When I started in college radio, my friends and I would jockey for position by the mailbox on the day when R&R would arrive. Two decades ago, trade magazines were the only way you knew what was happening in markets beyond your own, short of getting on the phone and calling folks you knew in different cities. We’d take turns analyzing what was performing where, while formulating justifications for our own programming decisions.
After graduating from college radio from public radio, some of those discussions migrated to online bulletin boards, like the Velvet Rope on AOL. The Velvet Rope as it exists now is nothing like it was back in the AOL days. It’s the only place you would run into people like Lefsetz if you didn’t already know them. If you were lucky enough to have AOL at work, you could get in during the day. At night, if you managed to get a live connection to an AOL dialup node, you’d find plenty of other things to do while waiting for the boards to refresh. Better to hit up the Motley Fool for stock advice than lose that connection.
Still, insight into the entertainment business was scarce. You had to know someone to get access to an internship in a music management agency. Everyone read the same five music business books. And case studies got handed down as cautionary tales. “Remember that one guy whose client set his house on fire?”
The Internet changed the music industry, mostly for the better. But while it has opened up plenty of opportunities for novice music managers, it also masks one of the biggest threats to your management career: media overload. It’s common for me to run into prospective music managers who feel crushed by the sheer volume of things they feel like they have to read, watch, or understand.
In The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss writes about going on a media diet to open up more time in your life for creative work or for relaxation. Choosing either goal gets you further along your path toward a productive music management career. Wired Magazine suggests that most Americans spend nine hours every day staring at some kind of media. That’s a full time job. Are you getting paid for that? If not, start stripping out the things that don’t move your objectives forward. Once you start cataloguing the amount of time you spend each week on empty media calories, you can refocus on the task of developing your artists and their work.
First, strip out as much television as you can possibly manage. This was probably the hardest part of my personal media diet. I’ve been a TV junkie since I was tiny. I was the one guy in my dorm in 1990 that paid through the nose to wire the place for premium cable. Today, I have only 2-3 shows that qualify as “must-see.”
Next, eliminate your bad web surfing habits. You don’t need to refresh Pitchfork every hour. By the time something’s on Pitchfork, it’s already on Pitchfork. Wouldn’t you prefer to use that time to find something new? You could use that time to call talent buyers in your city and ask them who you should be trying to meet.
At this point, most folks object. If you’re in the entertainment business, isn’t it in your best interest to stay abreast of every blip on the pop culture radar?
Here’s where you can take Ferriss’ advice: rely on your personal network for news about “what’s hot.” You don’t have to be the best coolhunter in the world to know what audiences want. You just have to develop a powerful set of filters. Friends, family, peers, and clients will clue you in to the stuff you really need to know.
And what you really need to know should concern the things you want to learn that can help you grow your practice and to help you grow your clients’ audiences. Technology can really save you, here.
- Twitter. Heed Chris Brogan’s advice. Don’t use Twitter to read every single tweet from every single follower. Dive in occasionally. Use smart alerts to let you know when someone you care about wants to have meaningful communication with you. Compartmentalize your networks into lists that you can easily manage. Lean on those Twitter lists to bubble up things like great links, pop culture memes, and video clips that really add value to your day.
- RSS Readers. Pouring your favorite websites into an RSS reader can streamline the time you spend online. I like to use Google Reader to distill what my circle of influence is talking about at any given moment. Again, I don’t need to read every single article to sense a trend, and I’ve got a few go-to sources for insight when I see the same keywords pop up again and again. Don’t add the whole world to your Reader, just those folks who can help make a difference. (Along with my own feed, naturally, I’d nominate Derek Sivers, David Hooper, Ariel Hyatt, Bob Baker, and the rest of the Music Think Tank crew.) Really good writers and editors will alert you when something’s out there worth absorbing.
- Mail filters. GMail has great filters, but pretty much any mail program will let you strip all the extra white noise from your inbox. Gina Trapani talks about using no more than three folders in her e-mail system. I add a fourth. My Inbox has been stripped of anything that my system’s not 100% sure is a personal message to me from someone I know or trust. I’ve added a “Review” box where messages go from other sources. I review my trusted Inbox about three times daily. My Review box gets reviewed about three times a week. And I have yet to miss a crucial opportunity because of…
- Active Alerts. I use Boxcar on my iPhone to actively alert me when someone has triggered an event that really needs my personal attention. The instructions on my Contact page act as a filter. Follow the instructions, and I will respond to you, often very quickly. If you’re a client of mine, chances are I have a filter that triggers an event when you send me an e-mail, as well. The alerts are tight enough that I’m no longer tempted to check my inbox all day long. (Avoiding the inbox helps me focus, since my inbox usually leads me to more time reading blogs instead of writing them…)
Let’s assume 90% of the stuff in your media intake is really white noise. Stuff you might find interesting, but isn’t vital to your success. Filters and alerts help you keep that stuff safe until you’ve got “time to kill.” You’re not missing anything. The 10% of the media you get is the stuff you really need. Focusing your time on that will help you build the foundation of a strong career.