Stop Pushing Buttons and Start Baking Cakes

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cakeDoesn’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.

12 thoughts on “Stop Pushing Buttons and Start Baking Cakes

  1. What many people writing tutorials and articles for indie artists are not aware of is that success is not a mathematical formula, a process or recipe where you follow a number of steps, work hard on them and then it happens… From my experience and from interacting with successful artists I know personally, (some of them I’m sure have not read a single one of these articles in their lifetime), things happen because it is time for them to happen and because it is natural for them to happen, there is not a forced quality to them. Of course this does not mean that we have to be idle and wait for success to happen by itself, or that we don’t have to work hard or do what we have to do. Even for the Internet, some successful artists were on facebook or twitter because they were successful in the real world and then went to the Internet because there was a buzz and there was a reason for them to be on the Internet interacting with fans, not the other way around where people think that the Internet will make them famous and successful, even if it worked for some people. Success has to be natural and effortless, otherwise it is artificial and does not have a chance to last.

    1. Waj, that reminds me of a dream I had when I was 11 or 12. I drempt where I was playing guitar. It was ‘natural and effortless’. When I woke up I had the feeling that playing guitar was going to be easy. Then when I finally had one in my hands I realized I’d actually have to learn how to play it.

  2. Good Job, I believe those words are inspired. So true, sometimes we must change the way we make the cake to have a better taste
    Those are not cloud on the horizon, you’re are just going through a little haze so it’s time for you to pull back and find a new stratedy because you’re so close to achieve… Good advice and change can make a difference

  3. Wow, so true. Thanks for writing these encouraging words. The grand design is most important.

    What are we about? Why do we do what we do? Who are we?

    Blessings, one and all…

  4. Good insights Rob. There’s a lot more at play than meets the eye. I think the important thing is to treat your entire operation as a system (and as systems within that system and also as part of a larger system). Everything interacts with everything else and nothing is isolated. The true beauty of it is that when you get the system humming and firing on all cylinders you can produce things that are far more powerful than anything that can be affected directly.

    Eben Pagan used a great example at a seminar I went to recently where he talked about what it would be like to dump a pile of car parts in front of a native tribe in South America. Slowly you start to put the pieces together until one day you’ve got a car. The natives watch with great interest throughout the process…. Then you drive away! Imagine how much that would blow their minds! That’s the power of a system. All of those parts work together to create something that’s far beyond their sum. And so it can be with your career.

    Eben will be releasing the seminar as a product on DVD (Mind Control: How to Use Your Brain for Success). Whenever he does I’d highly recommend purchasing it (whatever he charges will be a bargain). Until then I recommend digging up anything you can on W. Edwards Deming. Deming was the master of systems. He dealt with cars, but the same thinking applies to your career as a musician.

    One more note on systems. Eben points out that even small parts in a system can be more powerful than you could ever imagine with linear thinking. For example, take the battery wire of your car. What would you figure, percentage wise, it would be worth to the whole value of the car? 0.001%? Try cutting it and then tell me what it’s worth. Never underestimate the negative power that a part has over your system.

  5. A most insightful post, thanks Scott.

    I’m enjoying the idea of building a career made of cake and quality ingredients.

    This truth struck me: “We humans tend to see the world in terms of linear cause and effect: If I do this, then that happens.”

    One truth I am beginning to accept is you cannot possibly imagine or predict the results of your efforts in the world of the hyper-connected internet. The connections made, the opportunities that come if you are consistent, authentic and responsive, most of all patient.

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