Intro by Jane: Today's post comes from Emmy-winning singer-songwriter, Michal Towber. I reached out to her to write a guest post for our blog because she's created such a unique re-brand for herself, and her story is fascinating. Enjoy!
Those two words sum up my entire marketing philosophy. Folks can smell bullshit from outer space. So embrace your weirdness. Cultivate it. Be yourself on steroids.
My name is Michal Towber. I am a suburban mom by day and a rockstar by night. Think Mary Louise Parker’s character in “Weeds” - except I prefer lots of black leather, fishnets, harnesses, and generous amounts of black eyeliner. I also prefer to get your brain off with raw music. You’ve probably heard my songs before without realizing it—I was signed to SONY/Columbia at 17, mentored by Billy Joel, and Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner was my prom date. Did I mention I won an Emmy?
Despite early success, I ultimately failed in the cut-throat music biz. How come? One reason: Fear. Sure, I made immature decisions as a youngster. Sure, I didn’t know how to navigate the rapidly evolving industry. But what I realize now is that underneath it all, I failed because I was afraid. Afraid of failure. Afraid of disappointing others. Afraid that my true self wasn’t cool enough to move product or be on tv. I had a massive inferiority complex. In elementary school I had one friend. If that girl was absent, I spent recess trying to look engrossed in kicking a rock around. In high school, I was a band geek who hung out in the freak hallway. This was the place where people like me, who wore braces AND glasses, could get away.
Things changed when I started writing my own songs. I found my voice and an audience. But just as I found my footing, I was thrust into a world I was utterly unprepared for. Getting signed to a major was a curse as well as a blessing –everything got scrutinized, starting with my appearance.
The marketing exec at Columbia recommended I get a nose job and lip implants. An exec at a make-up company I represented suggested lipo on my thighs. It may not surprise you to hear that I quickly developed an eating disorder. Overall, the music execs tried to pattern me after all the other blonde pop stars in the industry—a widget they knew how to market.
As for me, I had no manager, no advisors I trusted, and even my lawyer worked for the record company. My parents, both visual artists and teachers, had no idea how to help me. Male industry execs routinely propositioned me as quid pro quo for helping my career. I never felt so alone. How far would you go to make it?
In retrospect, my experience as a young artist flailing in the harsh, rapidly changing music industry, left me with PTSD. It took years for me to crawl out of the negative hole I was in, and to get to a place where I could write again without feeling intense emotional pain.
"Focusing on others helped me heal."
I even got a law degree, and worked as an IP attorney, thinking I could be happy doing something else. Bad decision. Eventually, I married, moved to suburbia and had 3 little boys in 4 years. Although having that many kids in such a short period of time is nuts, focusing on others helped me heal.
About six months ago I realized I can’t be happy doing anything other than my music. And something about pushing 3 human beings out of my birth canal, unmedicated, made me realize just how capable I am when I trust myself.
I’m no longer afraid. I am out of the closet. And I am writing the best, most honest, confessional music of my life. And that includes dirty words, and sexual fantasies. Song about wanting to be your fluffy little bitch? Check. Song about having a dirty mouth? Fuck yeah! Song about suffering with depression? I’ll admit to that. These are all facets of me, and I have no filter.
"Don't Compromise Your Vision"
I still want your approval—I want to be your own personal rockstar. But if you don’t “get me,” that’s ok too. I gotta speak my truth—and I hope I can inspire others, including my kids, to be true to themselves.
You can’t be successful by trying to sound or look like other artists. Don’t compromise your vision. There are 7.4 billion people in the world - there’s enough audience to go around. Put your real self out there and you will find and connect with your tribe. Let your freak flag fly, and people will either love you or hate you, but you won’t engender apathy. And that’s real, raw, marketing. I invite all the weirdos, perverts and freaks out there to connect with me on Facebook to watch my redemption journey, as I record my next studio album, and take one last shot at rock super-stardom.
Michal Towber is a 35 year old, suburban mother of 3 young boys under 5, who teaches voice and piano by day, and is a big, bad, leather-clad rockstar by night. She is currently recording her 10th album and taking one last shot at super stardom. She would very much like to be your own personal rockstar. You can connect with her at www.facebook.com/MichalTowber.
