We all tend to consume a lot of information. But how much of that information sticks with you? Are you applying what you learn?
In this episode of The New Music Industry Podcast, I talk to Ian Temple of Soundfly, who’s an expert on the topic of how people learn, and how we can learn more efficiently and retain more of the information we take in.
- 00:14 – Introduction
- 00:28 – What is Soundfly, and how does it help musicians?
- 01:45 – What types of courses can you find on Soundfly?
- 03:50 – What are musicians missing about setting goals and achieving what they desire?
- 06:39 – Customized or personalized curriculums for music students
- 07:47 – Different styles of learning
- 10:27 – Self-directed learning
- 12:48 – Mentorship and accountability
- 15:35 – Why build a business serving artists?
- 18:29 – The opportunities music offers
- 20:43 – What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about leadership?
- 24:57 – With knowledge being as commoditized as it is, how do you build interest in your business?
- 28:26 – Learning through repetition
- 30:10 – How do you market your business, and what’s working for you right now?
- 34:13 – Content marketing
- 35:42 – What have you learned from your recording and performance career?
- 39:19 – What are some of the biggest struggles you’ve encountered as an entrepreneur?
- 40:30 – What are some of the biggest victories you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?
- 43:14 – Are there any books that have helped you on your journey?
- 47:10 – Providing value for your customers
- 49:21 – What tools and apps are you using to run your business?
- 50:36 – Is there anything else I should have asked?
David Andrew Weibe: Today I am chatting with CEO and founder of Soundfly, Ian Temple. How are you today Ian?
Ian Temple: Good. Thanks. How are you?
David: I’m fantastic. Thank you for asking.
Ian: Thank you for having me.
David: Oh yeah. No, it’s an honor. So, what is Soundfly and how does it help musicians?
Ian: Yeah. Soundfly is basically a different kind of online music school. We exist to help musicians meet their goals. That can be many sorts of musical goals whether producing a professional sounding track from scratch or composing your first-string quartet or booking your next big tour. That’s what drives us to do what we do.
And the way we do that is we have free daily articles that are of interest to musicians. We have free mini courses that take you through a kind of single musical topic in a sitting. And then, we provide mentor services to musicians either paired with content or not in which we help musicians by pairing them with a personal trainer. Basically, someone who has knowledge and expertise in their field who works with them for a month or more to help them meet their goals. So, multiple levels of helping musicians achieve things and learn new things.
David: It’s fascinating and there’s a couple things you touched on that I definitely want to dig deeper into. I think the first thing is what types of courses can musicians expect to find on your website? You just mentioned a few different subjects, but it sounds like you offer a lot and most topics are covered in a sense.
Ian: Yes. It’s funny because when we started out we started… I’m a pianist myself so we started just by kind of messing around with like some beginner piano content to try and learn about the market. One thing we discovered pretty quickly early on was number one, there was already a glut of bigger piano content out there.
David: Of course.
Ian: And number two, you know I like to say going from zero to one as a musician if you know nothing about music it’s really hard because it’s not that much fun to practice when you don’t know anything. Right? And yet that’s kind of the area that so many people are chasing. I mean there are some amazing resources out there like [Usician 00:02:53] or Playground Sessions that kind of try and provide that service.
What we felt was missing was once people already know a little bit about music or already have some kind of knowledge and how did they learn all the things you need to know as a modern musician in today’s music world to kind of succeed or to achieve their goals. And so, we focused a lot on courses on production, or composition, helping you with your song writing, or you know one of our most popular courses is orchestrating for strings, how to use a [da 00:03:30], how to make beats. And then some music business stuff – how to actually market yourself as a musician and stuff like that.
So, yeah. It’s been really interesting seeing that that was really where there was a hole in the market and that’s really where we’ve tried to fill in and support musicians.
David: What are musicians missing about setting goals and achieving the level of success they desire?
Ian: That’s a great question. I think there are couple big things that we think about here at Soundfly. The first one is that you’d be amazed by how many music students just come to us with a really big dream and no idea how to get there. Right? So, when we in take a new student to work with one of our mentors, the first thing we ask them is what do you want to learn? What’s your big goal?
