Order Considerations

My new nonfiction book, Considerations, is now available as an ebook, paperback, and audiobook through various online and in-person booksellers.

Snag yourself the ebook:

Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, and Gumroad.

Or perhaps the paperback:

Amazon

Or maybe even the audiobook:

Amazon/Audible

Or ask your favorite independent bookstore to order you a copy, if they don’t have one in stock.

About the book:

Few of us take the time to consider. We act according to data acquired by viewing the world from a single perspective: our own. As a result, we don’t always think to ask certain questions that, when answered, may benefit us greatly. We don’t do important things because we never think them worth doing. We don’t assess unfamiliar facets of life, even though such scrutiny might change everything about how we live.

A well-curated collection of perspectives is one of the most valuable assets a person can possess, and the ability to filter those perspectives — to figure out which of them has value for us as individuals, and which are not relevant to our unique beliefs and goals — is vital.

Considerations is about asking questions, attaining new perspectives, figuring out what you believe, and determining how these beliefs can help guide your actions. The book is formatted as a series of over fifty short essays which are intended to spark ideas, questions, and thoughtfulness in those who read them.

j j j

Getting Lost

There’s a game I play with myself when I want to explore a city but don’t have a particular destination in mind.

I start walking and I follow the signals and signs provided along the way. I turn left and cross the street because the little glowing walking man indicates that I should. If I encounter an intersection without stoplights, I keep going straight, but at the next such intersection I go right, and at the next I turn left, and continue to circulate between the options at each new opportunity. When I see a coffee shop I’d like to try, or a museum I’d like to explore, or a shop I’d like to peruse, or a park where I’d like to sit and write for a bit, I pull myself from the game, starting again when I’m back on the street.

This is a great way to find new areas of a familiar city, or to push yourself out the door in an unfamiliar place; it’s easy to be overwhelmed by options, and this game gives you permission to just go. To discover without planning. To allow chance and circumstance to take the wheel for a while.

It also allows you to get lost. One of the more valuable ways to learn a city — to learn not just the colors and smells and pace and noises, but also how to read them, analyze them, and use them to get where you want to go — is to get lost, then figure out how to get back to your starting position.

It’s difficult to achieve true randomness. Generally when we head off in a ‘random’ direction, what we’re really doing is taking one side street from our usual route to a familiar part of town, or heading in the exact opposite direction from our default path, avoiding anything familiar at all. These can both be useful methods, but the former lacks the potential for extreme new-ness, while the latter eliminates your ability to see the familiar from a different perspective: a landmark from your usual route, viewed from across the street, for example.

After years of playing this game, I’ve found that the feeling of being ‘lost’ slowly becomes less of a scary jump into the unknown, and more an intentional reaching out into the world, looking for novel stimuli and finding it. Bringing it home to study in private. Wondering if it’s worth working in to your normal routine. Wondering if that normal routine should be shifted in some meaningful way.

That may mean identifying a better way to work. It may mean finding a coffee shop you like better than the one you usually visit. Or it may mean reinforcing that the commute you currently make and coffee you currently drink are still the best available options, based on what you’re looking for.

Consider how getting lost can be about more than just learning your environment. How it can be a means of pulling yourself out of your norms, habits, self-perceptions, and into a space where you’re less certain and more able to explore. More capable of taking a wrong turn and not worrying about it. More able to explore your myriad options and wonder whether this job, this lifestyle, this relationship, this responsibility, this goal, this whatever, is actually what’s best for you and your happiness.

Upon returning ‘home’ to your norm from some great adventure, whether external or internal, you might realize that you’re more at home elsewhere. It could be that getting lost is the only way to find your way back to a home — a more ideal life — you didn’t even know existed.

j j j

Calibrate for Travel

A massive misconception I try and stomp out whenever possible is that you have to be wealthy to travel.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’m not wealthy. Most of the people I know who travel regularly aren’t wealthy. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have more money to spend on travel, but it’s not a requirement. It opens up more options, but in some ways also makes a person less likely to find the really good stuff; more on why, below.