By Jane Davidson
In the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting in modern* US history, Americans took to social media to share the news, post their prayers, call for policy action, and respond to the comments of others. As a brand, influencer, or artist, your decision to connect with your online audience regarding this or any other tragedy is an important one, and should not be taken lightly.
We surveyed 20 American millennials from major metropolitan areas to discover their perspectives on brand and celebrity reactions to tragedy on social media, and our findings mirrored what we suspected: while they appreciate a human, caring response to a tragedy with an actionable component, a thoughtless, politically charged response can be much more memorable in a very negative way.
But what if you have good intentions and people misread your thoughts anyways? This is what really makes it a hard line to walk. Our survey group had a wide variety of responses to these two tweets we shared with them.
First, everyone's favorite social media influencer, Donald Trump! He posted this tweet shortly after the news of the shooting:
Let's start with the positives:
"currently googling 'how to move to canada'"
- Survey response to "What are your thoughts on this tweet?"
Let's move on to the next one:
At first glance, do you see problems with this tweet? Our survey respondents didn't.
"I appreciate that she used her large twitter audience to spread the word about how people can help"
- Survey responses to "What are your thoughts on this tweet?"
However, many people jumped on this tweet for being incorrect. "Mass casualties" is not the same thing as "mass shooting", so people became angry that she (inadvertently) ignored other larger tragedies like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina.
If anything, this tweet demonstrates the power of a proofread! All of the negative comments in our survey about that phrase or punctuation could have been solved quickly with a double-check of the tweet.
With these results in mind, here are some Do’s and Don’t’s of your social media response to tragedy:
DON'T try to “capitalize” on a trending tragedy
Generally, we recommend for clients to comment on trending topics in a creative, relevant way, but this is not one where you should be using the trend for personal gain.
That doesn’t mean you can’t comment on it, and it doesn’t mean you can’t use the hashtags. But it also means you shouldn’t post about it unless it’s your genuine response
DON'T make it about you
For brands, don't use your RIP post to promote your latest release or direct buyers to your online store. If your an influencer or other individual social media user, please don’t post a selfie and #RIP__ or #prayfor___. Your content and captions should match as a general rule, so even disregarding the tactless post, you're not reaching the proper audience who's looking for the content that matches the hashtag.
DON'T turn it political - unless it’s relevant to your brand.
If you’re an artist who spends much of their time fighting for causes like gun control or LGBTQ rights, then it would make sense to make a comment about those aspects of a tragedy.
But if you’re a small business that generally just posts pictures of their sandwiches, suddenly calling for mental health reform can confuse or alienate your customers.
Again, that doesn’t mean you can’t comment on the issue, but it might make more sense to post your political thoughts on your personal social media pages where your friends and contacts know you and your beliefs well rather than on your Mom & Pop shop page.
This isn’t just a political issue, it’s also a content issue. We have several social content philosophies at BEGIN, and one of the main ones is: “Calculated, Creative, Consistent, Quality Content is Key”.
When you suddenly post something politically charged out of the blue, you’re violating Key #3: Consistent. Your real audience follows you because they enjoy the type of content you put out. If you change your post-type, they won’t know what to expect from you, and are much more likely to un-follow or simply not engage with your posts.
DO be authentic.
People want to know that there's a real person behind your posts! Commenting on current events or tragedies in a human way will help you show through your brand. If you fit into a category where it would be strange to go from your content to the event’s content, don’t be afraid to still comment on other posts with your sentiments about the situation.
If you are someone who fits in the “political works for me” category, share other perspectives that resonate with you, be real and heartfelt in your sympathies, and do it because you care, not because it’s part of your social media playbook.
DO be sensitive to the situation.
Pay attention to the purpose of a hashtag! Don't blindly use one without checking what it means first. You'll end up offending your audience or worse. (And you don't want to look like an idiot...)
Also you’re not a reporter (well, you might be, in which case you probably have a better idea what to do in these situations), so don’t feel like you have to provide live updates on an emerging story.
Be VERY careful about sharing unconfirmed reports (that can hurt your followers’ trust), posting the names of criminals (remember the victims, not the perpetrators), and don’t share posts from questionable sources.
