Stop Pushing Buttons and Start Baking Cakes

(article originally posted on Echoes)

by Scott James

Doesn’t it just stink when you do something that seems like it should work, but it falls flat and leaves you more confused and frustrated? This can seem like a way of life for many independent artists. We try to do something to promote ourselves but instead we end up just spinning our tires in the mud and getting nowhere. We want to make something happen but can’t see the relationship between our actions and our results. Many of us just end up concluding that the world doesn’t make sense or that we don’t have what it takes, yet we don’t know why.

We humans tend to see the world in terms of linear cause and effect: If I do this, then that happens. The problem is, the truth is much more complex than that. The gap between the simplicity in our minds and the complexity in the real world can cause an awful lot of frustration and pain. Most musicians I know, including myself, have spent a great deal of time dealing with this confusion and frustration.

Unfortunately, not many of us are taught models of cause and effect that are useful in the real world beyond a very basic level. We might try a strategy and when it fails to produce immediate results, we drop it. We want to use push-button strategies in a world that simply doesn’t work that way. We want to do one thing and then see another thing happen as a direct result. What’s really happening is a series of complex reactions and interactions.

When we look at other people who succeed, we can never really see the whole picture of what got them there. We oversimplify and then we wonder why what we try doesn’t produce the same results. The success that we’re after is really the product of a system of things that work together to create a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

A practical illustration of this is a cake. A cake is something that’s not like any of the ingredients that it’s made of. The ingredients that go into the cake react with each other and create something on a whole new level.

If you want to bake a good cake you need to add quality ingredients in the right proportions and bake the cake for the right amount of time. And so it is with your career as an artist.

Every point of interaction for a fan is an ingredient to the bigger picture. Nothing stands alone. Each interaction a person has with you or your band has a sort of chemical reaction to every other interaction they’ve had with you. If someone has seen you play live then that will have an effect on how they interpret what they see on your website or what you tweet about.

In light of this, what’s often the most effective strategy is to fix the points of interaction that could have a negative impact. You can have the best frosting and flour and everything else on your cake, but if the last ingredient is dog food then your results will not be good. So you could be pushing really hard to kick some butt on Facebook, but if your website is hideous then you’re still baking a cake with dog food as one of the ingredients. Adding more eggs to a dog food cake won’t make it taste much better. Just stop using dog food and start using an ingredient worthy of the cake you want to bake and your results can skyrocket.

So stop trying to push buttons and go to work on your system. See each of your contact points with your audience as a part of a system and work on getting those parts to work better with each other and to hold up their end of the deal. Remember, it takes time to bake a cake. There will be a delay between your efforts and your success. You can count on that, so be prepared for it. Just stop asking where the right button is and start asking how you can bake a better cake.

For further reading on this subject, I recommend studying the work of W. Edwards Demming and Eben Pagan.

Article by Scott James of The Independent Rockstar Blog.