Unfortunately, money isn’t the only misperception most people have about travel. It’s these misperceptions that I want to tackle as concisely as possible, and in hopes that more options will seem viable; the world a larger, more accessible place.

I Don’t Have Enough Money

This may be true. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, or can’t afford to eat, I would recommend taking care of that situation before you start perusing for discounted plane tickets. Travel might be the goal you need to pay off some debt that’s been hanging over your head, or to pursue a better paying job.

If you’re able to pull together a few hundred dollars, though, you have the means to travel. Maybe not to one of those places people go on their honeymoons, but certainly to some city beyond the one in which you live. And the whole purpose of travel is to expose yourself to something new: to experience novelty and a different perspective for a time.

Overland travel is generally both cheaper than flying, and more of an adventure. It allows you to see the spaces between places, and those spaces seldom adorn postcards and are seldom found in guidebooks. It’s there that, so long as you leave yourself open to such things, you’ll find opportunities and adventures.

Adventures are seldom found along a pre-prescribed path (though there’s nothing wrong with guided tours, either: they just tend to be more expensive and predictable), and restrictions on how you travel (say, you can only afford a bus ticket) tend to also force you to be more creative and put you in the position to encounter more than you would otherwise (can’t afford a hotel, so you stay with a local and see what only the locals see).

Consider that we live in the future, as and such have access to all kinds of tools that make travel cheaper. Communities like Couchsurfing are oriented toward finding locals who have spare furniture you can sleep on, and who may be willing to show you where the locals eat and drink.

Facebook and Twitter and Instagram can be equally useful for this task — more and more I find myself making local connections through friends of friends, rather than through sites like Couchsurfing, and I think that speaks to the evolution of social networks and the mainstream social acceptance of such communities. As time goes by and our parents become comfortable with social networks, we suddenly have more access to people who aren’t backpackers or adventurers; just friendly folks who live in Chattanooga who wouldn’t mind at all if you slept in their spare bedroom, and who would love to take you out to their favorite coffee shop. Who want to make sure you leave their hometown with fond memories and new connections.

I Don’t Have Enough Time

This is a more difficult hurdle in some ways than feeling that you don’t have enough money, as there are any number of ways to reduce the cost of travel or save more money for it, but fewer that can reduce the time-cost of a given lifestyle.

That being said, it is possible to orient your life toward travel, the same way you would to incorporate any other hobby into your habits. If you were planning to start swimming in a serious way, you would free up more time by reducing the amount of time you spend playing video games, watching TV, or out drinking with friends. “I’ll pass on the bar tonight,” you’d say, “I’m going to hit the pool, instead.” You work it into your schedule, even though that schedule seemed full before you tried.

Likewise, if you brush aside life’s inessentials — particularly the habits that exists purely as a means of de-stressing or decompressing after work or your other responsibilities, or just as a means of killing time — you might be amazed at how much time you have available to take an overnight trip to the town a few hours away, or to hop a bus for a weekend at the Grand Canyon. The more you incorporate travel into your lifestyle, the more you make time for it. Your goals will change, too, and you’ll find yourself saving a few bucks here and there for your next jaunt, and the whole rigamarole will become quite easy and passive.

You needn’t travel full-time to make travel a regular part of your life. I know people who work full-time jobs and have kids, and who still manage to visit cities they’ve never visited twice a month for a few days at a time. If you want it enough, you can make it happen. It’s just a matter of prioritizing your time and saying “I’m going to do this,” then figuring out how to make it work using the tools and resources you have available.

Travel Is Dangerous

Like driving or walking to the store, travel can be dangerous, yes. But like those other two activities, the risk is worth it, and is generally not too severe, so long as you aren’t consistently drunk, high, or rude to locals.

