I first learned about Derek Sivers on a podcast with Tim Ferriss a few years ago and since that point, he's become one of my favorite thinkers. His writing is concise and just flat-out fun to read — I'm happy to say that his latest book, Your Music and People doesn't lower that bar one bit.
Derek summarizes the Your Music and People as "a philosophy of getting your work to the world by being creative, considerate, resourceful, and connected" — which feels spot on to me. More so than just musicians, the advice applies to career, personal brand, and life in general.
I knew that there would be some overlap between this book and some of the ideas that I've consumed from Sivers previously, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much new stuff I highlighted and walked away from the book with. As always, here are my favorite quotes and takeaways.
- The way you present your art, and what people know about it, completely changes how they perceive it.
- If you're feeling stuck, give yourself restrictions.
- Creatives are less mysterious than ever these days. Once something is explained, it stops captivating curiosity.
Therefore, your art doesn't end at the edge of the canvas. Your creative decisions continue all the way to the end.
- Find creative ways to be considerate. That's the best marketing.
- Before you interact with people, ask yourself: "What do they really want?"
- Write every post or email as if it was from you to your best friend. Don't try to sound bigger than you are.
- Life is like high school. It's all about how you come across, how social you are, what scene you're in, being likable, and being cool.
- It takes some extra effort to look and act cool instead of normal, but it's considerate and part of your art.
- When promoting, make sure you're not barking. When things aren't working, be smarter, not louder.
A lot of musicians say, "I hate marketing!" So, yeah, if you thought marketing meant turning off your creativity spending lots of money, and being annoying, then it's a good thing you don't like that. Nobody likes that.
- People send business to people they like. It's all more personal than you expect. Even if it starts professional, get personal as soon as possible.
- When someone says they're looking for something, remember it, and help them find it.
- Get presents for the people you're met that are probably under-appreciated. Don't waste gifts on the high-power people. They already receive too many.
- Persistence is polite. Everyone is busy, and their situation has nothing to do with you.
When I lived in New York City, one bold musician I know called me and said, "I'm coming to New York in two months. Can you give me a list of all the important contacts you think I should meet?" I laughed because I admired his directness! Then I emailed him a list of twenty people he should call.
- Resourceful means asking for help, but not waiting for help.
- When you don't know your next step, get more specific about what's needed.
- Work backwards: Contact someone who is where you want to be and ask them how to get there.
- Make two plans: One that depends on nobody else and another that uses your network. Pursue them simultaneously.
- Extreme success requires extreme ambition. You can't do what everyone else does.
When you have a vague or distant goal — like "be a great singer" or "make a million from my music" — break it down into specific ingredients. Describe concrete milestones, and exactly how to reach them. Then break those down into actions that you can start doing today.
- You have the best chance of success by being remarkably unusual.
- Reach people who have headed to the edges. They are the ones looking for something new, and are more likely to rave about it if you impress them.
- Have the confidence to find your niche, define who you are, then declare it again and again.
- Loudly reject 99%. It signals who you are. When someone in your target 1% hears you proudly excluding the rest, they'll be drawn to you.
- Be extremely specific about your niche. Shift focus every year or two, and you will have a wide variety in the long run.
Look at the long careers of David Bowie, Miles Davis, Madonna, Prince, Joni Mitchell, or Paul Simon. Each went through sharply-defined phases, treating each album as a project with a narrow focus.
- Re-evaluate your old dreams to see if new means have come along.
- Let go of outdated dreams that keep you from noticing what's here now.
- Whatever excites you, go do it. Whatever drains you, stop doing it.
You're going to hear a lot of advice. Listen to it all, but pay close attention tot what it does to your energy and focus. If it makes you jump into action, it's good advice. If it makes you feel drained, sad, or lost, then it's not for you
If we were scoring books on insights per page, I can't think of too many that beat Your Music and People. It's a quick read, and I'm pretty sure you'll walk away from it with at least one kernel of wisdom to cling on to moving forward. If you enjoyed any of these notes, I recommend checking out the book in full. Let me know what you think of it.
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