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Start-up Companies, Entrepreneurship: It’s Hard. Do Music to Get Ready.

Entrepreneurship. Start-ups. The Tech World. Silicon Valley. Depending on who you ask to analyze it, it’s everything from Star Trek to the new Wild, Wild West. It’s Alpha Centauri, or the OK Corral. It’s Tranquility Base, or Sutter’s Mill in 1849, the Stage One of the Gold Rush. It’s the place where the legends of the 21st century are being born, where fame and untold fortune await the innovative and cool.

But you know what else it is? It’s a lot of hard work. A very lot of hard work. And risk. “High risk, high reward” is a phrase often used in the investment and business worlds. And as Ali Aydar, CEO  of Sporcle, Inc, stated in reply to a question posted on the website Quora, taking the risk to start something new is a major life decision. In honoring those who gave their lives in the attempts at manned space flight, an official recently stated plainly, “Space is hard,” an allusion to President Kennedy’s statement at the start the space race, that we do these things precisely because they are hard.

There is the excitement of being on the cutting edge, of making the unknown known, the potential of unlimited upside available to someone on the ground floor of something that really takes off. But there is also some trepidation, over the lack of security, the long slog through setbacks, delays, and frustrations. According to some market research, only 2.5% of a potential market are even willing to try something brand new. Just 13.5% are considered “early adopters.” If you’re the person or company seeking investors who will be patient enough to back your idea through those early, lean years, then you might be in for a long and worrisome journey just to get things off the ground. There is no guarantee of success, even with your “killer app” perfectly formulated in your mind. When I was experimenting in the 90’s with the concept of a digitally-based music publications catalog, it was hard just to get people to understand the idea. And then there were those who understood it all too well, as a threat to their way of doing business. As one traditional publisher said to me, “We have enough trouble with people copying our stuff, the last thing we want to do is digitize it for everyone on the internet. Who are you?”

Still, there does exist an intrepid group of would-be pioneers and space cowboys, and they do press on through that new frontier. Such business people remind me of another group of risk-takers with whom I am familiar: musicians and artists.

As you read through Mr. Adar’s comments, below, replace  a few key word in your mind. Swap “startup” for “band,” or “company” for “label,” “tour,” or some other musical opportunity. See if it doesn’t make perfect sense to you.

This is why I encourage musicians to venture into other areas, and why I encourage all young people to participate fully and enthusiastically in some sort of musical activity, one that pushes itself consistently to be the best. Even though the tiniest fraction of musicians will ever make a full time career from their art, music is the ideal activity in which to learn the precepts and life lessons that create the kind of people who will recognize and benefit from the opportunities of the new frontier. Music teaches one to be analytical and detailed, to care about their progress, to be tenacious, and how to pursue a long term goal. But most of all, music teaches one to enjoy the journey and live in the moment, yet strive continually for improvement and toward a goal. 

Enjoy. Feel free to comment!

Ali Aydar’s response to a question posed on quora.com

(Note: you may have to sign up at Quora for full access to this thread, but Mr. Aydar’s comments are reproduced in full, below.)


I thought I’d add my perspective as someone who chose the startup route instead of Google.

I was recruited by Google in the fall of 2002 after Napster failed when I was 27 years old. My career was at a crossroads: choose to take a mid-level but important role at a later stage startup (that’s what Google was back then) or join another startup as a founder or early employee. The situation was not exactly parallel to the author of the question, as it was unclear at the time just how successful Google was going to be and there were certainly no guarantees that I would be on any kind of fast track. However, the essentials of the choice were the same: very well paying job with stability and growth opportunities versus an uncertain startup with unlimited upside.

I chose the startup. Here is what I can tell you 13 years later:

(1) Have an honest conversation with yourself about what you want out of life. Are you going to get married? Are you going to have kids? What kind of relationship do you want with your spouse and kids? Do you want to travel the world? Do you want to be President of the United States? Yes, you’re 28 now, but in a blink of an eye you’re going to be 40. There isn’t a more important question to answer than what you want in life and why you want it. Some things you might want require money, potentially lots of it. And you might not get it in a startup because…

(2) Startups are hard. There is no guarantee of success. Startups are a grind. They come with the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. At the lowest point there is a tremendous amount of self-doubt that creeps in. You’re typically working 80-90 hour weeks. You’re flying all over the country and/or world going to meetings with people you don’t know and/or don’t like. You’re at the beck and call of investors and customers, some of whom you also don’t like. However, there is nothing wrong with any of this if that’s what you want out of life. A startup is a unique journey, not just in building a business but also in self-discovery. Don’t do it for the money, because the money might never come. Do it because you want to go on the journey itself.

