And, if you’re really really ready to rock, you can spring for the $500 reward, which will unlock me as lead vocalist for your track. It’s expensive because we will need to autotune it. Also, because it WILL TOTALLY ROCK. GET SOME!
how i became a music producer, Mountain Brother, & why Strength In NUMBERS @strengthnum @studioapa
You may know Chops from his work as a producer. He’s produced tracks for everyone from ODB to Chamillionaire to Keak Da Sneak, and most notably, The Lonely Island (here’s how he made The Creep).
I’ve been following Chops since I was in college (a long-ass time ago) when he was part of the the Mountain Brothers, a rap group from Philly that also happened to be the first Asian American rap group signed to a major label. There was a time when seeing Asian Americans on stage for anything other than an ethnic or stereotyped reason was mind-blowing, and the Mountain Brothers were pioneers in helping kids like myself see that it was possible.
Take a listen to his story above, which is amazing. It explains why he’s undertaken his Strength in Numbers project, where he’s assembled some of the best up and coming Asian American hip hop artists. It’s in its final hours and it’s just a few thousand dollars short, sogo back it on Kickstarter!
I just got back from a great last-minute trip to Cambridge. I had thought it would be fun to try to put together an evening talk while I was in town, but wasn’t able to pull it together due to the logistics. Perhaps next time!
That said, I got some great help from some friends on potential event venues, which is really one of the toughest parts of the planning process. So, I decided to put all of the suggestions into a hackpad for future reference. It is not at all perfect and my hope is that someone more knowledgeable will add to it and make it better.
My friend Tomo Nakayama of Seattle-based Grand Hallway has been in town the past few days on an East Coast solo tour. I’ve been a fan of his music for sometime and most recently had the pleasure of seeing him featured on screen in Lynn Shelton’s latest film, Touchy Feely, alongside Ellen Page. He doesn’t get out to the East coast much, so it’s a real treat to be able to see him play live.
Tomo won over a crowd of strangers at the Rockwood Music Hall on Saturday, and played to a packed room at Pete’s Candy Store on Sunday.
I’m tagging along on the final leg of the tour via Bolt Bus en route to Cambridge for Tomo’s final show at Middle East (9:30pm). If you or someone you love is in the area, encourage them to come on out. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Tomo play live.
Subsequently, it’s also my birthday today, so by the powers vested in me by the Birthday gods, go to http://grandhallway.bandcamp.com and go buy everything there. You will like it!
The event is on November 9, 2013, and it runs from 10am to 5pm at Pa’ina Lounge in San Francisco’s Japantown. The theme for the event is:
“What’s Possible” - Seemingly intractable problems. Surprisingly ingenious solutions. In a world full of inequality, conflict, and hardships, there are remarkable examples of what actually can be done. What innovations are possible that can help create a world that we want to live in?
One of my favorite projects of Steve’s is his “Capitalism Works For Me” project, which travels across the country and invites people to vote on whether capitalism is working for them. It also invites folks to share their stories in the process. Narratives are powerful and his project is a great way to surface them.
The project is in Times Square today (for the last day), so I’d encourage you all to go visit it. You can also follow along on Twitter via the #CapitalismWFM hash tag.
There’s a lot personally to relate to: how we navigate the inherent uncertainty in our lives, how we define success for ourselves vs. what we see other people doing, how we balance our own free will against the realities and limitations we come across.
There’s also a lot that concerns me from a macro perspective: outside of those who are grandfathered in as beneficiaries of the old world of music, are creative pursuits for indies only an option for the privileged?
As creators of things on the Internet, how can we evolve beyond the efficiency innovations that we’ve seen to date to make the future we want to see?
Like most, I have no answers to these questions, and somehow, suggesting my friend create yet another Kickstarter project (my friend has successfully completed two) seems to fall short of some bigger issues.
So, the best I could do was to publish my friend’s email (with permission). If you’re an artist, musician, filmmaker—anyone pursuing a creative dream—I suspect that much of this will hit close to home, and so at least you have this to know that you’re not alone.
Accordingly, if you are in tech and are looking to understand what life is like for an independent creator, this letter is pretty real.
I’m at XOXO in Portland this weekend. The conference is just starting today, but I’ve been on the ground for the past day and a half just getting settled and meetingotherfolkswho are here early. People love to eat.
