An attorney friend of mine years ago expanded my thoughts on perspective. I’d often ask how his day had been knowing hours earlier he had a rough time in trial court. Ironically he would respond with a smile “I’ve never had a bad day”.
I’d ask myself how could that be? Certainly he had a client that equally had a rough day in court, possibly a motion not accepted or expert testimony that failed to provide the definitive evidence required to win the case. However he never let those issues adjust his feeling and perspective for his day.
With the mindset of an artist I learned to change perspective. Moving my visual camera and reframing the mental picture of the entire situation I began to recognize that fine tuning into one specify issue or troublesome event in your day should generally only be a temporary setback. Reevaluating the situation and obtaining an alternative perspective can often change the emotion of the situation allowing your vision and focus to clarify. My corporate job had extinguished my creative spark and fogged my perspective.
It was at that exacting moment I decided I’d try Living the Dream
My decision allowed me to re-evaluate my life, relationships, goals and objectives and then refocus on my dreams. I decided to signup for filmmaking classes at NYU, travel more, examine my spirituality and quit my high paying corporate New York City job.
Leaving piles of money on the table and moving my 401k into a Fidelity account I moved towards my dreams as I took a local job in a similar industry. Ironically cutting my salary almost in half didn’t make me sad so why would doubling it make me happy? Perspective. Not suggesting that money is the route of all evil however I’ve determined that the requirements and sacrifices required to earn a high paying corporate salary isn’t worth the stress, aggravation and the loss of perspective.
Quitting my NYC job opened up my daily schedule to drive my kids to school, make breakfast with lattes and meditate. Moments became mine as I reclaimed my life and creativity. On a daily basis I work on personal development by practicing mindfulness, filmmaking, design and creative writing. Experimenting with a vegetarian diet and eventually a vegan lifestyle, I’ve increased my health and most importantly my mindset.
I still get stressed and even pissed off however generally the emotions are temporary as the feeling quickly rolls off like water off a ducks back. My compassion and empathy has increased for people that fit within the model of my dream and I’ve moved on from the toxic ones.
Situations in which I cannot control the outcome nor push out of my life I accept and and modify my perspective.
With a clear perspective of living in the moment I’ve taken the time to examine the world around me. Listening and recording birds, observing flowers blooming and climbing rock outcropping I’ve learned to love how beautiful nature truly is.
Heading to the beach I love to admire the oceans smells and hard pondering splash sounds of white noise as powerful curling funnel waves hit rocky jetties. Seagulls gliding in the slow oceans breeze economizing the frequency of their wings flutter.
On any given day I’ve been known to respond to pleasant greetings with “I’m Living the Dream”. A daily ritual that keeps my mind and body in perspective.
Why you should never water down your products to increase sales.
Growing up I lived within a short train ride into New York City. It was almost easier to jump onto a NJ Transit train than sit on the school bus for almost 45 minutes to get to school. Musician friends of mine and I would often bag the day and head into the City, grab some breakfast at the Tick Tock Diner in Hell’s Kitchen and then head thru Times Squares’ debacle of sex shops and tourist trinkets.
We would head to Midtown’s infamous 48th street music shop row, home to Manny’s Music, 48th Street Guitars, Sam Ash, Rudy’s Music Stop among others. With our long hair and pseudo rockstar looks we would discuss what famous guitarist would be wondering the store and our excitement to try out a Les Paul guitar thru the then new Marshall JCM800 tube amplifiers.
Waiting outside for the stores to open we would always be first inside drooling over the walls of hanging guitars, rooms with precariously stacked amps and speaker cabinets, racks of recording gear, spools of tape and mixing boards that looked like mission control.
We would wander the store trying every instrument we could while twisting knobs and tweaking amps almost certainly attempting to play a Steve Vai riff. Salesmen would cruise around the store dressed in jeans, Vans or Cons and manufacture’s T-shirts that generally signified what department they specialized in. Questions were answered and experimentation and noodling was encouraged.
Pro musicians would pop in while in town recording or touring, often disappearing into private rooms as you never knew what to expect. More times than not we would walk out with some new tool be it an effect pedal or just some strings excited about our surroundings and adventures.
Then the bottom fell out as the music stores slowly closed, blamed was New York City’s higher rents which mostly isn’t true. Yes the rents increased on 48th Street just like the rents increased everywhere else in New York City however what actually happened was big box retailers took over.
Sam Ash and Guitar Center went from small mom and pop shops into gigantic Goliath like retailers, gobbling up scores of musical shops and popping up in strip malls around the country, the decline begins.