(3) Don’t fall for selection bias. But wait! According to TechCrunch, Om, and my Twitter feed, everyone that starts a company gets funding and gets rich! Therefore I should do it too! Don’t fall for this trap. Not everybody is getting rich. There are a lot of companies that fail. A lot. The tech press just doesn’t write about them as voraciously as companies that succeed. So it just seems like everyone is wildly successful taking the sexy route of the entrepreneur. I guarantee you that if there was a tech blog focused on writing only about failures and founders and investors were more open talking about them there would be significantly more stories about flameouts than fundraising. The truth is that startups are hard, the deck is stacked against you, and only a few are phenomenally successful.

(4) Don’t underestimate the power of your network at Google. This is a bit more subtle and non-obvious, because one would expect that as a startup founder you’d have a strong network. And that is true to an extent. You develop a network of investors and other founders. But you really only can go deep with a few because you’re working so hard on making your business successful. I have a friend who spent several years at Google before jumping into the startup game. Because there are so many smart people at Google, the number of brilliant people he knows well exceeds my network by an order of magnitude. The point here is that if you’ve decided that you will leave for a startup, the next question to answer is when. Building a world-class network within Google itself will be invaluable to you when you’re in your own startup and the value of that network might be significantly greater if you stay there until you’re 32 or 35.

I took the startup route with eyes wide open. I knew success was not promised and that failure was the most likely outcome. Between 1999 and 2009, I was the first employee or co-founder of three Silicon Valley venture-backed startups. The companies raised a combined total of over $200M in financing. All three of them failed and no longer exist. I did not have the financial windfall that the tech press fawns over day after day.

I did have an amazing journey of learning and self-discovery that I would not exchange for all the money in the world.

And at the second company, I met my future wife and we have two wonderful kids. And that’s what really matters to me.

Figure out what really matters for you. The rest will take care of itself.

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For those not acquainted with my friend, Caleb Chapman and the amazing things he has accomplished with his Crescent Super Band, myriad other ensembles, and his Soundhouse professional musician training program, please take a moment to learn some about it all here: http://calebchapmanmusic.com/

Recently, he posted the below thoughts that he’s allowed me to share. They immediately caught my attention because of his citing of the oft-debated business topic  of “core strengths.” Is a company better served by diversifying its activities, or sticking to what it does best? There are great examples on both sides of the argument within the business world, but here is how it looks through a musician and conductor’s lens. Enjoy!


A common topic in business is playing to your strengths – focusing on the things you are best at. In a similar manner, as music educators we get the best results in the classroom when we emphasize our unique skills and abilities. No educator is a master of every style or instrument, but focusing on our strongest areas will allow us to continue improving our program until we can develop the abilities we lack.

When I first began directing our jazz ensembles at the Soundhouse, I felt incredibly inept. While I was an accomplished jazz musician on my instrument, I had extremely limited big band performing experience, and no experience leading one. In fact, the bulk of my formal training was in symphonic conducting and classical music. At that point in my career I didn’t have the luxury of failing or quitting the bands. I was forced to find a way to successfully lead the students.

I first had to pause to consider what I could possibly bring to the equation and evaluate my strengths. As a symphonic conductor I had developed skills in rehearsing, conveying energy from the podium, and memorizing scores.

Next I needed to find a way to transfer these skills into a different idiom. I took my rehearsal skills and began to surgically rehearse jazz articulation with the band in the same way I cleaned articulation in symphonic rehearsals. I directed the band with lots of energy – even dancing at times – which inspired high energy from the ensemble. And since I was able to memorize my scores I could more easily move around our rehearsal space to hear different sections and correct errors.

The result was highly unconventional directing for a jazz ensemble, but also surprisingly effective. I was able to use these previously developed strengths as a crutch until I could fill in the gap in my teaching abilities. I also learned that just because music has a tradition of being taught a certain way, that doesn’t mean there isn’t another way to do it.

Often as music educators we find ourselves in situations we aren’t comfortable with – an instrumentalist directing a choir, a percussionist leading a guitar ensemble, a classically trained musician leading a rock band, etc. When faced with these circumstances we can throw in the towel, or we can take inventory of our strengths and use them to bridge the gap. And in the process, we may discover different and possibly even better ways of teaching concepts.