Jane Davidson is the co-founder and Director of Brand Development for BEGIN. She is passionate about using these blog posts to share her knowledge and unique perspectives on a variety of topics with a community of creative entrepreneurs.
Tweet her @janebegins
We surveyed 20 people by posting on a variety of Facebook groups. 80% of respondents are female, 90% are between 18-35, 60% of respondents are from Los Angeles, and all live in a major city.
Please note this was not intended to be a scientific survey. All responses were open-ended and anonymous.
If you'd like to view more detailed results of our survey, please contact us.
by Grant Genske
Music is one of the few things that comes quite naturally for me; I don’t know why I love it, but every day I wake up and know that I am excited to keep writing, recording and singing. It’s been that way for a while now. I spent most of my gangly, awkward childhood listening to my father’s old Led Zeppelin CDs, stumbling through piano lessons, and waiting until my family left the house so that I could practice shout-singing My Chemical Romance songs. Though my tastes have changed, music has always been at the center of my life.
Although musical expression is almost instinctual for me, ideas surrounding “brand awareness and development” have, for a long time, felt clunky and awkward. I think that this stems from being genuinely shy as a child and disdaining self-promotion, or maybe from being raised protestant (I learned early on that God doesn’t like a show-off).
When I first began recording myself, I felt uninspired doing cover videos, which, for many artists, seems to be the most viable social vehicle in the YouTube/ Soundcloud era. I hated sitting in front of a camera, with no audience, and presenting myself for all the world to critique. I generally thought, “I am very bored watching myself do this, so why would anyone else want to watch me do this?”
I did not see much potential for advancement of my career until I discovered my ability to write music. At that point, I became highly engrossed in the process of creation - currently, I write anywhere between 1-3 songs per day and record demos almost as frequently. I rediscovered a passion for music and dedicated my life to writing and recording, and that was when I ran into the problem: how do I get people to listen?
I am happy to say that my work as a social media marketer continues to provide answers to that question. It has made me more confident in my self-promotion, and it has made the process of audience development feel a lot more natural. The following lessons are my musings on what has worked well for me - they may or may not work for you, but I think there is some universality in all of them.
1. Everyone has friends, but successful musicians have fans.
Your personal network is important and highly relevant to your success, but at the end of the day your career is reliant on capturing the attention of people who you may never meet. I was very good at getting my friends to pay attention to my work, but once I started collaborating with people around the world, I realized that I needed to be working to get people who had never met me to engage with my music.
2. Getting fans is work, and takes time and energy.
As much as we love to glorify the X-Factor stars and social media sensations who seem to become successful overnight, most musicians have been working for years to gather fans before they hit their big break. It makes sense to assume that you are going to have to build your fan base yourself if you are truly committed to having a sustained career.
There are many ways to organically do this; you can design graphics to give engaged users a shout-out, you can give away signed merchandise at your shows, or plan surprise shows and invite your most active fans as a reward. I would also suggest looking to curators to grow your reach - these include YouTube/ Soundcloud accounts that post new music and bloggers who write about your genre. You cannot do all the legwork yourself.
3. Use tools to increase your following incrementally and organically.
Technology cannot replace originality and authenticity, but damn if it doesn’t help with making the work easier. I am a strong advocate of using tools like Crowdfire to organically grow a Twitter following or utilizing websites like EDM Lead to convert Soundcloud downloads to follows. If you have money to spend on marketing, investigate how you might run a targeted campaign with Facebook.
Nothing good happens overnight, so be wary of “get followers quickly” schemes - they aren’t worth your time and they rarely work. Get comfortable with tools and with doing something small every single day to keep your fan base growing.
Over the past 2 months, I used social growth techniques to to more than double my Twitter following, triple my Soundcloud following, and increase my Facebook likes by 125%. I never spent more than 15 minutes per day doing any work, and I saw strong returns because I learned how to integrate organic interaction and technological innovation. More importantly, though, my followers are engaged and interacting with my posts, and I am actually cultivating a community around my music.
4. Consistency is key.
Instagram is the platform where we see the most brand interaction, and studies on Instagram success point to brand consistency as being a really important factor in conversion to follows. This means both posting with some regularity and posting content that is somehow thematically linked.