So many of them are just like “oh write a hit track”, or “be famous”, “succeed with my music”. It’s really vague and hard to wrap your head around. Right? And that can be arresting for a musician. I mean having a goal that’s that big and that vague, you don’t really know how to start or how to achieve it.
Something we really focus on a lot, one of our core kind of learning concepts is making sure that we’re creating really highly deliberate learning plans for every student that takes their big goal and breaks it up into achievable small steps with kind of interim milestones that they can actually achieve.
I guess a really good example for that would be — we’ve had a number of students come to us who want to have their music in sync licensing live. Right? Have their music be on commercials and stuff. But they have no idea how to get there. That’s just their goal but they don’t know what they’re doing. So, we work with them. We figure out where the music is now, and we say “Okay. We need to–. Truthfully, your composition needs a little bit of work, your production needs a little bit of work. And then we’ll work with you once we’ve gotten through those things to figure out how to approach an actual library.”
And so, we go step by step through those different things. The first month might be creating a sound alike of another track that is already on TV or has already been licensed and we’ll focus on the mixing, we’ll focus on tweaking the sound design, and just make sure that she or he is really able to achieve that. And then the next one will be focusing in on some other aspect of that track and just taking those really small steps. I think that’s kind of the biggest picture thing — is getting really focused and deliberate in how you approach your big goals.
David: I like that because I was a guitar teacher for over a decade. One of the things I tried to do away with was a standardized music curriculum. Instead, I tried to customize it for each student as challenging as that was because I must have had hundreds of students over the years. But I thought that was such a valuable thing to be able to do for people. And even though the enthusiasm level didn’t necessarily change for some students, I think others found tremendous value in being able to learn things like Green Day or Blink182 as one of their favorite groups over trying to grow through this book that was like really painful, you know one string at a time.
David: And reading notes and sight reading the whole works.
Ian: Yeah, that’s one of the interesting challenges is that so many–. I love learning and how people learn. That’s kind of what we obsess about here at Soundfly. The interesting thing is that people learn in really different ways. To have that ability to personalize an approach for how this specific student depending on what their goals are, I think is really that valuable. I mean you see a lot of research actually supporting that now in the field as well.
David: One thing I think about with different styles of learning is generally trying to provide three types of content and this is super challenging when you’re both basically like a solopreneur with a couple of contractors working for you. It is creating video, audio, and text.
David: You can sort of repurpose it all, right. You can take your video. You can transcribe it. You can strip the audio, make it into a podcast or something like that. It’s time consuming but I think it is one way of catering to different learning styles. What are your thoughts?
Ian: Yeah, definitely. That’s a great–. Yeah. Yeah. I agree 100% there. I’m trying to think. There was one model we looked at when we’re starting Soundfly. It might have been of Rosetta Stone, that language learning software. They always provide for everything you’re teaching. Like you speak it, you hear it, you read it, you see it. I mean it’s really just those multiple elements. I think that’s really great.
I think the other thing that I would just add to that is that one of our big goals at Soundfly is that everyone should not just consume our content. That every piece of content we make should inspire action. Because really you can read and watch and listen to stuff all day and that’s great and you will learn new perspectives and you’ll hear a bunch of great stuff, but it really requires taking some action to make sure that learning sticks and last long term.
It’s the difference between what’s called passive learning and just kind of sitting in a… Let’s say the best example might be like sitting in a college lecture and active learning which is actually taking the concepts you just learned and figuring out some concrete way to just practice it. That could be just, you know maybe someone listens to your podcast and you’re doing an episode on marketing, and at the end of the podcast they challenge themselves to try to use one little piece of knowledge that they learned in your podcast for their own career that day. Maybe it’s 20 minutes rewrite your bio. Maybe it’s 30 minutes come up with a new social media plan for the rest of the week, or something like that. But getting that active piece of it is really important as well.
David: You know I’m also a ghost writer. I’ve written on a variety of topics. One of them is actually eLearning. In that industry, one thing they continually talk about is the ability to do self-directed learning. I think that’s partly what you’re talking about is like it’s not learning in front of an instructor or classroom kind of setting, it’s about finding that internal motivation and then taking at your own pace and your convenience.