Have you had a similar experience? I would love to hear about it below.

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“Gimme The Ball!” This is for the dreamers who don’t give in.

So I wrote this song that is all about the effort and determination it takes to give it your all in life. It was inspired by a World Series of a few years ago, and I wrote and recording it to share in conjunction with our very own St. Louis Cardinals starting their 2014 post-season run tonight!

Here’s a link to my bandcamp page, where you can listen to it for free, and if you like it, buy a copy for keeps! Please feel free to distribute liberally, of course!

Go Cards!


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Since Everyone Deserves A Chance To Fly, Let It Go!

We celebrate the rugged individual, we fete the rebel, we praise the rule-breaker, and revere those who crash through the barriers. We celebrate those who defy the constraints of the boxes in which they find themselves, those who “think different …” 

At least, in our dreams we do. But in reality?

Inspired by a link shared recently by a real-life friend I admire very much and the ensuing comments of her acquaintances, I would like to share links to two songs that tell us – and perhaps women and girls in particular – that it’s a good thing to break out, to defy convention, to take flight, and go your own way. One comes from the current hit movie, “Frozen,” and the other from the recent Broadway smash, “Wicked.” 

Let It GoImageFeatured in both is Idina Menzel’s captivating voice, which, with it’s “knock-down-the-back-wall” power, creates a compelling emotional rush that makes anyone believe that, with a great tune and a hot new dress, the world is yours for the taking.

Both songs serve the same function in the stories they tell: of two heroines, one conventional and one not, and the unconventional one’s decision that the uniqueness that she has heretofore been taught to believe was a weakness, is, in fact, a great strength, and it’s time to escape the oppressive worlds that would contain the full expression of her power.

Personally, I love songs like this. I’m sure everyone has one in their personal soundtrack of life, ready to be used during the long days, the hard workouts, after the bad break-up.

But are we telling our kids they can do or be anything they want, then rushing them out into a world that forces them into wickedImageconformity? Are we getting them ready to thrive in their own individuality, to survive on their uniqueness? Or are we setting them up for disappointment when their dreams of independence are smashed against the cement wall of intransient reality? 

Schools are increasingly flooded in standardized tests, and filled with kids given prescription medication to ensure their behavior in class. Every school is being invited to glom onto a “common” core. Skills that show individuality and initiative – music, art, drama – are increasingly cut in favor of classes where success is measured by everybody getting the same answer. We want no child left behind, but no child to get too far outside the lines, either.

The ADHD kids have it worse. Not only do they have to fight their own impulses, but they have to face a world rigged for micromanagement, a uniform world set up to deal with unique individuals like antibodies in the bloodstream deal with an unrecognized organism. This is going to trigger the worst kinds of responses, such as increased rebellion, escapism, or simply checking out because of the boredom of it all.

Will their uniqueness become a scarlet letter, an albatross around their necks in a world that treasures its uniformity and group-think?  Wether one sticks out on the high end, as too rich or powerful, or at the low, as poor and racked with instability, individualism is no longer trusted that easily. People on a mass scale are insulating themselves more and more from the challenge by burrowing deep within “The Group.” Nails that stick up get hammered down. Squeaky wheels used to get the grease. Now they just get replaced.

Maybe it’s our fault for being mean to each other, for making fun of one another on late night TV. Maybe it’s the greed, and the impossible task of having enough stuff to feel satisfied that we appear just as we should to our neighbors. Maybe, with the things that used to be considered long-run institutions failing ever more – employment and marriage, for example – we’re feeling the anxiety of not wanting to stick our necks out too far when there is the very real possibility that promises and your heart will get broken, anyway.

I don’t know. I’ve been shown, over and over, that not everyone thinks like I do, so that’s why I tell you this is how I feel. I just feel like it’s harder than ever to be an individual, to be who you really are.  

My own life includes many examples of the rip current of conformity pulling at my feet: It’s crazy to expect to have a music career; going it alone is too risky, you tried that once, it’ll never work. That kind of thing. At sundry times I, too, have shouted, “No more! I just want to get a regular job, a mortgage and a car payment, and to live a normal life like everybody else!”

