Home for the holidays

This year is the first in a while where I won’t be giving my mother a present to open. I completed a bucket list item for both of us earlier this year when I took her to see Marc Anthony at Madison Square Garden during his “Legacy” Tour.

That’s an interesting name because I think about legacy a lot. I think about what people will say at my funeral. I think about what people will remember me for if I don’t have children. I wonder what my parents will have wished I did. I wonder if my brother will greet me at the pearly gates when my soul leaves my body. I wonder if I will be scared when the end comes.

Digital moves so fast that people forget their legacy. Digital is very much like life, it moves quickly, but nothing is forgotten. Think about the template of a life you’ve lived: you either built it and made your own way or tried to follow someone’s else. The “market” is similar to that in many ways–some savvy digital folks make a viral thing and suddenly became a source for desperate brands trying to harness it.

The thing is, there’s more to this game than a good tweet and a bright smile. 

There’s a sweet science.

You see, a very long time ago when I was a lowly digital consultant with a dream, I promised my mother that I’d take her to see Marc Anthony in concert. It was largely symbolic, but meant a lot to both of us. He is her favorite artist, and it was what she played when I would do chores as a kid on the weekends. 

Taking her to the concert meant more than nostalgia. It meant I was fulfilling a promise, and that I had not forgotten what I said to her. It meant the things that mattered to me then, still mattered now, and that she mattered.

Of course, seeing Marc meant I had accumulated the excess, the access, and the freedom she had always wished for me. It meant I had a disposable income. It meant that as a QPOC, I was okay. It meant I had “made it,” even for a short time. 

But the lesson here is simple, who you are and what you stand for, matters. Whether it’s IRL to your mom or to someone you’ve never met on Instagram. The social currency that you’re willing to sacrifice for likes, little hearts, and RTs has to be parallel to what you’d be willing to give up for real, true, love 24/7/365.

So while you’re posting in 2019, think about whether it’s about you, who you really are and if it’s true to your legacy. And if it is, it doesn’t matter how fast digital moves, it will never take it away from you.

Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry… Make it Rain!

I spoke at the #18NTC (2018 Nonprofit Tech Conference in NOLA) with Steve Jacobs of Precision Strategies, and wanted to share the slides with y’all.

All of your heroes die & so will you – A list to remember

Credit: dvortygirl Flickr

Which I suppose is, the first thing they forget to tell you about heroes.
 
There are a lot of things that you’ll find out when you’re on the journey to being your best self.
 
This is a list of some things that I wished someone would have said or mentioned to me:
 
  1. Be nice. It will feel natural and much easier, to have bad days and carry them with you. Do not. It is a fucked up thing to expect others to do that emotional labor for you, to make you feel better, to lift you up. Friends will do that, but most others will not. And no one should have to.
  2. Read more. You only get better by learning and sharing ideas with others. Reading is a good way to do both.
  3. Do you want the thing or the experience? Do you really want those Gucci dog tags? True Religion jeans? Nike Air Jordan 1 UNCs? Or do you want the envy that comes when some people see you with those things? If you can’t tell the difference, start over.
  4. Happiness is not contagious. Being genuine is. As is being thoughtful.
  5. Your mental health is the most important thing you can maintain. Do the work to take care of it.
  6. Life is fair, because the market does not give two fucks about your day. Do decent work, try your best, don’t be lazy. Pursue every opportunity. 
  7. Life is unfair, because the market does not give two fucks about your day. Do decent work, try your best, don’t be lazy. Pursue every opportunity.
  8. There are no conventional paths to success – “Where we’re going, there are no roads.”
  9. Be willing to eat shit for what you love. If you really want to paint, are you gonna wash the craft store’s windows for supplies at 25% off? Would you walk dogs to pay for art school tuition? Would you apprentice for a semi-successful artist for free? If no, see no. 7.
  10. Your heroes have died and will die. So will you. Start looking forward and stop doing all the shit that won’t matter.
Stop waiting for permission.
 
Be the best fucking you there is–There’s only one.