Armed with higher credit ratings the big box retailers converge on the manufactures. Companies such as Gibson and Fender guitars began to squeeze smaller retailers forcing them to carry large quantities of inventory across the entire brand lineup. Many of the once American made products found themselves being manufactured in Mexican, Japan and ultimately China in efforts to reduce costs and expand the brands. Manufacturers ventured into the uncharted waters of relabeling kitschy items such as guitar picks, strings and cords to maximum market share and sales.
The entire structure of the musical instrument industry was being run by Wall Street in a huge Madoffesque Ponzi scheme. Manufactures became more corporate as they increased market share with often subpar products. Retailers promoted “sales” almost weekly of rebranded trash products to lore unsuspecting musicians and students reeled into purchasing “just as good as products” from unheard of manufacturers.
One holiday season while Christmas shopping with my wife I wondered into a big box music shop armed with my anything in the store 15% off coupon I headed to the “Pro Audio” department. A “pro audio specialist” or whatever false narrative he was claiming asked if I needed any help. I’m an easy sell as I know what I want long before I ever enter a store and to be honest I was only there to save 15%. I requested him to grab me a Shure SM 57 microphone.
The Shure SM57 mic which is based on a 1930’s design is legendary in the audio world. Used by every United States President for over the past 50 years and most Rock and Roll concerts and recordings I was already sold (plus I already owned four of them)
My salesman responded that if I had read the fine print of the sales-flyer, Shure (along with most other major manufactures was excluded). My wife as always responded “ I told you, nothing you want is ever really on sale here why do you bother?” and I generally hang my head in shame, knowing she’s right and recognize that the nostalgic days of musical equipment glory were nearly over.
The salesman suggested to me a “just as good as” rebranded piece of trash which I angrily responded “how many hit records were recorded with this piece of shit jammed into the speaker cone?”
I didn’t bother to await his response as I walked out of that big box retailer, never to enter again.
To be fair we aren’t talking a substantial amount of money nor savings. A Shure SM57 goes for about $100 retail so saving $15 bucks certainly isn’t worth compromising your sound or your reputation. The following day I called my Pro Audio sound specialist to place a full price order. In conversation, I expressed my disgust with the big box vs Shure issue as well as the fact the great music shops of the past hardly exist any longer.
Then I asked him why Shure hardly goes on sale and his response changed my life from charging my own customers to the products I purchase….
Shure microphones sell themselves. With small profit margins and a flurry of cheap knockoffs the only way to maintain brand dominance is to hold the line. Occasionally Shure will allow their products to be placed on sale under their control. Retailers do not control Shure nor other high end manufactures.
I currently buy products from manufacturers such as Sound Devices, Sennheiser, Rycote and Cinela. High end brands that hold the value of the products consumer experience, quality control and market share to the highest regards.
Working mostly in sound for film I now frequent what our industry calls the “usual suspects” a small team of specialty retailers with a knowledgeable caring staff that represent the manufactures brand values to the highest regards. Sales and service are paramount in these business models with direct dialog back to the manufactures. Product corrections are often made with new products often specially designed and manufactured to fill a need in the professional industry.
Pro consumers have close connections with our sales reps and often manufactures reps to keep our cottage industry progressively moving forward. Most of these products are hardly ever discounted on the new market and very often hold higher prices on the used market with pros citing years of product reliability and manufacturers support.
That crappy Big Box Store microphone could have saved me tons of cash over the years on product acquisition costs however it’s doubtful on the reliability and customer support level which currently is ultimately what I’m willing to pay for.
My cellphone rings the Friday prior to a July 4th weekend as I was requested to visit an active project of Madison and 5th Avenue on the Upper East Side of New York City. The project was an aggressive renovation of a historic Brownstone nestled quietly on a prestigious residential block of mansions occupied by Donatella Versace, Edgar Bronfman Jr., Tommy Mottola, and Ivana Trump.
The project was to create a modern gallery space adorned with floating white lacquered walls, polished white quartz agglomerate floors and seamless coved ceilings with adjustable recessed lighting troughs. Three adjoining buildings were being undermined as entire sections of brownstone and bricks were pinned and removed to create large open expanses vertically and lengthwise.
The projects design was stunningly original and bold and certainly right up my alley however I currently was a full time supervisor of a high end architectural interiors company so my time was well occupied. Not wanting to loose out on the experience and challenge I asked my friend the projects supervisor what was the estimated completion date in which his response was Mid October to coincide with the International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show.
With an impossible schedule of little more than three months I laughed and boldly stated to my friend and colleague entrusted with the responsibility of completing this project this was definitely impossible. Secretly my own internal thought was due to scheduling conflicts I wouldn’t be able to help build this amazingly chic space.