Ian: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean I love that. We all kind of come with different degrees of being able to do that you know. I don’t know about you but sometimes I’m like really motivated. For two months I’ll just be like you know doing tons of stuff every week and learning at a really fast clip. And then other times I’m less motivated. That’s kind of actually part of the thinking behind why we provide mentors as a core part of our service at Soundfly. Our model really revolves around–. We like to call it a personal trainer but for your music. That is because we all face some of those challenges with accountability with self-directed learning where you don’t always know, or you lose motivation a little bit. And just having someone who can kind of check in with you in a weekly basis and help make sure you’re clear on what your goal is for the week and check in with you at the end of the week to say, “How’s it going?” and give you like in-depth feedback on whatever it is you’re doing. That’s kind of the core value that we think we provide students and something that we’ve seen can have a big impact.
David: That’s something I want to dig deeper into but just one thing I wanted to say beforehand was I recently moved, and I was able to drop a lot of baggage around perfectionism so I’m going through one of those periods of just creating and linking a lot of stuff.
Ian: That’s amazing.
David: And just got a lot of clarity of mind to do that so that’s been awesome.
Ian: Congrats. Seize it when you’ve got it. Right?
David: Pretty much you have to.
Ian: Yeah. Yeah.
David: Yeah. So, it sounds like one of the primary value propositions is mentorship and accountability which I like a lot, and that’s something I had when I was at network marketing. I don’t look upon those days necessarily fondly, but I like the fact that there were people guiding me and showing me the way. So, are you finding that your students get drastically different results from those who don’t have access to the same resources?
Ian: Yes. To put it simply, we love our free courses and our free articles. Obviously, accessibility is so important and so we want to make sure we always provide those things but didn’t… You know it was a test we ran last year honestly. We tried a bunch of different approaches to helping our students learn. We tried like groups. We had like office hours in courses. We had just different kind of mechanisms of accountability and then we tried this personalized mentor thing where every student got a personalized mentor to work with them through a specific kind of [unclear 00:13:58] request content. And the ones with the mentor just… First of all, they just had like an incredible way better experience and saying they came out vastly improved. They did all the work. They came out of the course with six new pieces of music to add to their portfolio whereas the others maybe had one.
That was really gratifying. That kind of prompted us to develop this whole model is because we’ve just seen that the value of having this person who can both hold you accountable as you point out but also give you feedback on your work, answer your questions, and help structure a learning plan. As I said earlier kind of like that’s another big part of it where like if you have a really big goal that learning plan that helps you just say “Okay. But this week, just write a melody. Just write a simple melody.” Believe it or not that’s going to get you closer to your goal of writing that hit song. And then they work with you through that. So, yeah. We’ve definitely seen a big impact. And we have a bunch of students now who just come back to us every month to work with either the same mentor or a different mentor.
David: There you go. Coaching makes a difference. I really believe in that especially since I’m thinking about wanting a membership component to my website where people can access one on one in a forum, right. And so, it’s good for people to hear that.
Now, I am going to get into some more business and personal questions, but it definitely speaks from your place of passion of learning, if applicable. Of any industry, music might be one of the toughest to succeed in today. so why create a business serving artists?
Ian: That’s a great question. You sound like my dad.
David: Oh no.
Ian: No, I’m just joking. He’s super supportive. But you know I think most of us are in music because some part of it really speaks to us. I think it’s really interesting because that can be different things for different people. Some people just get that night shift performing on stage. Some people love sitting in a room and composing on a computer. Some people just love the act of expression. Some people love just hearing music and could listen to it all day.
I think for me personally, I think music… helping people express themselves in music is so much more than just helping people express themselves in music. There’s so many ancillary benefits to that as well. It comes from increased… I mean it breeds increased confidence. It helps people discover their voice. What I mean by that is like their actual unique voice, what they have to give to the world. Right?