Brand fundamentals include color palette, tonal consistency and anything that makes you unique, be it your product, sense of humor or simply an idea. Any choice to change these things is permitted, but it should be a choice, not a result of ignorance or laziness.
If this is to be truncated into one sentence, just try to think about how your friend would describe you to someone else: “Oh, he or she is the _____ girl/guy/person. He/She/they does _______.” If you can’t fill in those blanks, it’s important to think about why and strategize about how you might be able to do it better. It’s definitely my biggest challenge.
Looking at YouTube, Soundcloud, Twitter or Facebook, it is really easy to see that the same logic applies. The most successful producers on Soundcloud are constantly posting their own new material and reposting other content. The most followed YouTube accounts are incredibly active, uploading new content as frequently as every week.
It goes without saying that, as much as you want consistency, you also want people to remain engaged with you and to feel some growth. Look for ways to keep things fresh - identity collaborators and work together on something new, find a partner who can offer a new spin on your same photo arrangement, work current events into your brand content. Never let things get stale - the social world moves incredibly quickly and you will get left behind.
5. Not all tools apply to every artist. Trust your instincts, and if something feels wrong, ask yourself why. If it is because it creating brand/cognitive dissonance, scrap it and find something that works.
It is really easy to lose your identity as you try to grow. When you are attempting to capture and keep someone’s attention, it is natural to think about what they like and how you can conform to that. The stakes are pretty high for music artists; audiences have so many choices, and it can be tempting to try and be all things at all times. But the reality is that, if you are doing something that feels artificial, bland, or trite, it probably is. If you are doing something because someone told you it would make you successful, and it hasn’t made you successful, you might want to stop. It may be time to switch up your strategy.
For me, I realized that I wanted to focus less on covers and more on original music. I spent a lot of time not getting any recognition for it and being really bad, but then I got better at it. I am constantly getting better at it, and I am feeling momentum.
Grant Genske is a marketing associate with BEGIN and a singer and songwriter living in Los Angeles, California.
“I hate my job sometimes…”
“I need to work for myself…”
“I want to be my own boss…”
With the progression of startups being more accepted by society as a sign of success rather than a sign of failure, more and more people want to become “their own boss”... Unfortunately there’s no step-by-step manual on “How To Be Your Own Boss” , “How to Freelance”, “How To Entrepreneur” or “How To Hustle”
I’m going to be brutally honest here… I’m not good at this. I’m not.
I’m not great at being my own boss. My organizational skills are better than most but not exceptional. I spend too much time picking out which coffee to shove into the keurig at the office. I find myself putting a playlist together on Spotify before taking on a big brainstorming session. I often procrastinate writing up content because I fear how others will perceive me. I’m the farthest thing from being perfect, strong, successful, or a HBIC and I can promise you that.
I was very fortunate to be where I was at age 18-22. My eyes sparkled with every idea, and the world seemed to be my oyster. I was very privileged to receive an education in a town with over 60 universities in a 10 mile radius. My education at Berklee College of Music allowed me to participate at Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Business School and even Harvard Law School. While the education I received at these various institutions gave me a lot of perspective, it wasn’t until after I graduated that I figured something out...something really simple, in fact:
The difference between who you are now and the person you envision yourself to be in the future is dependent on whether or not you choose to take the first steps into becoming that person.
Easier said than done of course.
I wouldn’t call myself an Entrepreneur by any means, but I’ve always been the type of person who would go insane waiting for things to happen.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the past two years through trial and error:
Rule 1: “Your product or service has to be viable to your market”
If your idea sucks, you won’t go anywhere.
If your idea already exists, you’re too late.
You can’t just start on your own thinking “I’m unique enough” or “I’m talented enough” because I hate to break it to you kid, you’re not. There are 7.4 billion people on the face of this earth and I guarantee you that a couple million are trying to do the exact same thing as you whether you’ve recognized that or not.
If you’re unsure about the viability of your idea or it’s existence, go into a room where you are clearly the smallest person and ask someone for their opinion. I promise you they will be honest and more than likely tell you what you do not want to hear. Scared they might steal your idea? Read on...
