Web 2.0 and The Thank You Economy

I had the opportunity to hear Gary Vaynerchuk yesterday, at a Drucker Business Forum event.

Vaynerchuck is a social media expert, entrepreneur, and bestselling author of Crush It! – Why Now Is The Time To Cash In On Your Passion, and The Thank You Economy. He is a regular speaker at events such as the TED conference and SXSW and consults on social media with companies like Johnson & Johnson, Disney, Pepsi, and Google.

He is best known for building a huge online wine business with his irreverent WineLibraryTV video blog and extensive use of Web 2.0 technologies. Gary is in the top 100 of people followed on Twitter. He is funny, intense, competitive, and has a ridiculous work ethic.

In The Thank You Economy he passionately advocates for the humanization of business by strengthening authentic relationships with customers using Web 2.0 tools and old-fashioned generosity and consideration.

Building strong relationships with customers is a long-term play. Established businesses, particularly public companies, resist investing in this kind of culture shift because they are focused on short-term profits and have difficulty computing the ROI on  Web 2.0 engagement.

Vaynerchuk insists that this is the future of business and if companies don’t start caring about their customers and employees they will not survive.

As passionate as this guy is about people, his focus is on making money. He believes that building generous and sincere long-term relationships is the key to success, not because he is Mother Teresa, but because he is driven to compete and create wealth. Many people dabble in social media, but they are not really sure what they are doing or why. After some experimentation they give up. Without a clear business model and a solid understanding of your potential market, tools like Twitter seem scattered and decentralized compared to old-school top down marketing channels like television, print media and radio.

People have a tendency to use social media as a ‘push’ PR broadcast channel, which it is not. I see this all the time with musicians advertising gigs and their latest accomplishments on Twitter and Facebook. This amounts to random electronic direct mail. When I see this kind of communication I immediately tune out.

Twitter and related tools are like a giant cocktail party. This is a medium for listening and conversation. How many times have you heard someone say, “I don’t get Twitter. Why do I care what so and so had for breakfast?” People are discussing their passions online. Facebook, Twitter, and mobile phones have become the new barber shop. Listen and learn. We are instinctively afraid to engage with strangers, but stepping into that conversation opens a new door.

The bottom line for business is this: Customers are talking about you every day, whether you like it or not, the good, the bad, and the ugly. You have the opportunity to join that conversation and build genuine, caring relationships. Vaynerchuk believes that unless businesses do just that they will be run over by the empowered consumer and the competition. I think he is probably right..

    C-SCAPE: Curation, Consumers, Convergence, Content

    “”How do you get people who can talk about anything to talk about you? The answer is to offer them something new and interesting to say – to chat about, blog about, tweet about, and spread the word about in all media, new and old and in between.”
    – Larry Kramer, C-SCAPE

    Veteran media executive Larry Kramer’s book on the influence of social media and the Internet postulates that today, all businesses are in the media business. He identifies four key trends; the convergence of consumers and media producers, the increasing power of consumers, the need for trusted curators, and the importance of content. These ideas have been explored in depth in many other books (such as the Groundswell series) but I find his writing concise and actionable. His enthusiasm is contagious and many of these ideas are directly applicable by musicians reinventing themselves in this massively disrupted industry.

    The John Scofield Quartet: New Morning, The Paris Concert

    Check out this  video by the great John Scofield and a killer quartet. I was very fortunate to know and study with John when I first arrived in Boston way back when. He is a wonderful person and a phenomenal jazz musician and innovator. This is a particularly good DVD with some nice extra footage.