Learn a bit about the place you’re going, and treat the area the same way you’d treat the home of someone who’s invited you over for dinner. Respect the house rules and be polite. Don’t get drunk and start breaking things, and don’t be condescending or argue that your house is better.

If you find that the house rules are morally abhorrent to the point where you can’t stomach them, don’t make a scene — just thank your hosts and leave the house. Simple as that.

There are places where crime is more of an issue than others, and there are simple precautions you can take to reduce the likelihood of being victimized, like keeping your wallet in your front pocket, avoiding crowded tourist-heavy areas, and not leaving your purse unattended where someone might snatch it and run off. Be aware of your surroundings and hang out with locals, when possible, as they’ll know best which threats are genuine and which are just our own internal warning sensors going haywire due to the unfamiliar setting.

Meeting and learning from locals is the secret weapon of any experienced traveler; figure out a means of making such a connection, respect them and their time, and try and make the experience just as rewarding for them, whether it means buying lunch or offering to show them your city, if they want to come visit.

Remember that in most cases, the threats back home are just as real and likely as they are elsewhere. I was more likely to get robbed in Los Angeles than I was while traveling South America, but the latter seemed like the larger threat because I was more familiar with the former. Keep this in mind and don’t let concerns over things that are unlikely to happen keep you from exploring and making the unfamiliar, familiar.

Recalibration

Calibrating toward travel is really about recalibrating away from things that are less important to you. It’s about prioritizing the freedom of movement and exploration, rather than spending all of your time, money, and other resources on the perceived security of possessions and locked doors.

It requires that we put more trust in others, invest in ourselves and our own ability to roll with the punches, and pull apart the traditional view of travel: that we see it not as a luxury item suitable only for honeymoons and holidays, but a common aspect of life we consistently invest in, like any other hobby or happiness-inducing necessity.

Travel isn’t for everyone, but for those who love it, want it, desire it, are set afire by it, there’s no reason not to do it more often. Look out into the world, figure out where you want to go, and then determine how you’re going to get there. Cobble together a plan and take the first step immediately. Do this frequently enough, and the hurdles — what hurdles there are, anyway — will get lower and lower until they disappear completely.

j j j

Expert Sleepist

We spend a lot of time trying to improve our tennis swing. And our abdominal muscles. And our capacity to make money.

There’s nothing wrong with these things. It’s a good idea to know how to make money so that you can support your craft and buy food, and it’s nice to have fitness and athletic goals to work toward.

Unfortunately, in the pursuit of greatness in some aspects of our lives, we neglect other, sometimes quite vital aspects.

Sleep, for instance, is more than just a little important. It defines everything else that we do, keeping our brains primed to form memories and think abstractly. Regularly and completely clearing the adenosine from our systems (the chemical that builds up over the course of a day and makes us tired, and which we disperse by sleeping) has also been connected with the prevention of age-related conditions like Alzheimer’s, and helps us maintain a dependable level of hand-eye coordination, lessening the chances of our getting in a car accident or stumbling down a set of stairs.

Being good at sleep, then, seems like a fairly worthwhile endeavor. But how many of us put the same amount of effort into learning to sleep well as we put into learning how to make money? How many of us exert the same amount of time and energy pursuing sleep mastery as we spend on tennis mastery?

We don’t all need to be expert sleepists: it may be that you’re getting plenty of sleep already, and it’s wonderful if you are. The point is that we focus on a few important things to the exclusion of other, sometimes more fundamentally important things.

A lot of the problems we face societally, but also individually, could be remedied with more focused attention on our health, our sleep, our ability to calm ourselves and relax, a trained tendency to look both inward and outward for answers, and the confidence to filter the answers that we find. Can you imagine what the world might be like if we were all capable of calming ourselves when necessary? Capable of seeing the world from another person’s perspective for a moment, before making a decision about who they are and what they want?