At one such time of rebellious conformity, I vowed that my next job would be of the Wall Street variety, for a large bank. That’s where all the money is after all, and that’s all I wanted to be interested in. I made some calls, polished the résumé. I soon found myself sitting across the desk from a man whose great great grandfather’s name, one of the most venerable names in investment banking, was on the building. And he liked me. He asked some pointed, very insightful questions. I must have answered satisfactorily. He asked his second in command to come in. Lots of handshakes, lots of looking one another up and down. I told them to set up a desk for me. I was ready to go to work. 

But when I left to find my car again in their covered parking structure, I couldn’t shake the weird feeling that I just tried to sell my children to gypsies. I got in the car and drove, aimlessly. I called my then-wife, no answer. I called my best friend. No answer. My brother out of state, and my parents in state. I called a friend and leader from church. Radio silence. I was truly on my own. 

I ended up driving way out by the airport, somewhat near an employment center where the year before I volunteered time as a résumé consultant. I went in. I spent some time chatting with a very nice old gent on a church mission with his wife of many years. We talked about nothing, really, but I felt better, decompressed, and soon made my way home. Since none of the people I tried to call answered their phones in that strange moment of desperation, I told no one about that feeling of almost succeeding at giving in to the pressure to conform, how near I came to fulfilling that wish to just be what everyone else expected of me. (It is unfortunate that I have to report that moments such as those are the most unhappy moments of my life.)

The fact the we realize we are different shows that we are, in fact, different from everybody else. We really shouldn’t expect to be anything else. Does anything else in nature bend to uniformity? Famously, snowflakes are unique, and so are leaves and the trees from which they fall. Neither are hills and mountains alike. Are we not also spiritual creations akin to all of Nature which surrounds us? Can we really expect our minds, or our personalities, to break with the pattern of every one of God’s creations, to be absolutely the same?

Embracing this fact of non-uniformity can be liberating, just as the voices of Elsa and Elphaba would have us believe. But this does imply, however, that uniqueness includes some “imperfections,” some inflection points when we feel that we don’t quite measure up next to whomever we are tempted to compare ourselves. But this should be accepted only as a matter of perspective, our own perspective. And it’s usually wrong to think of ourselves as insufficient (although it’s okay to be wrong, now the we understand that being “imperfect” is not what we thought it meant). Do not substitute “unique” or “special” with “flawed.” Consider the snowflakes. Which are “better?” Or two leaves; which is the “perfect” one? Or two flowers, and so on …

Confidence to be our unique, individual selves comes when we learn to accept our singular character, with all of its potential to be like absolutely no one else, AND with all of the things that we will be tempted to call “flaws.” We may not like those flaws, but we have to accept them. Then, like testing of a piece of material, such as metal or rock, we  we might benefit from finding those weak spots so we can strengthen them, or work around them. That’s another place where the world fails us miserably, with the attitude that any flaw requires a scandalous response and complete rejection of the whole person. Let us remind ourselves of how many perfect people the demand for perfection has produced.

So what to do? Let’s take a moment to conjure up a world where being an individual is still rewarded, uniqueness is not punished, and where the individual is free to thrive. There’s no such thing as whole cloth. We are all strands in an enormous tapestry, but we are individual strands, nonetheless. Every individual has the capacity to contribute to the whole just the way they are. Everyone has a unique right to exist as the person they are.

in short, if everyone deserves a chance to fly, and if the cold doesn’t bother you anyway, this is the place we all should live. 


Let It Go


Defying Gravity


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My Digital Album

My Digital Album

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Listen To My New Album! “Eddie Carr, Composer”

Over the years, it’s been a privilege and a thrill to write all kinds of music for all kinds of groups, from jazz combos and salsa bands to projects for film and theatre.

“Composer” is an album of a little bit of everything. It starts with three tunes written recently for my alt rock/fusion jazz combo, The Eddie Carr Five, followed by two originals for big band jazz ensemble. What follows are selections from films, theatrical projects, and other things that I consider some of my favorite work.

I decided to launch it exclusively on line, on bandcamp.com, a reliable and proven distributor of digital musical product.

And here’s the deal:

Yes, you you can buy a whole album of 25 tracks for just $9, or you can buy individual tunes, for $1 each.

Still, I know that many people just listen to the music for free. And that’s okay. I do that a lot, too. It’s one of the cool things about the internet. And frankly, every composer or artist should be very grateful for the people who listen to our music, even if we don’t get a dime for it.

But here is what I would like to ask of you. Listen to it all, and even come back whenever you’d like, to listen as often as you’d like.

But every once in a while, buy a tune or two. Pitch in a dollar if you don’t have a lot right now, or spend more if you can. In fact, you can set your own price on Bandcamp.

