Step Off the Path and Find Your Way

Photo by Michael Competielle

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” Benjamin Franklin

Today I had a interesting conversation with a friend who’s writer family member stated “If you aren’t weird no one will remember you.”

Honestly a great observation, possibly the statement could be expanded to odd, unique, creative amongst others however I’m feeling the point is you need to step off the path and find your way.

Daily I’ll awaken from my lucid dreams having resolved issues or found clarity in a design. My mind struggling to rest as I’m compartmentalizing projects and problems into little buckets that help me to think them through. Often working backwards from my anticipated outcome to each individual step and I’ll clearly see the starting point.

I’ve reprogrammed my brain and conscious thoughts to logically follow potential pathways like following traces on a circuit board. More often than not this generally brings me uniquely to a similar solution that isn’t unique to me.

Photos by Michael Competielle

It’s often then in that moment when I’m feeling my solution or concept isn’t original or unique enough I’ll decide to find my own way.

By stepping of the beaten path.

Now I must warn you that you’ll need to be very careful. I’ve stepped off the beaten path and found myself in rabbit-holes like in Alice and Wonderland. My mind will expand and possibilities become endless however I can get lost. That’s why I’ll try to follow some basic rules by keeping my meandering in perspective.


Guitarist Adrian Belew formerly of King Crimson has worked with Trent Reznor on three Nine Inch Nails albums. Working with Trent who is in industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails is an experimental artists dream as Trent records in non conventional techniques.

Well, I’ve done three records with Trent now, and all three have been alike: I walk in the door, get my equipment working properly, and he starts playing me pieces of music. He’ll say, “If you find something you want to play, stop us and we’ll record you.” [laughs] It’s usually easy for me to find something to play in his material. It really fits my styles — my sounds and the things I like to do — very well. When you play with Trent Reznor, you don’t want to pull out your normal things; you go do the most extreme things that you can. It’s a lot of fun, because it puts me on the spot to do what I really love to do, which is be creative with the guitar. The sky’s the limit. Nobody is saying “No! No! No!” Everyone is saying, “Yes!”

I really enjoy working with Trent, because it gives me that type of freedom. In a way, it’s the same kind of freedom that I had working with David Bowie. He was also very encouraging, asking me to do more wild things. The same was true with the Talking Heads. Trent Reznor is, to me, a major inspiration in the world of production. I really like the way that his records sound. I’m always keeping my eyes open on the process, so I can maybe learn something. Adrian Belew

With a floor full of guitar effects pedals that generally function in an unwritten sequence, Trent and crew would reverse directions of effects and their linear sequence in an attempt to find something new.

My latest creative endeavors have been working on some unique recording and sound writing projects with Cities and Memories by reimagining sounds into new creative assemblies. It’s as wild experience that forces me to think outside the box and experiment. My creativity has expanded exponentially as my work product increases.

In some ways I’m consistent and in others I’m finding new experiences such as never driving the same way twice or refusing to make predetermined plans. Not following rules is exciting and creates new pathways and connections.

By stepping off the normal path I’m finding creative ways to express myself. Objects and places have morphed into inspiration that guides me into experimental experiences. My path no longer known I find comfort and solace in discovery.

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Freelance as a Maker and Enter the Gig Economy

Photo by Michael Competielle

Why your best talent should be becoming an opportunist

Online retailer shops such as Etsy and Fiver are cool ways to make a buck using your talents and skills. Post your products or talents online and wait for the requests to roll in. Chances are you’ll be working or selling to people you’ve never met, quite possibly nor will you ever. Sort of like a One Hit Wonder (many of my favorite songs and artists fit this bill) often you’ll work for a client once and possibly never again. I feel it’s because you may not have made a personal connect.

I’m not saying Freelancer or Upwork can’t get you repeat business. I’m possibly suggesting it’s doubtful you can easily build a client rapport.

Imagine if we had to go to a job interview daily.

Anxious as we try to put out the best version of ourselves as we are questioned on our talents and abilities. We often know more than the interviewer does about our skill set.

In a time where large corporations are gobbling up startups and market disrupters at an alarming pace the opportunities to enter a workforce of gainful employment, get paid what your worth and achieve long term goals is diminishing.

Mounting college loan debt that is unsecured by an uncertain job market renders the foreseeable future as depressing.

With a compulsory educational system lacking in foresight of our future job market our trajectory is bleak. Removing basic life skills, vocational and hands on electives from most schools, students and young adults are struggling with many of the simplest knowledge or experiences.

Thinking back to my childhood I recall learning mechanical drafting and detailing, how to program a CNC router, culinary class, sewing, photography and film development, wood shop, small engine repair and basic electronics. And this was while I was in high school.

Working around the house on weekends with my dad, summers as an apprentice in the families cabinet shop and working with friends as we souped up our cars, we got dirty and learned to do shit.


Sitting on a bench at a horse farm in New Jersey watching my high school sweetheart practice relentlessly in preparation for the Metal Maclay competition I was approached by the head trainer asking me if I wanted to work on the farm caring for the horses. Having absolutely no knowledge, I agreed and learned quickly how to clean stalls, haying and watering, pick the horses feet, brush them and dress them in tack and blankets.