There’s nothing wrong with making money or playing tennis or having washboard abs. But such pursuits are a coat of paint on a house that’s falling apart if the rest of your world is brittle, due to lack of sleep, mental fitness, or social stability.

Consider the payout of investing more in these fundamental assets. A predictably deep, restful sleep every night may not be the simplest goal in the world to attain, nor the sexiest to pursue, but the benefits of the effort would positively impact just about everything else in your life. Including your tennis swing.

j j j

Sentimentality and the Present

We calibrate our actions to happiness. That is to say, we generally do the things that we believe will bring us the greatest net happiness over time.

Unfortunately, the actions we take can result in less happiness and more discouragement, dissatisfaction, and despair. This commonly results from a misunderstanding of the relationship between sentimentality and the present.

Sentimentality is a prediction of how we’ll feel in the future. We prime for nostalgia by making a guess about the wants and feelings of a future potential self; one that maybe misses this restaurant or perhaps regrets leaving that relationship. We take photos to assuage these maybe hurt feelings, and cling to mementoes to ensure possible future longings have something on which to center.

A focus on the present, on the other hand, manifests as a greater concern about the here and now. It’s an embrace of the short-term experience — what’s actually happening, versus what may happen at some point — and makes no predictions. It’s the result of feeling, doing, and experiencing, rather than assuming, anticipating, and worrying.

It’s that last word in particular — worrying — that I associate most with sentimentality. People collect and maintain and stress over the strangest things, all in the pursuit of some potential happiness; some unknowable ‘maybe’ that will justify the storage space rented, the hours lost, the stomach acid churned.

And this is a shame, because such concerns inherently result in less attention available to spend on the present. Sentimentality often means ignoring those you care about now in hopes of having the right people around you someday. It means missing out on fully experiencing a moment today, in order to take the right series of photos to remind yourself what’s happened, tomorrow. It means collecting souvenirs of events at the expense of actually taking part in the action.

It’s no wonder, then, that sentiment is often a grossly distorted image of the past: it’s a picture taken by someone who wasn’t truly there; wasn’t fully experiencing that which they were photographing. It’s a xerox of a moment, lacking the fidelity of a true memory, and warping our perception of each new ‘present’ as a result. Because what ‘now’ could possibly compete with a blurred ‘then,’ with all the blemishes and scars softened by time and flawed remembering, all the context blinked away?

For me, a happy life is more about the present and less about sentiment. Reminders and keepsakes can still be acquired, but ideally only after the fact, not as a primary goal. To reverse that order is akin to photographing food without ever tasting a bite.

j j j

Stack for Serendipity

I’m sometimes told that I published a piece of work at exactly the right time. A new book, blog post, or newsletter arrived at the very moment a reader was thinking about the same topic, and I helped provide the right words, insight, or even just a kick out the door to motivate them toward their next step.

I love when this happens. Not because I think I had much to do with them taking those next steps — I might help strike a spark, but they provide the fuel and stoke it into a fire — but because it’s an example of how we can perform what seem to be feats of magic just by approaching communication in a certain way.

‘Serendipity’ refers to a chance circumstance or happening that bears positive results. A blog post about minimalism published at the exact moment you’re thinking of simplifying your life can seem quite serendipitous, as if the world is trying to tell you something; to help you make some kind of decision.

I would argue, though, that there’s nothing mystical about such an alignment. It is, if anything, practical magic, in that you can calibrate yourself to catalyze more fortuitous flukes, and to garner more of your own. It’s all a matter of how you communicate and how you listen.

I try to stack the deck for serendipity by reaching out to people in myriad ways, though most people will only ever see one or two of these communication channels: the ones that apply to them. But by spreading messages in which I believe via different media, and even revamping the messages to be expressed at different lengths (a book and a tweet are very different delivery systems, but can achieve similar ends), I’m able to plant far more seeds in far more places, increasing the chance that some of them will grow.