    Recommended reading…

    Check back often to catch the ongoing updates on my favorite books…
    Skill-Building and Performance
    Outliers – The Story of Success
    Malcolm Gladwell – New York: Little Brown, and Company, 2008
    Malcolm Gladwell explodes the myth that excellence is the result of some mysterious, innate talent. By examining research and the lives of a variety of “outliers’ he explores the logic of extraordinary success, delving into the impact of ‘deep practice’ (10,000 hours…), family, and birthplace.
    The Talent Code – Greatness Isn’t Born, It’s Grown. Here’s How
    Daniel Coyle – New York: Bantam Books, 2009
    Weaving together real world examples with brain science and behavioral research, Daniel Coyle breaks the process of expert skill-building into three main pieces: deep practice, coaching, and motivation.
    Talent Is Overrated – What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else
    Geoff Colvin – New York: Portfolio, 2008
    Geoff Colvin explores ‘deliberate practice’ in individual and group contexts. This book covers much of the same ground as The Talent Code with the inclusion of a section describing organizational applications.
    The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working – The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance
    Tony Schwartz – New York: Free Press, 2010
    Tony Schwartz covers a wide range of topics in this actionable book focused on creating efficiency in the workplace. His premise is that people need four types of energy to perform at their best; physical (sustainability), emotional (security), mental (self-expression), and spiritual (significance). He provides practical steps and illustrations for each section. For example; we work best in 45 to 90 minute, highly focused sprints intermixed with periods of renewal.
    Practicing, The Psychology of Creation, and Overcoming Creative Blocks
    The War of Art – Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
    Steven Pressfield – New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2002
    This classic book (by the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance) should be read by everyone. We are all artists and have a gift to give the world. Steven Pressfield inspires in this funny, straight-from-the-hip, kick in the pants, identifying the roadblocks that keep our potential under wraps and prescribing strategies that take no prisoners. 
    Free Play – Improvisation in Life and Art
    Stephen Nachmanovitch – New York: Putnam, 1990
    This is one of the best books I have ever read on the essence of improvisation and the creative process.
    Effortless Mastery – Liberating the Master Musician Within
    Kenny Werner – New Albany: Jamey Abersold Jazz, Inc., 1996
    Jazz piano virtuoso Kenny Werner shares his approach to practicing, getting out of the music’s way, and developing a state of relaxed focus.
    The Art of Practicing – A Guide to Making Music From the Heart
    Madeline Bruser – New York: Bell Tower, 1997
    This book describes both a physical and spiritual approach to practicing a musical instrument. While most of her instructions are for pianists, the principles can be applied to any instrument.
    Practicing – A Musician’s Return to Music
    Glenn Kurtz – New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007
    Classical guitarist Glenn Kurtz describes his personal journey as a music student who eventually drifts away from his passion only to return years later. The book is largely a memoir but contains many vivid descriptions of the process of practicing.
    The Pat Metheny Interviews – The Inner Workings of His Creativity Revealed
    Richard Niles – New York: Hal Leonard, 2009
    With the unique perspective of a fellow guitarist and long-time friend, Richard Niles captures the essence of Pat Metheny’s creative evolution, process, and work ethic in a collection of conversations culled from a three-part BBC radio series.

    The Judson Studios

    The other day an architect friend took me to The Judson Studios in the Garvanza (Highland Park) neighborhood of Los Angeles to view a project in progress. I knew a little about the building but had never had the opportunity to meet the artisans or see their stunning stained glass work up close. Everything about this place exudes a deep love of beauty and an attention to detail that makes no compromise. It’s hard to believe this Southern California gem is only a few blocks away from Penny’s Hamburgers and the T-Shirt Warehouse.

    William Lees Judson settled on the banks of the Arroyo Seco in 1893 and quickly became a driving force behind the Arroyo Guild of Craftsmen, fueling Southern California’s Arts and Crafts movement. In the late 1890s he founded the Los Angeles College of Fine Arts at this location. In 1901 his art college became USC’s College of Fine Arts and remained in Garvanza until moving to the central campus in 1920.

    Judson’s stained glass studio remains in the family to this day, producing profoundly beautiful work in a tradition unchanged by time. Horace Judson told the Highland Park News-Herald in 1940: “Here there is no rush. We work slowly and for perfection as they did six centuries ago.”

    As I watched the artisans work I marveled at the way architects manipulate light to create beauty and a sense of well being. When we look away from a painting it is gone, but when the light has been channeled in our living and working spaces, it continually changes our experience whether we are aware of it or not. Stained glass transforms itself with the seasons and the daily cycles of light and dark. The tradition captures icons that surround us with the things we value most.