My laugh and comment was responded to by an Italian statuesque and charismatic handsome man in a high fashion designer suit. His smile and presence commanded my fullest attentiveness as I hung on his every word. He played to my masculine ego noting he had heard that I was the one person that could get this project done.
As an overly confident decision maker I quickly decided I could take on this projects aggressively short schedule and extreme detail under certain conditions. First I couldn’t leave my existing project until it was closer to completion and my entire crew would need to come along with me and only for the rates I requested and therefore the job would need to operate round the clock and seven days a week. In order to supervision I would need to live onsite and I would build our portion of the project as a second job.
The owner/designer agreed to all of my terms and offered his 5th ave apartment as suitable sleeping quarters which I firmly denied. The only way I felt I could build this project, I had to sleep onsite inspired by a close friends father who was the lead surveyor in the building of New Jersey’s Great Adventure theme park. He lived in a job site trailer awakened every few hours to provide points and elevations for the various trades to keep the project moving round the clock.
My closest friend Mark was to be my lead carpenter and stay onsite with me as we undertook what seemed to be the impossible.
My requests were immediately accepted by a smile and the owner calling his staff ordered mattresses and Egyptian cotton bedding for my what would prove to be a less than peaceful job site quarters. Uncertain to what challenging circumstances I had just committed my crew and friends too I began to review the projects piles of detailed architectural drawings.
Upon removing and repositioning some of the buildings structural loads and foundations we were to frame floating drywall partitions backlit with low voltage festoon bulbs. Horizontal reveals ran vertically around the space with integral art hanging systems for the soon to be hanging Lichtenstein and Warhol’s. Leveled mud beds were to be set to hold the expansive slabs of white marblesque quartz.
Hundreds of recessed art lights incrementally placed in the high ceiling were to be controlled by a single switch at the entryway programmed to control the various light scenes dependent on the spaces current use. Small slots were to be run around the space to provide the necessary proper climate for 18th century Rococo antiques to be placed on internally lit Plexiglass totems.
Reviewing the painstakingly detailed drawings with the Owner and head architect the design and vision became focused and clear like a Baroque painting. The juxtaposition of modern clean bright white space adorned with modern paintings and antiquities of province.
As we talked and the project explained to me I was excited and charged. Sitting in a chair listening to the vision and details I began to hear the electronica music playing thru the invisible recessed speaker system as I sipped a martini discussing the seamless stainless steel cyclone stairs. I clearly saw the completed vision.
And then my heart sunk….the music stopped and my brain began to race. The details of custom brass door hardware from New York’s only remaining foundry mounted to the massively thick reclaimed door I began to see the project challenges.
Where was the massive amounts of required ductwork and mechanical equipment. How do you have tens of thousands of watts of lights powered from only one switch. How do you get a one piece thousands of pounds stainless steel corkscrew cyclone stair into the buildings historic facade.
As I asked my new designer boss the technical questions that would certainly make my job almost impossible to achieve he responded with the secret to design and project execution…. “You visualize it done and work backwards from there”. In which I boldly responded “some of these things are almost impossible” and his response is “ Michael never compromise. If you need to…break the rules.” And with that he stood up, gave my sinking shoulders a pat and stated “ I’ve 100% faith you won’t let me down”.
And then I didn’t see him for weeks. Off he was traveling the world designing and creating some of the worlds most renowned spaces. And me… I went to work.
I give you all that you want
Take the skin and peel it back
Now doesn’t that make you feel better
As a leader of men I decided to make this happen. My future path as a designer and creative clearly laid before me and I saw the vision in its completed form. But how to get there….
Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
General George Patton
Calculating lighting loads and BTU’s I worked with Lutron and mechanical engineers arguing that what they deemed not feasible in reality was absolutely possible.
Requesting special considerations from New York City Landmarks and the building department while kindly requesting from the blocks influential neighbors to bear with to endless noise and deliveries. Feeding the parking meters nonstop for our materials and dumpsters taking up precious parking spaces, we sidestepped the rules.
Pushing the boundaries of the materials and the crew we continued to trudge on. When moral was down and tempers flailed I would again remind people of what we were building and why and to keep the eye on the prize. The projects vision.
“Nothing is Impossible”
Kevin Roberts CEO Saatchi and Saatchi
Months went by and the building continued as materials were ordered and installed. Mistakes were made and remedied as we integrated Architectural details with behind the scenes infrastructure. Audio visuals structure cabling ran alongside climate controls and low voltage light feeds. The never ending octopus properly labeled and diagrammed for the necessary programming and commissioning of the equipment. Daily I would answer questions on details with clarity and confidence as I often solely understood the full picture.