Similarly, I work hard to follow and connect with people who I believe have something to offer me, in terms of knowledge, life experience, perspective, or even just entertainment. The result is that I find myself benefiting from seemingly serendipitous moments all the time. There’s nothing magical about it: when I’m thinking hard about a particular topic, chances are someone in my carefully cultivated network has thoughts on the subject that can help me break through to some new inspiration or revelation.

That serendipity is not magic means we can stack the deck if we like, and benefit from such moments more frequently. It’s not something you can control in an absolute way — sometimes inspiration never comes, and sometimes it only arrives at the wrong moments — but you can adjust the odds so that the right ideas end up in the right places at the right time more often than seems likely.

Consider how you might stack for serendipity, and then make the investment. Not only will you hear the words you need to hear more frequently, but you’ll more often say the words someone else needs to hear, when they need to hear them, as well.

j j j

Somethingness

I teach an online design class from time-to-time, and one of the things I try to instill in my students is that whitespace is their friend.

Whitespace looks luxurious. Look at a pennysaver-style ad sheet or tabloid, and you’ll see that every available inch has been filled with words and images and whatnot.

Look at a high-end fashion magazine or design publication, however, and you’ll notice that many of the pages are barely utilized. There are far fewer images, far less text, and a whole hell of a lot of empty space.

I should note that ‘whitespace’ needn’t be white; it’s a term that means there’s nothing there. An absence of design elements which, in turn, becomes a design element. Because although there’s technically nothing there — no images or text — that emptiness helps draw your eye to what’s most important on the page. The whitespace is an amplifier that says, “Hey, you, look at this thing over here. This thing that’s a thing.”

Whitespace is a statement, not about nothingness, but about somethingness. It’s an indication that the elements that have been presented are of vital enough importance that the entire page is focused on making certain you see them. That you focus on them and are not distracted by anything else.

There are parallels between the concept of whitespace and the surge in minimalistic philosophies and practices.

On a magazine rack filled with noise, it’s the stark, bold, focused imagery and text that stands out. In a world filled with clutter and distractions and opportunities galore, it’s the life of focus, clarity, and intentionality that stands out.

The resurgence of people building tiny homes, living out of carry-ons, and buying less of better is a testament to the fact that we’ve begun to view lifestyle whitespace for the luxury it is, rather than some kind of sacrifice. That we no longer see not filling every square inch of the page as an indication of not having enough to say.

j j j

Public Pianos and Amplification

There’s a piano in a park not far from where I live in Prague. The park is the hub for a bustling tram station and metro line, and stretches out in front of a beautiful cathedral that people crowd around to photograph all day long.

But my favorite part of the square is one of the walkways leading toward the cathedral, where a piano has been placed. There’s an unadorned stool in front of the piano, and the instrument itself is somewhat gritty and aged. Yet that walkway has brought immense joy to me and thousands of other people who pass by it every day: some who sit down to listen before returning to work after lunch, some who stop for a few minutes between errands. Some people, like myself, go there for the express purpose of being the near the piano.

I usually sit near the piano for twenty or thirty minutes in the afternoon, and oh the things I’ve seen and heard during that short timeframe.

Music students taking turns at the ivories, working through tough songs they’re still learning, and basking in the applause from passersby.

Middle-aged tourists, taking the opportunity to show off an old skill, a little dusty from years of under-use, but clearly stoking the flames of a still-living creative passion inside them; they look ten years younger when they stand up after playing through a five song set.

Just today I saw a grizzled, paunchy homeless man sidle up to the stool, run his fingers along the keys with something very close to longing, and then play the most magnificent set of classical music I’ve ever heard performed live. By the time he was done, the audience of a dozen had turned into nearly a hundred, and he looked on the verge of tears when he realized people were applauding him and his performance.

A lop-eared child of six or seven was up next, and though he looked ready to wet his pants with nervousness, he played a few songs that, although simple, showed that he was very capable for his age. The climax of the performance was when the homeless man stepped back over and played a duet piece with the child, improvising over what the much younger pianist was comfortable with. All of it was caught on video (from two angles) by the child’s smiling parents.