See, for most of my life I’ve been making music. During certain times I’ve been more productive at it than at others, and it’s absolutely true that I am happier and more positive when I am making more music. Obviously, then, I would like to do that as much as possible.

What ever you “contribute to the cause” makes it possible for me to spend more of my time making music, which makes me happy. And if you like what you hear, then I assume it makes you happy, too. And if it does, that makes me feel even better!

Whatever you contribute I promise to use to support myself as I make more music. Oh, my daughters will probably get some of it indirectly, of course.

So please buy when you can. The more you do, the more music I will make. I’ll keep putting it on Bandcamp, and you can keep listening.

I hope that makes us all happy!

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In Response to “Careers In Jazz”

I will use today’s entry in “All I Really Need To Know” to respond to an interesting article That I was turned on to by a Facebook friend and fellow jazz musician.

It begins with a large photo of Depression-era men lined up outside of a free soup kitchen. This is the bright spot. From there, it laments that thousands of yearly university jazz students will graduate to realize their diplomas are worthless. Ostensibly, they make this realization on the way to visit the pawn shop, a jarring rite of passage for the once musical elite.

The rest of the missive is written in the tone of a jazzer who as stepped out of the true light and has lost his way in the mists of darkness that surround it. He has no doubt let loose his grip in the iron rod of the One True Music, and, without it’s guidance toward the life-giving fruit of the Jazz Tree of Truth and Light, now wanders an angry cynic, a former pilgrim lost to an unholy land. He suffers the typical cycle of grief; there is shock, anger, pleading, denial, depression, and ultimately resignation.

Nonetheless, I cannot fault him for being untruthful, for he is not. Any jazz musician – indeed, any professional musician at all – who reads this rather lengthy article all the way through will in turn smile at its insights, then occasionally guffaw, snort, furrow one’s brows, argue with, and be insulted by its conclusions, before turning away to spending what’s left of the night engaged in a destructive addictive behavior of choice, anything from whiskey to Candy Crush.

Certainly, the most idealistic of people are those who believe that there is a way to hammer out a full career from their personal dedication to the arts. These are those who find the term “starving for your art” an endearing badge of honor, not sign of danger. But sometimes these sensitive idealists fall the hardest, finding the force of reality most crushing, indeed. I’ve hoped that I would find ways to bridge the bright idealism of the creative with the harsh realism of the world around me. I studied business in hopes that it would help sustain my music career. I’ve sought positions where my creativity might be an asset in my attempts to build a career. It seems like every time I seem to find a good balancing point, something happens that forces me to start all over again. It is with my own bit of cynicism that I muse that life may be just one of those old-fashioned plate-spinning acts.

But that’s going to be true no matter what career you choose, or what career chooses you. I’ve met some pretty bitter lawyers, doctors, and airline pilots, too. I suppose the best anyone can hope for is to be keen enough to feel when a bout of the blues is coming on, and make some adjustments. There is no single job, no singe true course, that constitute the one and only path to success and happiness. Knowing when to tack and when to tack back is probably the closest thing to a formula for success. So jazz musicians – and everyone else – REJOICE! Keep trying, and when that fails, try something else!

And for purposes of full disclosure, using the “Jazz Classes” Mr. Anschell describes in his article, I am an Epiphyte, but one who thinks he is a Silver Spoon. As with virtually all jazz musicians, I dreamt of being a Chosen One, but just as the title implies, one must be chosen for that, and making that call was and is out of my hands. I tried to be a Career Professional, but found the work required to sustain a proper Plan B career to be overwhelming. Having a Working Jazz Wife was a plan that was rejected for me, by my ex-wife. I dabble at being an educator, as it salvages what little self-esteem I have left after having lived the hard-scrabble life of a Gig Whore. In fact, there’s not even enough self-esteem left in the tank to be a Survivalist. Plus, my 16 year old Buick wouldn’t survive the wear and tear of delivering pizzas.

And yes, I did seriously consider a role in Industry, and even got an MBA to prepare me for it. But apparently, there are some things that even a delusional, worn-down, former whore and epiphyte reject won’t do.


“Careers in Jazz” is a June, 2012 article written by Bill Anschell in his “Notes from the Lobby” column in the online magazine All About Jazz (“Serving jazz worldwide since 1995”) – retrieved 11/15/2013 at http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=33754&pg=6&page=1#.UoXW8mTwJZd


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