With perseverance of the owners team of architects, designers and contractors and we saw we were gradually came to completion. The owners visits became slightly more frequent as the project was finalizing and he was able to display his forte…. The final execution of the vision.
Walls were dry walled and level 5 skim coated under raking light. Gloss white lacquer paint applied in continuous coats to maintain a wet edge. Lighting scenes were programmed into the Graphik Eye lighting system as the floors were sealed and polished.
Moving and delivery trucks lined the streets and Starfire glass was installed around antique colonnade tables. Modern art was hung from the specialty art hanging system to minimize wall damages. And Yves Klein coffee table appeared and carefully placed as experts installed the Yves Klein blue pigment. Caterers loading the space with glasses and wine for the grand gala.
Dressed in my best Purple-label Ralph Lauren I watched as some of the worlds top designers, collectors and celebrities entered the packed gallery. Often I checked for the expression of the owner, the master planner and designer who visualized this event and built the space specifically for it. Never once was he asked to compromise his design or vision and never once did he change his mind.
To this day I owe him for my understanding of vision and compromise. My abilities to see what isn’t there however…. someday it will. Walking away from the experience I’ve learned how to fight and how to win by keeping my eye on the prize….The Vision.
One day I was conversing with the artist representation of a former member of the horror punk band the Misfits. We discussed the current state of the music industry and the reliance on live performances, merch and the frequent release of new content to remain relevant and relatively lucrative in today’s less than optimal entertainment industry. With the current onslaught of competitive and low to no pay streaming services cropping up, the resale value of original music has diminished returns to the artist.
With venues struggling with operational costs and the toughening of drinking laws getting fans out to fill seats has proven to be challenging.
Immediately my thoughts jumped to a social media campaign as an attempt to get the word out and increase awareness and market share. Quickly I was corrected that in actuality management and the artist honestly had a well designed and almost foolproof plan of catering to the existing loyal fanbase and giving them exactly what they wanted.
Management determined that this artist had 10,000 diehard loyal fans and these fans were consumers. It was conceivable each fan had an anticipated annual cash outlay of a similar amount and using that estimated amount as the multiplier a living wage could be obtained for the artist and team. Semi frequent shows were booked at area venues this fanbase was known to frequent. 1,000 person venues were turned down in favor of venues with a 100–400 person capacity.
With smaller venues the chances of a sold out show increase as brand value is accelerated. Venues desire sold out shows to increase merchandise sales and concessions and fans generally rush to purchase tickets fearing a sellout.
With strategic planning of tour date linearly planned with album releases and new touring merch the artist can almost guarantee an estimate yield from each fan or show. Ironically when I asked about the quantity of albums pressed again a well planned answer was received. The quantities released were again based on the fan based and knowledge of quantities generally purchased. Quantities of albums, merch and special releases were kept to a minimum to again almost purposefully plan to sell out.
Products should never be discounted as this would also diminish the brand and product value. Printing an additional 5,000 albums would never create an additional 5,000 fans and most certainly not an additional 5,000 sales. Understanding the brands targeted market and specifically catering to the fanbase generated an almost consistent case flow and ROI.
… I’ll be honest, watching the music industry collapse has been demoralizing and disheartening at times. Trent Reznor
Understanding your true fan base and catering to them with your brand of products they’ll desire and appreciate is like having a private party on private ship.
Years ago I was working as a Project Manager for a high end interior design firm in New York’s prestigious Upper East Side. My work had me traveling the east coast primarily Park Ave. penthouses, Greenwich Connecticut’s sprawling mansions and out to Hamptons summertime beach retreats. Our firm was commissioned to design and build interiors and landscapes for A-list celebrities and industry tycoons.
We designed and built spaces with wood and stones of Provenance often removed from European castles and chateaus. Artisans would craft picturesque environments that often landed on the front cover of prestigious publications such as Architectural Digest and Better Homes and Gardens.
Money was never an object nor deemed quite as important as the design aesthetics and execution of the grandest vision. The team of designers, decorators and architects tirelessly sketching, procuring and ultimately having installed the finest materials you could buy. The experience of creativity mixed with extreme wealth permanently changed my perspective on design and execution as we were always pushing the envelope of practicality.
However within the wealthiest of decadent environments I had a secret. I had my own business I was running in the evenings. Setup in a rundown tenement in the then less than prestigious Lower East Side of Manhattan my business partner and I lived and ran an Art Gallery/ custom wood shop in a storefront on Broome Street. Our space on a block of sweatshops, knockoff handbags and fish mongers. Our building full of inhabitants of questionable citizenship mixed with artists and creatives. A perfect enclave of bohemians and people that would never call the cops on us.