It’s remarkable to me how much value can be created by so simple an act as installing an old piano in a public place. The effort required to get it there, and the effort required to cover it up when there’s rain, is amplified a thousand times by the joy it creates for those who play it, those who listen to the music played on it, and those who walk by, smiles on their faces, enjoying the novelty of a neighborhood that has a public piano. That part of the park just feels different, even when there’s no one playing. And though I’m certain it’s not easy making sure the piano itself is taken care of (there are pianos all over town, their presence instigated by a local man and several businesses he’s recruited to sponsor their upkeep), the investment pays an incredibly high dividend.

It’s worth keeping in mind that this is an example of amplified effort from the real world; a world of atoms and distances and potential destroyers of property around every corner. Amplification is even more feasible — and requires a far smaller investment, with the potential for even greater results — online. We live in a world where we have the ability to communicate with a significant portion of the global population, and that’s a powerful thing.

So the question is this: what is your public piano project? What is it that you can do that will allow you to invest a little effort or money or whatever, and that will result in an astronomical payoff for humanity?

Answer that question, and help others do the same. Sometimes the most creative and beneficial thing a person can do is figure out how to enable others to be creative in a beneficial way.

j j j

Philosophical Fluidity

It’s possible to have a preference, act counter to that preference, and still have a good time.

A high-end chef, for example, needn’t dine on the finest cuisine in order to enjoy food. She’s equally likely to savor a feast at a four-star restaurant, or relish one served up by her local Denny’s, so long as she’s in the proper frame of mind to do so. And neither experience is more or less legitimate than the other, in terms of her own satisfaction, so long as she is, indeed, satisfied. Thankfully (for our wallets in particular, in the case of high-end dining), how much we enjoy that which we experience is largely up to us.

I call this concept ‘philosophical fluidity’ — the idea the you can believe strongly that, say, long-term, constant travel is paramount to a happy lifestyle, and still be happy staying put for a while, traveling no further than the grocery store. I would argue that being able to stop and live differently, while still having a good time and finding value in the experience, doesn’t display a lack of enthusiasm for travel; it’s demonstrates a belief that we benefit from a given stimuli or situation — or don’t — based almost entirely on our own decision to do so.

Now, this is not a new concept. Philosophers have been musing on the existence and substance of happiness for longer than we’ve had the letters to record their thoughts on the subject. But the concept of ‘taste’ is something that has evolved over the years, and has become more impactful because of the technologies we have available today: particularly those we use to interact, relate, communicate, and present ourselves and our beliefs to the world.

Where once taste was an indication of breeding or social status, today, it’s become an integral part of every person’s brand. The logos we wear and the food we eat (or don’t eat) and the coffee we drink (and how it’s prepared, and by whom) and the artists we listen to and the shade of the hardwood floors in our homes…so many things we use to define ourselves, both to ourselves and to others. So many passions! Which is wonderful, except that in presenting them as indicators of taste or identity, we aim for purity in message — ease of communication — and as a result blind ourselves to certain other aspects of the world.

Consider pop music. It’s a common pastime for the music industry intelligentsia to bash on anything too popular, too massive, too disseminated and widespread. Too viral. The idea is that anything so all-encompassing must also lack substance, because if such music truly said something, it wouldn’t appeal to so many people. There may be some truth to this idea, but consider that by deciding ahead of time that pop music is inherently bad, such people cut themselves off from a whole industry’s-worth of potential experiences. They may even hear the music from time-to-time, but because they’ve decided that it’s not for them — it’s not good — they can’t enjoy it. If they did, their brand as someone with taste in music might be called into question. Theirs is an identity defined by which aspects of the world they’ve decided to ignore.