There’s a lot of cynicism and like people being kind of ironic in the music industry and stuff like that but at the end of the day I think about music less as a career or as like a money-making thing. I mean that’s important. That’s great. But it really is to me about just helping people discover and explore and share their personal voice and all the impact that that can have both on themselves and on the world around them. It’s certainly a much more beautiful and impactful way to share your voice in the world than trolling on Facebook or you know whatever else some people may choose to express themselves in.
I think that’s for me why. I come from a [safe 00:18:07] place. I’m just trying throughout my career. Everything I have done for the past 10 years to support people in a kind of self-actualizing their dreams or goals and I think music just hit a nerve. It’s like a really powerful way to do that. Yeah.
David: It’s true. Music has provided so much inspiration and confidence and career opportunities and different vignettes for me than I have the opportunity to explore. And even as I look back, when I was 14 I started my first website and it was an anti Hanson website. So, even though I wasn’t…
Ian: Yeah. That’s amazing.
David: Even though I wasn’t really making music yet. I think I was just beginning the process of like practicing writing lyrics and things like that. I was already writing about music. And again, you know I grew up in Japan so my fluency in English at the time wasn’t very good and the stuff I was writing wasn’t very good either. I just kind of got started and got going.
Ian: Yeah, that’s amazing. I love that.
David: And the fact that there’s some connection to music even back then is kind of funny to me but you know once I picked up the guitar and started performing… Really performance is one of the things that I love most and gave me the biggest rush which is why you know.
I began to see the broader side of music entrepreneurship and how that can help musicians think about their careers differently and approach it from an empowering perspective rather than a defeatist perspective. That’s when I knew I had something that I needed to share with the world.
Ian: Very cool. Yeah. I mean it’s another thing, just to share very quickly, I think my… So, this is my second company I’m starting. Before this I started a non-profit with some friends.
David: I’ve read about that.
Ian: And that’s still going, doing very well. It’s called The Future Project. It does amazing work in high schools and just incredible team of people. But my first experience in leadership, my first experience as an… And the first thing that told me that I’d like to start projects was music related. Right? It was having bands and trying to be the “CEO” of a musical project and push that forward. So that’s really interesting as well the way that music gave me the like love of you know starting projects and seeing them you know go out into the world.
David: You know what you said prompted a different question or train of thought. I want to ask what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about leadership?
Ian: Could I ask what leadership? What element of leadership? Is there specific you know?
David: I think as far as being an entrepreneur, we have to lead by example. We have to be the visionaries. Sometimes we have to cover basically every other aspect of a business from accounting all the way over to admin and stuff that’s well below our pay grade. Right?
David: I’m just wondering like in leading people and your employees or team members and so forth, what was the biggest leadership lesson for you?
Ian: That’s such a great question. You’re going to make me like go have an existential crisis. What is the biggest lesson I learned about leadership? I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned about starting a company would be just the idea of how can you know more 30 days from today than you know now? That idea of just testing, pushing, trying things, figuring out what your audience likes, figuring out what you like. That idea of just finding the shortest path to test your propositions and learn. Learn by doing. It’s a theme.
That’s one element maybe of leadership but it’s kind of a little bit tangential. In terms of actual leadership, I think as a leader I have this constant dialogue going with myself around what are the most important characteristics. And as you pointed out, I think I’ve always been someone who tries to lead by example more than lead by dictation. Struggling to come to terms of that when you’re running a team or working with a team of people and think about how to provide that example and think about exactly what you should be spending your time on is something that I’m still struggling with and it’s kind of a constant daily reflection. What should I really be doing today versus what should my team be doing and are they set up for success to do those other things?
David: Actually, I think the first thing you touched on is also very much connected to leadership because it starts with you. So, if you don’t know yourself and invests in your personal growth and you expect others to do the same, you can’t really get anywhere, can you? Because it’s example that they’re following.
Ian: Oh, yeah definitely. It’s often the case as well that our greatest strengths as individuals also contain within them some of our greatest flaws. I think that that is all tied together in this because I know that one of my greatest strengths is just getting stuff done. How can I learn more 30 days from now than I do today? I just do something, do a test, get it done, and do it really well. But wrapped up in that is certainly one of my greatest flaws that when I struggle to know how to approach something, I’ll just do it myself. That’s not always the best thing when you have a team or when you have a big project to undertake. You need to share some of that ownership in that activity.
