marketing

The Right Size for a Project by Simeon Smith

So, capitalism, eh? 

Totally broken. So fucked up. Look at the growing inequality between the richest and poorest in the developed world and you’ll see that capitalism has flaws as vast as those of communism, or any other system for that matter. I don’t have the answers, I’m not here to preach, but recently in my work I’ve had questions. Questions about the right size for projects, for businesses, for life. 

Only a few decades ago businesses weren’t just about making money. They were as much about making things, serving needs. Look at big supermarkets. They’re not grocers anymore. They’re not shops. They’re doing whatever makes them cash. Where I buy baked beans also sells car insurance and credit cards, there’s an opticians in there and a pharmacy, and a photography studio to boot. It’s crazy. 

But if you look at smaller, successful companies, they’re often focussed on the product, not the bottom line. I love Huit Jean’s ethos of “do one thing well”. For years Monome made machines in tiny runs, and always sold out during pre-orders. Both these companies have great customer service, and neither are paying me to tell you this. 

So this year I’ve published a book, released a synth module, and now my new album is coming out on Friday. 

One of the hardest things to decide for each of these projects is how big they should. 

With the Eurorack module I totally undershot. I made 10 thinking they might sell over the next 3 months or so. They sold out in 90 minutes. My bad. That project was too small. I could have made double the number of modules for little extra work. I could have reduced the end price, or increased my profit margin. Could’ve, should’ve. 

With the book, I had it a bit easier. I crowdfunded the thing. I set a reasonable goal. That goal was literally how much it’d cost me to do the minimum print run. I met the funding goal in 4hrs, but then went on to fund the project over 4 times over. This was a great way for me to know how many books to print, how much effort to put into the post-crowdfunding campaign, and a way of grabbing people’s attention. 

Now I face another question, about my new album. Few people are making money from music these days, luckily digital distribution is cheap as chips. I’ve decided not to do a physical run of CDs, cassettes or vinyl. If people really want my music in a physical format they can buy a one-off dub plate. As for marketing, a lot of it is either free, or just takes my time. Sending my music places for review / airtime, social media, video content. But other things, things I won’t be doing this time around, cost serious cash. Will not investing as much in the marketing for this album be a mistake? Have I undershot on my goals for the album? Should I be taking these projects more seriously, putting more effort into fewer projects? 

I’ve no idea. 

I guess my current ethos is to try winning the lottery by buying lots of tickets. Figuratively, obvs. 

Scroobius Pip said, “Throw enough shit at the wall, and some of it’ll stick…

… but make no mistake, your wall’s still covered in shit.” 

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The Great Tradition of being Easily Distracted by Simeon Smith

A while ago I played a festival, under my own name, playing the kind of down-tempo electronic music I usually make. 

The organiser billed me as a "polymath".  I think this is because some of the people attending the festival probably knew me better from my time in Kinetic Money, or from my anarchic chiptune sideproject

But I kind of think most people probably read "polymath" as "twat", or just don't know what it means. I read an artist biography recently, and the guy had described himself as a "true renaissance man".

I can't even type that with a straight face.

How can it be that in the 21st century where almost everyone under the age of 40 has multiple income streams, multiple interests and is part of the "gig economy", we STILL need to explain this fact to people?

I was reminded of this question recently when I saw prolific musician Andy Burrows on twitter. His profile reads: "Tom Odell, We Are Scientists, David Brent & Foregone Conclusion, I Am Arrows, Smith & Burrows, The Snowman & the Snowdog, onceuponaRazorlight"

People seem to need the mental hook to hang people on, but also seem only to be able to hang people on one hook at time.

Austin Kleon wrote an amazing thread of tweets about this same issue and included the following two quotes:

“You’re supposed to do one thing. If you do more than that, people get confused.” Margaret Atwood

"I made every mistake in the book. You should never do two things. You should hammer one nail all your life, and I didn't do that." - Brion Gysin

And too damn right he didn't! His Wikipedia entry reads: "Brion Gysin was a painter, writer, sound poet, and performance artist". 

A lot of people know me for one thing and when they find out about other things I do they say unhelpful things like "Oh, are you not doing music anymore?", "Are you focusing on your photography now?", "Are you trying to make writing your full time job?", "Are you hoping to give up your work at the university soon?". 

No, no, no, and no. I'm having fun, I'm following my heart. I like what I do, and I do what I like. 

For some reason people look down on diversity of interests. The common phrase goes, "Jack of all trades, Master of none" but I just can't get on board with that. A lot of people spend their entire lives following one path, and I love their dedication. For some of us though, we're more easily distracted. And we follow in a great tradition of easily distracted people: Da Vinci - Artist, anatomist and war-machine designer. Jefferson - President, lawyer and inventor. Asimov - Biochemist, author, and ethicist. 