What I talk about when I talk about data…

Thanks again to the kind folks at the New York Nonprofit Media for letting me jam on their big stage.

The conversation was “Using Data-Driven Analytics to Enhance and Improve Targeting Prospects and Measuring Impact.”

Let me know what you think!

Thank you, maybe? Forgotten graciousness & Carly Rae Jepsen

The line snaked through the record store and down the city block. It was as if someone cut a hole in a tankship and decided to sell vinyl LPs and vintage posters inside.

Brooklyn’s Rough Trade Records was an Anderson Cooper-sized eye roll bookended with exclamation points in response to the oft asked “Is the record store dead?”

¡No!

Our turn was next.

The giant E•MO•TION curtain fell from the ceiling, slightly lopsided, hastily hung, all artsy.

The pint-sized pop star and Canadian hitmaker, Carly Rae Jepsen, was shaking hands and posing for photos in front of the drapes. Catching a glimpse of each interaction, it was an easy 30 seconds, max. There were no photos in landscape versus portrait or one with duckface or a “just a couple with the flash on.” No one was going to tell you that you looked great during or after.

It was an assembly line. You took your signed CD, your Baked by Melissa CRJ-themed confection, and you walked back out into the concrete jungle of Williamsburg(h).

“It’s so fast,” a friend said, appreciating the efficiency.

“It’s almost our turn. Do you know what you want to say?” I asked, eyes on Carly Rae, who with the release of her brilliant third album E•MO•TION had become my newest audio obsession-slash-larger example of total disappointment in the ears of the world.

“Hmm. You say hi and thank you, right? What can you really say in ten seconds?”

It was our turn. She greeted us with “Hi” and a friendly nod, individual handshakes, and a generous smile. I watched my friend tilt a bit to speak to the diminutive star.

Even after what had already been hours of this, she looked happy to see us.

Before it was all over, I knew what to say.

“Your music brought us together.”

Carly Rae smiled again, this time, a little differently as she put arms around us for yet another photo. “That’s what I like to hear.”

Cameraphone button pushed. Cupcakes acquired.

It’s not lost on me that over a year ago I waited in line to see a musician I think is underrated, in a place that the music industry doesn’t understand.

It was only four years ago that music critics were having a similar conversation, and it was I who wasn’t quite paying attention.

In 2012, The Guardian called “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen, the “best song of the year.” MTV Hive said about Kiss, the body of work that enveloped that sonic Frankenstein, “Kiss is the best pop album of the year, and nobody is listening.”

Therein lies the part that I cannot seem to get—Carly Rae Jepsen puts out really good records, she’s young, she’s likable and she understands her place in the digital realm.

Best of all, her music brings people together.

In 2015, on a cold November night in New York, I joined over 1,000 people in what could only be called ‘a let’s drink alcohol and sing E•MO•TION party’ that Carly Rae Jepsen just so happened to also perform at.

That’s pretty much how it went for an hour and fifteen minutes. If you haven’t heard the record, standouts include the Sia-penned “Making the Most of the Night,” which is a breathy quick paced gem and “Run Away With Me” presented in the first of the links above.

Do not be mistaken, when CRJ said: “I have a very 80s album on my hands,” she was spot on. You can hear Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Prince, intersecting with Paula Abdul, Samantha Fox, Africa, and maybe even a bit of Christopher Cross. It is the best kind of musical synergy: of the moment, dance-worthy, and rooted in the tradition of bubblegum pop–a little tease, a little taunt.

So… Who is responsible for her success, or perceived lack thereof?

Is it the label and their marketing and publicity teams, who didn’t do enough promotion?

Is it the audience who refuses to buy it, and also won’t go to a show?

Or is it all about timing?

These are the questions I struggled to answer on my own while writing this, but not just with CRJ. I couldn’t really answer them without turning the lens inward. When I wrote about music every day for a year, the thing I hated most was writing album reviews. I didn’t mind the travel, the sleeping on hotel room floors, or the late nights with bands. I didn’t even mind the egos.

It always felt shitty to diminish someone’s work, even if I knew I was telling my truth. Maybe I was young and naïve.