    This beautiful place reminded me of music, which also shifts space around us, creating a dimension of beauty and a sensual aesthetic that goes beyond words. Enjoy these images from The Judson Studios web site.

    Nonesuch knocks it out the park with Brad Mehldau’s ‘Highway Rider’

    Nonesuch Records is doing some very cool stuff with their promotion of the extraordinary Brad Mehldau recording, Highway Rider.

    The website is engaging and features an innovative scrolling musical score and a fascinating story book (with streaming audio) that takes the listener/viewer through the programmatic trajectory of this unique project.

    Highway Rider is available on CD for and for download in audiophile quality 320 kbps MP3 format (with bonus tracks). Nonesuch has created a compelling online campaign. The website alone is a real trip! I’ve been listening on Rhapsody and ordered the CD as well. One of the drags about downloads is losing the direct segues between tracks and of course, I want to hear this in highest audio quality available.

    Kudos to Nonesuch for supporting such great music and creating an awesome promotional campaign.

    Innocent When You Dream – Celebrating the Music of Tom Waits

    Innocent When You Dream – Celebrating the Music of Tom Waits

    Vocal music connects with listeners through lyrics, melodies, and arrangements. Instrumental improvisation is rare and usually serves as a device for building the energy of the song. The mystery of a magical pop or rock tune lies in the mix of lyric, melody, and presentation.

    Jazz on the other hand is about virtuosic instrumental performers composing in realtime without a net. The soloist’s ability to spontaneously create, usually on top of complex, rapidly moving harmonies can take the audience on a powerful and unexpected emotional journey. This stripped-down, solo-driven intensity can lend a static quality, a kind of esoteric minimalism to what many people think of as “jazz”.

    Just as jazz harmonies and styles have evolved over the years, restless jazz musicians have explored new approaches to making their music, mixing improvisation, ensemble writing, and genres not usually associated with jazz. For me, this pursuit of innovation has always been key. I love music that balances the direct emotion of pop and roots styles with the freedom and sophistication of contemporary improvisational techniques.

    I was very excited to hear Brandon Bernstein’s new CD,  “Innocent When You Dream – Celebrating The Music of Tom Waits”. The band, Brandon Bernstein (guitar), Aaron Shragge (trumpet, shakuhachi), Matt Otto (tenor sax), Greg Leisz (pedal steel and dobro), Ryan McGillicuddy (bass), and Jason Harnell (drums) take an ensemble approach to the material. The group’s sound is wide open but still deeply connected to the core of each of these songs. While there are solos throughout, this is not a blowing date, but a conceptual work, merging the skills and personalities of these fine musicians with the unique songwriting of Tom Waits.

    Choosing Tom Waits as the starting point for this music is quite ambitious. Waits is a multi-faceted, iconoclastic artist, from his powerful voice (and Radio Shack bullhorn), to his theatrical song-cycles, dramatic arrangements, physical presence and deeply emotional songwriting. Rather than trying to capture the ‘Big In Japan’ totality of Waits, the band has taken an approach similar to the traditional jazz read on Tin Pan Alley tunes. Some of the tracks are true to the tone of the Waits originals and others use his version as a springboard for something fresh and unique to this band.

    A few highlights…

    The album, opens with ‘Good Old World’ originally done as a waltz. Matt Otto has arranged the song in a somewhat brighter 4/4 meter, opening up new possibilities. Brandon Bernstein and Otto contribute thoughtful, melodic solos, and Greg Leisz adds a touch of mystery and a hint of Robert’s Western World. The arrangement teases the listener, playing with new directions, but staying close to the introspective emotion of Waits’ original. Jason Harnell’s fills are free and colorful, letting us know that the band is listening and ready to let the music go where it will. The opener tells us that these musicians are quite comfortable exploring this unique mix of musical styles.