David: No, I’m laughing because that’s pretty much the exact conversation I had last night about leadership and example.
David: Yeah. It hits home for sure.
Ian: Yeah, it hits home. Yes. It’s a nightly conversation for me too. So, maybe we’ll just have to call each other up every night. How did you do today man?
David: There you go. Mastermind, right?
David: There’s accountability in motion. I have my path answer down to this question. I’m curious to see what you’ll say. We are in the Information Age and knowledge is becoming commoditized. How do you build interest in your business when one of the main things you offer is educational content?
Ian: Yes. So, this is actually a really good question for me because I think our journey up to this point in the last couple years has been one of discovering how we can truly deliver value. One of the key discoveries there in kind of pouring over research and reading books and testing things in our own business is that a lot of the online earning platforms that currently exist focus on the wrong things, to tell you the truth.
And that’s in some ways what you’re talking about is that the internet was built for knowledge dissemination and information dissemination and that’s fantastic. We all know what a revolution that’s cause then, but too many people out there are confusing knowledge dissemination with learning. There’s a difference. There’s a lot of research to back this up that you know once again just like reading articles online you might feel satisfying, you might feel good in the moment, you might pick up a tidbit but if you’re not practicing active learning and you’re not doing something with that knowledge you’re getting then you’re not really learning in the long term.
We’ve drawn a lot from two books in particular. One by a guy named Anders Ericsson called Peak. This is the researcher who provided the foundations for Malcolm Gladwell’s Ten-Thousand-hour rule. Although he kind of argues with that rule. He thinks Malcolm Gladwell kind of mis represented a couple things but still his research is really interesting and it’s all about the best learning happens at the edge of your comfort zone. You need to push yourself. If something doesn’t feel difficult then you’re probably not kind of learning for the long term.
There’s another great book called Make It Stick by a trio of researchers that I can share with you afterwards if you want to share it with your community. The word they used is desirable difficulties. It’s that idea that you yeah it needs to be effortful in order to learn. And so, we’ve structured our whole model around this idea of active learning and trying to inspire people to take offline action because that’s how they’re going to learn long term and that’s why our we have our mentor system and that’s why we’ve experimented and tested and honed in on this mentor system to try and maximize the chances that you will not only learn something but take action on it, get feedback on it, push yourself outside your comfort zone, and consequently take much bigger strides in your learning than you might on some other kind of online learning site.
David: Application is the wisdom, right.
Ian: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
David: One of the things I’ve been trying this year a little bit is reading my coach’s book which is Work Less Make More by James Franco.
Ian: Oh, awesome.
David: Yeah. And I’m going “I love what’s in here but for me to apply it and really understand it might take multiple readings.” So, my thought process was maybe I could push myself to read it once per month. Keep going back to it until I absorb the information and put it into practice and then move to the next resource as opposed to constantly looking up something new.
Ian: That’s a good idea. If you want to take that one step further of one thing I might suggest would be even to try to — without opening the book — try to summarize some of the key ideas of the book on a piece of paper one month. So, one month read it or go back to it. The next month try and summarize the key ideas from it. And in doing so you’re going to practice what’s called recall and that’s very very powerful for strengthening its impact on you. And then go back to it again afterwards and see what you got right and what other things you could pick up, and then try it again and keep practicing that recall. That could even help kind of make it even deeper, make it stick longer.
David: I like that. Thanks for suggesting that. I can see your passion coming through for learning for sure.
Ian: Yeah. Sorry to jump in. I shouldn’t be…
David: Not at all.
Ian: Putting things out there. But that’s great, I love it. I love what you’re saying.
David: I appreciate the suggestion so I’m going to try that. And so, you’ve been warned. I know this can be a bit of a tough and risky question but I’m going to ask anyway. You can give me whatever answer you like. How do you market your business and what channels have you had the most success with?
Ian: Yeah. That’s a really good question. I’m happy to talk about it because I am learning every day about this.