Rule 2: “Ideas are shit. Execution is everything”
(Thank you Gary Vaynerchuck)
I had a client in a tech startup once who insisted on getting NDAs signed by every investor he was meeting with. I told him this was not a wise idea. Six months later, 5 potential investors later….no investor, and you want to know why? Because the second you hand them that NDA they will laugh at you and walk away.
Don’t be green. Ideas are shit. They’re nothing until you execute and this goes across the spectrum. Your baby, your million dollar idea is still just an ‘idea’ until you’ve properly executed it and the execution is where you make your bank.
Creativity is limitless. Do not feel like your one idea is your “be all-end all” If you’re going into the next venture timid or scared, you’re going to crash and burn quickly. Be aware that rejection and failure are essentially a guaranteed natural phenomena on your path to success.
Rule 3: “Make your own definition of success and don’t be shy about it”
People think it’s easy, but it’s not.
I wake up every morning knowing that if I screw up, it’s not just on me, it has a domino effect with severe consequences. It’s a job where everything is at stake and it fall back onto you. Due diligence, foreseeing the future, and consistent risk assessment are involved.
My mind is constantly multitasking at 250 MPH and it doesn’t stop.
I love inspiring people to grow as I grow with them. I love learning new things. I love exploring new territories and opportunities. My job here at BEGIN encompasses all these things.
I literally do what I love for a living. I might not be succeeding to your definition of success, but I’m ok with that. I’m not clearing six figures. I’m not going on extravagant trips every month. None of that matters because that’s not my definition of success.
Recognize that what you do day-to-day is a part of your existence. You spend 70% of your waking life working. The hours, the late nights, the travels you spend for work...that’s life.
I define success differently on different levels, but to me the fundamental definition of success is doing what you love and what you’re passionate about. I hope that you wake up every morning excited to go to work. I hope that you leave the office feeling so happy about what you accomplished that day.
If you’re not there yet, that’s ok. Don’t give up. Have faith that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. Figure out what it is that you’re passionate about and start from there.
Both of my parents started new careers in their 50s and word can do no justice to the happiness it brought amongst all of us. As humans, it’s inevitable that we will pass on. Our bodies will decay, our earnings will lose purpose and value, the only thing that will continue to succeed us is our imprint and inspirations left on society and the generations to come.
I hope that this next journey in my life will allow me to learn new things with you, grow with you, and ultimately become someone who could inspire others to do the same.
Welcome to BEGIN.
Sarah Virk is the co-founder and Director of Business Development for BEGIN. A lover of learning with a thirst for knowledge, she enjoys sharing personal stories to inspire creatives and entrepreneurs to discover and grow.
Tweet her @sarahvirk
Welcome to The BEGIN Blog, the official blog of brand development & social media consulting firm, BEGIN. I'm Jane, and I'll be your tour guide today!
You probably happened upon this site from social media, meeting one of us, or maybe you just kept stressing about something and ended up typing howdoibegin.com in hopes of finding the inspiration you needed.
Whatever brought you here, we're happy to have you!
You can navigate our site to find out more about our story or about our services. This post, though, is meant to give you a quick overview of our blog.
Our team loves to dig into brand psychology, current events, social media tactics, new market research, and lots of other interesting topics. Our company culture revolves around heated discussions about these issues and real conversations about our journeys as young professionals.
Because of this, our blog will contain all types of posts. We're far from your traditional brand-blog. We are real people will real opinions, so you'll not only get real, well-researched advice on branding, social media, and other important topics, but also you'll get a glimpse into what it's like to navigate running a business, reactions to big news stories, and everything in between.
So take a moment to join our email list, bookmark our site, or connect with us on social media! We hope that you'll find real value in our content, and that you'll become an active member of our community.
Check back every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for new posts and feel free to share ideas for stories, your own perspectives, and anything else you want! We're hear, and we're ready to welcome you with open arms.
Jane Davidson is the co-founder and Director of Brand Development for BEGIN. She is passionate about using these blog posts to share her knowledge and unique perspectives on a variety of topics with a community of creative entrepreneurs.
Tweet her @janebegins
The BEGIN Blog features posts about branding, social media, entrepreneurship, and other topics relevant to young professionals.