, I want to make sure your great story is seen and heard. We’re all truck drivers now. Our cargo: our stories. It’s my job to make sure they get where they need to go – the eyes and ears of the audience. It doesn’t matter how great you are, if you don’t bring in the last collaborator – the audience – your story is never fully told.
And that’s not a happy ending.