    Aaron Schragge’s modal arrangement of “Blue Valentines” drops the slight tongue-in-cheek, noir jazz vibe of the original, favoring the bones of the song itself. The band treats it as a pensive jazz ballad with introspective solos by Schragge and Otto over Brandon Bernstein’s hypnotic chordal vamp. Jason Harnell’s out-of-time fills add color and dynamics, pushing and pulling the mood.

    The title track, “Innocent When You Dream”, arranged by Brandon Bernstein, artfully mixes the melancholic melody (Schragge and Otto) with pedal steel guitar, creating a blend of country longing, and “last dance of the night” bar room glow. Harnell paints fills and colors on the canvas of the song. It works.

    “Flash Pan Hunter” always reminds me of some sort of demented Max Fleischer cartoon. William Burroughs’ lyrics conjure up images of grainy, distorted, psychopathic, vegetation and mechanical contraptions going about their daily business. Schragge’s treatment takes a different look at the song, bypassing the wackiness and playing the tune as a rubato ballad with a long free introduction. Schragge plays shakahachi flute on this track which clearly sets the tone for the arrangement.

    Berstein’s straight forward arrangement of “The Long Way Home” features Greg Leisz and almost hints at a Caribbean feel. Cowboy jazz with a light touch.

    The record also features performances of “Picture In a Frame”, Frank’s Theme”, “Can’t Wait To Get Off Of Work”, and two original group improvisations, “Orphan” and “Fishbone”.

    You can catch the band (with Doug Livingston substituting for Greg Leisz) performing a free CD release concert at 7:30, Saturday May 1 at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, CA. You can find this music in the iTunes Store, at Amazon.com and at CD Baby. You can also purchase CDs by contacting Brandon Bernstein through his website.

    Rizzo, Breadman, Oles – March 5, 2010 at The Blue Whale, Los Angeles

    At The Blue Whale in downtown Los Angeles last Friday night I was reminded of the spirit of openness and musical invention I experienced as a music student in Boston. I was quite fortunate to stumble into  a very inspiring, wide open, musical community. Gary Burton’s groups included groundbreaking guitarists Mick Goodrick and Pat Metheny and featured new composers like Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, and Michael Gibbs. The music was crossing boundaries, exploring approaches beyond the language of bebop and post-bebop traditions. Manfred Eicher’s ECM records was a rising force, bringing European classical harmony and a lush sonic palette to the mix, and ‘world music’ influences were making deep inroads into the American improvisational tradition. Some of the most influential guitarists in the last thirty years passed through Boston during this time; John Abercrombie, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Mike Stern, and many others less well known. It was an exciting time when anything seemed possible.

    Tom Rizzo (Maynard Ferguson, Doc Severinsen) guitar, Scott Breadman (Jose Feliciano, Lindsey Buckingham, The Rippingtons) percussion, and Darek Oles (Brad Mehldau, Billy Higgins, Pat Metheny) upright bass, brought their unique, collective sound to this intimate venue. After warming up with their take on a couple of classic tunes (including a beautiful version of Bill Evans’ “Time Remembered”), they dug into their own material, primarily composed by Rizzo.
    Rizzo is a seasoned writer and his strong compositions focused the band’s identity and sound. His guitar playing has a playful, uplifting feel. He is a modern, straight-ahead guitarist with fluid single note and chordal chops. His lines are melodic and he builds his solos well, developing thematic ideas and directing the energy of the band. I enjoyed his use of harmonics and at one point he played a comping figure that sounded like a Brazilian berimbau. It was great. Rizzo’s “straight into the amp” tone was warm and present. His sound sat perfectly in the room between the bass and percussion.
    Darek Oles is a powerful, emotive bass player. His time feel and intonation were dead on, laying down a solid foundation for the trio’s explorations. His solos were melodic and passionate. Rizzo’s light touch and sensitive, conversational accompaniment was the perfect compliment.
    Breadman has mastered a multitude of percussion styles from around the world. He seamlessly integrates a variety of techniques across his unique setup: congas, tablas, cymbals, hand percussion and various miscellaneous noise makers including a frying pan. He is very sensitive to dynamics and at one point laid down a solid fatback groove with only a shaker and a few accents…Right in the pocket…Breadman moves effortlessly across his array of instruments, following the ebb and flow of the music.
    I saw this group several weeks ago and they sound more comfortable and adventurous with each gig. I look forward to hearing this band develop and grow…Perhaps extended compositions, grooves, free improvisation..Who knows? With musicians of this caliber anything can happen.
    The Blue Whale is a great new music room in downtown LA. It’s comfortable, hip, and has an excellent bar…see Mitch for his special concoctions. The proprietor, Joon Lee is committed to showcasing the best musicians in LA. They are continually expanding their music nights. Check the online calendar and Facebook page for updates. The club is a little off the beaten path, on the top floor of a mall in Little Tokyo, off of East 1st between Grand and South San Pedro. Drop in for a drink and enjoy the great music…then tell your friends!