For a lot of people, personal satisfaction derives from diversity of output. Last night I wrote words, music and developed film, and went to bed satisfied with my work.

I'm convinced I'm on the right path for me for now. My problem is marketing myself. 

I met with someone for lunch today. They wanted some friendly advice on advancing their career, and had followed a couple of career paths in recent years. I told them, "For the job you're applying for, you're going to get asked if you really want the job, or if you're just waiting for your other work to pick up." And I hated myself for saying it. We all only have one life and should be encouraged to follow as many interests as like. But that is where society is at right now, asking us which one nail we'd like to hammer for the rest of our lives. 

I've been using the strap-line recently "Digital Creative / Analogue Heart". The aforementioned Austin Kleon describes himself as "A writer who draws". It's like we're trying to justify to the world that we do more than one thing. 

We're not special though. Everyone I know has side-hustles, hobbies and the 21st century economy is blurring the lines between who we are and what we do. 

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3 things nobody told me about Kickstarter.  by Simeon Smith

I’ve already written a post about how to run a successful crowdfunding campaign, and it was easy to stay positive about Kickstarter, their training videos, and their process. Crowdfunding sites WANT you to succeed because they take a cut of your profits. The more you earn, the more they earn. 

 

There are a few things, however, that they’ve yet to work out. They’re not going to tell you all the negatives of there service, so here, let me.

climb.jpg

 

There’s lots of information out there about survivor bias, people borrowing money to access a half-funded crowdfunder, the amount of work these things take, and the massive ball-ache that fulfilment can be, so here are 3 things I didn’t know about before starting my campaign. 

  1. SPAM. Never before have I received as much spam as I did on my Kickstarter page. I’ve had a good following on Soundcloud for years, and am used to getting “targeted” spam advertising social media pay-for-listens. Since my Sample Packs got a lot of press, I’ve also had a lot of time wasters, asking me to work for free or pay to play gigs. but NONE of that prepared me for the sheer volume of spam I received via Kickstarter. “Hi! We’re an innovative marketing company offering…” five or six times a day. The problem being that these appear alongside genuine questions from users, and it’s a pain separating them out. “As the global leader in crowdfunding marketing we can help you reach your goal…” I did. In 4 hours. But thanks. Now go away. 
  2. CANCELLED ORDERS. Those annoying marketeers from point 1? Yeah, they’re a sneaky bunch. A few of them backed my project to try to get my attention, knowing full well that if they cancel the payment, Kickstarter has no way of claiming the cash from them. I ran my campaign on a tight budget and having orders cancelled changed my budget, as well as being really annoying. 
  3. TWO WEEKS. Kickstarter take two weeks to take the money from backers and send it through. As someone who was ready to go as soon as the countdown hit zero this was an agonising two weeks of everything being on hold for no other reason than Kickstarter still apparently living in the 20th century where transferring money takes time. Crowdfunding sites, if you’re reading this, it’s not okay. 

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How I raised four times the amount I was hoping to on my first kickstarter by Simeon Smith

Last week my first crowdfunding campaign finished. I raised over four times the amount I was hoping to. I’m not telling you this because I want to brag, after all it’s the people that backed my campaign that deserve the credit. I’m telling you this because I want to tell you how I did it.

Chances are if you’re reading this, you’ve probably been at the receiving end of my month-long campaign to get people ordering my book, but if I somehow missed you, I crowdfunded the production of my first photography book called Every Shot Matters: A Minimalist Film Photographer’s Scrapbook. It’s full colour and over 180 pages, so was pretty pricey to produce, hence the crowdfunder.

I must admit, I was pretty apprehensive about spending a month basically asking people for money. 

I’m British, and asking for cash isn’t something that comes naturally to us. Besides, I’ve seen a lot of people get burnt by the whole crowdfunding thing, either not meeting their target, or barely meeting their target and then struggling to deliver a large project for a tiny return on investment. So I read. And read. And read.

The great thing about Kickstarter, Indiegogo, et al. is that they really want people to succeed in their campaigns, because, well, the more money you make from your campaign, the more money they make from you. These companies put a lot of effort into material on how to run a successful crowdfunder, so much effort that there’s a hell of a lot of blog posts, videos, tutorials and podcasts out there about running these campaigns. It can be really overwhelming.

I read all the blog posts and tutorials, watched all the videos and listened to all the podcasts out there, because that’s the kind of sad, obsessive I am. But in an effort to save you from doing the same here are my top 6 things you need to get right for your first crowdfunding campaign.