Ian: Yeah. Marketing is so interesting. There are so many different approaches and there are so many different aspects to it and angles to it. I’m laughing because I’m thinking back to this guy that we interviewed two years ago that we made a You Tube video with him for our touring on a shoestring course. We asked him a question very similar to that about like you know how should musicians market their craft or whatever. His answer was this is like a… He’s one of the managers of the Possum Rouge, a big venue in New York City. He’s like “Artists just need to do market.” On the team we always bring that up because it’s like the funniest thing. Right? He just said it like that was his whole answer. It hasn’t been that useful obviously, but it is a starting point at least.
Marketing encompasses so much that trying to wrap my head around it is like I’m focusing on a different thing every month and trying to learn. So, the big things we’ve learned about marketing Soundfly is that the core activity that we need to do is to create individual trust with our community of the people who come to our site. We’ve explored lots of different marketing channels. Obviously, the daily articles that we publish are a big part of that. I mean that drives a ton of traffic to our site. We post those on Facebook and send them around to relevant people and kind of do some of your classic social media marketing with those. But once people come to that site and once people have seen those articles or encountered Soundfly for the first time our goal from that point on is just to give them a reason to try us. We’re asking them for a decent chunk of money to join. Our mentor model is not cheap to run so we have to charge a decent amount of money. Mixing courses cost $499 each so everything we do from that point on is just trying to build trust. We’ve done various things. We started doing Facebook live events and that’s great because it gives people a chance to see that we’re humans, we are real people. And that’s so important to our model. All the mentors are humans, so people need to understand and know that we are very human. And trustworthy in that way.
We ask everyone who comes to our site. We immediately try and reach out to them through automated channels at this point kind of intercom more or other things because we just have such a volume of people. But we ask them, how can we help you? What are you trying to learn? And if someone responds to those emails, we will spend the time regardless of whether it’s with us or not, trying to help that person take a step forward in their goal because that’s just so important to us in terms of building trust. So, for our business really right now everything we’re trying to do and think about is just activities that can build our credibility and increase our trust with our audience.
David: Basically, if I were to boil it down, I think one of the things you’re talking about there is content marketing which is one of the things that actually makes my heart beat because here I am making a podcast and it takes time, it takes effort, takes resources to do but part of it is I enjoy it and the other part is it’s building trust with the people I come in contact with. Any number of my pockets episodes or just one of them could connect with somebody and then they go “Who is this guy? What does he have to offer?” It is an incredible way to build trust these days.
Ian: Yeah, absolutely. And it comes with its challenges I’m sure as you know as well, which is there’s so–. As you’ve said before earlier in the show there’s so much content out there so how do you offer an interesting take on a subject or how do you offer an angle that hasn’t been already covered and covered and covered again?
David: Exactly. And I mean, one of my top blog posts, it’s weird but, it’s six things I learned from the power of your subconscious mind by Joseph Murphy. So basically, a book review. And it just continues to get hundreds of views every single day.
Ian: That’s amazing.
David: I know. It’s interesting. And mindset being a very important thing. I don’t mind covering it on the blog. It’s just more so fascinating that that’s the thing that drives a lot of traffic to my site.
Ian: Yeah. I think one of our biggest articles to date was called something like Erik Sattie is so much weirder than you realized. We’re like “Wait a second.” Like Eric Sattie being a French turn of the century composer slightly minimalist and like who knew that there was a pocket of the internet out there that was just desperate to learn about how weird this turn of the century French composer was. You know what I mean? It would be just like the strangest thing, but you know I mean I guess those Erik Sattie real music nerds out there felt a little bit underserved and we gave them something that was interesting. That article we use to get great traffic.
David: Yeah. Basically, you just never know. Keep at it.
Ian: Yeah, exactly. Keep at it and I guess you know test. Try lots of things to find those angles where you’re doing something really different.
David: Only believe in that. I know you’ve done quite a bit of recording and touring yourself, so I’d like you to share two or three highlights from your career and what you learned from those experiences.