    Tongue and Groove LA – Feb 28, 2010

    I caught up with Conrad Romo last night at his monthly spoken word and music event Tongue and Groove, one of the real gems of the LA spoken word scene. Conrad has been producing T & G for six years. Shows happen on the last Sunday of the month at the Hotel Cafe in Hollywood from 6 to 7:30 pm. Conrad has his finger on the pulse of the LA literary scene and always puts together a great mix short fiction, personal essays, poetry, spoken word, and music.

    Last nights show featured Brendan Constantine, (Letters To Guns), Antonia Crane (Tales of a Sexual Outlaw) Rob Roberge (Working Backwards From the Worst Moments of My Life), Patrick O’Neil, and the “cowpunk” band, Speedbuggy.
    Conrad says:
    “Brendan Constantine holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is currently poet in residence at Loyolla Marymount University Extension and the Windward School.
    His work has appeared in numerous journals, most notably Ploughshares, Ninth Letter, The Cortland Review and RUNES. His collection, Letters To Guns, was released in 2009 from Red Hen Press. He lives at Bela Lugosi’s last address.

    Antonia Crane is a freelance journalist, editor and sex worker from Humboldt County. She has been a sex educator and harm reduction counselor for at-risk youth and women in SF and LA. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch, edits the on line journal, “The Citron Review” and is a contributing columnist for “The Rumpus.” Excerpts from her forthcoming memoir “Tales of a Sexual Outlaw” have been published in the Black Clock Journal, Coachella Review and the Sylvan Echo. She can be spotted hanging upside-down in precarious positions from stripper poles in L.A. and New Orleans.

    Rob Roberge is the author of the upcoming book of stories, WORKING BACKWARDS FROM THE WORST MOMENT OF MY LIFE and the novels More Than They Could Chew and Drive. He teaches writing at the Antioch MFA in Creative Writing, UC-Riverside’s Palm Desert MFA program and the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. His stories have been featured in ZYZZYVA, Chelsea, Other Voices and Alaska Quarterly Review, to name a few. He plays guitar and sings with several LA bands, including the punk pioneers, The Urinals. He also works with JAIL GUITAR DOORS, a program to bring music and therapy into prisons.

    Patrick O’Neil is a former junkie/bank robber, turned writer/teacher. He received his MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. His first book of memoir is titled Opacity. His essays have appeared in Word Riot, SoMa Literary Review, Blood Orange Review, The Citron Review, Sunsets and Silencers, The Sylvan Echo, Nouveau Blank, and AUDEMUS. “
    The readings were captivating. The general tone of the evening was a bit dark, but with compassion and humor. The four piece band (2 guitars, bass & drums) sounded great; an update on the classic Bakersfield country sound. It felt like they hit the stage straight out of the van after a twelve hour drive from their last gig. Strong songwriting, dynamic vocals from frontman Timbo, and solid support from the rhythm section.
    Check out the T & G website and shoot Conrad an email to be added to his mailing list. To find out more about these artists dig into the links above.
    Tongue and Groove is one of my favorite Hollywood hangs and always full of surprises. Maybe I’ll see you there next month.