Imagine the world's attention as a big foggy cloud. So thick you could cut it with a knife.
You want to cut through that foggy cloud, to call attention to your music.
Only problem is, if you're well-rounded, you can't cut through anything. You need to be sharp as a knife. Sharply defined.
Example: Your name is Mary and you put out an album called “My Songs”, and the cover is a picture of your face. The music is good quality, songs about your life, and when people ask what kind of music you do, you say “Oh, everything. All styles.”. You send the album out to be reviewed and nothing much happens. Doors aren't opening.
Imagine instead: Your name is Mary and you write 9 songs about food. You put out an album called “Sushi, Souffle, and Seven Other Songs about Food”. Maybe you recorded your vocals in the kitchen. Maybe you quit cooking school to be a musician. Yes it's a silly example, you see how this would be MUCH easier to promote.
You may be thinking, “But I have so much to offer the world, I can't just limit myself like that!” If you want to increase your chances of the world hearing your music at all, though, strongly consider stretching-out your musicial offerings to the world, and keeping each album focused clearly on one aspect of your music.
Notice the long careers of David Bowie, Madonna, Miles Davis, Paul Simon, and Elvis Costello to name a few. Each went through sharply-defined phases, treating each album as a project with a defined mission.
Here's some top-sellers at CD Baby:
Eileen Quinn. She's a full-time sailor. She writes songs about sailing. That's it. Five albums of them. And sailors LOVE it. She gets written-up in sailing magazines all the time.
Rondellus. Sabbatum. A traditional medieval music group from Estonia doing an album of Black Sabbath songs played on medieval instruments and sung in Latin.
4th25. American soldiers in Iraq wrote and recorded an album in their barracks on a cheap computer with a $100 mic, about what it's like to be over there at war.
Each of these albums got a LOT of press and a lot of sales, because they were sharply-defined, newsworthy, interesting to write about, easy to tell friends about.
The punchline of the Dip book is that it's not about quitting at all. It's about mastery. Hal has a great blog about production thinking. He taught me the phrase Jidoka, which describes part of how Toyota creates mastery and high quality. I'll quote something he sent me:
[Toyota calls] stop and fix the problem "jidoka". It's a process where people are asked to identify every instance where the situation doesn't match the expectation. They do that by "pulling the cord" to activate an "andon" -- a signal. There are three signals: green (all fine), yellow (come look at this), and red (I need help). Operators in the Georgetown, KY plant pull the cord up to 1000 times/day. But the line only fully stops about a handful of times each day.
The event in Philadelphia yesterday was a milestone for me. The crowd was amazing... energized, smart and focused. It was a speaker's/author's dream. Thanks to everyone who came and to helped make it happen. I'm delighted (but not surprised) that people are finding things in the Dip that I didn't even realize were there. One more reason to write a short book.
The Chicago event is now officially sold out. There will be some tickets at the door, but not many. All details on the rest of the tour are here. Then I'm going to need a long, long nap.
Aside: the changethis.com website was started by a few interns and me several summers ago. And we got caught in a Dip. Not because the site isn't great (I think it stands up to this day) or that it isn't a great idea (we broke books like Blink and Freakonomics and Guy Kawasaki's Art of the Start) but because we didn't push hard enough after we'd done all the 'hard' work. The folks at CEO READ are doing a great job of stewardship and the site continues to grow, but that Dip--becoming the most popular way to distribute short manifestos--still looms.