  1. Be Passionate - Nobody knows your story better than you do. Get in front of the camera and tell it. A video for a crowdfunder doesn’t need to be elaborate, doesn’t need to be professional (unless you’re raising money for a film!), but it does need to be YOU. Over half the people that backed my crowdfunder were my family and friends, they care about my passion and my story more than they care about a book of photos I’ve taken. They wanted a copy of my book, but most of all they wanted to see me succeed. Turn the camera on yourself and talk about your project with passion and a smile on your face.
  2. Be Honest - I see so many crowdfunding campaigns that just appear a bit dishonest. We’ve all seen campaigns with a target of £20,000 that leave you thinking, “Yeah, they could do that for half the amount”. My target amount was literally the cost of getting 10 copies of the book printed and sent out. I also provided a breakdown of my costs, and a info on what I’d do with any profits. Keep your target low and honest.
  3. Be Prepared - There’s two sides to this, firstly put in all the work you can BEFORE the campaign. For me that meant that all the writing, all the photos, all the formatting and all the editing was done before launching my campaign. It was a lot of work, but I’d never expect someone else to invest money into a project I couldn’t be bothered to invest my time into. You might have a great idea, but develop it properly before trying to sell it to me. The second part of this is that if you have done all you can before the campaign starts, you’ll have something to show for it. In my video I had an actual test-print of the book. People could see the quality, the size and the design before choosing to back the project or not, and a lot of people said how impressed they were by the test print. Prepare as much of your project as you can pre-launch, and show off your work.
  4. Be Proactive - You’re putting out a video asking people to get their card out of their wallet and give you money. If you can do that, you can write a press release asking professionals to give you space in their publications, on their blogs, and on their podcasts. Every interest-group has a tonne of blogs that just post reviews of gear they’ve gotten for free and rehash press releases. Without social media posts from brands like Lomography and Analog Cafe, I wouldn’t have made it as far as I did. Find people with a bigger reach than you have, and get them on board!
  5. Be Persistent - I launched my campaign and was 100% funded within 4 hours. So I kept on promoting the campaign. Two days later the first stretch goal, 200%, was met. So I kept on promoting the campaign. Lomography picked up my story and promoted it further. So I kept on promoting the campaign. The day before the campaign ended I was just blown away by all the support I’d had. And you know what I did. I kept on promoting the campaign.
  6. Be Open to Failure -  I feel like I should by telling you about survivor bias. I’m writing this on the back of a successful campaign, but there are plenty of other people who have done all the right things, but had campaigns that failed. Maybe timing was wrong, maybe they just had bad luck. Very few will want to tell you about their failure, and they might not know what went wrong. There’s a big buzz in the business world at the moment about “Failing Forward”, using unsuccessful projects to learn and to gain resilience. The best way to fail forward is to plan to fail. What are you going to do if no one backs your crowdfunder? Chances are you’ll be able to progress your project a different way, but if you’ve already planned what that looks like, it’s easy as switching from plan A to plan B and reflecting on what went wrong. If you fail without a plan the emotional toll is a lot higher. And don’t just plan to fail; plan to succeed. Plan to blow your target clean out of the water. When the rewards from your campaign have all be sent out there’s still work to do, and you might as well plan that work now. On the back of my successful crowdfunder I’ll be appearing in two magazines, have an exhibition at a gallery that got in touch with me, and have a book launch at a venue that contacted me to set it up. The future is amazing - plan for it.

Flip by Simeon Smith


Had an interesting conversation in the pub with Andy of international superstar DJ fandom (he’ll fucking hate that I called him that, and that’s why you should love it). We chatted Apple Music or Beats1 or whatever the new streaming service is called. He was pretty honest about how he’s seen the devaluation of music and I was probably a little too optimistic about how Beats1 might be a way that more people can discover more music. Which is just the difference between a dad of 3 who’s a self-employed musician and a dad of 3 who’s an office worker and makes music in the time he’s supposed to be using for sleep.

I said, rather flippantly, that most musician’s biggest problem with the current music industry / web distribution channels / etc. is not profit erosion. It’s obscurity. Nobody cares about you or your music so not many people download it. And you can distill that to nearly every corner of art. I recently read a thing about artists supported by their partner’s salaries. The stats were fucking depressing man. But I realised on the drive home from the pub that the way I’ve been expressing my ideas (as I have just done) has been flawed and very pessimistic. Let me try it again by flipping it:

The average musician / artist cannot affect the market value of recorded music. We can affect how much people care about our music. 

Tech companies aren’t complaining about how cheap and devalued technology has become. They’re just building brilliant shiny new black mirrors for us all to stare into, and boosting customer base to counter the tiny profits they’re making on each unit. 

And while this has changed the way that I’m now thinking about music marketing, I cannot see a practical way of applying this. Answers on a postcard please.

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