My experience there taught me the most important life skill ever….Talk to People, Take on Opportunities.

I talked to everyone…. and whom did I meet? A Wall Street broker. And what did she do for me? Introduced me to her computer programmer husband. And what door did that open? Sound engineering, MIDI programming, computer integration, all about Jazz, diversity in communities…. Etc etc. and I was 18.

Naim grew up in Harlem in the 1970’s. Poverty stricken in a declining City he knew he needed to get away. Working as a human billboard for a barber, he was approached by someone asking if he wanted to learn about computers. He was curious and signed up for a programming course and learned computer code.

By the time I met Naim he was living in a large suburban house in Central NJ working as a freelancing consultant for AT&T clocking in a hourly billable rate of over $200 per hour.

Inside the home was a separate wing with Naim’s recording studio which consisted of a live practice/ tracking room and a control room with the mixing console, 16 track reel to reel deck, racks of outboard gear and computers.

Meeting Naim for the first time we instantly connected, he threw me a set of keys, a security code for the studios alarm and a detailed list of instructions on the power up sequence of the studio and it’s gear. I was to start the following evening at 5pm powering up the studio, ushering in the guest musicians and tuning Naim’s guitars.

We would run late into the evening jamming on Soft Jazz tunes Naim played thru his guitars that housed specialized Midi pickups which ran thru a programmed foot switch back to racks of Roland samplers.

High tech for the early 90’s and outer space for an 18 year old kid.

One evening Naim left me a note not to power up the studio and that we were prepping for the following evenings gig in a Jazz club near Newark Airport. He stated it was an African American bar but I’d be alright because “Your with the band”.

I was actually more concerned with my age which the boys in the band sort of chuckled at. I realized later no one really cared.

The next evening I loaded the band truck with racks of gear and Naim and I headed to the club. It was an industrial part of town and the club was hard to recognize from the street.

We loaded in all the gear and I setup the rig as the rest of the band arrived. Big hugs from the guys and a pat on the back from Naim subdued my anxiety.

Crowds of people began to flow into the club, the lights dimmed and Naim and crew climbed onstage. I hung behind the mixing decks assuring a proper mix and prepping for any technical issues.

I began to fall into a trancelike state listening to the band in this dark smoke crowded room.

A gentleman asked me where was my hat as I looked back at him puzzled. He pulled off his cap, threw in a $20 and proceeded to pass it around the club. Minutes later he handed me a pile of cash and said “this is for the band”.

Later that evening as I was packing up gear I mentioned the pile of money that was for the band to Naim. He divvied up the cash and divided it evenly and handed me an equal share. I was puzzled and said “Naim that’s for the band” in which he responded “you are the band my Brother”.

To this day the story brings a tear to my eyes about my opportunity and subsequent acceptance.

Photo by Michael Competielle

Years later I still think back to that experience and how I’ve always taken every gig that came my way.


Throughout my years I’ve built stores, high end residences, galleries and hotels. I’ve detailed shop drawings for Millwork shops and steel fabricators. I’ve installed just about every material imaginable and I’m never afraid to jump in and help. I’ve finished concrete on huge pours by operating the bull float and hydrostatic trowel machines.

I’ve worked on farms, designed custom interiors, build custom millwork in a cabinet shop I owned. I’ve build monster trucks and SCCA racing cars. Worked in an aftermarket Porsche shop and I’ve made donuts, pastries and bread. I’ve delivered wedding cakes and newspapers. I’ve worked on and made corporate videos, short films, web series and feature films.

I’ve hedged economic downturns building decks in freezing temperates in January and February. I’ve shoveled snow, repaired vintage synthesizers, built recording studios, restored massive factory buildings, build polished concrete countertops. Fabricated and installed stainless steel kitchen cabinets.

I’ve done structured wiring, stage wiring and live sound gigs. Soon I’ll publish my first book and start filming my own feature length documentary. I’ve worked in biker bars as a bouncer and loaded tractor trailers with electronics.

Most of these gigs have lead me to more. Most of these gigs have built my confidence that I can do just about anything. I’m always looking for new opportunities to expand my horizons, make a few bucks and meet some new people.

Freelancers often feel trapped in there own world often working in solitude. It could be that person next to you on line in Starbucks or on a park bench in Central Park.

Talk to people and take on new rolls and experiences. Help load in at a trade show or become a brand ambassador for a startup brand. Learn to become a barista or frame pictures.

Freelancing as a maker helps build your network of clients, expands your available talents and excites your creativity.

Trending in incubator spaces, co-working and maker spaces allows freelancers and makers abilities to obtain access to office space, filming locations, shop space with tools and equipment and retail space.

Photo by Michael Competielle

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Brand For Your Loyal Fans

Photo by Michael Competielle

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.

https://medium.com/@mcompetielle/brand-for-your-loyal-fans-1207596c3401?source=friends_link&sk=51e80a0f28db082ad8cc99021a6058db