Our gallery and shop space was adjacent to the 5 story tenements common corridor where all of the buildings inhabitants had to pass. The gallery originally an illegal squat became official when Billie my partner and friend signed the lease obligating him to pay a rent he could never afford. We became the buildings concierge service as we were generally the first stop the buildings artists would report the evenings festivities.
We would run around New York’s streets hittings gallery openings, poetry readings and live music venues. Sculpture artists friends would invite us to iron pours in back alleyways melting reclaimed cast iron in centries old designed furnaces into original and unique works of art. Street trash became art as we would drop off cab doors and lockers to a local painter know to repurpose them into works of art. Once illegal squats had been converted into artist collectives in which you could view Tesla Coils firing bolts of electrical charge while listening to noise performances.
It was commonplace when having conversations with waiters, bouncers and cab drivers to find out they were actually writers, actors, musicians and photographers. most everyone we came into contact with had another gig moonlighting or daylights a false facade hoping to achieve greatness.
Mornings I’d dress in Versace and English bench-made shoes as I stepped over putrid fish guts and vomit of the gritty LES streets heading to my “sucker-job” as my partner Billie called it. My mind was contstantly racing as I absorbed visual and creative stimulations from the glitz and glamour of Madison or 5th Ave. planning my evenings projects.
Our shop in the less than perfect cellar space made material handling and finishing next to impossible as we would spray lacquers in the common air shaft often dodging spit and cigarette butts careless falling from above. We would build furniture, picture frames and cabinetry for soon to be gentrified LES that rapidly was being redeveloped into Wine Bars, Cupcake Shops and High End residential. Buildings once collaborative art spaces overtaken often in hostile takeovers.
I’ve built exhibits for musuems and trade shows, ran live sound humping W bins and Crown Powerbase amps up and down slippery stairs of spilt beer. Recorded musicians in studios, written my first book, tended to horses, bailed hay, built custom furniture and cabinetry, painted on canvas, built racecars and monster trucks, written films…. and the list goes on.
Currently I’m a daytime Director of Construction working in adaptive reuse of old industrialized buildings. My night gig is sound recording and post production sound for film, experiental design for kiosks and interactive display and product design and branding for a startup.
You may think of me as a woodworker or sound engineer but I just say I’m an artist. Working for almost 30 years in the gig economy as a creative, everyday I awaken with a charge as my mind and body race to the next quest of what to create and how.
Somewhere I have a resume that can be used to get a “sucker job” at a prestigious Interior Design firm, however my body of creative works is my actual resume which you shouldn’t write about but actually consume. Daily my phone rings and my email bings with requests from other creatives hoping to collaborate and create with me. And daily I take on new and enriching gigs to keep my creative spark alive.
As of late I’m asking myself why…. why the gigs and why create? Because I’m an artist and have always worked in the gig economy.
Recently I traveled to visit family in Ft. Myers Florida under the threat of Hurricane Dorian. Far from ever having experienced a Hurricane or even a tropical storm I was excited to make the journey from my Home in New Jersey.
As a family we decided that the impending category 5 storm was far from a risk we continued to explore and enjoy our extended weekend as we had planned. Top of the list was a trip to the 21 acre botanical garden Edison/Ford Winter Estates in Ft. Myers.
Knowing my mothers love for botanical gardens and passion for exploring we headed over to scope it out. Originally built by Thomas Edison as a winter home to get away for a month or so from the New Jersey winters and function as an experimental laboratory to find a suitable rubber plant replacement. Edison built the main house, guest house, study, caretakers house, swimming pools and gardens on the Caloosahatchee River side of McGregor Estates Blvd. A winding palm tree lined road tastefully adorned with stunning waterfront estates.
Edison had named his tropical property “Seminole Lodge” which he had planted over 1,000 plant varieties from around the world. During World War I Edison grew concerned with America’s reliance on foreign rubber trees and decided to experiment with over 17,000 exotic species of plants to find a suitable replacement. Edison settles on Leavenworth’s Goldenrod which is native to the southeastern United States.
Edison found a growing need in finding a suitable rubber replacement. His tenacious character as an experimenter and inventor led him to develop over a thousand specialized inventions of products necessary for the advancement of modern life and technologies.
Edison’s quest to find solutions to develop new and innovative products came along with substantial failures. Of the 17,000 plant species tested to obtain a suitable rubber replacement how many of those experiments were failures? None.
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Thomas Alva Edison
Find that void in your world and continue to find solutions to the problems. Many efforts you will experiment with won’t work. The key is to realize what doesn’t work, move on to the next until you find a solution.