But that’s not Carly Rae Jepsen’s problem. It’s not a question of airplay. The accomplishments of “Call Me Maybe” alone read off as a wish list for any artist in pursuit of the holy grail of Top 40: [Read in Casey Kasem’s voice] #1 in 15 countries, 13M sales globally, the biggest-selling single of 2012, over 710M views on YouTube, nine weeks at the top of the Billboard 100.

Some may strike up “Call Me Maybe” as a fluke, simply the unpredictable intersection of pop boldness and an unexpected co-sign from another Canadian destined to dominate international waters, Justin Bieber. Those folks could not be more wrong.

A well-versed musician, who first perked ears after placing third in 2007’s Canadian Idol, Carly is the least contrived of this generation’s breed of pop stars. Unlike her contemporaries, who have found their niche pushing the boundaries of sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and TMZ, there is something delightfully secretive about her music. It’s full of discovery and flirtation. It feels good to listen to, not churned in a lab with fake doctors.

When David Byrne speaks of the digital revolution, and he does often, he takes aim at streaming applications like Spotify, Tidal, and Pandora. There’s this kind of unwinnable tug-of-war happening, in which the musician and the artist stand on opposite ends, pulling at the very cores of their soul like two lovers who know they have overstayed their welcome, but the Uber is taking so damn long. Byrne’s tone is an interesting one, it’s a disappointment in the consumer rather than the music industry that screwed everyone over so badly that they now need these platforms to survive. He also can’t believe that we don’t get it. Sure, a smaller act can flourish via digital because they’re probably not making any living at all from their music! The opportunity that someone can listen to you at all is better than the alternative.

Perhaps popularity is the barrier for entry in this new world of music? It’s nearly impossible to remember a time before Beyonce was Sasha Fierce, and the minute-by-minute evolution or from some vantage points, oversaturation by artists via fragrances or brands of tennis shoes. It seems the opposite can hold true as well… Iggy Azalea had superstardom nearly within reach, but repeated public displays of sheer ignorance left her on the outside looking in.

It was Spotify’s Discover Weekly that put the tunes off of E•MO•TION on my radar in the first place. To circle back to Byrne’s theory, he is right–my multiple and continued streams of that record didn’t do much to secure Jepsen’s financial future. But it is what made me dive headfirst into buying her album on release day, securing the wristband that allowed us to meet the lyrical maestro in person.

When Carly Rae Jepsen wrote the list of whom she wanted to work with for E•MO•TION, she pulled across genres, and it showed. Perhaps E•MO•TION was there to prove a point. If Kiss is what she could do with two months, it’s no surprise that she could put forward a masterful effort with two years’ notice.

The new, uncharted waters of performance seem made for Carly Rae Jepsen. The 30-year-old is the bridge to all of the things people our age and our parents say they miss about music.

Maybe you are not listening because she sang “Call Me Maybe.”
I think it’s time to reconsider.

As I revisit E•MO•TION again for this piece, now with the incredible companion piece of E•MO•TION Side B, and a new song of summer, “Cut to the Feeling,” there’s now a 25-song galaxy full of line crossing, longing, desperation, near deal-closing and the high and low tides of desire.

Her music isn’t a product, it’s her. She too is a bit wispy and unsure of herself.

Some of the pieces I read after her last record dropped described it as “buzzworthy” and “surprising.” But her consistency is only surprising if you, like me four years ago, were not paying attention.

What makes Carly Rae Jepsen different isn’t the timing OR the tunes, it’s the frailty that her music is wrought with. The vulnerability, the sacrifice, the humanity continues to be a central theme. She is living–we are too. There’s a chance that all of this could be wrong, that this isn’t the right person for you, that this isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime love affair. And depending on the day, she’s probably right.

It’s never a simple web that CRJ weaves.

There’s a nuanced risk involved, almost like the risk of openly admitting to being a Jepson fan/stan—it’s a guilty pleasure that’s worth every penny.

So I’ll just hurry up and say it: Thanks, CRJ.