I had a great time speaking at Designers + Geeks last night. While the talk was titled Designing for Uncertainty, at the end of the day it was really a distillation of what I’ve learned over the past three years and a prelude to how I plan to live in the future.
Thanks to everyone who came out, and thanks to the organizers for having me and running such a great event. It was a nice welcome back to NY after having been away for a month.
I’m working on pulling together the appendix of links, as promised and will get that to everyone over the weekend. I’ll post it here, too so that everyone can see it.
UPDATE: As promised, I pulled together an appendix that links to most everything that I mentioned in the talk, along with quite a bit of background reading:
That said, I don’t think it means that our lives are subject purely to randomness nor does it mean that preparation is meaningless. There are implications to the choices you make regarding the conditions that you place yourself into. As the also wise Paul Pangaro once said: “What you pay attention to is what you change.”
So, I’ll be sharing some thoughts on this topic as well as how I’m looking at what comes next for me, personally. Get your tickets here. I am particularly pleased that there’s are specific agenda items for Giveaways and Fun.
To add to that, I thought I’d write up a few tips on the general practice of traveling light. I’ve gone on a few month-long trips in the past year where these were the only two bags I had with me.
There are a lot of benefits to traveling light:
Fewer tragedies. If your bags are always with you, you reduce the likelihood of having them lost, stolen, or tampered with.
More fun time, less airport time. You don’t need to be at the airport as early to check-in and you also don’t need to wait around for your bags upon arrival. Most international flights still require that you check in at the counter vs. a kiosk. There’s a separate line for those who don’t have luggage to check, and the wait is often little to none.
More flexibility. If something comes up where you need to/want to change your flights, i.e. a standby flight, it’s more likely that you can make that happen if you have your bags.
Save money. Public transportation to/from the airport actually becomes a viable option, which means you can take fewer taxis.
So given that, here are a few tips that I’ve picked up:
1. Stay at places that have easy/cheap access to laundry facilities. If you know in advance that you can wash your stuff, then you don’t need to bring as much of it. I brought about a week’s worth of clothes, and then washed everything once a week.
2. Use a space saver bag. These do exactly what they say—they help you save space by compressing your clothes.
Over the course of the week, I worked out of the offices of: Gengo, a translation as a service startup, where I also got some text translated in the process!; Open Network Lab, an accelerator now on its seventh batch; and B-Dash Ventures, a venture firm which also hosts a number of companies who work out of their space. Thanks,Robert, Hiro, Mariko, and Max for collectively taking care of me.
It was a packed week, and it all came together literally at the last minute. If that’s not evidence of a cohesive, generous community, I don’t know what is. I have a full stack of business cards and met a ton of folks, so thank you all, and I look forward to returning the favor!
A few cursory thoughts on Tokyo startups and otherwise:
There are plenty of talented people working on interesting problems in Tokyo. Yet more proof that startups are emerging in places other than the Bay Area and New York City.
There is a perceived lack of available talent with which to grow teams, but it was unclear to me if this is significantly or disproportionately more challenging in Tokyo vs. anywhere else.
Related, from a labor standpoint, people still feel like they are competing against societal norms. It is more accepted for people to work for large companies, and there’s a bit of a stigma in leaving that to go work in at a startup that is perceived to be more nebulous and risky.
Access to sufficient risk capital seems to be limited, but I don’t have enough of a handle on the actual numbers to know if this is true or how this measures up against other startup hot spots. To muddy the waters further, historically in many cases, entrepreneurs have been expected to personally guarantee equity investments from venture capitalists. Crazy town! Some folks I talked to felt that this is a relic of the past. Others expressed it as still a going concern.
The conditions in Tokyo encourage entrepreneurs to pursue early smaller exits over later, bigger ones. So, you see people more focused on getting to revenue early. As a result, you get few exits that produce outsized returns, which then affects the investment strategy, which then affects the exit strategy, and so on.
You can eat very well and for extremely cheap and not get bored—the dining options are never-ending. That said, one of my favorite places to eat were the convenience stores, as they all stock fresh food for just a few bucks. For example, this cost $4 and tasted great. Rent, from my understanding, is a whole different issue.
Tokyo (or at least the parts I saw) is very walkable. It has a similar cadence and feel to New York City, except it’s much larger.