Ian: Oh, that’s a good question. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to go too far back so I’ll use recent examples. Let’s see. What’s a big highlight? Well, recently my trio which is kind of a slightly experimental modern classical to some degree inspired by some of the minimalist composer’s trio called Sontag Showground and our most recent album got us our first pitchfork review so that was a nice milestone in my career. Some of the things that really stand out to me o some of the shows we’ve played though I think was two or three years ago we played this show in France in a barn in the countryside over by like Flanders area on the Belgian border which like the landscape there is just littered with memorials to the World War I dead. You could just almost like feel the ghosts around you. There is very misty and rolling hills. Even some kind of areas pockmarked landscapes where you’re still not allowed to go because there might be still active debris from World War I there.
We played this show in the basement of this barn that was kind of a 300 to 400-year-old barn. That basement was also used by the French resistance in World War II to hide people fleeing the Holocaust. So, the setting was just like imbued with power. Right? It was a small audience but packed, you know the space. It’s just one of those shows that’s just so memorable and always sticks with you. The people who are hosting it were just so nice and excited about what we’re doing. We transitioned from our performance into a dance party for the rest of the night. Everything went exactly right. I think so many of my real highlights as a musician are those shows where just everything goes right.
David: Love it. Glad to hear about that. What are some of the biggest struggles you’ve encountered as an entrepreneur?
Ian: I suppose it’s just the struggle, the overarching… The one. The one struggle to end all struggles which is how do we achieve that growth that will allow us to continue to do what we love and continue to deliver impact to the world. Right? And that’s the big thing that keeps me up at night and I think about in the morning. Today, how are we going to take that next step that will continue to allow us to grow as a business and continue to deliver the impact that we know we can deliver?
David: I like it because I think your answer will be similar to mine where a lot of people would go: Step one, find a need. Step two, fill it. I basically have a step three which is be fulfilled in the process.
Ian: Right. Yeah.
David: Because if you don’t enjoy the journey what’s the destination going to look like?
Ian: Yeah, for sure.
David: Yeah. On the flip side, what are some of the biggest victories you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?
Ian: I think that for all of us on the Soundfly team the victories at the moment are the individual stories. It’s awesome to site like some numbers. Like “oh we had 50% growth last month” or we’ve reached this milestone of however many million people visited our site last year and that’s great. Like that’s exciting but it’s when we see a specific student grew – and we each have a couple of students in our mind on the team who we’ve interacted with or seen through our mentor programs who just have really killed it in part through our involvement. We have this incredible student that we’ve worked with now for most of the last year and she even helped give us feedback that helped lead to our current model. She came in. She teaches I think elementary school in Wisconsin or somewhere in the Midwest and studied music education in college, but she really wants to like keep her own music going and not lose that while she’s working on Do-re-mi. Just over the past year she’s just become the incredible producer. I mean she’s just like you know… We showed her music to a bunch of like Berkeley grad producers recently and they’re like “Oh my God” you know. They were like making fun of each other like “You don’t make music this good.” That’s just so awesome and so exciting. I can’t wait for her. She’s working on her first EP I believe now, and I can’t wait for that to come out.
We’ve had a couple different stories like that working with a student. We worked with someone on writing music to picture last summer and at the end of it he got his first ever job writing to picture right at the end of the month of working with us. We’re like “Yes!” I mean that’s exactly why we do this. So, that’s kind of the easy answer to that is it’s just all about hearing that music that the students are creating and hearing stories of them taking steps forward.
David: Yeah. I agree with you. I think that maybe the number one thing is the difference you make. Right? That’s really exciting. And then number two, although I have not experienced this myself is when your team members come up with a crazy innovative solution that you would have never come up with. That’s also very gratifying experience.
Ian: Oh yeah, that’s a good one too. I agree.
David: Are there any books that have helped to you on your journey? And if not, any blogs or podcasts that have?
Ian: Absolutely. So, I mentioned two of them already. I can send them to you. One is called Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, I think or something like that. It’s called Peak. It’s by Anders Ericsson. It’s about how we should practice and learn and be deliberate in our learning strategies as music–. Well, not specifically as musicians. In everything we do in life. But it I found it really resonant as a musician.