It’s possible to believe that graffiti is generally disruptive visual clutter, while still allowing yourself enjoy a particular piece that speaks to you. What might initially seem weak-willed and flip-floppy — you said you didn’t like graffiti! — is actually a matter of allowing yourself to be round, not flat. Complex, rather than simple and easy to describe.

The result of such taste-complexity is that your image is more accurate, but you don’t fit as cleanly within a tribe. The record store guru who doesn’t hesitate to recommend pop to customers when warranted may be looked down upon by some underground-only believers within the industry. I would argue, however, that those who would apply strict, black-and-white guidelines to themselves or the world are latently reducing society’s complexity, and resultingly, simplifying to the point of worthlessness the many facets and dimensions we need to be fulfilled.

That is to say, if there’s only one ‘correct’ type of music to listen to, you’ll never be exposed to incredible examples from other genres or artists or whatnot because you’ve already dismissed them. Any data you receive after having made that decision will be filtered through that bias.

Music, food, and graffiti are some of the simplest examples I could give here, but I offer them because they’re also the easiest to understand. The real problem with philosophical inflexibility is that is keeps us from considering other perspectives, other value systems, collections of data compiled in cultures beyond our own, and things of that nature. Having rigid belief systems means that we are disallowing ourselves to learn, to change our minds, and to grow in any meaningful way.

Philosophical fluidity as much as anything, is an excuse to find the good — the value — in anything that we see. It’s an excuse to sit down at that diner in the middle of nowhere and appreciate the ambiance, despite the greasiness of the food and the chalky taste of the coffee. It’s incentive to hear a pop song and not immediately dismiss it as trash; to allow yourself to dance to it, if you feel like dancing. It’s a structure that allows you to consider the viewpoints of others and see where they’re coming from, before knee-jerk passing judgment on who they are and what they believe.

Philosophical fluidity is an excuse to have a good time no matter what’s going on in your life, and to enjoy the hell out of whatever life throws at you. So enjoy. Have fun. Dance. Happiness is the potential consequence of everything that happens to you: you just have to decide to experience it.

j j j

On Message

The main difference between a person and a well-known person is the story they tell about themselves.

This applies to celebrities, internet thought leaders, and even sports stars and the like. The ones with the better stories tend to be the ones who capture the world’s imagination; or at least that of a measurable segment of the world.

‘Better story’ in this context means the story with the clearest message. Some of these people have million-dollar marketing budgets to help promote them, but all that money is wasted without a compelling and understandable message to spread. Maybe the message is ‘this person is an underdog who climbed their way to the top,’ and maybe it’s ‘this person is a real jerk, but the kind you love to hate,’ or perhaps it’s ‘this person stands for something, and here’s why they do so.’ In every case, however, their words, their actions, and their media (PR efforts, blog posts, Instagram feeds) support the story they’re telling.

Of course, all other things being equal, the musician with the larger budget behind them tends to win out. But generally all other things aren’t equal, because many of those who’re struggling their way to the top fail to tell a clear story, and don’t present within their story a clear, compelling message. Even if some label picked them up and threw money at their album, they wouldn’t necessarily be any better off. A garbled message is a garbled message, no matter how loud it’s shouted.

This isn’t to say that one should fall into the trap of always being ‘on message.’ Such a tactic is the branding equivalent of hitting someone over the head with a hammer: it’s unnecessarily aggressive, and tends to do more harm than good. Being perpetually on message flattens a person, and reduces them to the status of a one-trick cardboard cutout, rather than a capable, well-rounded person who’s focusing their energies on something that’s important to them.

Before spending a bunch of money on marketing, advertising, and PR efforts, it’s best to take a step back and clarify who you actually are, what you actually believe, what it is you stand for (or won’t stand for). Essentially, why anyone else should give a damn about who you are, what you do, and what you have to say.

Sort that out and you’ll find you speak more clearly, because there’ll be far less noise distorting your message. And when you enunciate your message in this way, you may find that having your voice heard, and amplified, is a far easier task than most of us make it out to be.

j j j