The public transportation system is a bit complicated but really impressive, and it clearly works at scale. In particular, after living in the Bay Area for some time, I’d all but written off the feasibility of fabric-covered seats in buses and trains (easy-to-clean surfaces all the way!) Lo and behold, Tokyo goes and shows that it is indeed possible to have clean comfortable public transportation *and* fabric seats. Who knew?
Coffee shops mostly open at 11am or later because breakfast is traditionally eaten inside the home. So, I had to adopt a slightly different morning routine than expected.
For the month of August, I’m away from New York doing some traveling.
This week, I’ve been in Seoul, and it’s been great. By day, thanks to my friend Sooyoung Park, I’ve been working out of the Favorite Medium office (where I am now the Mayor). At night, I’ve been catching up with friends who’ve been taking me out to some amazingplaces to eat.
I’m definitely missing out on seeing the sights, but I’m much more interested in getting a sense of what it’s like to actually live (and work) here—not because I specifically want to move to Seoul, but because if you are interested in designing and building social systems on the web, there’s a lot to learn from understanding what life is like in other cities.
Part of truly understanding something is learning how itactuallyfeels. I’ve often said that the design of any social system has to start with deciding how you want people to feel.
So, I’ve been getting up at 8am every day, taking part in the morning commute, hanging out with the team here, taking coffee breaks, and foraging for food around the office. (Aside: where Favorite Medium is located is pretty ideal for a startup—there are great food/coffee options and it’s very convenient to public transportation.) There’s a rhythm to every city, and it’s a function of a lot of tiny details. You have to really experience it to understand it—everything from the payment systems, to subway etiquette, to the broadband speeds—and it wouldn’t be the same if I was purely engaging as a tourist.
So, thanks to the awesome Favorite Medium team for letting me hang out! I’m tempted to try and stay an additional week.
Next week, I’m heading to Tokyo and hope to do something similar in terms of getting a feel for the city (and to eat). I’ve been researching some English-speaking co-working spaces to work out of, but if you have any recommendations, you can let me know by leaving them in the comments.
In the age of the networks, I believe the first step for a creator should be to assess their own self-sufficiency. This could mean a wide range of things, but for most, the focus is financial sustainability. What is the economic model that enables you to focus on your work without imposing undue constraints on your creative process?
It is no doubt a challenge, but it is a beautiful one at that because there are few rules and many options, especially today. You may have a job, consult, teach, rent out your room, execute quarterly Kickstarter projects, or do all of the above. Or, perhaps even your creative work is your economic engine.
There is just as much creative thought and ingenuity that goes into the sustainability model as there is that goes into the work that you create. Further, what works for one may not work for others. The new model is that there are no more models. I think this is an exciting thing—after all, who knew a fixed number of chords could result in limitless songs?
Once you have this economic model in place, a few things happen. The economic self-sufficiency evolves into a sense of autonomy, and that greatly influences the creator’s work—both the quality and the scope. You see greater risks because the potential fall is not so devastating. You see new creations that emerge from greater patience. You get things that would not have otherwise existed. Autonomy gives us the courage to embrace a purpose.
There’s something else that happens at the same time. In establishing oneself as a self-sufficient node in a network (or a cell in a colony) it enables one to be connected to others (carrying its own weight because each participant is already self-sufficient) and enabling new capabilities to emerge from the whole. The group can do things that the individual could not do alone.
Who knows where that will lead, but that is part of what is fascinating about this path. In fact, this is entirely what informs the design of the Entrepreneurial Design class that I teach at SVA’s IxD program, which wrapped up this past May.
The students are challenged to create $1k of recurring runway, and also to navigate the awkwardness around building and leveraging networks. It’s awkward not because the students are awkward (they are not), but because they live in a world that has not taught them to think this way, and they are confronted with future opportunities that present them with the opportunity to be factory workers when they can be independent creators. The interests of all parties are simply not aligned here.
So, it’s wonderful to see things like this. Or posts like this. They may seem like such small steps, but I’m convinced that if you give it time we will see some pretty amazing things emerge.
I blogged yesterday about officiating my friends’ wedding last year in Yosemite. On that same day, my friends in Seattle, Frida and Tomo, were getting married as well. Obviously, I missed it. But, thankfully, The New York Times was on it! It’s an incredible and wonderful story and well worth the read. I hope someone makes it into a movie. Happy Anniversary!