The other one is Make It Stick which is a fantastic just… Basically overview of some of the science of affective learning from the past kind of 20-30 years. Another interesting thing is that a lot of what we’re learning now builds on things that John Dewey was writing about a hundred years ago. And so, if anyone’s really interested in learning in education, they can go back and read some of his books and writings from around 1900 and he really started to come up with a lot of ideas around personalized education and stuff like that.
In terms of business specific books because those are all really focused on learning which is where a lot of my passion lies as we’ve talked about. I think there are two books that I come back to a lot. The first one is–. Actually, I should say three books but two of them are by the same author and could maybe be kind of consider one singular idea. That’s Built to Last and Good to Great books.
Ian: You know those ones?
David: I sure do.
Ian: Yeah. I mean just the idea as someone who started his career in non-profit and… I always wanted to be… Like back in college I was convinced I was going to be like a humanitarian worker like out in the world, out in some combat zone. I’ve always been driven by purpose more than – I don’t know, profit let’s say – I don’t think that’s a dichotomy but just for simplicity sake.
Realizing that you can build a business based on values and mission. It’s more effective to build a clock and tell time, which are kind of the examples they use a lot in the books. The argument of the books is that the most successful long term businesses are the ones that know clearly why they exist and have that encoded into a series of structures for the entire team that ensures that the core values and the core mission and the core why of the business continues to drive everything you do. I just love that idea. Obviously, there’s more to it. You might be able to expand on it more but that idea is always stuck with me.
Then just the other book is Creativity Inc by one of the Pixar founders. It is just a really fun book about an approach to leadership that really resonated with me, which is the low key. It’s structure building. It’s about listening. It’s about creating a really honest and impactful culture within your team no matter what project you’re working on.
David: In episode 73 of the podcast, I talked to DeCarlos Garrison and he shared something similar about… We didn’t really start this as a business. We started this as something to help musicians and help artists.
David: yeah. That’s a great teaching point. If you go after the money, it may not be there. But if you provide value, then in a way money will just chase you down.
Ian: Yeah. Yeah. I agree with that wholeheartedly. I learned so much from some of these… The people I started the last business with, the cofounders of future project who were so agnostic about methods and deliberate and authoritarian even about like purpose. Right? So like, we know why we’re doing this and we’re going to stick to that why. But in terms of whether we’re a non-profit or a business, whether we make money, whether we get donations, or whether we get big donations, whether we get small donation. I mean who cares? We just need to figure out which one works. As long as it allows us to keep addressing our why. That was really powerful for me. I think we’re still kind of taking that thought. I’m still taking that thought with me and kind of you know who cares about the method as long as we can discover a driver that will allow us to continue to deliver the impact we want to have.
Ideally, that driver lines up with the impact we have so we’re able to deliver musicians an incredibly high value service and they pay us for it. But there might be other methods down the road. Maybe we decide it’s better actually to become a non-profit and ask for 3-8 million dollar donations a year and that works for us. You know what I mean? The method doesn’t matter as much as the how come.
David: It’s such a great perspective. Definitely hits home. Good reminder for me too. This is the portion where we get to geek out a little bit. So, what tools and apps are you using to run your business?
Ian: Good question. Probably, Slack is the big one. Most of our team is remote so we are on Slack religiously. We try and use it as a way to deliver extra value to our students as well. Students in our mentorship programs are around Slack asking us questions and stuff like that. It’s just a great communication tool.
Other apps that I used to run… Well, I don’t know. I mean they probably go through our subscriptions list. I design in sketch and illustrator. We use Premiere to edit our videos. I don’t even know. I can’t remember. Lots of apps. Yeah.
David: I hear you. Slack is a big one for a lot of people. Well, this has been a fantastic conversation. Is there anything else I should have asked?
Ian: I don’t know. I think that that’s probably… I think I’ve certainly talked enough. I’ve said everything I’ve probably meant to say but it’s been really great chatting with you.
David: Yes. Thank you so much for joining me today and for your generosity in sharing.
Ian: Yeah. Thanks for having me. It’s really really great to chat.